Learning to Ride on a Spawn Gremlin (14") bike
UPDATE: I have re-titled this thread... seems to be as much about the rider as the bike.
After an amazing learning curve on her balance bike, I splurged and bought my 3.5 year-old daughter a Spawn Gremlin. I had been eyeing the Banshee, but with another daughter coming right behind (2 yo), I decided that the smaller bike was going to get PLENTY of use. And, I have to say, I'm happy that I didn't get the bigger one, as you shall see...
First thing was just getting the bike. After living with Amazon Prime, ordering something USPS from western Canada reminds me how spoiled I am. But the bike showed up in a Chicago suburb exactly 1 week after the time I placed the order. Pretty good, all things considered. Things started by putting the bike together, along with my personal bike mechanic. Needless to say, she was THRILLED with putting together her own bike.
Here's a picture of how the bike comes direct from Spawn. Rear wheel, chain, cranks, etc are installed. The only thing I've done here is install the seat so I could get it in the bike stand. Make sure when cutting the zip-ties that you don't cut a brake cable! Since they're both black, I double-checked before every cut.
Putting it together is pretty simple. Attach the handlebars to the (pre-installed) stem, grease and insert the seatpost, mount the front wheel in the fork, attach the bake cables, and put on the pedals. And, of course, add air to the tires.
The hardest part (and not that hard) is aligning the pads on the V-brakes, and cutting the brake cables to length. The entire set-up took us maybe 30 minutes. Note the tight clearance on the large head of my bike-pump to fill the tires. The spokes are so close it almost didn't fit. Next time I'll just use the air compressor, which will fit without any problems.
My only complaint (if you can call it that) so far is that the advertised stand-over height of 15.5" applies to the top-tube, and not the seat. I know that's the standard for this measurement, but for a kid's bike I'd love to see a seat-to-ground height measurement as well... when learning that's the "standover" that really matters. In this case, the bike is 18" from seat to ground. My daughter can JUST reach the ground with the balls of her feet on this bike, but she's small at 25% in height. Really glad I didn't go for the banshee.
So far we've had about an hour or so of learning on it. She is BIG into do-it-myself which is great. On the other hand, learning to start, stop, and get your feet on the pedals without looking is HARD. If I help give her a push start, she can pedal along just fine, though. The pedals are egg-beaters with some rather pointer edges. They'll be perfect once she knows how to find them, but right now have caused a couple of minor scrapes during falls. Just par for the course, I suppose.
H is very cautious by nature, and really likes having her feet near the ground for safety. For now, we've had a number of spills due to her having so much trouble finding the pedals. However, she can pick them up and find the "chain" stays on her balance bike just fine, so I'm pretty sure we just need to build a bit of confidence and she'll be racing faster than I can follow without a bike of my own. Needless to say, nervousness and bikes don't play well together.
The tires that come on the bike are pretty smooth slicks with just a bit of tread. On pavement, this won't be a problem. However, if we ever do much in the dirt or grass, we might need a new pair of tires.
H's favorite part about the bike is DEFINITELY the hand brakes. Not only do they stop her fast and well, but she can reach the small kid-sized levers with no problem. Most of her first hour was spent scooting forward and then slamming on the brakes; she LOVES having them, and is asking how come her balance bike doesn't.
More updates as we get practice. I'm betting that once she's a little more comfortable picking up her feet that she'll be off to the races within a couple weeks.
Day 2 update...
The handbrakes continue to be the #1 favorite. H spends a good while at a rest with the brakes on being happy that she is "stopped safe." They are SO much better than a coaster brake (ugh).
I had to loosen the rear wheel briefly; while helping hold the bike so she could pedal backwards to get used to them, noticed that the chain was a little over tight. Just slid the wheel forward a fraction of a nothing in the drop-outs, and all is fixed.
The bike is pretty flawless at this point; just the standard stuff I expect to tweak with any new ride. H is doing well on learning, and her only real obstacle is her confidence. Managed some good practice today, though, and spent more time on the balance bike. She'll move over when she feels safe; no problem there.
Well, I gave her two weeks, and it looks like she didn't need it. As of yesterday, we did some practice....
And today, she was off and going!
Some notes from what I've seen so far:
After all the usual bumps, falls, and scratches of learning to bike, the powder coat already has a fair set of dings and scratches. Nothing but cosmetic, and they just show that the bike is well loved.
