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Looking for advise on building up 12 y/o son's bike(7 posts)

Looking for advise on building up 12 y/o son's bikePsalm 147-10_11
Nov 4, 2002 12:46 PM
This weekend I passed a driveway where I saw a bicycle with a "take me" sign taped to its wheel. I stopped to take a closer look and found a nice 48 cm Panasonic steel lugged road bike. Perfect size for my 11 year old son Paul, who has been asking about riding with me :-). It doesn't look like there are more than 50 miles on this bike. I popped it in the trunk and was given a hero's welcome when I arrived home.

Coincidentaly, the prior weekend, we stopped at our LBS and looked at a 48cm Fuji, but decided against it. It cost too much ($500) and we figured he would ride a mountain bike more often than a road bike. We bought a Gary Fisher Marlin.

Back to the Panasonic. Its probably circa 1980 and has a Shimano Skylark derailuer with the shifters mounted on the stem. The cranks are 165mm and have 42x52 chainrings. The brakes are also Shimano and have what I have heard called, "suicide levers". The wheels are 27 inch with a 5 speed freewheel on the back.

I'm inclined to tune it up as is, but have had thoughts about modernizing it. I have an extra Campy mirage front and rear deraileur, plus an extra 9 speed wheelset. I'm thinking of getting some used ergo levers and brakes and making the thing look more like and stop like) dad's bike. Could be a fun winter project. Also, Paul has 3 younger brothers (4,7 and 9) so it will continue to be passed down as the boys outgrow it.

If I go this route, I imagine I'll have to spread the rear dropout. What else should I be aware of? Would changing from 27 inch wheels to 700c wheels pose any problems?

Thanks for your input.

DependsSpoke Wrench
Nov 4, 2002 2:15 PM
You never know if changing from 27" wheels to 700c wheels is going to work until you try it. Generally the issue that kills it is braake caliper reach. You usually need to find some real long reach brakes to make 700c wheels work.

I usually discourage people from putting very much money into upgrading older bikes. If you have a source of decent cheap parts, that's one thing. When you start buying ergo levers and the like, you can approach the price of that new Fuji before you know it.
A host of costly issuesKerry
Nov 4, 2002 5:45 PM
Stem shifters may imply non-standard stem and bar diameters - double check that modern brake levers would fit. 5 speed means 124mm rear dropout spacing vs. 130mm standard for 8/9/10 - that's a fair amount of bending for an old frame, though it's low-tensile steel so probably not an issue though it can be a challenge to keep the dropouts parallel. Derailleur hanger is possibly wrong for a modern derailleur, and quite possibly you'd need new cranks. 27" to 700c often does not work due to brake reach issues. Stick with your initial inclination unless you 1) love to spend time and money and 2) don't care if things don't work much better than they do now.
Money pitStraightblock
Nov 5, 2002 10:34 AM
It sounds like it's a pretty low-end bike, but a free bike is almost always good.

Don't put much money or effort into upgrades. Get rid of the suicide levers, and maybe ditch the stem mounted shifters for some friction bar-end shifters. Tune it up, put some decent tires on it & let him ride it until he outgrows it, which if he's like my 12-year old, won't be long. If he gets into riding, you can be looking for a deal on a nicer & larger bike while he rides this one. Then pass the Panasonic along to a kid who needs it.
If $500 was too much for a new bike,RickC5
Nov 5, 2002 1:13 PM
then just rebuild as is, w/ new tires, bar wrap, cables, housing, & maybe some better brake levers. I sure wouldn't spend any more than $50 or so since you don't even know if your son likes to ride or not. Save all the extra cash to upgrade to a better bike if he really gets into riding, or to spend on other things if he doesn't.
Thanks.Psalm 147-10_11
Nov 6, 2002 1:06 PM
Thanks for your suggestions and feedback.

Think I'll stick with my initial inclination and forget about any major upgrades. I'll keep the parts for my next pet project. Maybe a cyclocross bike?

Anyway, Paul and I have decided to get rid of the suicide levers and replace them with some standard Shimano Aero levers. We'll also move the shift levers from the stem to the downtube if we can find some clamp on shifters since the bike doesn't have brazeons. Finally, and most importanty (according to Paul), we'll replace the black foam handlebar grip with some nice blue and red cork tape.

We'll post a photo when we're done.
good choice - my dad did same with meBenR
Nov 9, 2002 11:05 AM
I'm currently 21 and racing collegiately on a Klein with Chorus 10, but started on an early 80's Nishiki with the same set-up you are describing at 11-12 years old. It was cheap and a big improvement from my Panasonic mountain bike with 24" wheels. My dad cut off the suicide levers, helped me wrap some Cinelli cork, put in new brake cables, taught me how to clean a chain, adjust derailleurs, inflate tires properly, etc. I think I also eventually got cheap, but more modern tires which were a noticeable improvement. He also left the stem shifters on, as they were a bit easier for a wobbly kid to reach than downtubes.

When I had been on road bikes enough and big enough, he let me ride his Bridgestone RB-1 for a few miles on a weekend ride. While it didn't turn me into a road rocket, it was much more fun to ride and he promised me a better road bike if I wanted it when I was bigger. He eventually bought me a $1300 Trek 2100 when I was 15 or 16, not fully grown but close enough to get a bike that would fit in the future. The Panasonic was embarrassingly tiny by that point. After the novelty wore off, I didn't ride much until late high school. I then proceeded to ride the crap out of it until 2nd year in college when the frame came unglued and I was getting tired of replacing worn parts.

As others pointed out, modernizing frames is a pain and expensive, unless you are good at tinkering and scrounging. Let Paul ride it as is until you see a strong roadie inclination and his body size is worth making a long-term investment. Then get him a really nice bike, which he will appreciate and take care of after riding the Panasonic for eons. Consider a pair of toe clips after he is used to the bike, or clipless pedals in a couple years - maybe some Time mountain pedals for both his mountain and road bike?