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Old 04-10-17, 11:03 AM   #1
Darth Lefty 
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Blank Spark 12

I'm at home today playing Lawrence Nightingale, so I'll tell you a little bit about this bike I picked for my kid.

A few years ago I read some opinions on the Internet and became radicalized, about balance bikes specifically. I was super eager to get my kid going and got him a Strider. It's a good little bike - emphasis on little. With its plastic and foam wheels and its stripped-down aesthetic, it's very light, and it's a very small frame with a low seat capable of taking kids down to about 1.5yo. The question I should have asked was, can a 1.5yo take the bike? The answer turned out to be mostly no. He didn't really pick up the idea until he was 2 and didn't get good on it til he was 2.5. So now here he is approaching 3, and he's outgrowing it. Oh, I could keep raising the seat, but the super short wheelbase and no brakes and hard foam tires are drawbacks now. So I went on a bike hunt.

My first main contender was a Hotrock 12. This bike has a recent revision with a forward BB like an Electra, and a low handlebar. But it still has a coaster brake. A stronger contender was a Little Big Bike, which has hand brakes and converts from a balance bike to a pedal bike. But I worried that it would sort of put us off-schedule for 16" and 20" bikes. I considered a Commecal Ramones 14 but he's just not big enough yet, and the very low handlebar on the Cleary Gecko seemed limiting.

Poking around the Chain Reaction website, I found the Blank Spark in the BMX, not the kids bike section. At first glance it seemed like it wasn't an outright turd (there's plenty of those out there at the same sub-$200 price) so I took a closer look. There are few enough reviews, some of them are from Russia and Germany. The bike has rear and maaaaybe front hand brakes. Not all stock photos show a front - a BMX obviously wouldn't. I thought this was notable because other BMX-style bikes, like the one from Haro, has coaster brakes. The main issues noted in reviews are first, the BMX-styled seat isn't good for sitting, and second, the brake levers are pretty big, and third, it's heavy. I'm actually not concerned about the weight, which is mostly caused by hi-ten frame materials, because it looks as durable as a full size BMX. The seat can be swapped and I likely would have anyhow, since kid bikes seemingly mostly come with crap seats. The cockpit geometry is pretty similar to the Gecko, same BB height, crank length, and top tube, but the big BMX handlebar puts the grips a lot higher, which seems like an advantage. The chain stays however are a LOT shorter than the Gecko, in keeping with the BMX vibe. Hey, maybe he'll learn to wheelie!

I ordered the bike yesterday from Chain Reaction. My intention is to give him the bike on his 3rd birthday in June, with the crank and chain removed. He can balance-bike it for a little while until he's got the hang of the brakes. I'll keep updating this thread as the process goes along.
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Old 04-10-17, 11:22 AM   #2
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Some Powerpoint engineering, comparing the Spark (neon), Hotrock (blue), and Gecko (orange). Pretty similar size!
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Old 04-11-17, 06:58 AM   #3
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We did a similar thing for our daughter, though she was older starting out than your kid. We found a cheap (Quest I think) bike in a 16" wheel size, used, for something like 20 bucks. I took the crank out of it and removed the chain, and she balanced on that and pushed with her feet around the neighborhood. She's rather timid by nature, and always wants to be able to touch her feet. So this worked a treat for a while.

As she got up enough confidence to want to pedal, I put the crank and chain back on it, and it didn't take her long to learn that. We kept her on that 16" bike for about as long as we could, and now she's on a Hotrock 24". It's a hair big for her, but she'll continue to grow.

I think you're doing the right thing in terms of thinking of sizes and how your tike will transition from one to the next. I personally would probably favor a used bike for this application, unless I knew I have other kids to rotate through it. Even her Hotrock is used. It's a 2012 model and I paid 35 bucks for it. It needed a derailleur adjustment and two new brake noodles. I've got her on some smooth Conti TourRIDE tires and I put a trigger shifter on it to replace the Shimano Revoshift twister. That bike is still less than $100 all in, and she'll be riding it for years. Her next bike is probably going to be the 2015 Raleigh Alysa her older sister is on now, when she grows out of that one.

Cheers!
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Old 04-17-17, 11:35 PM   #4
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The bike arrived Friday but we weren't home to sign for it and my wife retrieved it from the post office today. Some initial impressions...

