Monē Bikes SB2 Review: Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

We talk a lot about the early klunkers, from Breezers to Cunninghams and Ritcheys, but what about the very first MTBs in the US, the coaster cruisers, aka mountain cruisers? These esoteric singlespeeds rely on a coaster brake hub to control their speed and were adapted from old Schwinn newspaper bikes.

Read on as John reviews his coaster cruiser, a Monē Bikes Small Batch Straight Bar, aka the SB2. These bikes are the simplest mountain bike you can ride: No hand brakes. No gears. Big bars. Balloon tires. This is peak coaster cruiser!

Photo: Wende Cragg

Coaster Cruiser History

The earliest mountain bikes in the US were retrofit coaster cruiser bikes made by post-WWII US framebuilders like Schwinn. Tinkerers in the Repack era would widen the chainstays by hammering in a baseball or a block of wood to cold set the rear triangle so they could cram in bigger tires. Other off-road modifications included repacking the coaster hubs with higher-viscosity greases, building stronger wheels from 26″ BMX bikes, swapping out the newsboy handlebars for a Cinelli 1A stem and motorcycle bar, then taking the bikes to bomb down fire roads, oftentimes with no brakes.

Photos: Wende Cragg

These were mountain cruisers. They got pushed uphill (or up mountains) and bombed back down, hubs scorching, tires sliding, palms sweatin’. What a time to be alive. You would almost kill yourself on every ride! It was as simple as you could get for a proper mountain bike experience.

Photo: Wende Cragg

Later, people began retrofitting drum brakes to these bikes, like Steve Cook’s CBC we looked at a while back. Then came the old French derailleurs, Japanese shifters, German brake levers, and French brake calipers to continue stretching the limits of these old frames. Those were known as klunkers. But nothing is as visually striking as a proper coaster or mountain cruiser.

These bikes are still very sketchy to ride on technical terrain. Crashing is inevitable if you’re to push yourself and the bike. Riding one means you’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’!

Still, to this day, people convert vintage Schwinns to coaster cruisers, and one of those people is Cjell Monē. We’ve looked at some of Cjell’s work in the past. A lot. So catch up if you’re not already familiar with this rad scientist of metallurgy:

Monē Bikes SB2

Earlier this year, Cjell debuted a batch of SB2 bikes. These are “Small Batch Straight Bar” bikes brazed in Silver City, New Mexico (in the back of a bread truck, as Cjell likes to point out), and the framesets start at $2,150. They’re simple, relying only on a rear coaster brake, and clear a 2.6″ 29er tire. The geometry is playful, the stance is classic, and the styling is vintage-inspired. They’re fillet brazed, just like the old cruisers from the 1940s, using Cjell’s signature style of fat, overlapping fillets.

Cjell has me on an “L/XL” sized SB2. The two sizes he has available are small/medium and large/x-large. Not that you need a coaster cruiser that fits like a glove but he wanted to make a bigger size for big riders to get the most out of their experience (and money.) You can see the geometry for the S/M and L/XL frames SB2 at

When Cjell opened these up for order, I immediately bought one. It was about time I owned a Mone, and a coaster cruiser felt more than appropriate. Cari’s family has ties to Silver City. Her grandparents were married at the church in town, and her grandmother wore an all-black dress. Her family owned a ranch in the Gila and spent time between there, Magdalena and Española. Needless to say, New Mexico is our home now, and it’s about time I supported a local framebuilder!

I requested that Cjell braze a rattlesnake to the chainstay to act as a stay protector when the chain slaps, but otherwise this frame is a stock SB2 in terms of details and construction. The L/XL has 55 mm of bottom bracket drop, a 66º head angle, a 73º seat angle, an effective top tube of 637 mm, and a 459 mm chainstay. The frame clears a 29 x 2.6″ tire with about 1/4″ of space on either side. The rear end is spaced 135 mm, and the front 100 mm.

