Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Speedy and Adorable! T's Teeny Tiny Roadbike

T's Tiny Viking Roadbike
Along the Foyle bicycle path in Derry, I have grown accustomed to seeing all sorts of cyclists on all sorts of bikes. But I did a double take today, when I noticed beside me what appeared to be a perfectly normal, perfectly proportioned roadbike - only shrunken to a diminutive size. I have seen junior roadbikes before. But this one was one step smaller still, its wheels similar to those on my folding bike. And the rider was a boy whose age was almost certainly in the mid-single digits. The overall effect was like seeing a child on a Shetland pony, except a road cycling version of that. Unable to contain my delight, I complimented the fellow on his machine and asked a few questions.

T's Tiny Viking Roadbike
The bicycle he's riding - which I'd assumed at first was a concoction of parts assembled by a parent - is in fact an off-the-shelf Viking Jetstream - a 20" wheel roadbike equipped with teeny drop bars, a short-armed crankset and a miniature racing saddle. The bike is intended for children 6-8. The single water bottle cage takes up most of the space inside the main triangle, which should give you a sense of its size!

T's Tiny Viking Roadbike
While at first glance the frameset looks pretty modern, it is in fact hi-ten steel. And on closer inspection, the downtube shifters create a bit of a vintage vibe. The 28cm tires are a nice, comfortable width (the only problem being, unable to find tubes with Presta valves for the 20" wheel size). The bell and cycling computer finish off the pro look.

Also interesting, I thought, is the rider's position - which is pretty aggressive for his age, with bars slightly below the saddle. That, plus using the downtube shifters, calls for a great deal of balance and flexibility, which this boy clearly has. I asked T whether his bike was comfortable, and he assured me it very much was. The furthest distance he's done so far has been 16 miles - accompanied by his Dad - and he looks forward to going further still.

T's Tiny Viking Roadbike
When I see young children riding with their roadie parents, it is usually on an upright MTB-type machine. This, combined with never having seen a roadbike this small in person before, led me to assume that bikes like this are pretty rare. But upon doing some research I was pleased to discover that tiny (pre-junior?) roadbikes are not uncommon here. In the UK in particular, there appears to be a handful of bikes-direct type brands that sell 20" children's roadbikes at a low cost, including Viking and Dawes (in fact, here is an entire handy list of them). And while the quality of components and choice of materials vary, a knowledgeable parent - or bike shop - could easily make some tweaks to ensure the machine is safe and functional. Having written about children's bicycles before (see here, here and here), the topic of cost vs quick rate of outgrowing the bike always comes up. In light of this, it's good to know there are affordable, off the shelf options available for even very young children who'd like to try roadcycling.

But all that aside, the sight of a little kid whizzing past on miniature roadbike, in the deep drop position, just put such a big smile on my face. Thank you, speedy T, for making my evening!

37 comments:

  1. This is great to see. While my daughter (age 15 months) just started on a balance bike, I am already on the out for "real" bikes she can ride with the family. Those with children may be interested in a new Kickstarter campaign to build quality bicycles specifically for children:

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1349772081/pello-bikes-high-quality-lightweight-childrens-bic

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    1. Looks nice and I wish them luck. I know of a few companies and individuals who have tried to get projects like this going over the past 6 years, and unfortunately none ever made it - the huge flaw in the plan being that parents are just not willing to pay the prices such bikes command, considering how quickly their children would outgrow them. I remember one company had the idea to offer a lease/subscription type of plan, whereby a family would get a bike to keep for a year, then exchange it for the next size up the next year, and so on. I thought it was a promising plan, but never saw it implemented.

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    2. While I'm very much in favor of more high-quality manufacturers producing children's bikes, the smaller Pello bikes look very similar and are priced comparably to the Cleary bikes that have been available for a year:

      http://clearybikes.com/collections/bikes with the bonus that the 16" Cleary bike has no coaster brake.

      Other high-quality manufacturers available in the U.S. would be the Islabike, Woom bikes (which does have an "Upcycle" program, but the terms aren't that favorable), and Spawn Cycles.

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  2. Sort of begs the question: is Fred-ifying children a good thing?

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    1. Well, when put that way the language alone makes it sound like a "bad thing." Makes me think of this earlier post.

