Thursday, August 5, 2010

Small Mixte

I said a few posts back that I'd picked up a smallish ladies' Schwinn frame for Juliana, with the intention of building it up with her this winter. Actually, looking back at the post, I even shared a picture of the frame. For a couple of weeks, it seemed like that wasn't going to work out so well, because of Juli's vehement opposition to the color pink, and indignation that her sister will get a repaint of the Fuji before it passes into her hands.

(Quick sidebar on the Fuji: The plan is to take it to a frame builder, have him braze on a real derailleur hanger, add a couple of rack barrels at the back in an unusual location to accept the Pletscher, and put a set of bottle cage braze-ons and cable stops for the bar end shifters on the down tube, before sending it out to be powder coated. For colors, Ava and I agreed on a Bugatti-esque bright blue with light silver fork blades, head tube and seat tube. The brazing work probably won't cost $100 and it'll save the paint job from bottle cage straps, cable clamps and the like. Time will tell if it actually all unfolds this way...)

While Juli smoldered away not-so-quietly, I started looking into alternatives, though I had no real intention of doing anything other than building that pink bike with her. By the way, that Schwinn frame was brazed in China, not Taiwan (as I'd hypothesized), according to the serial number.

I looked at a bunch of bikes on eBay, and found a few mountain bike frames that could be bastardized into road use for a young person. The problem, there, is that I've lived with such a bike in the past (my Paramount MTB set up with drop bars and bar-end shifters for commuter use), and the fit really wasn't right, because I was sitting so far back. That's with a stem with a very short reach, and remember I'm an adult male, and I've got a proportionally longer torso and arms than your average girl does. I kept digging.

I knew that Velo-Orange had come out with a mixte frame, and poking around a bit, I found it was available as small as a 51 (the pink Schwinn is a 48, but I'd need to measure more than that to compare the two frames, really). A mixte frame is sort of like what's traditionally called a ladies' frame, in that the bike does not have a high top tube. But it's better than a traditional ladies' frame like Juli's Schwinn, because in place of the downward-sloping top tube that stops at the seat tube, a Mixte usually has a pair of narrower-diameter tubes that run all the way from the head tube down to the general vicinity of the rear dropouts (there are plenty of variations on this theme, but this is generally the style). These longer twin tubes add more strength to the frame, and generally class things up a bit. They also create a more elegant solution for a rear brake location, because the third pair of rear stays (the mid-stays) is typically fitted with a brake bridge, and the brake is installed there, not on the seat stays. The brake cable can thus run down between the twin top tubes, straight to a brake, rather than having to be routed upwards to a brake on a seatstay bridge.

In any case, the V-O mixte is a nice-looking lugged frame, in a nice blue, and it is reasonably priced. But the fork and rear triangle are roomy -- it is set up for 700c rims with lots of tire clearance and long reach brakes, and could probably accept 27" wheels like Juli's Schwinn. That's fine, but I'm guessing that as a result, even the smallest size would build up into a bike too big for Juli to graduate to. And anyway, by now I wasn't thinking so much about her anymore, but her little sister -- again, Juli's next frame has been bought.

I just recently stumbled upon a potentially great solution for Ava, when her time comes: SOMA Fabrications also has a mixte, called the Buena Vista. It's a welded frame, for the most part (though the twin top tube/seat tube junction has a lug, and there are rings brazed at the top of the seat tube and both ends of the head tube), with a decent Tange Chromoly tubeset, lots of braze-ons for whatever you might want to bolt to it, a lugged Tange fork and sporty geometry. But what's really interesting is that they have it in a 42cm frame size, which was designed for 26" wheels and long-reach brakes (57-73 mm). A classic junior (not kids) mixte frame, in other words, which is really interesting to a guy with a little girl who is likely to be on the petite side, as it seems Ava will be.

Without knowing much more than the intended wheel and brake specs, I'm guessing that the bike could be built up with either 26" wheels with the spec'ed long-reach brakes, or 650B wheels with a medium-reach brake, though to be sure would require some digging (or expensive trial and error). Their difference in radius is only a half inch, so it's not like we're talking about a tremendously different size. But 650B wheels, if they fit, would probably offer a better ride than 26" wheels, and more interesting road tire choices would be at hand (skinny 26" tires tend to be cheaper and beefier utility tires, rather than more refined road tires). It may even be that a build with 26" wheels might make sense early on, with a swap to 650B later. Hard to say.

I think Juliana is going to be tall, given her build and the way she's growing. I'm not really worried about finding a bike that fits her well, and I think the Schwinn will work out just fine in a year or so -- that she'll shoot right past the need for an intermediate size. She's already riding her mother's mountain bike, after all, and I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up fitting a frame in the low 50's as an adult, rather than the high 40's.

But I'm guessing Ava will end up more her mother's size, though, and my ex rides a 46cm Bianchi made more approachable by fitting 650B wheels with skinny-ish Grand Bois Cypres tires. Assuming Ava keeps at cycling, I think she'll be on the Fuji until a later age than Juli, that she'll need a smaller adult bike, and that she would benefit from something slotting between the Fuji and a full-sized frame. All speculation, here, but if it works out that way, I'd rather that bridge not be a small mountain bike bastardized for road use.

This is nothing I need to worry about now, for sure -- she's only six, after all, and just got onto a pair of 20" mountain bikes (she looks tiny on them, and is still a little wobbly, but she's great at starting and stopping without falling over). But I like this little Soma, and I think it's great that there's even a higher-end option to consider. Something to keep an eye on!

All for now,


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