This Week in the Shop: Refurbish A Children’s Bike

The 16″ childrens’ bike project has cleared my outbox.  I’m busy in reflection mode with the students, examining all the different parts of our work for ways to improve the product, teaching and quality next time.  I thought the bike itself came out well:

If you’ve followed the blog over the past two months, then you’ve seen some of the progress.  If you haven’t, or are interested in doing this yourself, the I’ll recap the project after the jump.

Here’s what the bike looked like last semester when this project began:

My students spent about three weeks breaking down the various parts into big chunks: tires, handlebar assembly, frame & crankcase, chain, fork.  Eventually, we were able to tear those sub-assemblies into their component parts.  That’s when it looked something like this:

Then we primed and sprayed the handlebars, stem, seat post, frame, chaingaurd and tire rims.

We used spray paint from a aerosol can.  This poses some interesting quandaries when, as a teacher, I look for professional work.  Out of the factory, most bikes come with a very strong enamel/lacquer paint with a clear coat which, I believe, is baked on.  And it’s applied by robots.

My students are not robots.

Those are runs right there in the stem – it’s why the paint looks like liquid.  Also, the spray paint tends to chip if hit with something hard.  I expect this to happen – but what will your client/donatee/student think?  I’ve “clear-coated” a few and to me the issue is one of primer-to-metal than paint-to-primer.  I’m unsure if it’s because of the type of paint, the application of paint or the technique of application.  I haven’t seen this issue with wood as much, and I’ve seen this issue with plastic.  I think it’s a paint (non-baked-enamel) issue.  If anyone knows a thing about spray painting metal to withstand abuse, please drop a comment.

Once painted, the parts were reassembled.  The students lubed all bearings and chains with white silicone grease made for fishing reels (thank god for wal-mart!).  My students found this portion of the project very memorable.  Many kids break a chain or mess with the tightness of a bolt, but these guys saw bearings.

And then, like magic, it was together.

Some reflections.  This project took a lot longer than I intended.  My students worked for an 2 hours a week since mid-Jan on this bike.  I’m pleased with the quality, but only in regards to technique.  For what we did, for what we had, I dig it.  For what could happen?  I could compare myself to this program and be disappointed.  I’m no welder (yet…maybe next year or two) and I don’t have access to the shop they use.  But for a hands-on, student crafted piece, I’m happy yet unsatisfied.  I want better from my students yet I realize I’m looking at a chasm of my experience, not theirs.

I had a reminder during this project that my tool selection matters.  I used a black plastic nozzle/gun

when we sprayed the primer on and the students were quite good at getting the proper distance with no runs and little overspray on themselves.  Without the attachment, the spray became unmanageable.  High winter winds and cold did not help the application process.  Spray paint and children don’t operate correctly in cold.

As I stated earlier, I’m in the middle of a reflection process with my students – I’ll either update this post or use “reflection” as blog topic at a later time.  Stay tuned.

Make it safe and keep the rubber side down.