As you can see (below) in the few moments where push-off turns to pedaling, the bike loses forward momentum VERY fast. I suspect that this is an issue of the 14" wheels, and that there's nothing to do about it other than to wait for her to grow into a larger bike. The wheel seems to spin fairly well, but it just doesn't have the rolling inertia of a larger wheel. Once she's more comfortable and I can teach her the stand-on-a-pedal to start, this issue should be ameliorated somewhat.
Gearing: The gearing we have now seems to be pretty low. This makes sense as a first bike, but I can keep up with her by just barely pedaling along on my Cross-Check, while she's pedaling at a reasonable rate. I was planning on not getting her gears until she had a larger bike, but we'll see. If she shows that she's ready for it, I suppose I can make the same mod that aadam made to a Banshee for his spawn. Otherwise, we'll just have to get her legs pumping super-fast.
Weight: For my 3.5 year old, this bike is JUST at the threshold of what she can pick up herself. If it falls in a weird, awkward position she sometimes needs help, but otherwise can manage it just fine. I shudder to think of the problems with a heavier bike.
Geometry: As you can see in the video below, we have the feet JUST able to touch the ground, but NOT a full leg extension. From what I hear, this is pretty common on kids bikes. After reading about Spawn, I was hoping that they might have managed to fix this, but it looks like math and geometry still win. I don't want to put her saddle where she can't touch the ground at all, so we'll live with it.
We now have all the usual learning scenarios to continue to fight through, but they have little to do with the bike...
- Look forward, not down at our feet
- Brake before you hit something
- Feathering the brake to slow down without stopping
- Easier starting by standing on a pedal at the forward position.
Anyone have any tips on other good first lessons when learning to bike?
"Anyone have any tips on other good first lessons when learning to bike?"
Tuck and roll baby... Tuck and roll.
Seriously. Great job getting her to ride. My youngest graduated quickly from a 16" princess bike to a 20" Hotrock.
The best thing I ever did was take my kids to the Midwest Womens Mountainbike clinic. They also have a youth clinic, and my kids both learned loads from them.
I've taught my kids the basics, but they've learned the most by just getting out there and riding.
I'm an engineer and thus a curious sort....
Spawn Gremlin: 14" wheel * 26T front chainring / 14T rear chainring --> 26 gear inches / 3.5" crank --> 7.42 Sheldon Gain Ratio
Spawn Banshee: 16" wheel * 28T front chainring / 14T rear chainring --> 32 gear inches / 4.015" crank --> 7.98 Sheldon Gain Ratio
So, the gremlin goes 81% as far for a turn of the crank, and is 92% as hard to pedal as the banshee. For comparison purposes:
Cross check commuter (mine):
700c x 35 wheel * 45T front chainring / 32t rear (easiest) --> 40 gear-inches / 170mm crank arm --> 6.09 Sheldon Gain Ratio
700c x 35 wheel * 45T front chainring / 11t rear (hardest) --> 118 gear-inches / 170mm crank arm --> 17.7 Sheldon Gain Ratio
So the Banshee is harder to pedal than my cross-check in the eaisest gear, and goes 80% as far for one turn of the crank. No surprise that these little bikes don't hold up to "adult" big-wheel bikes! An 11T rear chain-ring on a banshee would bring it up to 40 gear-inches, but be harder to pedal. Not a good idea for little growing legs.
Assuming my quick off-the-cuff math is correct. I've probably done something silly somewhere, since I haven't calculated gear inches before. But the relative numbers should be about right, regardless.
Bike and riding are awesome, but the open-toed shoes make me cringe.
Thanks for the writeup, I'm thinking of getting my 2.5 year old son a Gremlin now too. How tall is your daughter?
Regarding the gears and speed of her bike. My daughter is 4, and has been riding the Banshee for a year now. And to me, it really is what do you want her to be able to do. At first, I was happy with her being able to ride around the block at whatever speed she wanted / felt comfortable doing. But she evolved quickly, and now I just did the Adamm 3-speed mod to it, and it has worked out great for her (at least with the maiden voyage this weekend). But it added a decent amount of weight to the bike, and I definitely won't do that to my son's Gremlin (if I get him one). At that age and size, I know they are never going to be able to come close to the speed that I normally ride at, and the slower they ride, the less severe the wrecks. So it really just comes down to what it is that you are looking for. For me it is to for them to develop good fundamentals, leg strength, balance, confidence and a love for biking. If they do this at 3 MPH instead of 6 MPH, it doesn't really matter to me. A bad crash or just plain being scared isn't good. I also changed the 28T chainring on my Banshee to a 22T, because climbing with the 28T is rough for their little legs.
