Monday, November 29, 2010

A Boy And His (Future) Bike

Nature being what nature is, Declan is growing out of his bicycle. Unlike the older kids at the same age, Declan rides his bicycle a lot. He has managed to wear out the rear tire with all of the skid stops he performs. He sees his bicycle as his ticket to "Big Boy". Even though his school is only three blocks from home, he wants to ride there because his siblings ride to their schools everyday. Because of that, his bicycle isn't like the bicycles his friends have- his bicycle isn't a toy, it is a tool.

Batavus Kids bikes - Dragon 20"
This is the kind of bicycle I wish I could find for him. It is a Batavus Dragon 20" with lights and a rack and fenders and a chain case , and most importantly, a 3-speed internal hub with coaster brakes.

Declan is only five years old, and hand brakes are not a good option for him at this point. It will be a few more years before he has strong enough hands to use hand brakes, especially when we are beginning to teach him how to ride in bicycle lanes and how to ride between neighborhoods with us.

I have looked around and have not been successful in finding anything like this in the US. Forget the bells and whistles, I can put lights on a bicycle and Declan isn't quite ready for cargo so a rack is not necessary at this point. He does need some minor gearing to make the hills around our neighborhood more easily negotiable (the typical 7 speeds with external derailleur you find here are too complicated for someone so young) and he needs reliable coaster brakes that will keep him from flying into traffic. This is not a combo that you can find here in the USA.

Un Coche Menos Of The Future

The smile Declan is exhibiting in the above picture is the result of him riding the whole way from our home to the Farmers Market almost three miles away. We were able to ride in the street the whole way there including crossing three very busy intersections. He was so proud of himself. He was also a little disappointed that he could not ride home. Because his bicycle is a little small for him, hills are that much harder for him and it was uphill a great deal of the way home.

So now, I find myself looking for a needle in a haystack. I could have a bicycle like the Dragon shipped to me, but the price would be so hugely prohibitive it would be silly. I don't mind the shipping, but the bicycles themselves are pricey. Had I been able to buy one with my first child to pass down, the expense wouldn't be so bad, but Declan is the last one. I have looked on Craigslist in several regions with no luck. Ebay has been a bust. All I have found is a larger version of what he already has, a single speed with coaster brakes ranging from $50 to $500.

You Gotta Keep 'Em Separated

With the City opening up to more and better cycling, and with the future of Declan's world being one where he will need to be independent of oil based transportation (much like me at that age during the OPEC oil crisis in the 70's) we need better options for children's bicycles.

Anyone out there have any ideas for a kid's 20" 3-speed with coaster brakes? Please share!


  1. Yeah, here in Mexico bringin the good stuff can be quite expensive, goverment makes sure all kind of taxes and VATs let you think about saving your money for something (really crappy) Made in china.

    The bike you're looking it's awesomly cool, when I was 8 mom & dad give me this bmx bike, that was used by every cousin in my family, and my brother and sister, miss that bike though.

    On the funny side a couple of components more, and it could match my brompton haha.

    But well here are my thoughts on the matter, I don't know the rear spacing of the hub, you can probably build the bike, if you can get the hub, sturmery archer and shimano are the ones I know that are making it (3 speed coaster brake), you better look in the folding bike market.

  2. cant wait to see what bike you all end up getting for him.
    next up: will skid the hellouttauvvus >>> move over fixies you... ;-)

    ♥¡vĂ¡monos declan!!!

  3. He already calls himself a "fixie rider, like Omar" : )

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  5. Oh, I never thought about coaster brakes being a compensation for lack of strength for handbrakes. So much more to consider when looking for a bike for a child Declan's age. I hope you can succeed in finding something that lets him spread his wings a little -- he does look so proud in the photo where he's riding on his own!

  6. what about a folding bike? it would still be usable as he gets bigger

  7. Neville from New ZealandNovember 30, 2010 at 12:24 AM

    Shimano do a 3-speed hub with coaster brake - see:

  8. If you have friends in Europe you could ask whether they could find you one (new or second hand) and ship it over as 'gift' (I think then you don't have to pay too much import duty tax). I don't have children so won't know what to look for unfortunately, but if I did and was more familiar with kids bikes I'd be happy to help!! :D

  9. What about a Raleigh Twenty? 20 inch wheels, the saddle goes pretty low and it will grow with him (at 6 feet I can still ride mine). They come with a 3 speed AW hub (no coaster) but considering the bikes cost next to nothing, the rest of the cash can go on fitting it with an AWC coaster hub, or one of those three-speed nexus hubs with a coaster.

    I have completely refurbished my own Twenty, as well as a few others with pretty good results.

  10. MrC I was thinking just that! My BSA Twenty was brill, and I am sure could have easily fitted with a coaster hub and no doubt be suited for a lil' person =) I think Ian has a Twenty (or Shopper) for one of his daughters.

