Dirt Merchant Bikes has a Cleary Meerkat bike available for demo in the Seattle area.
Contact us at 425.429.0865 for details and to reserve a demo.
I’ve thought about how to summarize this review, but I’ll start with this:
Wow, my son is unbelievably fast on this bike. If you had asked me before he got this bike whether a bike could make a difference in how fast kids can ride, I would have absolutely have said no way. Well, I’m now a believer and the difference is frame geometry, not weight. My son is about twice as fast (perhaps 30-40% faster if you want to be precise) going both uphill and downhill on the new Cleary Meerkat bike than he was riding an upgraded Specialized Hotrock 24 7-speed (SR Suntour XCR Air fork & Rocket Ron tires) on the same trails. Note that this is not a comparison to the more expensive $660 Hotrock 24 XC Disc (most closely comparable in price to the Cleary) or $1,550 Hotrock 24 XC Pro which seem to have slightly different frame geometry than the lower-priced Hotrock bikes. More detail and quotes are in the review below:
This is a comparison test of the 2016 24” Cleary Meerkat versus a 2010 Specialized Hotrock 24 7-speed. I had not originally intended to do a comparison test, but my son ended up riding a hand-me-down 2010 Specialized Hotrock 24 7-speed for five months while waiting for the new Cleary Meerkat to come out. What piqued my interest initially was that he went from being a singletrack ninja on the 20” Marin Hidden Canyon that he was riding to becoming Mr. Magoo on the 24” Hotrock. He was having trouble getting around corners that he was absolutely slicing through on his 20” Marin.
One hunch that I had was that differences in frame geometry might be a factor. I looked at bike geometry in Sept 2015 and found that Specialized bikes seemed to have longer wheelbases than kids bikes from other brands: http://www.dirtmerchantbikes.com/special-events/2015/9/17/impact-of-wheelbase-on-the-handling-of-kids-bikes. Boutique kids bike brands such as Spawn, Cleary and Trailcraft had geometry that fell on the shorter end of chainstay and wheelbase length. I’m not going to be an armchair quarterback and claim that this explains all differences in ride feel, but I’m putting this out there as food for thought. The geometry figures that I found are in the chart below:
Note: The comparison bike is a 2010 Specialized Hotrock 24 7-speed. I believe geometry has remained relatively consistent between the 2010 model and the same bike from the current year. See geometry charts for the 2010 vs the 2016 Hotrock 24 7-speed geometry below:
I have no direct experience on how the $660 Hotrock 24 XC Disc (most closely comparable in price to the Cleary) or the $1,550 Hotrock 24 XC Pro ride so this review should only be read as a comparison of the Cleary versus a 2010 Specialized Hotrock 24 7-speed, rather than a comparison to the higher-end Specialized models.
Height: 4-foot 5-inches
Weight: 74 pounds
Years riding singletrack: 3
Subjective Comments: (In my son’s words)
I've focused the review on my son's words as I think that is the best way to accurately capture his thoughts on the two bikes. I realize that 10 year old boys are not necessarily exceptionally verbose so feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 425.429.0865 if you're interested in getting more detail or discussing further.
Cleary: “Feels controllable”
Specialized: “Feels big”
Climbing: “The Cleary feels lighter.”
- Specialized: The Specialized feels like "it wants to tip over more easily", but "I need to steer it more to go around turns."
- Cleary: The Cleary feels "quicker in turns". "If you lean it over, it turns." “It feels sharp.”
Descending: "I could go faster on the Cleary. It felt more stable and controllable going downhill."
Phase 1: Switched stock Kenda Small Block 8 tires (530 grams each) to Schwalbe Rocket Ron Performance tires (410 grams each)
Benefit: Better cornering grip, lighter weight (saves 0.5 lbs)
Phase 2: Switched stock rigid fork (1016 g) to 24” SR Suntour XCR Air fork (1832 g) (adds 1.8 lbs)
Benefit: Better cornering traction & control
Phase 3 (Pending): Change shifter, rear derailleur and cassette to 11-36 10-speed
Benefit: Lower gearing for better climbing endurance
As just the dad and not the actual rider, I can’t really provide direct feedback on how the bike rides so I have to go by what my son says and what I see. What I have been observing and his comments about both the Specialized and Cleary bikes seem consistent. After he got the Specialized bike earlier this year in June, he went from wanting to ride every weekend to not being really excited to ride at all. When we were out on the trails, he seemed really awkward especially in corners which was completely different than the way he was riding just weeks earlier on his 20” Marin.
My son has been on the 24” Cleary for several weeks now. Though our riding time has been somewhat curtailed by exceptionally rainy weather recently, he seems exceptionally fast going both uphill and downhill on the Cleary bike. One thought that I had on why the Cleary felt more stable was that it might have a wider handlebar and shorter stem. However, this turned out not to be true based on measurements I took:
As with adult bikes, I would suggest doing a demo of any expensive kids’ bike that you might want to get. As a family, we’ve owned Specialized Hotrock bikes (12”, 16”, 20” and 24” models) for over 10 years now and my feeling was that the Specialized kids’ bikes were surely a solid choice. Having had experience with some faster handling bikes including the Cleary Meerkat bike and with a 20" Marin Hidden Canyon bike, I would strongly suggest doing a demo ride before buying a bike for a kid who will be riding trails. Some bikes are faster handling which might be a better fit for more aggressive riders while slower handling bikes might be better for newer or more tentative riders.