Monday, December 14, 2009

Kids' road bikes

I got this idea yesterday, after spending an hour or so trying to find a decent children's road bike: start a company to make a decent children's road bike. I'm not sure how good an idea that is, really, but here's the thing -- they're really hard to find.

There are several racing bikes available with 24" (520) wheels. Trek makes one, Specialized makes one, Fuji makes one, Blue makes one. But they're all aluminum, and they're all racing bikes, not all-rounders like Juliana's old square-rigger Fuji. I've said before that I've never owned an aluminum bike, and I don't think I'd inflict one on either of my kids, either. Sure, they're lighter than a steel bike, and they don't rust. But based on my limited exposure to Cannondales and the like, I'm guessing they're not as comfortable to ride, either. Pretty much everything else is a mountain bike of some flavor, though I should note that there are also lots of department store road bikes in the mix, too. For example, you can't help but trip over dozens of GMC Denalis on Amazon or eBay, and that's a branding mash-up I really just don't understand.

I get that kids tend to be hard on their gear, but I'd love to see something like a junior Sam Hillborne. Actually, it probably doesn't even have to be lugged -- TIG it to keep the costs down -- a junior Kogswell P/R. Point is, something kid-sized, flexible, rackable and somewhat traditional. Problem is, it would probably be cost-prohibitive.

But set that aside for a moment. Picture a company that sold a wee little 20"-wheeled road bike -- call it a 6-speed to keep it simple and lose a couple of components. Spec things out on the inexpensive side, but not crap. Little city bars, maybe -- or allow for some build options, even. Then offer a 24"-wheeled bike that ups the ante on the components and gearing (12-speed). Then a 26" in 16 or 24 speeds. Finally a 650B or 700c bike the kid can ride straight through high school. All of them chromoly, all of them with bottle cage braze-ons, all of them rugged and equipped with rugged wheels and tires, and all equipped with lights and kick stands and good pedals that will withstand a kid's abuse. For the bigger bikes, offer racks for skateboards, baskets for pads, bags that hang from the racks and double as backpacks -- useful accessories for kids -- all through an e-store. Sell kits of stuff that kids should have on their bikes, and should learn how to use (pumps and spare tubes and patch kits in little seat wedges). Put educational clips on YouTube showing the kids how to use all that stuff.

And maybe even take them back in trade from their original owners for a fair value to encourage upgrades to the next size -- though if they're good, they'll hold their value on eBay. Sell the refurbs at a discount to start the process over again. Or maybe don't sell them at all -- lease them. Or maybe not -- needs more thought.

Anyway, the business model might not work. And given how litigious people are, it may be too risky, period. And I'm not sure how it would fare without a bricks-and-mortar presence for ogling bikes and accepting trades. But I like the idea and I've got to believe there's an opportunity to create a great brand in this space. Good kids' road bikes are just really hard to find.

All for now,


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wheel Building

I need a new pair of wheels.

I'm still thinking through the Columbia project, particularly with respect to rear brakes. But whether I get a set of cantilever posts brazed on or not, I'm still going to need a pair of wheels -- that defining trait of a bicycle.

It came to me with a pair, but they're not really what I want. The chromed steel rims don't have any braking surfaces, the hubs are not particularly smooth, and the coaster-brake rear hub has a ton of drag. I think they're probably 571 rims, rather than 559, but I still need to validate that.

I have parts to build a set of wheels up, now, as I think I've mentioned. A set of fat Sun rims in the 559 MTB standard, and a pair of SR hubs. The hubs probably started life years ago on a 10-speed, but the rear hub has been spaced for a single speed freewheel. These are 36-hole units, and the question is what to do with them.

For $200 or so, I could have a pair of wheels built at Wheelworks, and get something back that I'll likely never need to mess with. Or, for $200, I could go buy a wheel building stand plus a spoke tension gauge, plus maybe a copy of Jobst Brandt's wheelbuilding book. And then for still a little more, I can go buy a pile of spokes and nipples and set to work. My friend Steven, who gave me his Motobecane, knows how to build wheels. He may be able to help, even!

I've never built a wheel before, and nor have I had particular success attempting to true a wheel. I'm also not the most patient guy in the world, so I may not be an ideal candidate for wheel building. I'm sure they wouldn't be perfect, but it might be fun. And with any luck I'd have a skill to save me money long after this project is done. For instance, I could lace a set of 26" rims up to a set of road hubs to buy one more year out of Juli's Fuji, once she's grown a bit more. Or any number of other things.

Any advice from others who've tried it?

Looking beyond the wheels, I'm pretty close to having all the parts I need for that build. I bought a trio of Wald baskets, new and old (a new small front basket and a pair of NOS side baskets like Juli's for the rear). I have racks to hold up the baskets and brakes, but should buy new brake levers. I have a new Wald seatpost, and a new and wider Wald handlebar, too. The fork and headset and stem are covered. I haven't yet bought a new crank, bottom bracket, chainring or chain, but I have some ideas, there. I also bought a new set of pedals with half-inch quills. Once I get through the holidays, I'll tear it down and start to build it back up. I'd toyed with the idea of a repaint, again, but it's just too expensive to be worth it. And after all, its mission in life is to be a highly functional clunker.

All for now,



My dog Jake just ate a stick of butter off the counter. Brand new, and waiting for the butter dish to be clean (dishwasher). But now I'm just left with a clean wrapper and a very sheepish dog.

My hope is it will be good for his fur, and not make him puke in my bedroom tonight or suffer other gastrointestinal distress.

I love how he looks all guilty about it, at least. Didn't stop him from eating it, but he's perfectly aware that he wasn't supposed to.

All for now,