Monday, August 01, 2016

Getting the Boy into Cycling

Take a kid half your size and ask him or her to pedal a cheaply-made heavy beast of a bike with crap components up a hill. The result will be a child who has no interest in cycling.

Seeking to avoid that experience, I bought my then-7-year-old what I thought was going to be an AWESOME bike in September 2013: a Specialized Hotrock 24. This thing had an aluminum frame, a single rear derailleur with 7 speeds connected to an easy-to-read twist-grip shifter, and an integrated kickstand.

I'd done a ton of research before making the purchase, and everything indicated that this was going to be the bike to put cycling easily into my son's reach.

The first time he rode it, that idea was nuked. Our driveway is long and kinda steep...ish. Not really daunting, but not inviting for the average kid. He couldn't get the bike up the driveway. The gearing just didn't go deep enough to much of anything useful for him to even move around our property. FAIL.

Fast forward a year or so ago to when I started getting into cycling, and I decided to throw a front derailleur on his bike to give him a greater range of gears.

Once again I did the research and found that one company had a discontinued triple chainring on kids' length cranks, and it happened to be square-taper, just like his bike's bottom bracket!

That, of course, meant putting a shifter on the front, which meant cabling and new grips, a longer rear derailleur, and a new chain.

And by virtue of all of that, a heavier bike.

But I figured the extra depth of gears would make it all worthwhile. We ended up with an incredibly heavy bike dripping in cheap, crappy Shimano Tourney equipment, but the bike was marginally improved in terms of capability: he could, for instance, now get up the driveway...most of the time.

A quick scouring of the Interwebs revealed that I would do well to swap handlebars. I found a cheap carbon bar, and when it arrived, weighed the two bars side-by-side. The stock steel bar on the Hotrock weighs more than a full pound MORE than the carbon bar, which comes in at just over 100 grams. With one part, I'd obviated all of the weight penalties of the new gearing options.

I then stumbled upon a clearance Forte seat that perfectly matched the color-scheme of the bike, and mounted that on a spare aluminum seat-post, cutting another 200g+ from the top of the bike.

But the whole thing still didn't work particularly well. The front derailleur interfered with the bottle cage, preventing the bike from using the little ring unless he reached down and fiddled with his bottle. The rear shift cable had been trimmed to its limits and resheathed enough times that the housing was pretty well destroyed, and the rear brake cable was frayed to hell from a prior emergency repair.

And he didn't really enjoy riding it. It's hard to get excited about riding something in that kind of condition.

Just about the time I was trying to figure out what to do with his bike, I bought a 2008 Trek Fuel EX 7 with a fairly worn 3x9 drivetrain. The SLX shifters were in great shape, as was the Deore front derailleur. The rear XT derailleur's jockey wheel was more wheel than gear, but it was otherwise mechanically sound.

That, of course, meant swapping out that 7-speed rear for a 9-speed. Which turned out to be a huge PITA, because one other area where Specialized cheaped out was in the building of the 24" wheels. These things take freewheels instead of freehubs. There are not many companies that make 9-speed freewheels, and I did not have the tools to pull them.

So more moneys and more parts later, I had a SunRace 13-32 9-speed heavy freewheel. Not what I wanted, but a hell of a lot cheaper than building up custom freehub wheels.

But with this extended range of gears (the 7-speed was 14-28), the math told me that he wouldn't need the outside 44T chainring. And that's good news for a couple of reasons:

1. The outer ring was big enough to cause clearance issues over some of the smaller obstacles on our local trails.
2. He's a kid, he doesn't own kits, and I don't want his pants getting painted with chain grease. The 44T ring could have accepted a plastic bashguard, but by dropping it, I was able to put on a proper metal 32T bashguard / pants-protector.

As a final finishing touch, I asked him to pick out cable colors for the shifters & brakes. He picked lime green for brakes and clear braided steel for shifters, and I gotta say, it looks TIGHT. And after a few ruined rides where his brakes weirdly interfered with forward progress, I spent a couple hours getting his wheels properly true.

So now the kid's got a carbon bar, SLX shifters tied to a 2x9 drivetrain running a Shadow XT rear (with a newly-replaced aluminum jockey wheel) and Deore top-pull front derailleur, a proper bashguard, colorful Jagwire cabling, ergo grips, straight wheels, and it's tastefully adorned with team stickers.

Now if only I could get him to ride it.

But sooth, there may be hope! In light of all my road miles over the past year, Alastair told me he's more likely a roadie than a mountain bike guy. Ready at a moment's notice to call his bluff, I had him cough up 66% of the cost of a road bike. In early June, over a triple-points weekend at a certain national bike retailer, I got him a Fuji Sportif 2.3 sporting 650c wheels, basically a smaller version of my commuter bike.

My rule was that it had to move 50 miles per month, or it would go back to the store. So far he's right on the cusp, at an average of 53.55 miles per month, but part of that has been due to him travelling. In spite of a week at camp and a week at his grandparents' house, he put 86.3 miles on the bike in July. His reward just arrived in the mail on Saturday: a shiny Belgium national team kit to match my jersey.

So far he seems to enjoy road rides. He certainly enjoys the idea that every road ride involves delicious baked goods. Now I just have to figure out how to transition him to the mountain bike for the colder months, 'cause there's no way on God's green earth he's gonna want to join me for one of my long winter rides, and I don't want to start over from scratch at 12mph next spring.

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