Pt. 3 Building a kid’s bike that doesn’t suck: Tires

Continued from the series of posts: Kids’ Bikes: They suck and what you can do about it. I started this “series” back in Dec. and then sort of fell off track as things melted down at work.  As we’re heading into prime kid-biking season I figured I should dust off the drafts and get the info out there where it might do some good.

It’s possible experienced wrenchers may find this a bit too detailed. If that’s the case, visit the flickr stream for quick some ideas and examples.

marathon2By  far, tires caused me the most trouble during this project.

I like to think I’m a pretty savvy cookie when it comes to bike parts. I’ve been around them a long time — as a DIYer and a shop rat.  And on top of that, I’m a librarian so I know how to handle a search engine. But dang, these 24″ tires are difficult.

Limited choices + confusing sizes

The legendary Sheldon Brown illustrated the problem quite clearly in the following chart:

24 x 1 520 mm High performance wheels for smaller riders; Terry front
24 x 1 1/8 520 mm or
540 mm!
Caveat emptor!
24 x 1 1/4 547 mm British or Schwinn Juvenile
24 x 1 3/8 (S-5) 547 mm Schwinn Juvenile lightweights
24 x 1 3/8 (E-5) 540 mm British Juvenile, most wheelchairs
24 x 1.5-24 x 2.125 507 mm Juvenile mountain bikes, cruisers

That’s a lot of info for just one size, right? That’s because it isn’t one size. Clearly the 24″ part of the label isn’t to be trusted.

507 ways to get the wrong size

What it also made clear is that for my purposes (and keep in mind, yours could be different: check your sidewall to be sure) the magic number is 507 (millimeters, that is) and not 24 at all.

OK, so once I had the 507 part I could focus on choosing the right tires. There isn’t a whole lot out there. Some $15 Kenda mixed tread (meaning they are bad on the road and bad on dirt), a few over-priced 10-year-old, NOS (new old stock) IRC slicks on ebay, and some cool looking but questionable-quality slick “chopper-style” tires from a number of suspiciously similar looking websites.  Unfortunately none of the local shops I tried had a suitable (slickish) 24 in stock at the time of conversion. Maybe that will change when all us utility riding folks start asking for them.

Pork out

If you don’t mind really heavy and really wide tires, the dirt-jumping crowd has spawned a quite a tasty selection of semi-slick tires, with the the 1000g $36 Maxxis Hookworm leading the pack.

Specialized Compound Sport TireThe thing is, I had just yanked a 2lb kickstand from the bike; I didn’t want to go back and add three extra pounds in rubber weight. Oh, and did I mention I’m cheap? So I’m thinking something lighter than the hookworm, and cheaper too.

Really, is that too much to ask?

So I kept looking and eventually stumbled across what I was sure was my dream tire: The Specialized Sport Compound BMX tire. 24×2.0 (yes, I checked: 507mm), belted for flat protection, mostly smooth with a nice siped tread pattern, too. And get this: $15.97 (retail!).


But ha! The joke is on me because it turns out, Specialized has discontinued the tire. Not beefy enough for the DJ (dirt jump) crowd or insufficient profit margin or some such. The Specialized phone rep, though polite, was of limited help. “Yes, they’ve  been discontinued. No, I can’t check any stores to see if they have them in stock”….and “hey, are you interested in these really fat knobby tires?”

No matter, surely, a trained librarian can find a pair on the global inter-tubes?

Piece of cake.  A few more minutes of searching and I find Calhoun Cycles has them and were willing to ship. That’s a big part of the equation because Specialized dealers often restrict online sales.

Even still, I couldn’t pull the trigger.  Because….

The Right Choice

Here’s where I should admit that throughout this entire search I knew exactly  where to find the best 507 tire (actually, about 20 of them).

Schwalbe.’m a huge Schwalbe fan. We have the Big Apples on both Xtracycles. I’ve put a little more than 6,000 miles on one set and expect to go another 1k miles at least. That’s a buttload of miles from a big fat tire on a big fat bike.