      But that aside, I did not get the impression that the boy was either "dressed up" or pushed to ride this bike by his father. He clearly has agency in the whole thing and loves it. Looks and sounds good to me.

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  3. How cute! Isla bikes make some nice road bikes for kids, I might even consider one since I am so small and have trouble finding bikes that fit. In my many searches for a small vintage road bike I have come across many babino bianchis and the like- definitely for children and not tiny adults. Such a bike would have thrilled me growing up! I recently saw a mixed age cycling group in West Vancouver and there were some girls on very small road bikes. I just wonder about how to find such wee brake levers and handlebars which I would love to have!

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    1. On a day when I was tragically sans camera and with my iphone battery dead, I met a woman riding a gorgeous miniature Bianchi that must have been a Bambino. The thing was in shiny-new condition and all original, except that she had modern handlebars and brake levers fitted, and a leather saddle. The wheels were 24" I think. The woman was small, but not unusually so - maybe 5'2". She said the fit suited her better than the off the shelf women-specific bikes she had tried, and she preferred the ride quality by far.

      FWIW Bianchi still make a 24" wheel junior bike - though not sure if available to the US market.

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  4. How cute - lovely photos of this little rider. I think it is always pleasant when one sees children enjoying their bikes.

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  5. Isla bikes (www.islabikes.co.uk) are also worth looking at as they only design bikes for kids.

    They aren't cheap but they are very sought after so hold their resale value well (I hesitate to mention this but they seem to have become a bit of a middle class status symbol in the type of family where dad needs to have the latest carbon racing model...)

    I've heard Isla Rowntree, the company's founder, speak at an event and she is worth listening to.

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    1. Nice. Could be just the thing for my friend's 11-year old.

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  6. REI makes good kids bikes as well. 26" wheels for approx ages 8 - 13 was what worked for our kids. Cross bike, drop barred, steel frame, brifters, durable. Resale high

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    1. I've seen those, as well as 24" roadbikes in the US, but never one as small as 20". Wonder whether any exist. The good thing about the small wheels, is that it allows for better clearances in small sizes.

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  7. For those in USA, Soma (somafab.com) makes Bart and Lisa frames that take 20" wheels and have road geometry for kids. So if you are thinking about building your kid his/her own road bike, you can start there.

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    1. Oh wow. Didn't realise those could be fitted with 20" wheels. And didn't think that Soma still sold them. Stunning little bikes, for those willing to spend the money (looks like parents would need close to $1K for complete build?)

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    2. In my cycling club there are folks who replace their bikes every couple of years with the latest and greatest without batting an eye. These same people balk at the idea of buying a quality bike for their child. Suddenly it is not practical to spend the money, because in two years they will outgrow it. The irony is lost on them!

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    3. If granddaughter keeps up her cycling interest a bit longer, I might look into the Lisa frameset and build kit. Her dad is a former bike shop owner and would have no problem building up such a thing. Will keep you posted if it happens!

      I looked up the Islabikes site and was pleased to see they are now distributed in the US out of Portland OR and have a showroom there. They look to be a very good value.

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  8. I think it's oddly different the ways in which kids are raised and introduced to sports/sporting activities now as opposed to previous generations. They spend much more times with adults in much more organized ways and industries are now built to support and enhance the new mindset. Went through it with my three kids and now that they're adults it's interesting to hear them reflect back on those times….Makes me reflect as well….So, yeah, I think this is more odd than adorable but bless them for both being out and being together and judging by their smiles they're having a good time or enjoying being photographed or both!

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    1. The adult-guided structuring of play in the way today's kids are raised is a noticeable culture shift and a hot topic in developmental psychology. Given the rising backlash against it, I also wonder whether this is something that will cycle back around.

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    2. I hope it does - bring on the free range kids - while understanding that it is important to spend time with your children, I love it when I see children out playing together with not an adult in sight.

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  9. This is great! I'm linking my sister to this post and comments. My diminutive 10 year old niece did her first 20 miles recently on the typical looking kids bike (flat bars, 20" wheels, came with training wheels that they took off). I think she'll be ready for a bike like this soon!

