A tale of two cruisers

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2/27/2020 10:08 PM

A few months ago my daughter finally expressed an interest in learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. Our place is about 1/4 mile back from a paved road, without enough asphalt in front of the garage to teach a new rider; so the inconvenience coupled with a lack of interest meant that my normal sized 8 year old daughter and giant of a 6 year old son were too big for most true starter bikes, and not quite big enough to learn on the kids' mountain bikes I'd been eyeing- which were the only type of bikes that I had any familiarity with as an adult.

Thanks to this and other forums, I discovered that a kid's frame BMX was small enough and easy enough to handle that they could learn to ride on it, but big enough to ride for at least a couple of years. I also stumbled across posts about how much fun it was to ride a cruiser as an adult. Riding a wave of nostalgia, I ordered SE Broncos in black and purple, and a Haro Mike King Group 1 RS2 24". Citygrounds was kind enough to match another seller's $349 clearance pricing. Haro graciously agreed to honor the warranty if I assembled it myself since there wasn't a dealer within 50 miles. Both companies were a pleasure to deal with.

The first ride took me immediately back to my childhood. The bike felt nimble, eager, and rock solid. It was easily the most fun to ride bike that I've owned as an adult.

Life got in the way of the kids' progress, but we finally got them both riding in their own a few weeks ago. My wife, who entertained the idea of taking up riding only once, only briefly, and only on pavement, grabbed the Haro to ride with my son on a flat trail. She came back singing it's praises, and let me know in no uncertain terms that I'd be taking my mountain bike or her hybrid on any future family bike rides. It was the first time she ever seemed like she really had fun on a ride- and it was off pavement.

I knew that if I wanted to ride a cruiser we were going to need two. Since I didn't plan for the purchase my first thought was to pick up a Citygrounds Schwinn SX1000, which I'd originally considered as the low cost option for myself. In case you haven't figured it out, I'm always looking for the absolute best bang for my buck. At 250 lbs I opted for the components that came with the Haro. My wife weighs over 100lbs less, though, so the Schwinn was in play.

The cheapest price for the Haro was now $365, but it still seemed like the smartest choice if I was going to level up from the Schwinn. Then I stumbled across a leftover Eastern Commando LTD 24 from Americas Bike Company listed for $250 with free shipping. I read the specs and saw that the LTD models came with three piece cranks, and full chromoly frames and forks. That was enough for me at $250, and I ordered it immediately. The next day I contacted the company to confirm that it was actually in stock. Within minutes I got a reply confirming that my order was being filled, and informing me that it would be shipped as soon as they finished adding cardboard and styrofoam to the box for the trip across the country. Then it arrive two days ahead of schedule. My customer service experiences with BMX dealers and manufacturers has been 10 out of 10 every time.

While it was en route I realized that the specs highlighted a couple of weaknesses. The LTD frames and forks were differentiated as chromoly, but the bars were not listed as being different than the hi ten steel bars on the regular model. The wheels were also listed as being single wall. When I started looking at wheelsets I had some buyer's remorse, since any upgrade would make the Eastern more expensive than the Haro. I resolved to wait and see which bike I liked better, and swap the Haro bars and wheels if I preferred the Eastern.

I assembled the Eastern and two things were apparent. One was that I prefer the aesthetic of the Eastern. With smaller tubing it looks much more compact than the Haro. I like the bars, grips, seatpost, and color scheme on the Eastern more than the Haro. But the second thing was that the Haro's quality was noticably better every place I looked. The frame welds were slightly better, component welds were way better, cranks were beefier, everything was better finished and more refined, and the hubs made the Eastern wheels look like a joke.

I took the Eastern for a short spin on my gravel driveway. Not only does it look more compact, but it rides smaller than the Haro. It feels lighter (not sure if it is or not). If the Haro felt nimble, the Eastern felt alive- almost twitchy. I was riding by headlamp, so I only went about 1/4 mile, but I think the Eastern might be even more fun than the Haro. One thing's for certain, they ride differently enough that a novice like myself can really feel it within the first few seconds. I thought that I would need to go to a 22 or 26 to have a different riding experience, so this was a pleasant surprise. I'm pretty sure that the long term solution is going to be a new wheelset. I don't know if I NEED to replace the bars. While I was looking at them I noticed that they painted the top of the fork camouflage where it can be seen through the logo cutout. Because it's not a solid color, the pattern changes as you turn the bars. The 7 year old in me loves that little detail.

These are fantastic bikes at their respective prices.
While I was looking for specs and other info on the Commando (there's not an online review to be found) I saw that acebmx.com has one more in stock, listed for $299, and for me at least (east coast) shipping would be free. They sent a 4% coupon when I didn't complete checkout: ace1981, which drops the price to $287. I think that's still a hell of a deal for someone for a complete cruiser that's mostly chromoly. The extra $80 that you'd spend on the Haro would be completely justified by it's quality and components.

TLDR: Eastern Commander looks better and may prove to be more fun to ride, but almost certainly needs better wheels, and maybe bars. Haro Mike King is better as a complete bike out of the box, with better build quality and components everywhere, but looks and rides fatter than the Eastern. Both are fantastic at their respective clearance prices.
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