It seems decent enough - definitely decent for the price, and above Walmart quality. The parts have a nice finish and the paint seems solid (TBD, of course). FWIW, it's made in Taiwan - not the mainland.

All the various criticisms I saw in the online reviews are true. The brake levers are probably too big, it's very heavy, the seat is no good for sitting (though it does have a logo molded into it).

It does include a front brake. It's installed but not strung, couldn't tell you why not. It also has a full set of reflectors, a chain guard and a bell, also not installed. I never mentioned the brakes style to my wife until after I'd bought it and didn't give her a value judgement about it - she volunteered on her own, "Oh good, hand brakes. A backpedal brake does him no favors."

It's really very heavy! Most of it is steel, some of the steel is solid, probably none of it is chromoly, and it's made out of BMX parts so it should support an overweight adult bouncing around, much less a 3-4yo. I think only the seat post and rims are aluminum. When I have it apart to adjust it, I'll weigh some parts separately and see if there's a high-payoff way to reduce the weight. Unfortunately the seat is not one of them. The seat post and seat together are quite light. Too bad the seat's no good for sitting!

All the bearings are cruelly overtightened, so is the chain tension. The bearings are not sealed - that was a nice feature of the Strider.

It's one of those nights where I can't find a 6mm Allen wrench to save my life and so assembly photos will have to wait.

Seems like I found this thing just in time, as it's now out of stock on Chain Reaction. The 2017 model is now available at non-clearance price, black with red tires or hi-viz with white tires. They also have 14, 16, and 18" models which seems unusual to me... that's a lot of sizes.
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Old 05-28-17, 12:14 AM   #5
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Some photos as I built and un-built the bike. I set it up to be a balance bike with a single rear brake. The brakes were set up right-front and I switched it to right-rear. Once he has braking down, I'll add back the crankset. In this guise it's noticeably but not terribly heavier than the Strider. The bike is hi-ten and some of the weights are surprising. The fork weighs more than a full size 531 fork. The solid stem weighs about 2.5x a decent road stem. The front brake, crankset, chain and pedals all together weigh about four more pounds.

Every single bearing was cruelly over-tightened (with the exception of the headset, which was finger tight for assembly). The crankset, too, and the chain tension.. Why do this? The rear hub was the worst, it would barely even move. I think its races may have suffered some damage, even, since they weren't smooth once loosened. But I decided not to worry about it since it's a 12" kid bike and it seems to roll ok once assembled, and its lifetime might be short enough. FWIW there was plenty of grease everywhere.

The chainring and saddle are pretty cool looking. The saddle has an embossed logo. Too bad it's too small and angled back. It looks like a real BMX. But that makes it unusable for pedaling normally. I have a Sunrace seat post to cut down, have not chosen a saddle yet. The pedals are plastic and don't run smoothly. Haven't decided what to do about that yet.

Untitled by Darth Lefty, on Flickr

Untitled by Darth Lefty, on Flickr

The wheelbase is about an inch longer than the Strider. The tires and higher handlebar give it a much meatier look. The seat height at minimum is about par with where my kid has his now. This is not exceptionally low compared to some of the premium bikes. But it's going to work, in contrast to the 12" bikes with training wheels he tries at REI and Walmart. Those are too tall for him, making them basically tricycles.

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Old 06-16-17, 12:24 AM   #6
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Kiddo is getting the bike on Saturday. His birthday is actually next Friday but his party is this Saturday, so be it. Added the Sunlite saddle and alloy seat post. I cut the seat post down to 6" to get the minimum seat height down to the same level as he currently has on the Strider. The saddle came with a seat post topper and if I'd known that first, I'd have gotten a steel post, it would have been cheaper. The seat position with the bars spaced as low as they go and leaned back approximates the Strider. He's been running the steering backward on the Strider to get a little more extension, awkward. This gives him room to grow a little more. But clearly the steering is going to be a lot different for him.

With the price of the added parts and the labor needed to adjust the bearings etc, I'm feeling like a $250 bike might have been an ok thing after all. Oh well, this will ride fine now that it's had the work done.


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Old 06-18-17, 06:59 PM   #7
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First outing, mixed results. On the plus side kiddo loves it and it seems to work ok. I think the brake reach is too far but my wife thinks he can get it.

On the minus side the unprotected axle cut up his calves.


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