Trailcraft Maxwell 26 kid’s bike review

The kind of bike we all wished we had as kids

Trailcraft Maxwell 26

The 2018 Trailcraft Maxwell 26 comes with 120mm front and rear suspension.

What is it

At Sea Otter 2017, while walking the maze of new tech and bright shiny goodies with my family, our 11-year-old son, Riley, caught sight of a super bright fluorescent orange bike being proudly displayed at a vendor booth. I was impressed with his eye for the good stuff. The booth belonged to Trailcraft Cycles, a Colorado-based company focused on building high quality 24- and 26-inch kid’s bikes.

After checking out the bikes on display, including the intriguing bright orange full suspension 26er, we could tell they are building bikes that any of us would like to ride. With top quality components, well thought out geometry, sizing and ergonomics, their intentions were clear. Build a bike that a child can ride and perform at their fullest potential. Build the stoke now and the chances of that child becoming a life-long rider are high.

Trailcraft Maxwell 26 kid’s bike review

The frame comes in three color options.

You see, our boy is a new rider and we struggle to make him want to ride with us. After a few unfortunately planned outings that included too much climbing for his little legs he concluded we are out to kill him. It doesn’t help that his current bike weighs 32 pounds. He’s about 60 pounds. Think about that for a minute. That’s like me riding a 93-pound bike.

But these bikes were different and Mtbr got the chance to test one. The model in question was a Maxwell 26. It’s a kid-sized 26er full suspension bike that sports 120mm RockShox Reba air fork, 120mm Monarch RT shock, Shimano XT 11×42 drivetrain, XT brakes, Stan’s Crest MK3 rims with Joytech boost hubs, and a slew of Trailcraft branded parts designed specifically for light weight, durability, and sized just right for our vertically challenged clones. The end result is a shred-worthy full suspension kid’s bike that weighs in at 25 pounds.

Displayed at Sea Otter 25.44 lbs

Here’s a pre-production bike that weighed 25.44 pounds equipped with Knobby Nic tires.

  • Low weight
  • Well sorted geometry for smaller riders
  • Kid-sized bars, crank arms, brake levers, and gearing
  • Plush RockShox air fork and shock with sag and rebound adjustability
  • Boost spacing front and rear
  • 1×11 drivetrain with 11-42 cassette and choice of 26t-32t narrow-wide chainring
  • Stealth dropper post compatible
  • Bright attention grabbing colors
  • Customization of builds
  • Solid construction and aluminum frame resists impact damage from falls
  • Expensive
  • Kids outgrow bikes quickly
Trailcraft Maxwell 26

Riley making his way down a steep rock garden. The rear end tracked well and kept his tires on the ground and his feet on the pedals. No more bouncing around.

Mtbr’s Take

Over the course of the summer we took the kid and his new favorite bike to a variety of trails that would allow him to test the bike in different conditions, but on trails and features he is familiar with. This would be his first experience on a full suspension bike and all of us were eager to see how it would work out.

His current bike is a hardtail from a quality manufacturer, but given the high weight and his low strength we have often watched him struggle through rock gardens. The back tire bounces around and his ability to choose lines is overshadowed by the need to just hang on and survive.

With this in mind his mom and I would take turns leading and sweeping with our boy riding between us so we could make observations on his body movements, bike movements, and the overall effectiveness of massive weight reduction, air suspension, and kid-friendly ergonomics.

Trailcraft Maxwell 26 kid’s bike review

The well sorted suspension helped keep the wheels planted on the ground through the rough stuff.

The results were nothing short of awe inspiring. Through tight turns and rock gardens he was able to more accurately choose lines and the rear suspension helped keep him stuck to the bike and the ground. No more feet bouncing off the pedals on bumps and no more, “Oh please let him make it through without crashing” thoughts from me.