The rear dropout has a direct mount for the coaster hub’s laser-cut actuator arm, as well as an ISO tab for a disc brake if you ever want to go singlespeed with a rear brake. The Monē coaster hubs use a 15 mm axle nut, perfect for our Paragon Machine Works wrenches! If you want front and rear brakes, Cjell would have to make you a tri or bi-plane fork, as the SB2 fork is too spindly to withstand the braking forces of a disc brake. The fork blades are the same approximate diameter as those 22.2 mm handlebars!

I almost asked him to put canti or rollercam studs on this one! 

Now for the elephant in the room. Instead of opting for Cjell’s signature clear coat or turbo midnight finish, I got my SB2 powder coated by Cjell’s finisher, Karl. It’s the same Prismatic Powder color I used on my old Mystic Alluvium bike and a finish Bruce Gordon used to spec: Rustic Texture. I don’t like keeping frames raw. Even with a clear coat, the steel will rust. The only thing that seals raw steel is a primer and paint or a powder coat.

A Moto Build Kit

I’m not going to even front here: I went over the top with this build. The centerpiece was the amazing wheels Erika laced up for me: 40h Phil Wood tandem/touring hub on the front, laced radially with brass nips to Monē signature gun metal Velocity hoops, Monē brass nips, Monē actuator arm, and a Monē coaster hub on the rear. These Bad Ass Coaster Brake Wheels were made for this bike (or your own coaster cruiser) and exude COOL. Because it’s a mountain bike, I had to put my favorite tires on it: the Teravail Kessel 29 x 2.6″ in gum wall.

Elsinore Raceway Flat Track Racing Late 1970s – Photo via Cycle News Archives

For the cockpit, I used my Black Cat Project Swami‘s inverted BMX-style 22.2 ⌀ clamp stem. This grips a set of Inter-Am flat track moto bars that measure 860 mm wide and have 100 mm of rise with approximately 15º of backsweep. These bars were used in flat track moto racing in the late 1970s as they provided the perfect shape and a lot of flex since they’re made from solid aluminum bar. You read that right, they are not hollow bars, they’re solid!

The Koski Brothers from Cove Bike Shop used to spec these bars on their cruiser and klunker builds. They’re mounted on the red klunker above. You can read more in my 1980 Ritchey write up. I had some brown Tomaselli grips for the Inter-Am bars that fit the moto-inspired build kit.

For a headset, I used the stainless steel Chris King headset, called a SteelSet, Chris King himself gave me in 2011 as a special gift. Around this time, I was shooting lots of framebuilder shops, and The Radavist was the only website that was doing so in any real capacity. Chris King took note and gifted me one of these special SteelSets as a ‘thank you.’ These headsets were made in small batches and given to NAHBS framebuilders, special employees, or others as a gift from Chris. They haven’t made one in years.

Cjell just told me a fun story about these head badges. They’re made in Kathmandu by an artisan in a street stand. When Cjell was visiting, he was walking around trying to find a jeweler to make head badges. Eventually, he found this young guy named Binod who was into making them for Cjell. One of the batches was finished when our mutual friend Chris “Dirty” was in Kathmandu so Dirty brought them back to the US for Cjell. These are smaller than his standard head badges so he calls these the “ultra light” version.

A stack of Monē brass spacers fit under the stem, and a Tomii Cycles stem cap tops it off. The steerer for the SB2 was just long enough for a full set of Monē brass spacers and this stem. I dig the look of brass, stainless, and raw aluminum. Especially in the end-of-day light here in Santa Fe. It just pops! Speaking of raw aluminum…

I have two configurations for the seatpost and saddle: a dropper post that I stripped or a Paul Tall and Handsome seatpost. Both of which are a tad too short for my 80 cm saddle height but are high enough to pedal around just fine. With the 32:22 gearing, I’m going nowhere fast, but I can get up most of the hills here on our trails. My modus operandi is: If I can’t pedal up something, I have no business going down those trails on this bike!

