Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fuji Kids' Road Bike

Juliana's Fuji came to us from an eBay seller. I'd started looking there last Winter for a bike project to do with and for Juliana. I'd seen some Specialized Allez Junior and Trek Junior racing bikes, but was honestly put off a bit by their aluminum frames. I've never owned an aluminum bike, because the aluminum road bikes I've ridden have had an exceptionally harsh quality to them -- far rougher than the Shogun's frame, which is the harshest of the bikes I've owned as an adult. I'm sure there are aluminum frames out there that would prove me wrong, but I've yet to ride one and didn't wish to inflict a harsh bicycle on Juli.

So when I saw the cute little Fuji with its lugged steel frame, I was drawn to it. Had to have it. And won the auction.

The frame is maybe best described as a light touring frame -- it's definitely not a racing bike. It's got two pairs of eyelets on the rear dropouts and one pair on the fork, so it'll handle both fenders and a rack with ease. Assuming someone makes racks and fenders for bikes with 24x1 rims, that is. The fork sweeps forward noticeably, the rear triangle is nice and long, and the angles of the head and seat tube are on the relaxed side, all of which should add up to stable handling. Which you want both for kids and for touring. It's got plenty of clearance for those hypothetical fenders and big tires, and it's heavy enough that in the absence of identifying decals, I'm guessing the tubing is made of relatively thick and mild steel, not chromoly.

Another draw for me was that in the hands of its previous owners, it had already undergone much the same type of process it would undergo with Juli and me. It had a mix of components that included a number of clear upgrades, and it was obvious there was an effort by an enthusiast to make the bike work well for a kid. Even so, the bike had seen some hard use, and there was a lot to do to turn the Fuji into the bike you see at the top of the page.

I started that work by taking it apart and assessing each component as to whether it would be reused, repurposed or replaced.

The drivetrain was a mix of stuff that ultimately fell into all three categories. The Ultegra crankset was nice and had a nice pair of wide 39/52 chainrings, but I felt the 170mm arms were a little long for Juliana. The bottom bracket was a decent sealed Shimano part that Juliana repacked, but I wasn't able to use it with the crankset I ended up with, so it's still in my parts box with the cranks. I went with a Bontrager crankset with 165mm arms and 39/52 chainrings and an ISIS cartridge bottom bracket. It was my first experience with this style of bottom bracket, and it seems just fine. I screwed the MKS track pedals that she'd used on the trailer bike into the new crankset, so her feet should feel right at home.

I wanted matching derailleurs, mostly just because. And folks seem to agree that RX-100 (which the rear derailleur already was) is good stuff. By most accounts, RX-100 is identical to the contemporary 105SC 7-speed components that I have a lot of experience with, but with a different finish. So I upgraded the front derailleur with a matching RX-100 model. I swapped the Suntour bar-end shifters (now on the Schwinn) for Ultegra 8-speed bar-end replacements, and have them set to their friction mode because the indexing is not dead-on with the 7-speed cluster. These shifters are OK, but I don't much like their non-indexed feel. At some point I may figure something else out, and the driver will be whether Juli likes them or not. The cluster is a chromed Shimano 7-speed Hyperglide cassette with little wear that just needed a bath.

The wheelset is a jumble of mixed parts, all passable (thank goodness, because I had no desire to get rims built up). The front hub is Campagnolo and the rear a Shimano-compatible no-name piece. The rims are eyeleted 24" (520mm bead) Araya (I think) hoops in decent shape, and it came with Campagnolo skewers with square nuts that didn't fit the fork cleanly. I kept all but the skewers, but as it turned out, I had challenges making Ultegra skewers work well. More on that later. The old tires and tubes were replaced, as they were pretty dry. All I could find were Panaracer Pasela tires, but these are perfectly good all-around tires, so it's not like that's any heartbreak. The only problem with these little Paselas is that they're relatively narrow, and that's probably OK for such a light rider.

The brakes and levers appeared to be original to the bike -- old Dia-Compe side-pull calipers and matching compact Dia-Compe levers (levers I've since seen on a small Bertoni racing bike I'm helping a friend re-fit). The levers are a little stiff, and had some tip-over scratches, but I kept them and filed down the rough spots, rather than buying new ones. The calipers I upgraded to Tektro ultra long-reach dual-pivot sidepulls. In hindsight, I could have gone with their mid-reach model and saved a few bucks. But these look good and will offer more than enough power. At some point I may swap them onto another bike -- if, say, I undertake another 650B conversion.

Handlebar, stem, seatpost and headset were all perfectly fine for the job, and were left intact. But my decision to leave the 105SC headset unserviced is tugging at me, and this winter I'm going to repack it with Juli's help.

Juliana and I partnered in the reassembly process, with Juliana tackling key jobs in her introduction to bicycle mechanics. The day I took it apart, we did a handful of tasks of note. First, we replaced the balls in the cages of the bottom bracket bearings, greased the thing up liberally with Pedro's synthetic grease, fit the pieces together and stuffed it into a Ziploc sandwich bag where it sits to this day. This was Juli's first exposure to the mysteries of ball bearings, and I have to say that she acquitted herself nicely. She sat patiently with me on the porch of our house, and dropped only a handful of balls onto the floor in the process of pressing them into the cages. She also did a great job squirting grease into the bearing cups, and seemed to genuinely enjoy the process.

Next up, we repacked the hubs, and though I did most of the disassembly and reassembly, Juli was responsible for placing the grease in the races and stuffing the right number of balls down into the grease. She also helped judge just when the cones were properly adjusted -- admittedly this was as much instruction as input, but I think she got the idea. One thing that was great about this part of build was that I not only had Juliana there helping me, but also Ava, who participated in placing balls into the hubs as well.

