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Sea Otter Classic: For the Kids

Products just keep getting better for the little shredders in our lives

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Photos: Ryan Palmer

So, let’s get one thing out of the way. This is a kids’ bike that costs at least $3,300. It’s meant for riders from somewhere between 8 and 11 years old, and will only fit them properly for about two years. The best way to approach buying a Trailcraft Maxwell is probably to have three or four other kids ready to inherit it once the original owner grows out of it. Plan it out with your friends or your family. And if that doesn’t work, just have another kid or two. It just may be worth it.

Name-brand suspension? Check.

Yes, the high-end kids’ bike market has blown up recently, and the competition is starting to drive prices down. There’s the Commencal Clash 24 for $2,900, the YT Jeffsy Primus for $2,300, and the Polygon Siskiu D24X (which is actually in stock at the time of writing) for $1,700. But the Trailcraft Maxwell is on another level. Its spec list actually reads like an adult bike that’s well into the $3,000 range. Modern Deore brakes, a 12-speed Deore drivetrain and Stan’s Crest rims are a few of the highlights.

Name-brand drivetrain? Check.

Suspension choices are limited in this range, but Trailcraft kept everything name-brand, speccing a RockShox Monarch rear shock and Reba fork. The only thing missing is a dropper post. That can be added at purchase for an extra $285, though that’s a little more than the Lev Si appears to sell for aftermarket. But if you’re counting every $40, this may not be the right bike for you. On the other hand, if you want to totally spoil your newest riding partner with the stuff you wish you’d had when you were their age, maybe it’s exactly the right bike.

7idp Transition Youth

Lightweight knee pads have changed over the past few years. They’ve been getting better fit, more complex pad shape and, most notably, more coverage from the fabric that surrounds the pad. That keeps them from bunching up immediately above and below the knee where the leg drastically changes shape. Protectives brand, 7idp was one of the early pioneers of this approach to pad design.

Most of their lineup is built around that more stable long-footprint concept, including the Transition Youth. It’ll do a lot for your peace of mind knowing that, when you take your little one down their first rock garden, their pads are right where they need to be. And it’ll help their enthusiasm about doing it again if their pads are cool and comfortable, no matter how long they have to pedal.

Cleary Meerkat

On the opposite end of the price spectrum from the Trailcraft Maxwell is the Cleary Meerkat. This 26-inch model is a new addition this year, on top of the 24-inch Meerkats. Although these aren’t necessarily the sorts of bikes that you’d be loading onto the chairlift at Whistler, they’ve got something the Trailcraft doesn’t. Cleary built the Meerkat around a 5-speed Sturmey Archer hub. If you’re just getting your 7- to 12-year-old on their first multi-speed bike, the 5-speed hub is a good half-step until they get their first true mountain bike. It’s safe for them to shift while pedaling or not, it’s safe for them to lay (or throw) the bike on the ground on either side, and it’s safe to go bouncing down a rough trail without threat of the chain derailing. The Sturmey Archer 5-speed hub doesn’t drag or hesitate like some multi-speed hubs do, and it’s far lower maintenance than a traditional derailleur setup. 

The Meerkat runs hydraulic disc brakes, which might seem like overkill for kids not riding rowdy terrain, but the goal here is to make the experience of riding feel easy, safe and intuitive. Just like shifting an internally geared hub, stopping is easier with hydraulic disc brakes, whether you need them or not. The only thing missing on the Meerkat is front suspension, but the bike will take it if you decide to upgrade down the line. It was specced with a rigid fork to keep both the weight down and the price down.

Cleary Meerkat

Given that many big-brand 24-inch kids’ bikes are going for close to $500 without the perks of the internally geared hub or hydraulic disc brakes, I was expecting to see a price much higher than the $745 (currently on sale for $680) price tag for the Meerkat 26 and $685 ($630) for the Meerkat 24.

Fox Mainframe Youth
Fox Mainframe Youth

Fox launched the Mainframe helmet while we were here at Sea Otter, and it could have been a contender for the budget picks we covered yesterday. A sibling to their flagship trail helmet, the Speedframe, the Mainframe keeps the open vents, 360-degree retention system, adjustable visor and, of course, the Mips liner. It’s a premium-feeling helmet for a pretty impressive $90. Fox felt it was the perfect model to port over to its youth offerings. For better or worse, kids are extremely brand-aware these days. Especially kids who ride, so having a helmet with the cachet of Fox Head will make riding that much cooler to the average 6- to 10-year-old who will likely fit the Youth Mainframe helmet.

For ultimate cool factor, the Youth Mainframe is also just as compatible with goggles as the adult version. Even if your little shredder isn’t quite going fast enough to make their eyes water, let them have their fun. Fox has goggles for $30.