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  10. While this bike looks cute, at its core it is a big box bike (available at Halfords and Tesco) that emphasizes form over function. If the Amazon listing is to be believed, it weighs 11.4 kg (25 lbs for those of us in the U.S.), which is fully 8 lbs/50% heavier than an Islabike Beinn 20 and about 3-4 lbs more than a Fuji Absolute 20, which is more of a race geometry bike.

    In addition, the downtube shifters, plus a double front chain ring, are, as you correctly point out, likely to be hard to manage for most 6 to 8 year olds.

    For a child who is insistent on drop bars, the Dawes Sprint looks like better option: http://dawescycles.com/product/20-road-sprint/

    Obviously the Jetstream has a much lower price than all of the other bikes mentioned above, so for someone on a limited budget, it might be a good option.

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  11. My 3 year olds are riding around on 14inch woom bikes with no training wheels. It's pretty awesome to go for a ride with them on the bike path, and I'm sure the lighter weight bikes have helped them in being able to handle it

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  12. I don't think kids realize, when wearing these jerseys, the corporate dynamic behind them. It's not pretty. Better to just let them explore and enjoy pedaling and freedom and mischief.

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    1. They certainly don't realise the corporate dynamic. But often it is the kids themselves who want the jerseys (see kristrois comment below) - be it for cycling or other sports. Kids here wear football jerseys with sponsor's logos not just to play football in but as everyday attire; same in the US with basketball, baseball, etc.

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    2. Exactly. Kids are introduced to symbols, colors, adverts of all kinds and gravitate towards them for all sorts of reasons. We're going through a Confederate flag issue here which is a reminder of the ugly side of this dynamic. Believe me, my kids went through this and I, too, found myself buying into the lust. I just feel differently now, that's all.

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  13. I get the sense that when this blog began you'd not have a smile on your face if you saw a child, in bike specific clothes, speeding down the road.

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    1. Probably I would have had the same reaction to seeing a tiny kid in full hockey regalia. Cute, but a sport that has nothing to do with me.

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  14. Aw, this is cute.

    I'm amazed by how much my six year old son LOVES every bit of gear there is. Even though we ride non sport bikes sans helmets or other accoutrements and have a super lame who cares sort of car for utilitarian purposes and he doesn't watch any television nor films and has no ipod/pad etc he remains keenly aware of the "pro" aspect of everything and loves uniforms of all kinds. I think it must be a reptile brain thing -- a sense of community or safety or herd mentality. I don't know! But he would trick himself out like this for sure if given the opportunity. I see no harm in it at all.

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  15. So, this is totally the inappropriate place to ask this (but i've no e-mail so it's all i've got) but there seems to be a big difference between your former Co-Habitant and your current one with regard to embracing bicycles and bicycling lifestyle. I think it's a relevant post. How do couples connect with this passion? It's tricky.

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    1. Both my ex and "this one" are into bicycles, but in different ways. My impression though (based on limited personal experience and observations of others), is that it's more about the couple's dynamic than about how much common ground you start out with. I'd like to write another post about couples' dynamics in cycling sometime (I say "another" because I already have one or two up on this topic, but they are from some years back). The challenge is, writing about something like this without getting too personal or coming across as if you're comparing/ reviewing people.

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    2. ^ PS My email address is in the About section.
      filigreevelo at yahoo

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  16. For some reason, large manufacturers were more willing to make miniature kid versions of adult-geometry mtn bikes way back in the 1990s, than they were to make miniature versions of road bikes. Maybe it was due to the sheer popularity of mtn backs back then. The Trek Mtn Kdz was a wonderful bike, made in the 90s, in sizes all the way down to 20". My daughter who is now nine got a used one when she was seven, with 20" wheels. Not only is it an exact replica of an adult-sized 90s rigid fork mtn bike, it's also made with a chromoly steel frame and uses industry-standard components (except shorter kid-length cranks)! It's even got cantilever brakes! And it's not at all heavy. The only modification I made to hers is a swap of the standard straight mtn bars to "upright" bars with swept back grips. Check out her form-- it's about a perfect replica of an adult sprinting out of the saddle: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/14604580674/in/photolist-ofyi25

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  17. Since children are still growing, I wonder if it is wise to get them on a road bike. They are not comfortable, usually, stretching the back and hunching it in the drops. I also wonder if a child would be more prone to accidents, as road bikes are a lot more twitchy and meant to be ridden faster than on a trail.

