Sunday, April 14, 2013

Look for a Kid's Bike Built for Transportation this Spring

Spring has come again and it's time to look for new bikes! 

Kids who need to ride around a city like Chicago to get to school or somewhere deserve a bike that is well lighted and reflectored so they can ride day or night, that won't splash them or the rider behind them so it can be used in any weather, that offers a place for their baggage so they don't have to balance it on their backs and swerve when it moves, that changes gears and brakes effectively, and that offers a sensible upright riding posture. 

This year, instead of buying a new department store (equals low quality) bike from a checkout guy, why not drop by your favorite local bike store and look at what they have? They are mechanics who won't sell you something crummy and they'll be able to fix it up just the way you want it. 
If the small bike store option is too much money even despite the quality differences, why not check out one of the recycled bike nonprofits in your area? In Chicago, as usual, we suggest Working Bikes, the Recyclery, and West Town Bikes. Used bike shops like A Nearly New Shop are worth a look as well. Prices often beat the big box stores and the you can find a gem like we did yesterday. Look at our posts about buying a new kid's bike, kid's bike lights, and others...
If you go to a flea market bring your morality with you and don't buy anything that could possibly be stolen — one seller last weekend had wheels for sale with 3 or 4 spokes missing where the locks were clipped out; bet all his bikes were stolen, too. If they don't have the sales receipt to show you, think twice.

So we went shopping at the used bike store yesterday for a new bike to fit the 8 year old. His old one, a marvelous 1980s 20 inch Raleigh Mountie, found a new home with a smaller friend, and the bike-in-waiting, a 26 inch Raleigh Colt, was too large to ride comfortably. They didn't have a Raleigh Space Rider, the 24 inch model, so we were stuck looking at lots of current and former bike styles. There have been a lot of bikes made for 8 year olds over the years — practical ones like the Raleighs, silly ones like 35 pound shock-absorbed department store downhill mountain bikes, banana seat Schwinns, lightweight and not-so-lightweight racing bikes... We really prefer the upright style bikes like the old Raleighs, and so do our kids. They are comfortable and easy to ride in the city in all conditions. Unfortunately they were all sold out. 

We settled on a purple mountain style bike for about $150, called a Jumpmaster Flash, because, surprisingly, it had already been set up with nearly all of the things we like on our kids' bikes. Fenders, rack, lights, bell, chain guard - everything was there. It's unusual to find a kid's bike with everything already on it. It even has an internal hub!  We only had to change the hard-to-pedal knobby tires.

The bike was built for the German market in the early 90's when mountain bikes were The Cool Thing, but it was intended more for routine daily transportation than for mountain trails. Like nearly all bikes sold in Germany it fulfilled the legal requirements for use on public streets, the StVZO. I guess someone brought it over to Chicago and outgrew it. (This was considered a lowish end bike in Germany at the time.)

Finding this bike gives us a good excuse to compare. What makes the Jumpmaster a bike for transportation? In other words, what are the things you will need to add to your own bikes to make them good for city riding?

Recent Trek Mountain Track 200
with cool spoke decorations (seat too low)
We compare it to a typical American bike in roughly the same class, the Trek Mountain Track 200. We found one from a year or two ago with nearly no wear (all the gears still silver and shiny!) for about $75 ($300 new) and took it home to fix up for another friend. The Trek is a good quality model in the low-to-mid range of Trek's lineup and comes with only a kickstand and basic reflectors included.

The Jumpmaster has dynamo
lighting front and back,
and full metal fenders.
The Trek needs these added.
You can ride a bike with fenders and lights more safely and comfortably on city streets and bikeways, remaining visible and not splashing the person behind you. Dynamo lights are always ready to use. New German bikes mostly come with hub dynamos these days. Note also the reflectors everywhere. More about lighting kids' bikes on our other posts.

The Jumpmaster has a bell standard -
again, nothing on the Trek
You can use a bell instead of shouting "on your left!" to pedestrians, or warn people getting out of their cars that you are there. It's a cheap accessory but it comes with the bike in Germany. Our kids use theirs all the time.

While the Trek features a
 multi-speed derailer system...
"21 speeds" really means about 11 different speeds and a bunch of duplicates. It can be hard for a new rider to use all the speeds effectively and many people just limit themselves to one shifter or the other. Derailer gears can be nice but may be more than needed in the city, and using a derailer in the winter is hard since it ices up and stops working. They are easy and relatively cheap to replace.

the Jumpmaster boasts a Shimano
7 speed internal hub with coaster
brake in addition to the cantilever
brakes on each wheel.

This Inter-7 hub has a wide range for city riding, an 8 year old can easily find an appropriate gear, and it adds another brake that works in any weather. Internal hubs don't ice up and rarely need maintenance. They remain expensive in the US though. Our luck is generally good with them.

Looks like this Jumpmaster was brought
to be safety inspected in 1995. The func-
tional but low end rack is visible here too.

The Trek has nicer aluminum V-brake copies; the Jumpmaster makes do with plasticky cantilevers and levers. Both feature similar aluminum rims and silly thick knobby tires unsuited to road riding. We'll start improving both bikes by putting on smoother reflective sidewall tires like Kenda Kwests or similar. The Trek frame is better made, but the rough frame on the Jumpmaster is still working after nearly 20 years and it's a little lighter (though both are heavier than any 8 year old deserves to have to lift).

We'll be souping up the $75 bike in a future post if we get around to it.


  1. Congrats on the excellent find!

  2. What a great bike! We just bought a new-to-us 20" bike for my 6yo boy. I look forward to your posts on the overhaul of the Trek, but in the meantime, could you tell me what fenders you recommend? Do you have a rec for a rear rack for a 20" bike? Thanks!

    1. Fenders
      It's hard to find good stuff cheaply unless it's used, but often there are metal fenders from Wald or similar at the used shops like Working Bikes or new at local bike shops like Irv's (and many others). Planet Bike makes 20 inch fenders from plastic that are sold separately, intended for recumbents, sometimes at Rapid Transit and others. SKS, Velo Orange etc more money. Metal is better for kids, lasts longer though heavier.
      Racks for 20 inch bikes exist but are really hard to find. Low end may be easiest to find, like the one on the Jumpmaster. If all else fails a full size rack will fit (way up high) on many bikes.
      You can also ask your local bike store to check the QBP catalog or similar for options. Don't splurge on a titanium Tubus rack and Honjo fenders unless Junior is off on a month long bike tour.

    2. Today at several shops we noticed that Wald still makes chrome steel fenders in many sizes, orderable new through QBP etc (any local bike shop, really) and not too expensive.
      Also, the Esge steel mousetrap rack like the one on the Jumpmaster is sold here, several in stock at Irv's, and the way it is mounted you can bend and cut the supports if you are a little bit handy and make it fit any size bike wheel. It fits best on a bike with a plate between the seat stays, like most German or Austrian bikes including those old Sears 3 speeds, but you can make it work on a lot of bikes. It would probably hold a pair of Ortlieb Frontrollers or other smallish panniers pretty easily, plus the spring loaded trap on top.

    3. Fantastic! That will make life much easier. Thanks!

  3. Thanks so much! I need to check out Working Bikes one of these days, so this may be a good excuse.


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