Thursday, 1 August 2013

A Giant leap forward......?

This project came about by chance because of a bike I was asked to undertake a small repair on. It was a child's Felt bicycle which was a bit different from the normal kid's B.S.O.s (bicycle shaped objects). The bike had a nice frame and some nice components but was very, very, heavy. I wondered at the logic, which married some good kit with the very heavy mediocre, to produce a heavy kids bike with pretensions, at a hefty price tag. As chance would have it, I came across a Giant 24” wheel aluminium frame MTB that was heading for the scrap bin. 

Could I turn this ugly duckling into a swan that might fly? The frame was sound, but all the cheap, heavy components were badly rusted and the bottom bracket and headset were shot. The bike was put to one side of the workshop. The occasional glance while working on other things started the the ideas train rolling. The first task was to strip the bike down to the bare frame. The challenge was to see if the bike could be rebuilt, firstly, to make it a lot lighter and secondly, to produce a good quality child's bike on a budget. I am aware of Islabikes as being the only bicycle manufacturer in this part of the world who produces good quality children's bikes and is not committed to the 'heavy kids clunker' concept.

The penetrating oil was reached for and liberally applied. With patience the bike began to come to bits and the scrap pile grew exponentially on the workshop floor. Once the frame was stripped down and the heavy, rusty suspension fork and headset removed, it was checked for visible signs of damage. Some minor scrapes to the paint finish but no obvious sharp impact damage. The bike was originally fitted with a six speed freewheel. The cost for rebuild had to be kept under control, as the bike would be sold on, once the project had been completed and must produce a return for the work carried out and parts fitted. The original wheels were steel hubs laced with rustless spokes into an alloy rim. The wheels were heavy and out of true. The spokes were corroded, so even attempting to true them was a complete waste of time. Replacement alloy wheels would be fitted. 

I gave some thought to building wheels using a cassette rear hub, but rejected this on the grounds of cost. I used stock 24” replacement wheels, alloy threaded hubs, stainless spokes and alloy rims. I also fitted a 7 speed freewheel. The bike needed new suspension forks and after doing a bit on online searching identified the SR Suntour XCR as the best model available for 24” wheels. More online searching produced a heavily discounted purchase.  The replacement headset was a stock item and the fork steerer column was measured and cut to size before fitting the star nut inside the steerer tube. The forks were then fitted and the headset adjusted. 

Turning my attention to the handlebars, I saved the original alloy stem, but dumped the rusted steel handlebar. I managed to source some narrower  alloy downhill bars which were remaindered stock. 

The bike originally had a cheap bottom bracket set comprised of separate cups, ball bearings and axle. I chose to replace this with a sealed square taper bottom bracket unit and a new alloy Sunrace triple chainset. 

The original derailleur mechs were heavily corroded and I chose to replace these with a rear Shimano Altus mech and a Shimano LX front. A new chain was also fitted, along with Sunrace twist grip shifters. I had considered using rapid fire levers, but after talking to my youngest daughter, went with her preferred choice, for ease of use – twistgrip. The drive train was then cabled and adjusted.

The steel seatpost was scrapped and a branded 'Giant' alloy one bought on ebay. The original saddle was saved and refitted along with the Cateye reflector. 

The alloy V brakes were cleaned, refitted, recabled and adjusted. The new wheels had been given, new rim tapes, but the original inner tubes were reused as they were sound. Tyres were then fitted. The bike is much lighter than the original spec and the drive train works well. My youngest daughter has road rested the bike and declared it good to ride.  

The bike is a one off, but has proved it is possible to produce a reasonable quality, relatively light, child's bicycle, which is durable without breaking the bank. Is there a market for this sort of bike? I believe, yes, however, it has to come with the caveat that the market is a small niche, in the overall scale of children's bicycle buying. Why do I say this? Firstly , on the evidence from Islabikes, who sell directly to customers via the internet, servicing a global market and secondly, I don't know too many families yet, that use bicycles solely for transportation. The majority attitude towards children's bicycles in this part of the world seems to be, that they are toys and are bought through toy shops or supermarkets. A £60 BSO (bicycle shaped object) is considered a good buy. The fact it is incredibly heavy and therefore tiring to pedal, over anything other than a short distance and has to be assembled from the carton, is not an impediment to sales. The number of children's bikes bought through cycle shops here, has dropped dramatically and the once annual Christmas bonanza for the LBS of children's bikes has long since gone. Children's bikes are considered as a 'throw away consumer item'. This may change as more adults start to ride bicycles again, but I believe attitudes will only change significantly, when the bicycle is being used for transport, not just recreation.

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