It wasn’t all sunshine and apple pie, though. On our first ride down a fun flow and roller enhanced trail we stopped for a photo opportunity and I asked him what he thought about the bike and he looked a little sad and said, “It doesn’t jump as well as my other bike.” My face scrunched up and I said, “Why not? What’s wrong?” I was thinking how in the heck can this bike that costs three times what his old bike cost not be better?

Trailcraft Maxwell 26 kid’s bike review

Real brakes make a big difference no matter what size bike they’re on.

Then it dawned on me: full suspension. The kid had never ridden one and was used to just letting the bike fly off a jump. He had no idea about loading the suspension just prior to take off. After some coaching from mom, an IMBA Level II instructor, he was good to go. Upon reaching the bottom of the trail we were all pretty stoked but now it was time to pay the piper.

That 1.5-mile downhill came at the expense of having to climb 3 miles back to the truck. We all knew it, and given he is not a fan of climbing I settled into what was going to be a slow climb as it always had been before. We set off and as usual I led. After about 10 minutes I looked back and he was right behind me but mom was way behind us. I had no idea she had fallen so far back. It turns out she hadn’t fallen back in the traditional sense. I had sped up assuming the tire noise coming from behind me meant my pace was family-friendly. This kid NEVER passes his mom on climbs and here he was ahead of his mom and with a smile on his face. We slowed down and as she caught up to us she said, “We’re buying him that bike!”

Trailcraft Maxwell 26 kid’s bike review

Overnight this bike made Mtbr’s mini-tester a better rider.

But enough about what we thought. What did Riley think?

“It’s cushy. It’s easy to go uphill. The bike fits me. I liked that the brakes fit my fingers. I want this bike. Are you going to get it for me?” Yes. Yes, we are.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 4.5 Flamin' Chili Peppers
Price: $3299 as tested (other options available)
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About the author: Justin Wages

As a stage 4 colon cancer survivor, Justin Wages got into the cycling world in an effort to increase his endurance after losing his left lung. As a California native and growing up with a skateboard and snowboard beneath his feet it wasn’t long before the thrill of mountain biking gripped him. Justin’s day job as a Land & Recreation Manager helps him understand the balance between conservation and trail use. He also works with his fiancé, Jeni, to bring more women into the mountain bike world with certified skills clinics and education. “My goal is to get more people on trails for health and enjoyment,” he says. “I want to help them overcome their mental or physical limitations and be the best person they can be, while expanding their appreciation for our natural world.”

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  • gg says:

    No dropper & no tubeless for that price 🙁
    Deore option is cheaper at $2899.
    Better yet free those hanging in the garage … or a used 26er.
    FYI – kids need to get back to hanging out/exploring/riding with kids and not as much with adults and providing Gucci price bikes.
    Stop the madness.

    • Geoff Black says:

      You’re kidding right? The bike is tubeless ready and the rims are pre-taped. Just add stems and sealant. A dropper? I’m looking for the “face palm” emoji right now… Nobody said you can’t upgrade it. And the Deore option may or may not be “better”. Here’s the good news! If you contact the Mfr they will set the bike up however you want it. Try that with almost any other brand at this price point.

      You can free up a 26er hanging in the garage. It will have too long of cranks, too long of top tube, too long rear triangle, terrible gearing, huge saddle, likely an awful front shock, might not have disc brakes, the brake levers will be too long etc. In short, it won’t fit your kid very well. But hey, they could pedal it. Which is the standard for some folks.

      I disagree with “Gucci” it’s just a really well thought out, solid piece of equipment built for the correct sized rider. A better piece of equipment at a lower price and weight than an equivalent adult FS XC bike. It’s on par with a number of other outdoor activities (I’m talking to you skiing & MotoX & hockey & private batting coaches…) A “good” piece of equipment is a great start increasing the enjoyment factor for both the parent and the kid. Worth every penny. They could even invite their friends out for a ride.

      I’m a HUGE fan of what Trailcraft is doing. Along with a few other makers forging a new market from their garage.

