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Kid Bike Chronicles: the Suzuki JR50

dingerjunkie

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Since King Moon Racer #1 is waiting for the next evaluation ride, I figured I’d share some experiences and opinions related to some supporting gear and the bikes I’ve put together for my kids.  Pictures will be added to galleries for these posts as soon as possible.

This chapter will cover the first bike my son really got to experience no-training-wheels riding on, a rebuilt 1995 Suzuki JR50.  Honestly, I wish Suzuki still produced this bike for the little ones.

This was truly a basket case.  I purchased a pile of parts, held together mostly by rust, for $75.  Why would I pick something like this?  Three key points made me pick this for my boy:

  • Physical dimensions.  The frame was narrower between the pegs than the PW50.  In the 90’s configuration, it is a bit lighter than the PW.  It is longer in wheelbase, so it would be more stable at speed.  Best of all, it had the dual mount points for shocks on the swingarm, allowing for a ridiculously low 18” seat height in “tiny mode.”  My son is, at best, at the median for height and weight for his age, so size, weight and manageability when “paddling” was critical for his learning experiences.  The fact that I could grow the bike for him by raising the shocks, changing the seat mount position and shimming up the handlebars meant I wasn’t going to have him “age out” of the bike quite so quickly.
  • Parts availability.  I’ll be honest.  There is nearly zero performance aftermarket for this outside of silencers and chambers available from FMF.  Fortunately, there is a HUGE availability of reproduction parts, including complete fork sets, for this little bike.  Since the motor was also used for very popular Pacific-rim scooters for decades, everything needed for the engine is still available at incredibly low prices.  I was able to get a new piston, cylinder, head and sparkplug in a package kit for $50.  Replacement forks were less than $75.  I was even able to lace up gold aluminum rims to the stock hubs for $60.  A complete replacement frame was picked up on eBay for $40, because the frame didn’t change from 1983 until 2006.
  • “Look at me” factor.  Every tiny kid seems to be on a PW50, because that is all that’s really out there.  Being able to put my son out on an old-school, yellow/blue/gold bike that made every dad smile and every other kid talk was an extra ego-boost that made the experience of riding that much better for my son.

Now, I did not go crazy with this bike:

  • Since the frame had the peg mount completely torn off from a case-landing, I bought the replacement frame, which was sandblasted and painted in late-80’s Suzuki blue.
  • I cleaned out, sand-blasted and repainted the stock chamber in aluminum paint, then paired it with an FMF TurbineCore muffler for the reduced noise and spark arrestor. 
  • I laced up those gold rims and put on some other minor bling (gold shift lever, gold oil filler plug). 
  • The top end was replaced in about 30 minutes. 
  • Rear spring-only shocks were disassembled, cleaned and repainted for blue springs.
  • Forks were rusted solid, so replacements were purchased
  • I bought a seat cover, and I gave all the plastic the heat-gun/razor blade treatment
  • The same training wheel kit that’s available for the PW and CRF bolted right on for under $100, so he could get brake and throttle experience before going two-wheel-only.
  • I replaced all of the soft phillips-head bolts on the bike with Allen-head bolts from my old parts bins for nothing.
  • I put on a basic chain/sprocket set and new Dunlop rubber.

All in, I spent less than $450 on the bike.  Total time, even with the extra detail work was less than a complete weekend.  For those who always think faster = better, you’d be disappointed in me.  Outside of pulling the secondary pilot jet limiter and removing washers from the pipe header, I made absolutely no performance modifications.  I didn’t even grind open the shift mechanism to access the ultra-low first gear that is blocked out in stock form.

Why didn’t I take the opportunity to upgrade the bike?  For the same reason that I wouldn’t hot-rod a CRF50 or TTR50.  This is not some mini-toy for a fourteen-year-old. This would never be competitive if my son really wanted to race against something greater than a sea of PW50s.  The goal for this bike, as for any reasonable “learner bike” is a positive experience for a little kid.  If he ever gets to the point of racing, I’ll move to a race bike.  How many kids are put off from riding by being given too much too soon?  Experienced dads always love more/bigger/faster in their own bikes, but that approach can intimidate true newbies.

By the time my son started showing skill on the JR50, we had identified one specific issue with the bike that may have been solved somewhat with the year 2000-onward models.  It was an ergonomic dinosaur.  The bars were too low to even think about standing on the pegs, and that was with a ½” rise from shimming with nuts.  The pegs were far back, and the seat was angled weirdly if the height adjusters were used.  He could never “get forward” on the bike the way that I, and the trainers at Little Speedsters, would have liked him to do.

I ended up selling the bike off for $550…nice that I could buy it, build it, and run gas through it for a year for what I got back out of the bike.  My boy and I would have liked to have kept the bike for sentimental purposes, honestly…but some other little guy needed the right bike, and we needed to plan for his next ride.

Up next, my thoughts on the TTR50 we purchased for “round two.”



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