Redesigning a Bike for a Tough 8-Year-Old Customer

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Redesigning a Bike for a Tough 8-Year-Old Customer


My 8 year old daughter Anna is now the proud owner of the best bike you can’t buy. That’s because she picked the colors, collaborated on the design, and assisted (a little) with making it.

It all started simply enough. Anna had outgrown her last bike, and so we took her to the local big-chain toy store to shop for a new one for her birthday. She really wanted a geared bike, like her older brother. The store only had one bike her size with adjustable gears. In fact it was the same model we had purchased for her brother a few years before. The trouble was the color and design were not to her liking.

The finished product looks good enough to appear in a toy store... I wonder why something like it does not
The finished product looks good enough to appear in a toy store… I wonder why something like it does not.

So, we made a Maker’s choice. Instead of buying a bike that would limit her riding, or one that wasn’t styled to her taste, we decided to buy the geared bike and re-make it the way Anna wanted it. I explained this would take some time, and it would be a lot of work, but if it was important to her we could do it.

So began the complete bike makeover: tearing-down, sanding to bare metal, priming, painting, and decorating with Anna’s chosen Monster High theme.

Making it Yours

Something I’d like to impress on my children is the understanding that you don’t have to accept the world as it is; you can change it. This project included many lessons on that theme, including that re-making something to your tastes is often not an easy path. Anna didn’t settle for what was available from the store, and now she had to do something kids (and many adults) aren’t very good at… waiting.

Satisfaction (and awesomeness) guaranteed.
Makers make happy customers.

There was plenty of upside, though. Anna knows that her bike is one of a kind. No where in the universe will you find one just like it. In addition to picking the colors and various Monster High decals, we picked out a pink, black and white seat, pink hand grips with tassels and spinning flowers on them, and a black basket and bell both with Monster High decorations.

I was very proud of Anna when, during reassembly, I explained that I had dropped and lost a small plastic bushing supporting one of the hand breaks. I told her the bike would work without it, but I’d have to buy a replacement.

“Can’t you make one?” she asked.

“I guess I could try, but I don’t really have the right materials,” I said.

“How about using a piece of plastic from one of your failed 3D prints?” she suggested.

The student becomes the master. She certainly seemed to have learned that you can make something instead of buying it. I drilled out and shaved down a hunk of PLA plastic to fit the job. (BTW, before you suggest I could have 3D printed the part, I should say that my 3D printer is currently out of order.)

The slideshow below includes pictures from the build and the final product.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Makers need not feel constrained by the choices offered to consumers. Instead of being frustrated that at a major toy outlet, there was not ONE geared bike marketed to girls my daughter’s age, we came up with our own solution.

In addition to the many positive lessons learned, there were a few practical ones. This is not an instructional post, but if you are considering a similar project, here are a few tips.

  1. DON’T sand down to bare metal like I did. It is time consuming and unnecessary. In fact I removed a factory coating under the original paint intended to prevent rust. I would have been much better off just roughing up the surface with sandpaper, priming and re-painting.
  2. Unless you are a bicycle mechanic, take lots of detailed pictures before and during disassembly. I am not a bicycle mechanic. Even with the pictures I did take, I was scratching my head a few times trying to figure out how to get everything back together. Luckily I had Anna’s brother’s bike to refer to.
  3. Involve your kid. Let her make choices. Let her help with sanding. Hand her a socket wrench and explain how it works. Encourage her to help to the best of her ability, and to stretch that ability just a bit.
  4. My amateur paint job looks pretty good, but I don’t know how well it will stand the test of time. Understand that you are trading in a factory paint job for your own, and be happy with the results.

We’re really happy with our choice to re-make this bike. Now Anna is getting exactly the bike she wants, and she got to help make design choices and lend a hand in the makeover. She’ll treasure this bike for years.

Anna enjoying her custom styled bike.
Anna enjoying her custom styled bike.

10 thoughts on “Redesigning a Bike for a Tough 8-Year-Old Customer

  1. dave says:

    Love this. She will never forget this bike.

  2. David Ingram says:

    very cool, could we get a before shot?
    i did something similar for my daughter, the original was a very beat up red and chrome

  3. Aristarco Palacios says:

    Maker parents are the best parents!! (I know it, my mom and dad are makers.)

    1. Andrew Terranova says:

      Thanks. I hope you’ll keep the family tradition going.

  4. Tom Bryant says:

    That is too cool. Keep her at it! Before long she’ll be fixing lawnmowers then cars. Watch out though! That’s where she’ll find the “bad boys”.

  5. PhyllisAMason says:

    …………….Feel Freedom makezine…….

    ……………….. Find Get More </b

  6. Johnny Gnash says:

    “The finished product looks good enough to appear in a toy store… I wonder why something like it does not”

    I have seen bikes very similar to the custom bikes seen at sites like show up at the Big Boxes a year later, so don’t be surprised if you find something like your bike on the floor at Sprawl-Wart or wherever.

    Nice work on this project. You can see that she’s thrilled with it!

  7. RichardFCollins says:

    ….All time hit the makezine Find Here

  8. salman sheikh says:

    too cute…

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Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and author of How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Andrew is also an electronics and robotics enthusiast and has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children's Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Enrichment in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.

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