Thursday, July 5, 2012

Look out! It's a mountain bike with gears!

It's hard to convince her to keep the bike throttled back a bit.
Because Big Sis has been rapidly progressing in her bike skills and because she's grown tall enough, I put together a mountain bike with 20-inch wheels for her. I found a 2007 Kona Makena on Craigslist a while ago. The bike had a couple of positives going for it; it's a well-built, good quality frame. It also has a surprisingly nice Suntour suspension fork with about 50mm travel. The Kona is also an acceptable, not frilly, color. As much as I don't want to admit it, the color of a bike does come into play as far as the successful acceptance of its intended rider. So the present compromise is sort of a Joan-Jett-tough-girl version of pink rather than some nauseating Disney-pastel-princess pink. 
2007 Kona Makena, rebuilt and upgraded.
When I got it, the bike also had a few negatives, with some worn out and/or sub-par parts and was in dire need of maintenance. So, of course, I stripped it to the frame and rebuilt it from the bearings outward. I replaced the boat anchor bar and stem with aluminum versions, the battered Tektro brakes with Avid levers and v-brakes, and the saddle and seat post with nicer versions. I also installed a 7-speed freewheel in place of the worn 6-speed, and gear changes are accomplished via a new SRAM chain through a vintage Deore XTII M-737 rear derailleur controlled by a Suntour XC Comp 7-speed thumbshifter. As a nod to the preferences of my little mountain biker, I found a pair of hot pink Oury grips. She chose the pink bottle cage, and is overjoyed to finally be able to carry her own water. 
She seems more appropriately sized to this bike than to her old bike, as valiantly as it served.
One thing that I couldn't do anything about was the solid cast steel 140mm cranks with riveted 40 tooth chainring. It's a crime to equip a kid's bike with any single part that is so egregiously heavy when a better aluminum version can't be much more expensive. These cranks alone are about 3+ pounds. Ordinarily I'm not overly concerned with bike weight. After all, I ride a Big Dummy, a Pugsley and Denver B-cycles regularly. However, looking for ways to reduce the weight ratio of a 25-ish pound bike to a 48-pound rider, thoughtful changes can make for a nimbler, better experience when learning to ride off-road. A 34-ish tooth chainring would also make for much better off-road gearing for the 7-speed rear end. As soon as I can find a better setup, I'll swap the cranks and chainring out. 
With Chloe, riding through the park.
The little Kona is still equipped with the Duro brand imitation Panaracer Smoke 20x2.0 tires that it came with, but I'm looking for something with a little rounder profile. I've found the selection of real mountain bike tires, as opposed to BMX tires, in the 20-inch size somewhat limited. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm open.
Rocketing on the new bike down the local dirt track.
So far, she's done well learning to use hand brakes only, as her previous bikes have had coaster brakes. She's also figured out the shifting, and seems to really appreciate the lowest gear to climb on the dirt trail, and has remarked on how the suspension fork smoothes out some of the bumps. The larger diameter tires seem to have increased her speed, in a similar manner that moving from 26 to 29-inch tires can do for an adult. I can only imagine how fast she's going to be once she's gotten the bike completely sorted out.
A celebratory rock climb in lieu of fireworks.


  1. Hi, Great article. My son has a Makena about the same year and I'm also in the process of doing some upgrades.

    For tires I was in the same boat. Alot of BMX smooth tread but no MTB. However my local bike store had some that looked good! The rear is a Kenda 20x2.0 K816 50-406 Smoke.

    The front is a similar tire (Evo brand?). They didn't have two the same but I didn't mind. $15 each. Just picked them up so no offroad rides yet.

    I second your thoughts on the heavy cranks. I'm considering these that I thought would be a good upgrade. Relatively inexpensive.

    Also installing a new 14-34 Megarange 6 speed freewheel with a new derailleur. Hopefully that will help out on the hills when we are offroad. Did you have any problems installing 7 speed freewheel?

    BTW. Second your thoughts on the bike color. Hate to admit as well that color should be a big factor. My daughter loves pink too (her Giant Pre bike is a similar pink). Had to be PINK!



    1. Hi Gord,

      The Makena is a great little bike; a true downsized real mountain bike. I'll check into the Kenda Smoke. It looks just like the venerable old Panaracer Smoke from the early '90s. Those Truvativ cranks look like they have good possibilities as well.

      I had no problem installing the 7-speed freewheel, though I should note that I'm teaching my daughter to shift the *correct* way, with a vintage Suntour friction thumbshifter, perhaps the best shifter ever made because it will work with any gear range or number of cogs. A 14-34 would have a great range and shouldn't have any trouble with a standard derailleur. I would have preferred a lower end, but the 13-28 that I had on hand and installed is sufficient for most hills. Besides, she's learning by example that there's no shame in walking up a steep climb from her old and not-quite-super-fit Dad.

      I'm not looking forward to having to search out a pink 24" bike when the time comes. Maybe by then, she will find other colors acceptable. There's always the powder coater down the road, I suppose.


  2. We got Maxxis Snyper tires for ours and they are great. Also want a smaller front chainring...

  3. Great build - it's acted as inspiration for mine.

    I've just bought my six year old daughter a Makena, have stripped it down and started the refurb. Planning a gear upgrade and paint job and have bought a 32T alloy crankset from Islabikes as fitted to the Beinn 20. It has shorter 127mm cranks which should fit her better than the 140mm originals.

    I would also like to fit a pair of rigid forks as the suspension forks are very heavy and probably overkill. So far I've not managed to find anything affordable - the paint job is going to take up most of the budget!

    We're both excited to get it finished, can't wait to go riding together...

    1. It's a lot of fun to rebuild these useful little mountain bikes. Our Makena served my daughter well until she outgrew it. It's now waiting in the wings for her little sister in a year or two. The Isla bikes cranks sound like a great upgrade. A BMX rigid fork with cantilever/v-brake posts may be a cost effective solution. Best of luck with your build and new paint!

      Happy trails...

    2. Yep, that was my thinking, but finding 1 1/8" forks with canti bosses and a threaded steerer isn't easy. Would be cool to go threadless, but it's extra expense as I'd need both a new headset and stem. Will keep my eyes open, but probably just see how she gets on with the forks as-is.

      Will share some pics when it's all finished!