Vicky Mercado used to think of cruisers as "mom bikes" (and despite the fact that she is a mom, she didn't mean it in a good way). That changed when her husband came home with a classic Schwinn he'd had restored to its 1950s glory at International Bike Shop in Humboldt Park (3821 W. North), an epicenter of Chicago's Puerto Rican cruiser culture. Says Luis, "I brought that bike home and then my wife wanted one and then my daughter wanted one."
It was the beginning of a familywide love affair with classic Schwinns. Luis went on to start the Chicago Cruisers, a bike club that still operates under different leadership and can be spotted annually in the Puerto Rican pride parade and, occasionally, riding down Armitage on certain Sunday afternoons. The Mercados have since begun another club, Schwinn Cruisers, and recruited members of their rather large family (25 to 30 people in total). Vicky and Luis alone have a collection of seven beautifully restored bikes parked neatly in their basement.
Luis became aware of Chicago's cruiser culture back in the 70s when he spotted a club called Just Cruising around town. "I remember seeing them and thinking, 'I want to do that,'" he says. He considered joining Just Cruising but didn't like the group's MO—it was more about hanging out and drinking than actually riding, Mercado says. "I wanted to ride and get kids involved." His clubs have had riders as young as seven and as old as 70.
The Mercados ride his-and-hers Schwinn Black Phantoms from '54 and '53, respectively. (They were able to find the years of manufacture by looking up the bikes' serial numbers.) Luis estimates his bike is worth between $1,500 and $2,000. With their fat chrome fenders and thick white-wall tires, they're heavy, yeah, but a great ride. "There's no hunching over. And the seats are really comfortable," says Vicky. The Schwinn Cruisers don't necessarily have destinations when they ride. As their name suggests, it's about cruising. And showing off. "One of the most fun things is people making comments [about the bikes]," Luis says. "We like that."