This was not my first bike, though it should have been. I had tried several pedal bikes with and without training wheels prior to this one, with pretty dismal results. I couldn’t really wrap my brain around moving my feet in circles, and just kept hitting the coaster brake the whole time. The training wheels seemed like a good idea to me, but as I came to find out they were really just teaching me bad habits. Riding a bike seemed like a chore, and I cried all the time when my dad told me I had to practice, because, “riding a bike is an essential life skill.” Irrational crying and fear of bikes was something I had learned from watching my older sisters learn. That was, until I found this little beauty. This potent freedom machine was the key to turning those tears into a wind in my hair, ear-to-ear grin!
- Bottom Bracket: None
- Brakes: None
- Cassette: None
- Chain: None
- Crankset: None
- Fork: Steel
- Frame: 2″ Aluminum
- Front Derailleur: None
- Grips/Tape: Rubber
- Handlebar: Steel, 420mm width
- Headset: Steel
- Levers: None
- Pedals: None
- Rear Derailleur: None
- Rear Shock: None
- Saddle: Synthetic cover
- Seatpost: Steel
- Shifters: None
- Stem: Steel
- Tires: Innova
The spec list, as you can see is quite sparse–only the bare essentials. This, as well as the welded aluminum frame, brings the weight down to where I could easily throw this thing around. Some other bikes I had tried previously had lots of interesting plastic attachments and extra (steel) tubes and accessories that, while eye-catching, ended up making the bike very cumbersome. I like the smooth, tidy lines of the frame.
If you wanted, you could easily lose some more weight by swapping to an alloy bar and alloy rims, but this is an entry-level bike, and options in this size are limited. Overall it was a smart and trouble-free set up. Having put a lot of time on this bike in my cul de sac and on the local trails, I can offer my long term impressions of this eye-opening option for new riders.
It probably comes as no surprise that a rigid bike is going to climb pretty well, and that was the case here. Aside from the fact that there were no squishy parts to sap my energy going uphill, the unexpected benefit of not having any drivetrain whatsoever was that there was literally no pedal bob. I felt that all of my power was going right to the ground. Also, not having to worry about pedal strikes made it easy to pick my way through technical climbs with ease. Choosing the right line was still important, but rear wheel traction was never a concern.
For longer climb,s I recommend taking the time to put it into climb mode. This can be done without tools, and involved strapping it to a trailer attached to my dad’s bike. In this mode I could comfortably spend all day in the saddle, or until the snacks ran out. While I wasn’t getting KOMs, I didn’t have any problem keeping up with my dad on his “geared bike.”
The bike’s geometry, as far as I can tell, included two triangles and two circles. While the manufacturer did not advertise numbers, I’d say that the head tube angle was on the steeper side. This made the bike most at home on flats and gradual downhills, where the sharp steering made low speed maneuvering a breeze, and really helped me get a feel for what it takes to lean and carve a bike.
Once things started pointing more down, the handling got a little less confidence-inspiring. The quick steering that was so welcome in the flats made it a little twitchy at speed, and there was a definite tendency to get speed wobble. Most of the time, taking a wide stance with my feet and just shoving them into the ground would get things back under control until things mellowed out, but there was one time on a paved path when things got out of hand and, without brakes, the only way to stop ended up being with my face.
Perhaps my expectations were too high in this regard and, as much as I fancy myself a speed demon, let’s face it: flat and low speed comprises the majority of my rides, and this made me look forward to graduating to a bike with pedals and brakes.
Seat post–A little too short. It was fine for a while, but I am a growing boy, after all, and near the end of the test I was wishing for a little more room to stretch out. It started to limit my speed, and fatigued my hip flexors prematurely–I had to limit the length of my rides.
Brakes–There weren’t any, and while this did make for a very clean cockpit, it proved problematic, as noted earlier. I would love to see this bike come with just a rear brake. While learning to balance, you might as well get used to the idea of stopping the bike with something other than the bottom of your shoes. It will just be more intuitive once you do move to a pedal bike, and reduce those pedal-in-the-back-of-the-calf panic brake moments where you run yourself over.
Tires–I think that a more solid center tread makes more sense, even for off-road riding, since braking and acceleration forces are not really an issue on a balance bike. I thought the more aggressive tread looked cool and I was excited to try them in some wet conditions, but was disappointed. They really packed up and, even without brakes, frame clearance was pretty tight. That’s normally not an issue here in California, but those from wetter climates may want to keep that in mind. We are expecting a strong El Nino in CA this year, too, so you never know.
Grips–These got pretty hard with tim,e and the durability was just not quite there–especially for someone like me who, it turns out, is quite hard on grips. I cut through the ends of the grips in no time, leaving sharp edges of the handlebar exposed. My dad hooked me up with some anodized bar plugs from a BMX bike that slowed further wear, but, for a kid’s bike, my dad and the neighbors’ cars would appreciate a more sturdy and less scratch-inducing solution.
My time on this bike was incredible, and if I were to be honest, I probably stayed on it longer than I needed to because it was so much fun. When the time came to hang it up and get on a pedal bike it was bitter sweet. This bike had taught me what I needed to ride a pedal bike literally from my dad’s first push, without ever needing training wheels. Now I can ride with the bigger kids in the neighborhood with some confidence. My self esteem is high, and my future looks bright. My dad seems really happy, and I look forward to being able to ride some more interesting trails with him. I will miss “climb mode,” though. This bike is ready to pass on to my little sister, who won’t have to go through what my older sisters did with those silly training wheels.
Stephan Lovstedt lives in Camarillo, California, and has been riding mountain bikes for over 20 years. This tongue-in-cheek article is written from his son’s point of view.