  11. Build what you need! Actually all you really need is a back wheel with the 3 spd coaster hub. But make it really custom. And let the lad help with some of the work. It will be one of a kind, he'll learn something, and he'll own it. It'll be win, win, win!

  12. One more vote for building. Find a bike with a frame you like the looks of on CL (or wherever). Make sure it has 120 rear triangle spacing (or can be respaced). Consider all the parts disposable as per Bill E., but;

    Don't use a three speed hub. Use a two speed kickback.

  13. Yeah, I'd consider buying a whatever cheap bike that is to his liking and building a rear wheel around a 3-speed coaster brake hub.

  14. Dear Adrienne,

    I love the work you're doing on your blog, and I share your views on cycling; it is a way to change lives (even if it's only by 'small journeys', as you say in your picture of a few days back). Your work gives valuable insights on how cycling can (or: should) be approached, so thanks for that. A bit of background on myself: I am a Dutchman, I lived in Amsterdam, and I moved to Dublin, Ireland in January this year. My girlfiriend is setting up a small bike business, I write a blog on bikes.

    I am now writing to ask if you would like to put a link to our blog Dutch in Dublin ( on your website. The blog is a personal account of our cycling lives in Dublin. Our goal is to show readers how romantic a simple thing as an everyday bike ride can be. For instance, we have a recurring item called 'A Classy Commute', in which I interview (colourful) Dubliners on their cycle to work (this item especially conforms with your views on cycling and commuting). The Classy Commute stories are meant to show cycling is not something sporty, and that every day normal people enjoy the smell, hearing, and colour of their route by bike. Recent interviews I did were with:

    * Minister Eamon Ryan:
    * Actress Kerrie O Sullivan:
    * the Dutch Ambassador:
    * Minister Ciaran Cuffe:

    Apart from the Classy Commute item, our posts focus on (for example) stylish cycling (see our post on sytlish traffic signs), new bike products (read about our test ride on the urban arrow), or the people of Dublin (see the portraits at the Bernard Shaw pub). I think our stories on Dublin might also be of interest to your readers.

    Yours truly,


  15. I am in the boat except my son is a little older and can handle the hand brakes. Please keep us updated on your search. I have found a couple of good deals on CL, but they get snatched up before I get to them.

  16. I'm with kfg and Alex. Sounds like your best bet is to get an inexpensive bike off CL and build a custom rear wheel using either a Sturmey-Archer or Shimano hub. I'd recommend the S-A 2 speed kickback if that gearing would work in your neighborhood. Check with your local bike shop and they can surely help you.

  17. Have you looked into 20" folding bikes? There are some smaller-framed folding bikes in the $100-$200 range that might fit now, and then would grow along with him. Not sure if there are coaster brakes available on folding bikes though.

    I'd imagine that if you did find somewhere online selling a folder w/ 20" wheels, coaster breaks, and a frame to fit a young man it would be easier/cheaper to ship than a regular bike.

    I know this isn't very helpful, but it's just a thought.

  18. you might want to check in with someone like to see if they could do a special order kid:s bike along with their usual shipment of adult bikes. see you in the lane, Declan!

  19. @ all the folder folks- I had thought of this after reading about a second grader on a Brompton. I am not sure that Declan is quite big enough to deal with the reach on those bicycles yet. Even with modification I think it might be a bit of a stretch. It is certainly a possibility for the bicycle that comes after this next one.

    @ the build your own folks- I have considered this possibility, too. We are lucky in my home to have a husband that can build just about anything. He has put together several of the bicycles we already own and they are all done beautifully. Thankfully, he likes doing it, too. We have talked about going that route, including building the wheel.

    @ Ramona- Already thought of that : ) I am going to explore the possibilities but I am not willing to spend what I think it would cost for a bicycle that will last two years if we are lucky (he is growing soooo fast!)

  20. that batavarious is really sweet! tho, i think an inexpensive bike is in some ways a lot more fun and versatile.

    all i remember wanting as a kid is a bike with cool colors that i could ride the bejesus out of, esp jumping curbs and making epic skids(in my mind) for girls.

    GGP trails, beach trips, stealing crawdads from the old De Young pond before fishing trips, bombing down Rocky Mountain cliffs. =D

    i wrecked a lot, bent some forks and stuff, would get sand in the gears, and might have to run if a groundskeeper got the jump on us. so i went thru bikes pretty quick.

  21. Already pretty much covered; Look at folders. Dahon has a couple that would work and pretty reasonably priced. Find and old frame the right size and build it up. I did this for my daughter at age five. FWIW she was riding a 5 speed BMX and was able to handle the hand brakes and derailleur at that age.

    Sturmey Archer or Shimano 3speed with coaster brakes are readily available, fairly inexpensive and can be built into large wheels as he grows.


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