Sun Bicycles Boardwalk - Perfection Not Necessary

Review of the Sun Bicycles Boardwalk

Evan Wedsworth

12/4/2017


In many ways, cycling is enjoyable because of its depth.  Cultivating your quiver of bikes can be a pleasure all its own.  There’s always something to be tweaked, some new adjustment to make old rides new again.  The industry is notorious for encouraging this obsessive behavior---sure, you’re all set with your gravel-adventure-bikepacking-cross fleet, but have you considered running 650c wheels?  As cyclists, we slap our foreheads, gosh, this changes everything; as consumers we open our wallets.  I’m guilty of my fair share of upgrade fever, falling in love with a new carbon wonderbike and then, days later, wondering if I should’ve gone for the disc version.  But every now and then a bike comes along to remind me that it’s okay to hang the details and embrace the simple act of riding a bike, no frills necessary.

The Sun Bicycles Boardwalk is the prototypical beach cruiser.  Sturdy frame, singlespeed, coaster brake. It’s about as straightforward as a bike can be, and comes standard with exactly two amenities: kickstand and chainguard.  The frame is 6061 aluminum, apparently the weapons-grade version judging by the bike’s hernia-inducing weight. It tips the scales somewhere between heifer and hippo, and is unhappy leaving the ground.  No bunny-hopping, ever. Fork: steel, handlebar: steel.

Sun advertises it as “built solid and ready to ride,” a phrase I found to be perhaps the best overall description of the Boardwalk.  Other than saddle height (quick-release seatpost clamp, obviously) everything about this bike encourages its rider to forget the specs and just hop on.  Even the most technophilic triathlete would struggle to care which headset it uses, or chainstay length, or seatstay tube shape, or fork rake, or anything except just riding along.  In that sense, it’s one of the most utilitarian bikes I’ve ridden, but also one of the most delightful.

My particular bike was one among many from a rental fleet, at least a few years and approximately three million customers old.  It was a perfect opportunity to see how one of these things stands up to heavy use. Surprisingly well, I can report. Obviously this has a lot to do with its owners and their willingness to put in regular maintenance, but over the course of the month I had the bike it stayed quiet and uncomplaining.  No wiggle from the headset, wheels (mostly) true, no creaking or play in the bottom bracket, and the chain stayed lubed despite coastal South Carolina’s salty humidity. The tires were the real heroes, losing so little air that in a month I only fetched the pump once. Overall, with its dowdy, charming appearance and accommodating demeanor, it put me in mind of a competent librarian, and I rechristened it the Glenda.

I had the 20” frame in “metallic” blue, a handsome, forgettable shade.  The cockpit was snug for my height and orangutan arms, and I displayed a scandalous amount of seatpost, but overall the fit was just fine.  

To ride the Glenda is to relax.  It’s a creature of inertia; sharp changes in speed don’t come naturally.  And while you’re welcome to stand and mash the pedals as the mood strikes you, the bike is more indulgent than responsive.  There’s no noticeable flex under power, but there’s no joyous surge forward either. The bike responds best to a easygoing approach.  I was riding on a completely flat island so there was never a chance to see how it climbs, but my guess would be “not well.” Ditto descending.  The funny thing is that cruising around on this barge was so relaxing I barely missed the sharp, cleansing effort of a hard climb or the adrenaline of a sweeping descent.  The Glenda is content with its lot, and, riding it, so are you.

It’s steady in all things, gaining speed gradually and losing it reluctantly.  Stopping comes via coaster brake, recalling the fire-engine red Huffy I had as kid.  That bike, though, had serious stopping power and I spent many happy hours laying down epic skids.  Aboard the good ship Glenda, alas, halting for an intersection requires a calendar entry. But it’s not like you ever get to any kind of reckless velocity anyhow, so no harm done.

The handling is bipolar.  At low speeds the bike is surprisingly nimble, navigating parking lots and narrow bike paths with ease.  Below 10mph I could dive around potholes, joggers, and strollers no problem. But take it up to road speeds and the Glenda comes over all pig-headed.  It’s happiest with straight lines---strong encouragement is needed to turn it from the chosen path. But with a wheelbase that could be measured light years that’s only to be expected.  Your twitchy crit machine this isn’t.

All this forceful steering is courtesy of a rising, swept-back handlebar reminiscent of a 1980s klunker, enclosed in cheap, weatherbeaten foam and rubber grips.  Back-sweeping handlebars and I are long-standing enemies and my wrists were aching twenty minutes into each ride. Fortunately, the Glenda---shy about wiggling as she is---can be piloted perfectly well with no hands.  I was so confident without hands I could practically do my taxes from the saddle, a “Deluxe Cruiser” that’s actually a Sunlite C9 and is perfectly comfortable as long as you’re not moving your legs.

Which brings us to position.  Any bike’s geometry has a purpose in mind: road bikes balance aerodynamics, power, and neck failure; mountain bikes prioritize handling and rip-it-ness; cyclocross a mysterious combination of all the above.  Sun’s Glenda is set up to give you as much visibility and drag as possible. From my periscopic vantage I could practically see over treetops, assessing the trail ahead easily. I luxuriated in my noble posture, feeling like a king waving to a peasant whenever a hunched roadie went past, at least until a moderate headwind kicked up.  Heading into a good wind I didn’t ride so much as sail, tacking back and forth to use my own miserable torso as an airfoil. Needless to say, though I never wore a helmet I never had a good hair day either.

The rental company who introduced me to the Glenda provided a cheap and easy handlebar basket should I need to carry anything.  It was attached by two simple, unsecured hooks and didn’t inspire confidence. The whole ensemble rattled with every bump, threatening to eject its cargo.  Starting out I only trusted it with a cable lock, but it slowly won me over. Eventually I portaged groceries, library books, my laptop case, the kitchen sink.  You could take this thing bikepacking if you had the horse legs to power it. It even has mount points for a rear rack.

The best thing about this bike is how it harmonizes rider and environment.  A car is a shell, enclosed and isolated from its surroundings. Take all the singing, head-bopping, and gesturing that goes on---as drivers we’re largely un-self-conscious because we feel anonymous.  On a bike, however, the rider is plain to see. There’s no hiding behind a windshield. A cyclist can make eye contact with passersby, evaluating them and reading social cues.  The Glenda dramatically encourages this sort of communal awareness. There’s absolutely no difference between “cyclist” and “person,” no specialized equipment, no distinctive outfit. I did most of my riding in a t-shirt and flip-flops.  Unlike, say, a TT bike, the Glenda is a generalist’s tool, equally amenable to grocery runs, frozen-yogurt stops, sight-seeing, and aimless wandering. There’s a wonderful egalitarianism present in every ride, a sense of belonging no matter where you find yourself.  

As the rabbit hole of cycling consumerism gets ever deeper and the divisions between types of bikes grow finer, the Glenda is a refreshing reminder that obsessing over the details, while fun in small doses, isn’t necessary.  The setup doesn’t need to be perfect, the components don’t have to be particularly good, the tires don’t have to pumped precisely. You can just ride your bike.

 


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