      • gg says:

        No kidding at all, but in all seriousness my kids had a blast on a $400 used great shape light Giant Trance year 2000 something.
        I don’t see the value in any of these new “kids” rigs.

        • I can tell you. Confidence to push themselves. They can do that on an older, heavier, less equipped or overequipped bike, but having something that fits and is light is fun. Now at the Age 5 to 9 level and riding recreationally, not so sure. But if they want to compete, then having hte right equipment makes a huge difference.

          Also, what is not mentioned is that many of these higher end, smaller frame youth bikes have tremendous resale value. Not on Craigslist but through private buyers who know but want used. We were able to sell a $800 24in bike for $550 22mo after it was purchased and after our son outgrew it. That $550 was then used to subsidize his next bike.

          And finally, and most important, I am a true believer that to ride well technically you have to have a bike that fits the rider. I would never go buy an extra small frame or a Walmart bike if I was planning on racing. I don’t think you just go spend to spend (gosh knows I see that alot where I live), but for a child who is serious and who will put in the effort and miles, the rewards in confidence and knowledge are tremendous.

    • John says:

      We bought a Trailcraft 24 for my 7 year old son and it was totally worth it. He rides up big climbs without complaining and is very confident bombing down. We get out and explore the world together on bikes. That is priceless!

  • Brian W says:

    Con: poor tire choices when new tires are needed!

    • Richard19999 says:

      Actually, both Maxxis and Schwalbe have a whole new commitment to the 26″ size. Look at all of the Interbike coverage of fresh 26″ rubber on this very website. It’s a great time to be on 26″ wheels!

  • JWC says:

    What a waste of money. Plenty of good 26” bikes in xs and small sizes. Thow on a 50mm stem, 165 cranks, and push the saddle forward in the rails. Did this for my 10yr old. He’s on a 2009 Giant Anthem X1 with Crest wheels and xt/xtr components. 24.5 lbs. He has ridden it all over CO and UT and loves it.

    • jeff jantos says:

      Exactly. I bout a size S Santa Cruze BLT, for my 9 YO last year. 26″ wheels, Xtr deraillers, chris King hubs, etc on ebay… For $900, All I had to do was buy shorter cranks for about $90. Still a ton of bike for a kid, and it’s a bit on the big side still. We’ll get at least 3-4 years out of it. But he rides and he’s got younger siblings.

  • puersimius says:

    Can’t comment on this bike directly, but my 8 year old owns Trailcraft’s 24″ offering, the Pinridge. Not cheap. Worth EVERY SINGLE CENT. Light, fast, and perfectly sized. He rips Downieville, Tahoe (Toad’s, Armstrong, TRT, HITG), Annadel, Demo. Try that on a 30lb behemoth when you weigh 40 pounds. Plus, you’re supporting an excellent company with outstanding customer service. It’s a luxury, but I’d take a hit to almost any other expenditure in my life to see the joy that bike brings him.

  • Matt P says:

    Boost spacing is not a positive! With 26inch wheels I am not sure sure they need boost spacing. Especially with a kids weight and 26 diameter. Using 135 or 142 spacing would allow building from the frame up but with their parents still very good 26 inch wheelset. There are not that many boost spaced 26 inch wheelsets out there. Having said that, we just ordered their Timber 26 frame (135 in the back) for my daughter.

  • overmyhead says:

    I’ve been wondering about MTB options for my 12 y.o. and this Trailcraft bike looks wonderful. But as a middle-class person there’s no way I could ever justify spending anywhere near this much on a bike that’ll be quickly outgrown. Hell, I even questioned spending $600 on her Liv city bike but she absolutely loves it; hope she’ll get at least two years out of it before needing a larger frame.
    The Trailcraft kids bike is a cool concept for a very select few I guess.

  • JSM says:

    I definitely fall into the reduce/reuse category, and can’t see spending this kind of dough for my fast growing kid.

