Got a little one on a balance bike or 12″ wheel pedal bike ready for his or her first big kid’s bike? Marin-based Cleary Bikes hopes to make your short list. The young company joins Isla Bikes, which we saw last year at Sea Otter and which was featured in a prior issue of Cyclocross Magazine, in specializing in high-performance youth bikes—bikes that are more than just toys to please cycling parents and their kids.
We first saw Cleary Bikes at Sea Otter in 2014, when Jeff Cleary was just getting things started and showing off an impressive selection of colorful, kid-sized balance and pedal bikes. The company offers a balance bike and four pedal bikes, including 12″, 16″ and 20″ wheel singlespeeds, and a recently-released 24″ geared bike. Being parents and wanting to encourage other riding parents to get their kids on bikes, we’re going to be kicking off a “Kid’s Korner” in a future print issue. This review of Cleary’s Hedgehog is in that same spirit.
Our test bike, which is featured in issue 31, the bright orange 16″ wheel Hedgehog, is a smartly-designed bike that cycling parents ten years ago coveted but couldn’t find. What sets the Hedgehog apart from a kid’s bike of similar size? First, the weight. At 16 pounds, the bike is at least a good 6 pounds lighter than a 16″ wheel BMX bike or department store option. While 16 pounds may not seem very light when many 700c wheel cyclocross bikes hover around that mark, keep in mind this is a $310 bike with an affordable hi-tensile steel frame, not a $5000 bike, with carbon everything.
Second, the components are all size-specifc. The short, 102mm cranks, reach-adjustable brake levers, small grips, child-sized saddle, relatively narrow handlebar (44cm) and gearing are all tailored to little ones. Yet despite the pint-sized component choices, they’re reliable, maintainable options that the average home mechanic is familiar with and can service during an overhaul after it has been left out in the rain for a week, before passing it on to a sibling or teammate’s kid. The 1″ threadless headset and square taper bottom bracket aren’t throwaway items, and if you’re that parent with some resourcefulness you might even find a ceramic bearing replacement upgrade.
Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, Cleary Bikes’ geometry differs from many department store bikes that fashion themselves as mini- BMX bikes in that Cleary features a slacker head angle, a shorter top tube and lower standover height and bottom bracket. The short cranks allow a lower bottom bracket and shorter top tube without toe overlap or pedal strike. These are smart choices when the goal for your kid to enjoy real-world riding, not freestyle stunts.
Our four-year-old tester spent two months riding the Hedgehog, at kids ’cross races, around local parks and to preschool. In all three uses, the bike surpassed department store and garage sale bikes in utility and performance. The dual hand brakes beat coaster brakes for stopping and control, and the 16-pound weight transformed adult cyclocross barriers from road blocks into just somewhat-surmountable challenges.
We have a few minor nitpicks with the Hedgehog, voiced only by obsessive parents, not riders. The 25×16 gearing is about perfect for an enthusiastic young cyclocross racer on a grass and dirt cyclocross course, but advanced riders may find it too low for pavement paths and trying to keep up with parents or big sister. Thankfully, Jeff Cleary said he’s sourcing a smaller freewheel as an upgrade option. (16t is the smallest “standard” freewheel available.)
It’s also important to note that the Hedgehog is not marketed as a cyclocross bike, and the mostly smooth tires work fine when it’s dry but don’t offer much bite should you venture into loose or wet terrain. (Kenda makes a Small Block Eight tire that offers more bite, and 16″ BMX tires also offer some more aggressive options.) We’d also prefer Presta valve inner tubes so that we can share the same pump.
Most potential owners will rightfully laugh at such OCD nitpicks, and we’ll stress that the main goal should always be getting a kid to enjoy riding a bike, safely and comfortably. To that end, Jeff Cleary and his team have put together a winning package.
MSRP: $310 USD
More info: clearybikes.com