As for the cranks, I swapped around some of the drivetrains on my bikes and found myself with a set of eeWing cranks off my Murmur that I said, “fuck it, we ball,” and put on the bike. Paired with a Wolf Tooth 32t chainring that I also stripped using the same method as the dropper post, it gives the bike a 32:22 gearing, perfect for a proper mountain cruiser.

I went with the Wolf Tooth ring because I assumed the rear coaster cog was 1/32, but it’s 1/8″, so a narrow wide chainring is slightly overkill. Still, this is a mountain bike with a mountain chain line, so running a set of Profile or BMX cranks would have taken some finagling to get the chain line right. The bike likes having a bit of chain slack, too, as evident in the photos. No matter how hard I tighten the axle nuts, the chain always looks like that but it never gets any looser.

Look at those Kessel 2.6″ tires folding and gripping!

Controlled Chaos

Unlike the plumes of dust pummeling down the Repack run shown in Wende’s photos at the top of the article, I like to ride my SB2 without locking up the hub. I don’t skid on singletrack, nor do I particularly care for the modern mountain bike proliferation of obliterating every corner with a fist full of brake, so riding a coaster cruiser on singletrack takes some finesse. Especially around here with our rocky and dusty trails.

I find that all it takes is a slight back-pedal pressure to feather the braking mechanism. Sort of like how you feather the brakes on a normal mountain bike. You don’t lock up the brakes every time you want to slow down on your mountain bike, right? The same technique applies to coaster brakes. Finding the sweet spot is what takes some practice.

Even when going down steeper trails, I’ll be very mindful of my speed by controlling the amount of pressure on the hub’s actuation arm. The photos of a “flow trail” here in Santa Fe are merely the tires kicking up dust as I lean onto their edges, pushing against the tire’s casing; I’m not actually skidding anything. In fact, I wasn’t even applying any braking pressure here.

This is why I love coaster cruisers. They teach you how to go faster on trails without braking into turns or corners, and that’s something you can apply to any bike. Just the other day, I was able to make it down a favorite trail here without braking at all. And now, because of this practice, I’m faster on that same trail on my normal mountain bike.

This is also why I enjoy riding a rigid mountain bike–vibing with the trail, not “owning” it–is simply amplified with a coaster cruiser. I push into the corners by leaning in more, and then snap the bike into position. Cjell’s masterful engineering of the tubing spec used gives the bike a spring-like feeling in this terrain. The fork flexes, the rear end has some give, and it’s all amplified by the ability of me to push the edges of the tires to their traction limit.

With the right amount of tire pressure, the bike flies on trails. The 860 mm wide Inter-Am flat track handlebars add to this feeling with their flex and give. Its high-ish bottom bracket and shreddy geometry make it a blast on our flow trails where speed is your ally, tire traction is your friend, and boostin’ lips and hips are the name of the game. There’s something satisfying about hearing the chain clink against the chainstay guard after you land a jump on this bike.

Coaster cruisers aren’t for everyone, but if your local trails are getting boring on your full suspension, or you want to go LARPING like those guys and gals from the Repack era, I highly recommend one. You can make your own from a Schwinn, or buy an SB2 and a set of Monē wheels from Cjell and Erika. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Build Spec:

  • Frame: Monē SB2
  • Fork: Monē SB2
  • Headset: Chris King SteelSet
  • Stem: Black Cat
  • Handlebars: Inter-Am
  • Grips: Tomaselli
  • Cranks: Cane Creek eeWings
  • Bottom Bracket: Cane Creek
  • Chainring: Wolf Tooth
  • Front Hub: Phil Wood
  • Rear Hub: Monē Coaster with Cooler
  • Rims: Velocity Gunmetal Monē Edition
  • Tires: Teravail Kessel 29 x 2.6″
  • Seatpost: Tranz-X Jump Seat Stripped
  • Seat Collar: Paul QR
  • Saddle: Brooks Cambium NOS brown
  • Pedals: Yoshimura Chilao

See more at Monē Bikes.