The frame is small, so there isn't enough room for a water bottle on the seat tube. For that matter, there are no braze-ons there (or anywhere else) to hold a bottle cage. So we did two things -- first, we put a bottle mount on the down tube, and second we put a mount on the handlebars. There's a useful site here that has a bunch of listings for different bottle cage mounts and their sources, and I'm going to write another post with my experiences on the subject, so stay tuned. To actually hold the bottles, I just used basic silver Specialized cages in the road tubing gauge.

I did most of the rest of the rebuild work, and Juliana's role shifted more to the aesthetic, which I'll get back to in a moment. The rebuild was pretty uneventful, with two exceptions -- first, I think I cut the shifter cable housings an inch too short, and may end up redoing those this winter (though that also means redoing the handlebar tape, so I'm not eager to do that). And second, the rear wheel proved difficult to install.

The right rear dropout on the frame does not have a derailleur hanger on it, and the bike must have originally been fitted with a derailleur with a claw-type mount. But the previous owner had fitted a higher end derailleur with an adapter mount to hang it from. A good upgrade, but not one that worked well with Shimano quick-release skewers I'd picked up to work better with the fork tips. You see, the claw-type adapter essentially resulted in a right side dropout that was twice as thick as the left side dropout. And though I don't really understand why, when I closed the QR skewer, the right side would bite OK, but the left side would remain loose. I assumed the skewer would simply self-center as it clamped on the dropouts regardless of the differential in thickness, but it wasn't working out that way. Ultimately I tried picking up a second dropout adapter and mounting it upside down on the left side dropout. After the dropouts were the same thickness, the QR worked fine. Odd.

Back to aesthetics. The Fuji is sort of a metallic burgundy, and selecting just the right accenting colors was up to Juliana. We had some housing in a nice royal blue that looked great but was judged by herself as too similar to the trailer bike to be used here. We looked at yellow, but that didn't go with the color of the frame well enough (this we both agreed on). Black wasn't at all interesting to Juliana, and she ultimately decided on red. We ordered some red cable housing, picked up some red and black handlebar tape, and found a red and black saddle online. Juli helped wrap and tape the handlebars, and did a great job.

The only other reservation I have about the bike right now is that I suspect the saddle will prove to be too narrow and too long to be comfortable for her. If that's the case, I'll put Juli's Brooks B-17S on this bike and leave the red one for another project (perhaps the Paramount if the old Brooks Team Professional doesn't improve with the conditioning I gave it this Fall).

The results are as shown in the photos. It's an even cuter little bike than it was when it arrived. In the photos, it almost looks like a full size touring bike, until you notice that the saddle, handlebars and large chainring are a bit out of proportion. In person, it looks tiny. I've ridden it around the driveway, and comically at that, but Juli has thus far only sat on it. It was still a little big for her at Summer's end, even with the saddle all the way down, as shown. My hope is that it'll fit her this Spring, but it might be still another year before it's right for her -- time will tell.

One other thing I might do is move the Velo-Orange rack from the Schwinn to this bike (which just occurred to me as I write this, honestly). It might be a little big, but I'm going to test fit it. I can't use my panniers on that rack, and in the event Juli can join me on some longer rides downstream, having that rack fitted with a little trunk bag will give us a bit of extra storage.

I asked Juli to help edit this posting, and it reflects her memories of the project as well as my own. And I've asked her to dictate a comment, which you can see below (under my login). We'd love to hear from others who've undertaken such projects with their kids, and learn how those have worked out!

All for now,

J and J


John said...

All I'd like to say is how much I appreciated working on the bike with my father, and that I'm looking forward to riding this summer.

It was a very fun project for me, and I hope other people will do something like that with their kids, too.

My favorite part of the project was wrapping the handlebar tape around the handlebars, and I also loved putting the bearings in the grease.

I can't wait to go riding with my dad on that Fuji!



borgbike said...

Very cool bike. Hope Juliana enjoys riding it.

We recently picked up a 24" inch wheel kids' bike for our daughter, a Kuwahara mixte. It is a nice steel lugged frame. Like you mentioned, probably not super light tubes but I still like the bike. The original pink paint and decals are in great condition.

We were lucky to find this one because we had just missed out on a Fuji mixte on Craigslist. The Fuji, looked nice but our daughter wanted a euro-style mixte with the two small straight top tubes and not the single bent one as was on the Fuji we missed.

The Kuwahara has all of the stock parts from the (I'm guessing) early 1980s. I would like to make similar performance upgrades to this bike and am impressed with the rear derailleur on the Fuji.

My local bike shop had trouble sourcing good road wheels to replace the original steel ones. 24" tires are a challenge too. They are recommending that we wait until our daughter gets a little bigger and use narrow 26" wheels. I'll have to show them this Fuji and see if they have any ideas based on this. The only new ones they could find we steel.

I say go with indexed shifters if you have to re-do the cable outers.

John said...


That sounds cool -- enjoy rebuilding it!

24" wheels aren't as common as 26 or 700c, but you should be able to find some decent rims from high end recumbents, I should think. I was lucky not to have to rebuild the wheels.

I'd given some thought to picking up a set of 26" rims downstream to let the bike grow with Juli, but given that I've since swapped the bars out to city bars, I'm not sure where I'll land on that score. Might be good to leave it as-is and get her something built around 26" rims when the time comes. If Ava and I were to give the Fuji a rebuild when that time comes, personalizing it to just her, that might be an OK substitute for her getting a "new" bike. Will cross that bridge when we get to it.

I'm expecting the baskets I picked up for Juli's skateboard any day now. I'll post photos as soon as it's done.

Hope your daughter enjoys the Kuwahara!


John said...

Just browsed your post about your daughter's bike and found the Kuwahara on your photostream without really looking for it. Should build up to a neat bike! Enjoy the build!