Your kid can tear it up for years on the well-crafted Cleary Owl
by Mike Yozell
Bicycling.com • DECEMBER 2014
The rider in front of me stands to pedal up the grade, his body moving in the supple rhythm of comfortable climbing. I look approvingly at the clean lines of his bike, painted a muted sky blue, with a classic faux leather saddle. I would love a bike like that. He carves a turn, slows, and stops carefully at the light. “How do you like it?” I ask. “I love it,” he says, smiling. “It’s so easy to climb, and it’s fast. The bigger wheels help with the bumps and riding over things.” Then his attention turns. “Hey, the light’s changing.” The rider, my not-quite-six-year-old son, Isaac, looks up at me, waiting for my permission to cross the street. I smile and say, “Let’s go.” Riding next to him, watching my little boy on his new 20-inch Cleary Owl, I’m thinking the two are a beautiful combination.
In looking for a bike for our son, my wife and I had this conversation with a lot of other parents who are cyclists: Too many kids’ bikes are heavy and built to be scrapped within a couple of years. I wouldn’t enjoy riding a low-quality bike that weighed nearly as much as I do, so why would my kid? That’s why we were delighted when we found the Cleary Owl.
Light and designed for responsive, stable handling, the singlespeed Owl is crafted from steel and features a level of componentry that you don’t normally see on kids’ bikes: front and rear V-brakes, internal cable routing (yes, really), a three-piece crank, and a quality bottom bracket and headset.
While by no means inexpensive, $325 is a bargain for a bike this well thought out. All the lightweight parts are sized for kids, and offer enough adjustability that the bike can grow with your little one for a few seasons. Horizontal dropouts allow you to change the gears as your kid gets stronger, and a threadless stem means you can adjust sizing with easy-to-source parts as he or she shoots up in height. Alloy rims are outfitted with smooth pavement tires that offer enough grip and bite for minor off-road excursions. But a quick swap to a set of knobby BMX tires turns the Owl into a very capable first trail bike, too. The front wheel is also fitted with a quick release for easy racking on top of the car.
For younger children, Cleary also offers a range of bikes that starts with the 12-inch Starfish balance bike, and hand and coaster brakes. Next up is the 16-inch Hedgehog with hand brakes only, and finally the Owl, with hand brakes and a freewheel.
Who crafts kids’ bikes with this much care and thought? Company founder Jeff Cleary left his desk job as a lawyer to pour all of his energy into his recently launched, eponymous bike brand, which just began shipping product this summer. Slim from a life of movement, with hair just going salt and pepper, Cleary is also the guy that every cycling community has—the one you call when you have a question about a repair or are considering a new purchase. That says a lot, given that he lives in Marin County, California, a community already known for its bike inventors and gurus.
The tortoise-shell eyeglasses perched on Cleary’s nose couldn’t quite hide the twinkle of excitement in his eyes when I asked him at the Interbike trade show about his motivation to start a new brand in a crowded marketplace—and one aimed at kids, to boot. He smiled and told a story of friends like my wife and me, looking for quality bikes for their kids that were lovingly imbued with the kind of details they cherished on their own bikes. Bikes he wanted his own two kids to ride—that are durable, look good, ride better, and weigh little.
I’d say he hit a home run. More important, Isaac would agree. As I watch my son pop the front wheel of the Owl up over low curbs and flick the bike up onto grassy banks, I think that it’s no wonder he wants to ride his bike to school every day. And to get ice cream. And to kung fu class. And to the library. “I’m going to ride this everywhere,” he says, and I believe him. After Isaac outgrows his beloved Owl, we’ll pass it along in the neighborhood, knowing that it will introduce the joy of a really good bike to many other kids too. Like any well-crafted machine, this bike will keep rolling for many miles—and a lot of smiles.