Sadly, we’ve not been out on the tandem since late October. Our weather has been cold and wet and nothing but cold and wet ever since. In fact, I’ve only gotten out on my single bike once in that same time. Pretty sure it’s time to set up a bike on the Erollers or CycleOps Fluid II. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m having issues with my left knee which is now showing signs of Crepitus. I’ll try to work through it with exercise and supplements during the winter but it may need to have a look-see by a ortho. But, that’s not what this entry is about…
No, this journal entry is all about those wonderful little kiddie bikes that parents are always compelled to buy for their little ones at Christmas as they reach the age of 4. And, this year it was little Miss Vivian’s turn to get her 1st bicycle.
The model our son and daughter-in-law bought for Vivian was clearly selected for its non-technical features which, quite frankly, are apparently inconsequential for 3-6 year old’s 1st bicycles. No, the really important thing is making sure you find the right Disney-licensed character theme and Vivian’s favorite Disney character is Minnie Mouse.
So, the logical choice for the 1st bicycle was Huffy’s Minnie Mouse Happy Helpers bicycle with training wheels. I’m not sure where they bought it, but they sell for between $107 and $149 and “adult assembly” is required. It was brought over to our house so as to keep it out of sight from Vivian and, like a good granddad, I volunteered to do the assembly as I know our son Wesley is more than swamped with work and taking care of the older girls while Julie tends to Scarlett, their 2-month old newborn.
So, here’s the deal: I have no idea how the average dad assembles one of these bicycle-shaped objects. No, no… I didn’t buy this. It’s from Santa, i.e., our son Wesley. To his credit, there aren’t many other options out there for kiddie bikes so you go with what’s available and what you believe your child will find attractive and enticing enough to embrace. As they get older the quality of the bike options get better such that his oldest is at least now riding a fairly good Trek. But, let’s get back to the Happy Helper, shall we?
Looking at the tape-sealed box, I immediately suspected this was a bike someone bought, took out of the box and then decided to return. Once I opened the box my suspicions looked to be about right. There was definitely evidence the bike had been pulled out of the box, but never assembled. And, had it been me who bought this particular bike, I’d have done likewise. But, seeing it was December 22nd, trying to exchange what is likely a sold-out model was a non-starter. So, it was now my duty to make the Happy Helper as good as it could be and that’s what I set out to do.
Given the small size of the bike, I didn’t even have a spare seat post that was small enough to let me put the bike in my workstand to assemble. And, given how much-needed to be “worked on” to get the bike into a rideable condition, it really needed to be in the workstand. But, I made do with what I had to work with.
The clearly visible issues included:
- A screwed-up headset that had been over-torqued when it was assembled for shipping.
- A fork that was 2cm too wide for the front axle.
- No grease on the headset bearings; just a splash of lightweight oil.
- A pseudo front brake caliper that had misaligned arms and a variety of other issues rendering it useless which — given this is a coaster brake-equipped kiddie bike — is redundant.
- A plastic purse where the plastic hinge-mounted door was now detached.
It took me about 30 minutes of wrenching, bending and adding lubricants to bearings so the Happy Helper would be “good enough” for Miss Vivian. And, relative to having the average adult doing the assembly, it took about every measure of my many years of bicycle mechanic experience and several bicycle specific tools and materials to fix this thing.
As mentioned, when the bike was assembled for shipment with the fork turned at a right angle, the headset adjusting nut had been over-torqued and the index tab on the headset washer was jammed in the threads instead of in the channel before the fixing nut was screwed on and also over-torqued. So, job #1 was getting the fixing nut off. It was with that nut off I discovered the headset washer’s index tab was mashed into the threads on the steerer tube instead of sitting in the steerer’s index tab channel. So, I had to use a punch and plastic hammer to coax the washer’s index tab back into the channel so I could get it off the steerer tube. With the washer off, now came getting the over-torqed headset adjusting cap loose, noting it lacked wrench flats and was something intended to be hand-tightened. With much gusto it finally budged and I was able to remove it from the steerer, albeit with a lot of binding where the index tab had buggered up the threads in the steerer as it was driven down the tube outside of the index channel. With the headset cap removed, it was pretty clear the bearings had not been properly lubricated, only given a slash of light oil so they received a light coating of teflon bearing grease before I reassembled and adjusted the tension on the headset so the front fork could move freely without slop or binding.
Next up was the front wheel installation. Well, the fork blade ends were at least 2cm too wide for the front axle so I had to jockey-around the tabbed washers and add a second set of washers to minimize the cold-set bend of the short and stout fork blades. Again, getting back to the average adult doing the assembly, I’m not sure they would have recognized the need to use a set of cone wrenches on each pair of nuts that hold the fork ends while also pre-loading the bearings so as not to unscrew the opposite side nuts on the axle while tightening the other side.
With the wheel now installed, the extent of the problems with the front brake became evident. But, hey, let’s be honest: there’s no reason to have a hand lever operated front brake on a 3-6 year old’s coaster-brake equipped kiddie bike. Yes, it looks like an adult bike with that brake added, but even once properly adjusted the darn thing won’t work because it had rock-hard plastic “brake pads” and glossy black paint on the rim’s brake track, massive brake arm deflection under load and, well, the brake lever is too big and too hard to pull for a 3-year old. But, be that as it may, since it was on the bike I had to make sure it worked as well as it could. To do that required using a pair of adjustable wrenches as levers so I could bend the lower brake pad mounting flange without bending the upper part of the caliper arm so the brake pad would be parallel with the rim when the brake was operated. The brake pads were chamfered to fall flat on the rim’s angled surfaces which was, in itself, prima-facia evidence that the front wheel was never designed to work with a front caliper-operated hand brake: brake tracks need to be parallel with each other! Again, my job was to make it all work so I pressed ahead, connecting the brake caliper to the hand lever and then spent a good couple minutes using a 14mm flat wrench (not something your average adult will have in their tool box) to align the front brake so both arms would move correctly and contact the rim surfaces at the same time while applying torque to the fixing nut on the backside of the front caliper center bolt. So, even though it’s ineffective to the point of being useless, the front brake caliper is about as good as I can make it.
Amazingly, even the cheap plastic “purse” that was stuck on the front of the handlebars to pretty-up the bike was even screwed up. It has a small door that pivots on two plastic, molded-in pins and son-of-a-gun if the door hadn’t popped off of those pins. Well, let me tell you, getting that door back on those pins was no small feat. And, I’m guessing that door will pop-off again in short order.
There were several other “nits” that needed adjusting and a few things I just let go “as is” since they’ll likely loosen up over time and the bike will not ever be used enough to wear anything out before Vivian outgrows it in a year or two. Hell, it may even be in good enough shape for Scarlett when she turns 3!