    Any ideas what the smallest framed brands are for an old 26″?

    • As I said in a different post. you can find used higher end bikes too (Trailcraft being one of 4 that I would recommend in this country — of the nonmainstream commerical ones). Alternately, you can also buy the first one new, resell it and each one later becomes subsidized. When is your right time to purchase new?

      A friend once taught me somethign important on schooling. Is it better to spend $40k a year on a great college or $17k a year for private high school for 3 years? One gets you a “great” degree; the other likely does a great job of preparing you for college AND may open more doors to scholarships. Neither is a right or wrong approach.

  • Bret Edge says:

    We live in Moab and our son is 8. He’s been on a bike since he was 2 and mountain biking since 4. Last year we bought him a Transition Ripcord as an upgrade from a sweet carbon fiber Woom mountain bike. I was worried that the extra weight of the Ripcord might slow him down. I was wrong. His confidence, skills and fun factor increased exponentially after just a couple months on the Transition. I put a dropper on it this summer and once again, we saw significant improvements. All in, he’s on a $2,300 24″ full suspension mountain bike. We are very much solid in the middle class territory but we’re a family of mountain bikers, it’s what we do, and to us, it’s worth it to spend more on high quality bikes that will enable us AND our son to ride at our best. It’s all about priorities, too. We could live somewhere else and make more money, live more comfortably but we choose to live in Moab for the lifestyle. The same applies to how we spend our money and we choose to live simply in other areas so we can ride sweet bikes.

  • TRUMP KNUT says:

    26 will never go away! It’s just all been HYPE for 27.5 and 29er to boost sales in the industry! I’m sure glad I stayed with 26 and not be a sheep!

  • Kevin says:

    I ran a school mtb club this fall and three of the kids had Trailcraft bikes. Great looking bikes and the kids had fun on them. Did they have more fun than the kids rocking their mom or dad’s 26″ 2004 stumpy? I couldn’t tell. Its a Colorado company and I live in CO so more power to them. I don’t have kids, but if I did I would buy these bikes if two things were true: I had multiple kids that I could pass the bike down too or I was rich. $3200 or even $2800 is quite a bit of dough for something that the user will out grow.

    Also if you are looking for kids bikes check out the Supreme Junior. If you want better rubber, dropper, and a more trail style bike its a good one. Also about a grand or more cheaper

    • Steve says:

      That Supreme is over 31lbs, downhill sled with a 65 degree HTA, huge stack, long cranks and 160mm of travel. Not exactly a trail bike for a little person…

  • Steve says:

    The 26″ bike here has a bit more competition as there are *some* XXS bikes out there. The real deal is the weight tho. Not everyone has the skills to build a bike. So grabbing moms old Stumpy from years past that weighs 30lbs means that kid isn’t going to be able to ride as much….and that sucks. Weight kills fun for kids and limits their/our rides. Where Trail Craft really shines, is in the 24″ range. All of the other FS bikes are 28lbs or more for little 60 to 70lb 8yrs olds. Not cool. But if they are ripping big stuff like Mom/Dad, they def need the FS. About the only decent alternative that is light, is getting a Ripcord frame and doing it yourself. Otherwise the ripcord complete is like 30lbs. The ripcord fork is a 26″ fork too…which makes the geo a little odd. Trail Craft uses a nice, true 24″ fork with the same travel AND a short headtube. Makes for a sweet all mountain bike. I think the price is fair the components and weight saving focus. Its an adult spec’d bike, 2-3k isn’t bad at all. Especially if you are going to get more than one kid out of it. My opinion is that its super important to get kids ripping early on nice bikes while they are still dumb enough to try stuff they shouldn’t :). That’s how they get good. Watching my 5yr clear a 4ft gap and run an easy diamond trail is priceless. A big part of that is that he has the right bike. They just cost money, but its more than worth it and that’s why Trail Craft is doing what they are doing.

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