Thursday, June 3, 2010
Behold, the Kuwahara Mixte Princess! At least that's the way we refer to it. It's a mixte bike. Made by Kuwahara, model name: Princess. We just got it back from the bike shop fresh and built up and it's awesome! Because it was a small bike it's worth sharing with the world some of the complications involved with this bike build in case anyone else wants to try this.
In some previous posts I discussed our dilemma of locating a proper kids' bike. The stuff on the market just doesn't quite fit the bill. Either it's really high end (if you can find it) or it's heavy or simply low quality. Greta is now nine and she's at a tough age to find a bike that fits. Searching Craig's List we found a pretty neato bike, we dubbed the Swiss Miss. It is an older Swiss department store bike called a Euroteam Sunny. It's a 24 inch mountain bike with indexed shifting. It fits well, has built-in fenders and a rear rack and also includes a bottle generator for front and rear lights.
Here's the Swiss Miss:
It's a great utilitarian bike. We found this bike while doing regular searching of the Craig's list bike category using "girl 24." The Kuwahara came up first but we thought we had missed out on it when the seller left town. A week after buying the Swiss Miss the seller of the mixte called us back. For $70 it was too unique of a bike to pass up.
Once the mixte was in our possession I really fell in love with it. As a miniturized mixte road bike it was so cute. I thought about how it could be spruced up and lightened, losing the steel components for more up-to-date alloy stuff.
Replacing the old steel wheels was the biggest challenge. It was really confusing trying to figure out suitable 24 inch wheels that would work for this bike. I soon discovered that saying "24 inch wheel" doesn't mean much since there are so many different standards. There are the original 70s/80s steel wheel 24s, bmx 24s, mountain bike 24s and fancy road bike 24s. I settled on quality road 24s.
The road bike 24s are a bit rare and hard to find. Also they are smaller than the other standards. Fortunately Tektro long reach brakes were able to accommodate the smaller rims. The new brakes are such an impressive improvement over the old originals too.
If you are curious about the 24 inch road bike standard stick to the ISO number. In this case it is ISO 520. I worked with a nearby bike shop Metropolis Cycle Repair, first to get these wheels and then to build the bike. Nathan at Metropolis is a Redline dealer. Redline makes a super slick cyclecross bike built for this type of 24 inch wheel. I think he was able to source the wheels through the Redline distributor. He was able to find a pre-built 24 inch rear wheel on clearance and I got to build the front wheel with an Alex (DR 13) rim and spokes that Metropolis custom cut and threaded. I laced the wheel and used a truing stand and tensiometer at the Bike Farm, a local non-profit that provides assistance with bike maintenance.
Metropolis re-spaced the frame to standard contemporary axle widths, 100 mm for the front and 130 for the rear. Apparently this was a bit of a challenge with the mixte because there is an extra tube at the rear and the shorter chain stay gave less leverage. The nice things about the bike though is that as Greta grows we may be able to re-size the bike by switching out to 26" road bike wheels.
Here's a photo of Greta picking up the bike at Metropolis. (The guy on the right is John who did the work on the bike and he did a fantasic job.):
One of the things that makes the bike so awesomely cute is that it is a miniaturized version of an adult mixte. Everything is proportionally correct but smaller: cranks (150mm), handlebar stem and handlebars. I had to compromise a bit with the handlebar. The originals were super cool because they were very narrow, but they were heavy steel and so narrow that they made the bike uncomfortable for Greta to ride.
Maybe this photos gives a better sense scale of the bike:
In considering the re-building of the bike one of the things Greta was insistent about was that she wanted to keep drop handlebars. City Bikes gave me a great deal on a set of used alloy ones, not as narrow as the original bars, but still about as narrow as you can get adult drop bars.
I was a little worried about Greta using the drop bar type brakes so we installed intermediate cross brakes also. The regular levers are short reach for small hands. They are still a little too large for her but she can work them.
We'll see how she takes to the stem shifters. So far we are keeping the original friction Suntour levers. If these don't work out, I'll try to squeeze in some mountain bike thumb shifters. I've also heard there are stem-mounted index shifters. That might be interesting to experiment with.
I kept the original legally-mandated front a rear reflectors. (What ever happened to these laws?) This may offend some but I like how they pay homage to the 70s/80s bike boom. They help give the bike a stock vintage feel. Plus with the seat so low, it might be a bit tricky to otherwise mount a rear blinky light. A few other minor details were that we added white cable housings and an inexpensive white juvenile saddle.
I'm hoping the bike works out for her. It is a very different riding experience. I'm certainly excited by it. The bike is sooo much lighter. (Greta can easily pick it up now.) Everything is tight, responsive and rolls smooth.