One thing I would recommend after seeing your video is pads and possibly a full face helmet. Hopefully they never have to use them, but my kids have been saved many a time by theirs. My daughter even wears full upper body armor when we ride tougher singletrack trails. She broke her arm last summer riding, and I'll do whatever I can do to lessen the risk of anything like that happening again. Also, both my kids love when I make little obstacle course loops for them to ride around. At first it could just be cones on the street. Then start transitioning to dirt, and then bumpier sections of dirt to even little roller jumps.
Hope this didn't come across as a rant. Definitely not my intention, as I think it is awesome that you are getting your daughter out riding at such an early age. I wish my parents did the same for me. Happy riding.
I've noticed that going from my son's Hotrock 12 to the Banshee 16, he is able to not only crank up smallish hills easier, but also he maintains a decently faster pace. Unsure if this is due to the larger wheels, or the easier/slower cadence of the longer crank arms, not to mention the additional leverage of the longer crank arms.
'15 Specialized Fatboy
'14 Kona Zone Two
'13 Surly Big Dummy
Riding on the driveway is not likely to be a big deal. If we go anywhere besides sidewalks and driveways, I would agree.
Originally Posted by slapheadmofo
No, not a rant. Just a concerned parent! So far she has a few bruises and small cuts from falls while learning to adjust to the bigger bike, but hasn't had any major scrapes on arms, knees, face, etc. We may end up with more protective gear at some point, but are just tooling around home at this point. A helmet is a 100% must, of course, but I'm not sure how much benefit the extra gear would be for the kind of riding we're doing right now. Especially since she can't get going TOO fast (yet).
Originally Posted by BullSCit
The larger wheels (and better gearing) would increase the gear-inches, which would make him go faster. The longer crank would make it easier to do so. Doing the same raw quick-math for the Hotrock 12:
Originally Posted by XJaredX
12" wheels * 26T front chainring / 14T rear = 22.3 gear-inches
I can't do the effort calculation since I can't find the crank length for that bike, but... at 22.3 gear-inches it goes about 2/3 as far for a turn of the crank as the Banshee. No surprise he's going faster now! And whatever the crank length is on the HR12, I'm sure the Banshee crank is longer, so that would make it easier to pedal as well.
It seems like, at least for a while, as the bike (and crank) get bigger, the gear-inches go up and the effort goes down by a significant margin. Which would be why they go so much faster, and easier, on the bigger bikes as soon as they fit them.
Well, just about a year after her sister was off and pedaling on the Gremlin, Daughter #2 is now officially a "pedal Biker" thanks to this bike. #1 is enjoying a Banshee V2, and passed the Gremlin down last Christmas. It took a little while to build confidence, even after being on her balance bike for a year.... but this morning #2 decided that she was going to "zoom away from daddy" with her pedals.
And she did.
I find the different learning styles interesting... #1 was all about pedaling and going fast from the get-go. #2 is all about feeling safe. Pedal for 3 feet, and use the brakes; rinse and repeat for about 20 minutes. Then, once she felt in control, she just kept going.
Still working on getting started by herself... about a 50% success rate there, but for day 1, that's not too shabby.
As much as I love the Gremlin (and I /do/), there's no way my girls would be biking this well or easily without their balance bikes. Of the two we got, the Burley MyKick is easily the more stable and well-loved of the bunch.
Anyone seen the Furi in the wild? (Renamed Gremlin due to trademark issues with Schwinn). I'm wondering what (if anything) has changed on it.
Hi evandy... yes, my son is now riding our new Furi. As per Spawn, the changes are "dropped the standover and shortened the rear end by an inch each, put on a smaller stem and smaller seat and added a flip flop rear hub"
Originally Posted by evandy
We are loving it!
Related to the discussions about gear ratios...
We found that the single speed wasn't cutting it for the type of trails we ride. So I implemented my own spin of some of the ideas that were floating around on the Spawn Banshee review thread (click here).
This setup is working very well and opens a lot more doors in terms of climbing modest hills and having a useful gear for trail riding over rocks and roots. With a bit of practice it only takes a few seconds for me to switch the gears while my son is still standing over the bike after a complete stop. Essentially, with my left hand I lift up the rear wheel off the ground a little bit, and then with my right hand I press or pull the chain with one finger while flicking the pedal to spin the crank about 1/2 turn. I always ride with gloves so I'm not concerned about dirty finger
Will post more details about my mods once I work out a few details and come up with what I believe to be a final implementation.
EDIT: I started a new thread documenting my 'final' implementation:
Last edited by CeUnit; 07-18-2014 at 01:19 AM.
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