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  18. Looks like he's starting his kid, early, on the idea of having multiple bikes. Must need one to ride with dad at a sorta slow pace (how fast and far can a kid go?) and then he needs one to hang out with his buds…One that he can skid with the back tire, jump over stuff, generally drop it on the ground without worry when they jump off the bikes and explore or play on foot or whatever else kids do when they're together.

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  19. Narrow section 20" wheels and presta tubes are available if you go to the ERTRO 451 size as I did on my 70s Dawes Kingpin upcycle project.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjnxjryseLo

    Schwalbe Durano 28mm tyres. 451 Rims were once a popular junior BMX size

    I'd feel happier putting a youngster on a hybrid style with bar mounted shifters though

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  20. Somewhat off-topic but it comes up in the original post and again in comments. I would like to say a few words in defense of the much maligned and wildly misunderstood downtube shifter.

    For generations tens of millions of cyclists have merrily shifted away on dt levers. Words would lose their meanings if we were all held to be exceptional or extreme. Handlebar-end shifters have been available since the 1930s and they just never much sold. Shifting from the downtube is just plain easy. If it is hard for you you are doing it wrong. Most likely you are attempting to do something which is impossible. No amount of effort directed at doing something impossible is going to make it easier.

    This is how you do it: Lean forward into the 'bars. You cannot shift while sitting upright. You cannot shift while riding no hands. So lean forward. Now drop your arm straight down. Drop that arm from the shoulder but keep the shoulder steady. Keep both shoulders steady. Your fingertips should fall straight to the levers or somewhere darn close to the levers. If you are very close but not quite there you could drop your shoulder a little. A little. And only the one shoulder. Still not there? Don't push any harder. Do not twist your torso or lean to the side or attempt any stretches. No contortions. Try just dropping your arm a couple more times, as relaxed as you can be. If you are not there yet you will not be using dt shifters.

    So why is this so easy for me (and a cohort of millions) and so hard for you? Look at your handlebars. How high are they? No one with much sense would try to combine North Roads 'bars and dt shifters. If your bars are raised until they are as high as flat bars it will be one looong reach to the shift levers. If you have high drop bars you have gone Grant. There is no such thing as halfGrant. You must go fullGrant. Send Grant some money for Silver Shifters.

    At the other end of the bike how high is your saddle? If you are listening to the Gods of Fashion or to some guy who took a three-hour class and now calls himself a Professional Fitter you are probably sitting 3 inches higher than God or Eddy ever intended. You are just plain far away from the shift levers and leaning down to reach them will be unstable and scary. Most things on a bike will be unstable and scary if you sit high. You can fix this one by spending a lot of money on shiny new brifters or you can fix it by putting your saddle down.

    Of course there are some riders who can't reach for the dt levers because they can't even take the one hand off the 'bars. They need to maintain a deathgrip at all times. I see it all the time but I don't have enough imagination to put myself in those shoes. Is it any fun riding bike with a deathgrip? In most cases when I hear tales of cycling as some arduous ordeal or cycling as trial by fire I'm pretty sure I'm listening to someone who has the high 'bars or the high saddle. There could be some exceptions I'm missing. In any case there is always more kit to buy. Most any problem can be fixed by throwing sufficient money at it. You can also start an ingroup based on throwing silly accusations at those who can do things you can't.

    My balance is weak. I can't ride a balance beam to save my life. I've tried and tried and I cannot ski. Not going to happen. It's a good day when I'm flexible enough to barely touch my toes. Some flexibility is necessary for basic health so I work at it. But I just have short tendons. Shifting from the downtube is really easy. You could do it too on the right bike. You'll never get there if the task has been set up to be impossible.

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  21. This bike looks very strong, cool design. I also love the helmet. I'll get this bike in his birthday and hope he will like this. My boy is 5 now and he's riding Strider bike (also famous manufacturer in this industry). If your children interested in Strider balance bike, you can also take a look here:

    http://balancebikezone.com/strider-12-sport-no-pedal-balance-bike-review/

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