Back in January, I wrote an article discussing a few reasons I want my kids to mountain bike. And while that list grows a few more questions recently popped into my mind: How much money are we willing to spend on a bike for our children? How expensive should a kid’s bike be?
My guess is that many of you are coming from the perspective I initially was. My immediate thought was that kid bikes should be cheap…a few hundred bucks at most. The thought of spending, say, $1,000 on a kid’s bike seemed absurd—nearly as absurd as spending $8-9,000 on a bike for myself.
But that is kind of the rub, right? We are willing to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a bike for ourselves but are willing to skimp when it comes to the kids. They grow out of it, right?
And that is certainly true, and definitely something to factor in. But, thinking back to the article I wrote in January, one of the points was that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get my kids to fall in love with mountain biking. Does that mean I’d spend $1,000 on bikes for my kids?
The folks at Prevelo, a brand specializing in premium kids’ bikes, also read that article and wanted to know if my kids might be interested in trying some bikes. They absolutely were, and pretty soon the Zulu Three showed up for my 6-year-old, while my 3-year-old was cruising around on the Alpha Zero.
Alpha Zero & Zulu Three
If there was a question of what sets these bikes apart from their cheaper department-store counterparts, it was partially answered when I cracked the boxes. Quality components hanging on what looked like very well-built aluminum frames.
Let’s start with the balance bike for my littlest, the Alpha Zero. At $219.00, the Alpha Zero fell in step with other balance bikes on the market, though it is a little pricier. And, with the simplicity of a balance bike, there isn’t a ton to talk about, although there are certainly some features I really liked about the Alpha Zero.
One upgrade from my daughter’s previous balance bike was tires that actually have air in them. Although the bike isn’t equipped with any sort of “trail tire,” just being able to change tire pressure gives way more traction that the solid plastic tires on her other bike.
The Alpha Zero also comes equipped with a rear lever brake. While my daughter still mainly uses her feet to stop I do like that she is starting to figure out lever brakes early. Another smart feature is rounded axle bolts. Both of my kids, as well as myself, have a scar or two from bolts sticking out on other bikes. It may seem insignificant until painful tears turn into a temper tantrum.
It is the Zulu Three that would probably have most parents balking at the price. This 20” trail mini-machine comes in at $999. Pulling the Zulu Three out of the box reveals a smaller version of many of our trail bikes, and perhaps some justification for the “high” price tag.
The frame is made from 6061 aluminum and looks especially clean due to internal cable routing. This hardtail has 80mm of front travel due to an adjustable air fork with lockout. It rolls on WTB i27 wheels, tubeless ready, wrapped in Kenda Regolith tires. The Zulu Three is completed with Tektro hydraulic brakes and a Microshift drivetrain.
Some standouts I immediately liked were the quality components Prevelo used to spec the Zulu Three. An adjustable fork was a good addition and something that is new to my son. It’s also cool to see a WTB wheelset, and the option to go tubeless.
That sentiment is shared with Microshift and Tektro. It is good seeing well-known brands spec’d on a kid’s bike. Is it completely necessary? The jury is still out but it sure takes some of the sting out of the price. Plus, on the parenting side, my son was stoked to see that his mom’s bike had brakes and a derailleur with the same brands as his! Whatever it takes to get kids out on the trails, right?
Getting on the trails
Of course, having cool bikes with quality components doesn’t really matter if they didn’t jive well with kids. If I’m going to spend that much on bikes for my kids, my hope would be that they would enhance their riding somehow.
And though I think I was fairly skeptical at first, I think that is exactly what happened—with my son and the Zulu Three at least. My daughter loves the Alpha Zero balance bike and she is cruising around faster than she has before. Is this because of the bike or just natural progression? Who knows but it doesn’t really matter because she loves that bike!
My son on the other hand has made huge leaps recently with riding, and these leaps certainly correlate with our receiving the Prevelo Zulu Three. The bike he was on before the Zulu Three is a very middle-of-the-road bike. We did buy it at a department store and looked for something that wasn’t super cheap but also wasn’t very expensive.
This department store bike was not only a big jump—up to size 20” wheels—for him, it was also his first time using lever brakes and gears. Lots of changes, but, he took it in stride and was cruising around within a couple of days.
However, he always seemed a little awkward on the previous bike, like it didn’t fit him, though it should. I especially noticed that he always favored his heels on the pedals, with the bike seemingly putting his feet too far forward. This not only made pedaling difficult, but learning any skills such as standing on the pedals was so awkward.
Overall, he wasn’t confident. A difficult grip shift and brake levers he could barely reach didn’t help.
Jumping on the Prevelo was a noticeable change in how he rode. I immediately noticed his feet were on the pedals correctly. Stopping wasn’t such a chore as he could reach the levers without removing all four fingers from the bars. Shifting was easier, too. The grip shift on his old bike had him moving his hand so much that he had to take his concentration from the trail and focus it on the shifting task. Plus, the grip itself was coming off the bars the more and more he shifted. With a standard thumb shifter, shifting wasn’t only easier, he learned to do it without looking.
The Zulu Three stuck to the trail well and provided good traction through some sandy patches and some chunk. Beginner-level chunky climbs were actually possible because of the newfound ability to shift gears, while descending those climbs was far less bumpy as the suspension absorbed some impact. Having the 80mm fork allowed him to track better, rather than being bounced all around on his fully rigid department store bike.
With all of these things that I saw the Zulu Three performing well at, I have to say that the biggest aspect of my son’s improvement was the confidence the bike instilled. Crashes tended to be the result of going too fast through a turn or not choosing the best line, rather than being out of control.
This was some of the experience and feedback I had as I connected with Jacob Rheuban, founder of Prevelo Bikes. Rheuban was kind enough to find time for me to chat about Prevelo’s history, bike design, and, maybe the elephant in the room; why a kid’s bike can be so expensive.
