Cleary Bikes is a new company located in Mill Valley just a stone’s throw from Mount Tam, the birthplace of mountain biking. The company is the namesake of Jeff Cleary, who is a former triathlete and mountain bike racer who raced singlespeeds for Soulcraft for many years. It all started with an idea about 2 years ago when Jeff decided to quit his job as a litigation lawyer and take his passion for mountain biking and blend that with his desire to make a fun, simple bike for his own kids.
With the help and encouragement of his friends, Cleary Bikes now offers four models of kid’s mountain bikes. The models are the Starfish (12″ balance bike), the Gecko (12″ singlespeed), the Hedgehog (16″ singlespeed) and the Owl (20″ singlespeed) which is the one featured and tested here. All the bikes are made from steel and provide a lightweight alternative to many of the other kid’s bikes on the market. The MSRP of the Owl is $325 which is right in the ball park for an up-spec kid’s bike.
Cleary Owl 20″ kids mountain bike
The Owl that was delivered to us came in the Easy Grey color; there is also a Cleary Blue color available. The bikes are available directly from Cleary and they come shipped 95% pre-assembled. All you have to install are the pedals, seat post, handlebars and front wheel which are all outlined in the included manual. The first thing we did when we got our bike was to throw it on the shop scale and the real world weight is 19.1 lbs – much lighter than the no-name, hand-me-down mass market our little tester was previously riding (by about 4 lbs.)
The next biggest improvement is the Tektro V-brakes, which provided much more stopping power that the rider’s old bike. The frame itself is solid with clean welds, a low standover height and it even has internal cable routing!
Cleary pays attention to the details and the grips, handlebars and brake levers are all specifically designed for small hands to help improve rider control (and thus confidence). The singlespeed design means the drivetrain is kept simple and easy. This works for paved paths and biking to school, but it could be a limiting factor if your little one is ready to tackle some real hills. The 32×19 drivetrain works well for many conditions and is a good “all-around” gear. The geometry of the Owl is decidedly more “mountain biker-ish” than most kid’s bikes out there. What this means is that the handlebars are lower than the usual sit-up and pedal position. By lowering the bars, the rider’s weight is centered more forward – between their hands and the seat. This creates a quicker handling position. The one part of the cockpit that we would like to see improved is the width of the handlebars. At 16″, the bars are a bit too narrow for when the speeds go up and the need for a bit more leverage increases.
The Owl comes with Kenda Kontact tires which worked well for paved paths, streets and flat dirt trails. But, they were the first thing we switched when it came time to hit the real trails. We found a set of Panaracer Smoke tires (remember them?) at our local bike shop and threw them on. Well, we didn’t actually throw them on. We found that the chain on our test bike was on the short side and we didn’t have enough play to remove the rear tire without breaking the chain. We mentioned this to Cleary and they will work to make sure my experience is not the norm for future riders. Once fitted with proper knobbies, we were good to go.
The Cleary Owl was a fun bike to ride and its light weight combined with the ease of use of the singlespeed drivetrain helped our test rider have fun for his first taste of a “real” mountain bike trail. Of course, climbing is limited by the lack of gears, so you will have to choose your routes carefully. The V-brakes worked flawlessly and they help build rider confidence by giving them a secure sense that they can stop well (especially important when they are riding new trails).
If you are sticking to paved paths or local neighborhood rides, the lack of gears will not be a problem. The Owl is more than up to the task of multi-use path riding. We tested the Owl on many different types of rides and the build quality is solid and strong. We can attest that the bike will hold the weight of an average adult, if you are curious how it rides or just in need of a pixie-bike fix.
A few words about riding with your kids and sharing the Passion
As a mountain biker, almost from the moment we have kids, we wonder how soon we will be able to share our Passion for biking with our little ones. From bike trailers, to on-bike child carriers, to Trail-A-Bikes…I have been riding with my son for many years and it is with much pride and joy that I am now able to share my love of singletrack with him. He has gone through balance bikes, cheap mass market bikes and hand-me-downs and has earned the right to have a decent ride for himself (meaning: he has shown he loves to ride, too and will not give it up and have the bike sit in the garage gathering dust). For those of you out there who are looking to upgrade your son or daughter to a “real” kid’s mountain bike, Cleary Bikes provides an excellent option.
Cleary Owl Rating and recommendation
The Cleary Owl is a very cool little bike that will provide miles of smiles for young riders who are looking for something a bit more serious than the offerings from mass market retailers. This lightweight singlespeed is easy to ride, comes with a more mountain biker-ish stance than the usual kids bike and Tektro V-brakes also give kids better control (thus increasing their confidence). For real dirt trails, you will definitely want to upgrade to true knobby tires. It would be nice to have an option with gears and we have heard rumors of a geared option coming soon (most likely for a new 24″ wheeled bike first, with others to follow depending on the popularity).
- Singlespeed simplifies bike operation
- Real V-brakes are a big improvement
- Works well as a bike path or neighborhood bike
- Internal routing is a nice touch
- Singlespeed limits the hills kids can climb
- Tires will need to be upgraded for real dirt
- Handlebars a bit narrow
Cleary Bikes is currently working on building up their dealer network. If you are a bike shop owner, feel free to contact them about becoming a dealer. For now, the Cleary Owl and all of their models can be purchased directly from Cleary Bikes through their website.
4 out of 5 Flaming Chili Peppers
For more information or to order direct, visit: clearybikes.com