Sea Otter: Manufacturers putting real resources into kids bikes

Pint-sized two wheelers with geometry and components just for junior

Kids Sea Otter Classic

2015 Sea Otter Classic

Smiles for miles at the kids’ pump track hosted by Specialized. Visitors could test a new bike, or enjoy a few laps on the one they brought.

Smiles for miles at the kids pump track hosted by Specialized. Visitors could test a new bike, or enjoy a few laps on the one they brought (click to enlarge).

At this year’s Sea Otter Classic there was a ton of action for kids. Specialized sponsored the kids pump track; Kona had special T-shirts and stickers to hand out to young visitors; and numerous brands were showing off bikes built just for junior.

“Tools, not toys” is the thinking these brands bring to their youth mountain bikes. The goal is to help kids get a strong start in the sport by increasing enjoyment and maximizing the chances they’ll stick with it. The common thread through each of these bikes is keep it simple and create good fit. With resale value holding strong thanks to their durability, each of these bikes could roll through a whole family — or two.

In this collection from Cleary Bikes, simplicity rules. “The whole point is to get out and ride,” said Jeff Cleary, founder.

In this collection from Cleary Bikes, simplicity rules. “The whole point is to get out and ride,” said Jeff Cleary, founder (click to enlarge).

Cleary Bikes

This new company was started by a dad who wanted a better bike for his son. He began by measuring the entire first and second grade at junior’s school to get a sense of the average height and proportions of his target audience. He then built bike’s with geometry to match.

Cleary Bikes come with a lifetime warranty. They are made from steel for its durability, and to keep the weight down. They come with v-brakes and a rigid fork, because with the riders’ low body-weight, Cleary says that’s all you need. They are also singlespeed, so kids don’t have to worry about shifting gears. Cleary also uses ‘real’ parts that parents—or kids—can work on and adjust.

Starfish, Gecko, Hedgehog, and Owl: For model names, Cleary uses pictures that can be easily understood by kids.

Cleary uses model names and pictures that can be easily understood by kids. Meet the Starfish, Gecko, Hedgehog and Owl (click to enlarge).

Our favorite detail is the model names, which are pictures instead of words. Meet the Starfish (12″ balance bike), the Gecko (12″ singlespeed), the Hedgehog (16″ singlespeed), and the Owl (20″ singlespeed). Cleary is now working on a 24” model (yet to be named), that they hope to launch this summer. Here’s a look at pricing and claimed weights.

Starfish (balance) Gecko (singlespeed) Hedgehog (singlespeed) Owl (singlespeed)
12” 12” 16” 20”
12 lbs 15.8 lbs 16 lbs 19 lbs
$205 $250 $295 $335

More info: clearybikes.com. See our review of the Owl here.

The Kona Shred 24 was a popular choice at the pump track, with helmets for test rides provided by Giro.

The Kona Shred 24 was a popular choice at the pump track, with helmets for test riders provided by Giro (click to enlarge).

Kona Shred 24

In the 24-inch size, Kona had the Shred 24 (also available in a 20-inch version) available for demo all weekend. With the Shred collection, Kona has focused on finding the sweet spot between durability and rideablity with a few thoughtful features to help kids get through those hard-charging years between 8 and 12.

A specially tuned 65mm fork adds some squish, kid-friendly Tektro hydraulic disc brakes bring confidence to stopping, and a 1×7 drivetrain maintains shifting simplicity. A compact rear triangle helps with handling, and an aluminum frame helps keep the weight down.

MSRP: $699
More info: konaworld.com

The full-suspension Trek Fuel EX Jr breathes new life into 26ers: now for kids!

The full-suspension Trek Fuel EX Jr breathes new life into 26ers — now for kids! (click to enlarge)

Trek Fuel EX Jr.

Trek used Sea Otter to announce the launch of three new models including the 26-inch full-suspension Fuel EX Jr. Though built from the ground up with its own geometry, it shares nearly all of the same features as the adult model, such as ABP, Full Floater, EVO Link, E2 tapered headtube, and an Alpha Platinum Aluminum frame.

