Commuter Bikes

How to Shop for a Kid’s bike

Here’s some quick tips on figuring out which sized bike to get your child for Christmas.

Children’s bicycles are measured by the size of wheel they have, 16″, 20″ and 24″. So here’s some age appropriate sizes you can use:

16″ 5-7 years old

20″ 8-10 years old

24″ 11-13 years old

Now take those measurements with a grain of salt. Kids tend to grow at different rates…especially when they start hitting puberty. But with my own kids, we saw that Breanna, had a major growth spurt and her 20″ bike was stretched out to the limits on the seat post and stem extension after about a year.

So with that in mind, you may want to consider a bike that will grow with your kid. If you’re kid. For boys usually a 20″ bmx bike will suit their needs for years to come and you really don’t have to worry too much about the fit and geometry. For girls, I’d recommend beach cruisers put out by Nirve and Electa, they tend to be more growth friendly than a 20″ mountain bike.

But before you head out to the bike shop, measure your child, and place an imaginary line against yourself so when you talk to the guys at the shop, you can say, “Billy is this tall” (as your pointing to your imaginary line. Then if they’re good, they can figure out which size to get.

Priscilla Likes it!

The other night Priscilla test rode the Nirve Night Owl to see what all this fuss I was making about the bike. Sure enough she knew exactly what I was talking about once she got on the Night Owl. I still can’t put my finger on it, but once you get on this bike, you just smile. It’s the same smile that I see when kids get on a new bicycle.

Tires still have dry mud on them from the trails.
nirve night owl

This bike really is fun…

Nirve Night Owl First Impression

I’ve been testing our the Nirve Night Owl the past few days and I’m very pleased so far on the performance of this bike. So much so that I took it out for some singletrack and fire road action this morning at the local trail.

However, the streets is where the Night Owl really excels. This bike is so much fun. I can’t put my finger on it yet because every time I get on this bike, it just feels right and I’ve always got a smile on my face.

I think what I like most about the Night Owl is its geometry. I don’t feel like I’m so up right like how most beach cruisers places the rider. But because of the BMX bars, I’m leaning over, but not too far and if I’m at a light and it turns green, pumping the bike to get speed of the line isn’t an issue. The Night Owl has some powerful brakes. Though what I didn’t like already was the pedals. This morning was moist so when I started pedaling in some occasions, my foot would slip. I’m most likely going to put some SPD pedals on the bike to remedy that problem.

The Night Owl cruises at a fairly good speed. Once you get moving, its easy to maintain your traveling speed as long as there are no morons in cars to slow you down. I’ve also started testing how strong the wheels and fork would be by jumping off curbs and getting 3 feet of air. So far the wheels are still true. You’re asking why would I jump of a curb. Well in honesty, in my years of commuting, there have been times when I’ve been forced to get on the sidewalk and jump off the curb just to get back on the road again. Which basically means that if I have to do that in real life because some car cuts me off, I want to make sure that my wheels or fork aren’t going to collapse on me when I land.

So the Nirve Night Owl is doing fairly well. Heck it did well in my first singletrack ride this morning. I’ll keep you posted as time goes.

Just Ask Jack — The Need for Speed?

Ben C. sent in the following question:

“I have a 2003 Giant Boulder SE I converted to a commuter bike by slapping on some 26 x 1.6 slick continentals. I have also made a rear bike rack for my luggage.

Anyhow, my problem is that I would like to get more speed out of it. When I leave for work, I go down the hill and coast around 25mph. If I really try, I hit 36mph but I run out of gears and am pedaling very fast. I have to climb the same hill on the way home. My bike is a 21 speed. 3 rings on the crank and 7 on the cassette. I do have a granny gear. I used to mountain bike with RL.

What can I do to increase my speed without sacrificing my ability to ride uphill? I ride 9 miles one way and takes me about 35-40minutes. If I get lots of green light, then it takes me about 30 to 35 minutes. My goal is to be able to shorten my ride to 25 to 30 minutes.”

Here is the bike in question:
Check out that rack!

This bike was featured on our site a while back, and is also featured on PVC Plans.

Anyhow, there are a few things you could do to wring out more speed from your commuter bike. There are some fairly cheap methods, and others that may require a bit more money.

First, the cheap method: find some narrower tires. 26″ x 1.6″ tires are nice and cushy, but they’re just too porky for road use. If you can, find some 1″ or 1.25″ tires and decrease your rolling resistance. An additional benefit of narrower tires is that they tend to be able to hold a higher pressure, allowing you to really pump those tires until they’re hard — thus reducing rolling resistance even more (with the sacrifice of a little comfort).

Second, let’s play with the gearing: after talking with Ben, I learned that he is running a 14-34 7 speed cassette with a triple mountain crank (46T-34T-23T). He also indicated that the cassette’s freehub is slipping — a PERFECT time for an upgrade! I asked Ben about his gearing uses, and he mentioned that he rarely uses the little ring up front. There are several methods to changing up the gearing on this bike. The first could be as simple as finding a bigger big ring…perhaps a 49 or 50 tooth ring for the outermost position. Alternatively, since the little inner ring isn’t used so much, switching to a double like a compact road crankset might make sense. Traditionally, compact road doubles come with a 50T outer and a 36T inner. This kills two birds with one stone — a bigger gear for mashing at high speed, and a smaller ring for hillclimbing.

compact road double

Now, there are also several methods to tinkering with the gearing in back. Since the freehub has gone bad, might as well buy an 8-speed model…it will bolt right onto that existing hub with no other modification. Then, you can choose from a wide variety of pre-made cassettes with 11 or 12 tooth first-position cogs going up to 32 or 34 tooth 8th-position cogs. This will also give a bit more speed on the low end and still leave plenty of ratios for climbing hills. My favorite is to create a “custom” cassette by grinding/punching out the rivets that hold a cassette together and rearranging the stack with cogs of my own choosing…you might even be able to salvage a couple used cassettes from your LBS so that you’ve got plenty of cogs to select from.

The only drawback to upping the cog count in back is that you’ll also have to find another shifter. In this case, Ben is using a 7-speed thumb shifter. I’m not sure if it can be switched to friction-mode…if so, a 7 speed thumb shifter should be able to handle 8 cogs in back. If not, an alternative shift controller might be needed — and there are plenty available like twist shifters, trigger shifters and others.

Playing with your gearing can be fun — there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get some more speed out of your rig and still have gear ratios available for climbing. If you’re interested in tackling something like this, visualizing the gearing choices and ratios on paper can be a good start. Sheldon Brown has an easy-to-use calculator on his site — just plug in the tooth counts front and rear and hit the “calculate” button! Ben, thanks for sending in your question…good luck and have fun out there!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.