Jacob Rheuban and Prevelo
Rheuban, with a background in law and e-commerce, has long held the desire to create and build his own products. The origins of Prevelo came to Rheuban back in 2015-16, while his oldest son was learning to ride a bike.
“At the time there were not a lot of niche, premium kid’s bikes. The category was really still in its infancy.” With his new inspiration, Rheuban began to push forward on what would become Prevelo Bikes.
While establishing and running a business wasn’t necessarily new to Rheuban, the mountain bike industry was. Fortunately, he was able to build relationships and make connections within the industry that would prove vital for getting Prevelo going. 2017 brought the first shipment of bikes, sales were made, and Prevelo was on the map in the kid’s bike corner of the market.
As you can imagine, Prevelo is designed with kids in mind. Rhueban has two boys of his own, which serve great as test riders and have ridden many pre-released Prevelo bikes. With geometry designed for kids, I wanted to know what made the Prevelo fit my son so well.
“From my experience,” Rheuban explained, “kids are not particularly good at giving useful feedback on how a bike fits.” Observing the child’s body position and level of comfortability while riding gives the feedback needed to make tweaks and adjustments.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t specific engineering concepts for a child’s body that go into the design. Rheuban alluded to the significant amount of time spent focusing on the bottom bracket of the bike. “The bottom bracket rise or drop, the crank length, and Q-factor. All of those things have to come together to create the basis for a good fit for a kid’s bike.”
Rhueban explained that often kid’s bikes have bottom brackets that are too high and cranks that are too long. This is likely the explanation for my son’s awkward pedaling cadence and his favoring his heels on the pedals.
Specialized started researching geometry for kids bikes too and also found that most department store kids’ bikes missed the geometry mark by a long shot.
“We lowered everything,” said Rhueban. “We lowered the bottom bracket, shortened the cranks, and made the Q-factor narrow because kids have narrow hips. Then we went with a lower-minimum saddle height.” Rheuban explained these changes accomplish two things: it fixes pedaling ergonomics and it puts the riders closer to the ground, where they are more confident.
But what about the cost? Should a kids’ bike set us back hundreds, maybe even over $1,000? Rheuban addressed this question in two parts. First is the question of the bike being priced appropriately for what it is. A well-built, well-thought-out frame, spec’d with components from major companies within the industry. The Zulu Three is intentionally designed and engineered to make its rider more comfortable and confident.
“The other side of the question is how good of a bike does a kid need?” Rheuban explained. He answered this question by putting in perspective of other things we are willing to spend money on for our kids. Many families wouldn’t hesitate to spend $600-700 on a new video game console for their kids, but a few hundred more on a bike is out of the question.
“If you want biking to provide an experience that is going to be so good that it takes kids away from screens, you may need to spend more than a hundred dollars.”
The Woom OFF AIR 4
Woom is another kid-specific bicycle manufacturer providing a wide range of bikes. Woom was kind enough to provide Singletracks with an OFF AIR 4 for my son to try out. Having had a really positive experience on the Prevelo, my son, and I were stoked to set up this OFF AIR 4 and hit the trails.
My son looked more comfortable and confident on the Woom compared to his old bike. However, he seemed to jive with Prevelo a bit more than the Woom.
I noticed my son seemed to be a bit more hesitant while descending some rockier sections while riding the OFF AIR 4. While the fork did an awesome job absorbing the rock impacts, he still took the section slower than he did on the Prevelo the previous week. I believe this is due to Prevelo having a slacker headtube angle and steeper seat tube angle—more modern geometry overall.
Pedaling and climbing were definitely where the OFF AIR 4 shined. He blasted up a climb—the descent in the previous paragraph, just turned around now—and cleaned it with ease. Not to say that he couldn’t have done this on the slacker Prevelo, but, again, I believe geometry played a role. This time, steeper was better.
Don’t get me wrong, the Woom was still a great ride. The SRAM X5 drivetrain shifted well and the 60mm fork provided incredibly plush, non-gimmicky suspension. Trail chatter was soaked up well by the fork and adjustments were easy.
All in all, the Woom OFF AIR 4 rode great. My son had a blast on the bike and everything worked as it should. What I would have liked to have seen, especially for $949.00, is more name-brand componentry. The wheel build is in-house and the brakes are Promax, which I haven’t heard of. This isn’t to say that in-house components or brands you’ve never heard of won’t work fine, but for nearly $1,000, it’s nice to see brands that you’re familiar with.
So, would I pay the big bucks to put my kid on a premium mountain bike?
First, it is important to acknowledge that mountain bikes are a luxury. This is a sport that is simply out of reach for many folks. Others bust their butts to afford it. At the end of the day, we need to recognize that we are privileged to be in the wild on our bikes.
$1,000 is a lot to spend on a bike for your kid, especially if they will outgrow it in a couple of years. Prevelo is making strides to address this issue. Rheuban explained a program they have where buyers can send their old Prevelo bike back to them and get a significant discount on the next size-up Prevelo. Customers do this until their kids size out of Prevelo Bikes. These returned bikes are fixed up and assessed to either be resold at a discounted price or donated to charity.
Ultimately, yes, I would spend $1,000 to have my kids on quality mountain bikes. Rheuban is right when he talks about providing more than just a bike but an entire experience. I see my son catching the bug, and I would certainly pay a hell of a lot more to have him on the trails with me for the next 20+ years.
It’s not a fluke or a gimmick; both the Prevelo and Woom bikes inspired more confidence in my son’s riding. I saw a kid who was more comfortable and, therefore, more in control of his bike. I’d pay $1000 for that, especially if I can trade it in for the next size up in a few years.