The Trek Fuel EX Jr. comes with 90mm of travel in the front and rear specially created and tuned by X-Fusion. The bike is ideal for riders between 53” and 66” tall. Trek has added shorter crank arms and a 2x drivetrain.

On wheel size, Trek says, “26-inch wheels provide the same benefit to your kid that 29-inch wheels provide adults, faster rolling, better traction, and more stability.”

MSRP: $1,980
More info: trekbikes.com

The Commencal Supreme 20 is a great looking dualy with a palatable price tag.

The Commencal Supreme 20 is a great looking dualy with a palatable price tag.

Commencal Supreme 20

Commencal builds a full line of mountain bikes including its much acclaimed Meta V4. But our focus here is kid’s bikes. They have nine models all fashioned after their adult size “real” mountain bikes. The best of the bunch was the Commencal Supreme 20.

Full suspension kid’s bikes are few and far between. When you do find one, it can be expensive. But the Commencal Supreme 20 is a great looking dualy with a palatable price tag of $1800. Suspension is tuned for lighter riders, and unlike many kid’s forks that hardly move under an adult’s weight, both the front and rear suspension on the Supreme 20 seemed active and plush.

The frame is 6066 alloy with an 80mm Alpha fork up front and 100mm Rock Shox Monarch with custom valving in the rear. The bike on display was a singlespeed but the Supreme 20 is rear derailleur compatible. The bright yellow color definitely stands out, as does the 26.01-pound weight. — Gregg Kato

MSRP: $1800
More info: www.commencalusa.com

Continue to page 2 for more kid’s bikes and a photo gallery »

About the author: Kristen Gross

Kristen Gross loves bikes, all sorts, and above all, XC mountain bikes. She races in the pro category and gets a lot of joy from teaching others the way of the trail as a mountain bike skills instructor—especially women who are just discovering cycling. She is a USAC-certified coach, and she runs her own freelance writing business based in Carlsbad, Calif. You’ll find her either writing or riding, bringing over 10 years experience to both. Why does she ride? To offset her addiction to Coca Cola and Lay’s Potato Chips.


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  • turbodog says:

    I really admire the blind ambition of these industry types. I’m sure these will be a hot seller with those people that already have bought road bikes, 29er’s, fat bikes, etc. They are going to have to start selling purpose built bike storeage sheds to people.

  • Chicken_Rider says:

    These seem so expensive for a bike that a kid could easily grow out of. For example, a $200 balance bike? For my kids, we got a 12″ bike off of craigslist for next to nothing and removed the crank. The other bikes being in the $1500-2000 range blow me away, I bet most kids wouldn’t last 2-3 seasons on them.

  • TheDirtySanchez1999 says:

    The best part about the more expensive kids bikes is that they can learn to ride a really light bike at a younger age. I mean really ride a bike, not pedaling a heavy turd. Imagine if you were 50 pounds and are forced to ride a 25-30 pound piece of crap. Sorry, but the fat bike thing is a bad idea IMHO. Too heavy. Some other companies work a mention are:
    Little Shredder – http://lilshredder.com/ Sweet park bikes
    Trailcraft Cycles – http://www.trailcraftcycles.com/ Sweet XC bikes
    Spawn Cycles – http://spawncycles.com/ Sweet full range of bikes

    • kurtisk says:

      I agree! If you want your kids to ride a bike get them the best bike you can. You wouldn’t ride a w@lm@r7 bike, and you can be sure they won’t either. I have had a 11 yr old who rode my daughter’s XS Kona bike like a pro for over 7 miles of real trails the first time out. When he brought his junk bike, he was done after 1 mile.

      Other insights: 1) bring their friends–riding with dad is boring; 2) they can’t use twist shifters, but they can operate trigger shifters; 3) big bikes don’t bother kids as much as adults, get them on the biggest bike with the biggest wheels they can ride–do you remember riding a bike sized for you as a kid? I don’t.

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