The bicycles are five decades old or older, often rusty. Fat tires are the norm and they hail from the days of rugged steel frames with maybe a hint of Art Deco styling.

They are the ride of choice, though, for monthly cruises put on by members of the year-old Santa Rosa Vintage Bike Club.

"It's all about the bike," said Loren Soltes of Santa Rosa. "We are not trying to build pretty machines, we are custodians of these vehicles and trying to bring them back to life."

Soltes is one of the five founding members of the club, made up of guys who as collectors of old bikes kept running into each other at swap meets at the Veterans Building in Santa Rosa.

Over coffee, they decided that once a month they'd take their old bikes on an an easy-going cruise from the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Rosa, usually on the Joe Rodota Trail to Sebastopol.

The bikes range from garden-variety Schwinns of the 1950s to the rare 1918 Pearce that Soltes owns and often rides. Many were found alongside backyard fences or in barns and in various states of disrepair.

The challenge is to get these old bikes back on the road.

"We take a step back. We make it a point to not be in a rush and enjoy the essence of what the old bike is. We go nice and slow," Soltes said.

They started with five riders and now have had 35, with participants coming from as far away as Stockton and Pleasanton.

The club has a Facebook page, but is otherwise informal. There are no dues, no bylaws, no officers and no membership cards.

"We are not going to formalize the club; we just want it to be like-minded people who show up and go for a cruise," Soltes said.

There is an acknowledgment that no one will be turned away from the monthly rides, even if they are on a modern bike.

"That has been a difficult subject," Soltes said. "Originally we wanted to be a little snooty about it and do only pre-1960, but we came to the realization this is a bike community and you can't exclude anybody."

But truly, if your bike is not 50 years old and you dislike going as slow as 5 to 10 mph, this may not be your cup of tea.

Because the rides are an outgrowth of bicycle collecting, the rides are distinct from the so-called Tweed Rides, held in San Francisco and other cities, where riders dress in early 1900s period clothes.

"That is like a costume show. We are into the tires and the chains and the correct handlebars; these things matter more than how shiny the bike is, how pretty it is," Soltes said.

He has a collection of a dozen vintage bikes in his front room, which doubles as his bike repair shop.

The Pearce is the most valuable, originally used by a Washington state mailman, but his DBS, built in Norway, with stainless steel fenders and high-end chrome, is among the most most unusual.

There also is a rare cinnamon-colored 1954 Panther, with the faux gas tank, and lots of Schwinns.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.