Anne also has some Marathons on her Oma. These are great tires that happen to come in the magical 507 size. But dang, the Marathons run about$38, each. Those reflective strips are cool and safe and all, but for a tightwad like me $76 is a little out of proportion on  a $65 bike.

Sound logic, I know.

The bigger winner in the tire search

The bigger winner in the tire search

So bought the Marathons anyway. When it comes to my daughter and bike parts I’m a weak, weak man. It didn’t help that Anne had been lobbying for the Schwalbe selection from very beginning of this quest?

As it turns out Calhoun had these on their site and I would have had to pass them on my way to buying the  cheaper  Specialized tires. Sneaky. Between them and Anne, my fiduciary duties never stood a chance.

S0 now I’m here to talk you into ponying up for the good rubber. Sure, they are expensive, but they are a wise choice. Back in December, I got my first (only) Big Apple flat in over a year. Even with 4000 miles down it still took a jagged hunk of someone’s discarded 40 to do penetrate the Apple.

Think of them as tires for the long haul. An investment. The sound environmental choice. Etc. Chances are we’ll put these on the youngest’s bike when he’s ready for the 24″ size.

And besides, those reflective stripes are really cool.

– Tim

Next up in the series, and hopefully a little less verbose, fenders.

12 responses to “Pt. 3 Building a kid’s bike that doesn’t suck: Tires

  1. Pingback: Building a kid’s bike that doesn’t suck: The Mt. bike frame « Car Free Days

  2. Andy in Germany

    Hehe… Naturally I’m with you on the Schwalbe tyres…

  3. The Schwalbes are more expensive, but they will late 10 times as long also. In the end you’ll spend less.

  4. You never regret installing good tires. The interface between the road and the bike is one place where a relatively small expense can make a tremendous difference in ride and safety.

  5. As you can imagine, I agree with all of you! When I added up the miles traveled on the Big Apples, I was absolutely floored. And the great ride is a bonus. These tires are worth every penny.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I’m doing the same thing with my new Madsen, which has a 20″ rear wheel. I, too, have Big Apples on my Xtracycle, but may go with Marathons this time around due to clearance issues with fenders (obviously, looking forward to the follow-up post here…)

  7. Hey Mat — thanks. For our youngest’s 20″ bike I got some Continental 20″ tires. I think they are the Top Touring, but that’s from memory. They look very Schwalbe like, minus the reflective strip.

    In the case of the little man’s bike, cost won out. I wanted to give him something easier to ride than a knobby, but considering the rate he’s growing, I was less concerned about getting mega wear out of the tire.

    If I was doing the same size for the Madsen (especially with all that weight over the rear wheel) it would be Marathon all the way!

    The Marathons are indeed a bit narrower. They fit with fenders quite well, but I still wide enough to provide some cush and rim protection. BTW, love the madsen bike box transformed into a playhouse on your blog!

  8. SchreiberBike

    Glad to find your article. I am in the same place. My kid has to work twice as hard to keep up with us on the road because of the massive knobbies on her bike.

    I can’t spring for the Schwalbes though. I’ll try Calhoon tomorrow for the Specialized.

    • SchreiberBike – let me know if you get the Specialized tires and how they work out. I’m still curious about them. (and this also reminds me I still need to finish this “series” 😉

  9. We put the Specialized 24″ tires from Calhoon on my daughter’s bike a couple of weeks ago. She is keeping up much better and reports that she “doesn’t have to pedal so much now.”

    The tires are fine, and they are much lighter than the faux mountain bike tires which came with her bike. They aren’t lightweights by road bike standards though.

  10. Thanks for the report. I’m glad they are working out (and this reminds me that I never did finish that kids bike series….sheesh). Better get to it!

  11. Tim-
    I couldn’t find the rest of the articles in the series.
    Very interested in the handlebars and the fenders.
    Also, wondering abt a rack.

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