The Real Thing

The Real Thing

During my days as a shop rat, I sold kids’ bikes by the shipping pallet. While proper setup required a certain sense of style and eye to what the West Coast was up to, there wasn’t much you could do to accommodate the peculiar dimensions of any one child. You could roll the bar back a bit if the child was small, but really, saddle height and stem height weren’t points of conversation.

I didn’t appreciate just how challenging it is to be a cyclist as a kid until I became a father. I mean, Mini-Shred has ridden bikes that weighed half of what he did. Think about riding a mountain bike that weighs 80 or 90 pounds. I’ve thought about it and what I’ve thought is that I’d have to be pretty determined to keep riding a bike. Bike riding would have to be the most fun thing in my world to ride a bike that heavy.

When I first spied Prevelo Bikes at Sea Otter I was pretty immediately impressed. I made arrangements to get a Zulu Three 20-inch-wheel mountain bike for Mini-Shred to try. And no, I didn’t ask his opinion.

The things that set the Zulu Three apart from other 20-inch-wheel bikes are obvious and easy to distinguish. First is the 10-speed drivetrain. I’ve yet to see another 20-inch bike that has more than seven speeds in the rear. Not only that, the Zulu Three sports an 11-34 cassette, which is by far a broader gear range than any other competing bike I’ve seen. Another really intelligent decision: To spec a Shimano Zee Shadow rear derailleur. The whole point to Shadow was to create a rear derailleur that didn’t stick out and get caught on every passing stick and rock. And to keep the jockey wheels from hitting the ground (or anything else down low) the rear derailleur sports a short cage for increased clearance.

The Zulu Three’s next big difference is the fact that it has hydraulic disc brakes. While you can find plenty of 24-inch wheel mountain bikes with hydraulic disc brakes, I haven’t seen hydraulic discs on wheels this size from anyone else. And with 160mm rotors even little hands will be able to brake hard enough to stop a freefall.

The other reasonably mind-blowing difference between the Zulu Three and its competition is the presence of an air fork with lockout. Every other suspension fork I’ve seen on 20-inch bikes has been a spring fork that is as adjustable as a cinder block wall. While I had to let most of the air out of the fork to reach proper adjustment for Mini-Shred, I’ve been able to see that he gets real suspension with improved ground tracking with the Spinner 300 fork.

These details may be the high points of the bike’s features, the most visible of its many distinguishers, but they are also indicative of what you find when you look under the hood. The aluminum frame features tubing drawn specifically for the Zulu Three; these smaller-diameter tubes reduce weight while helping the ride quality for young shredders. The wheels feature quick-release axles both front and rear; often I see only a quick-release front wheel on 20-inch bikes.

The square-taper bottom bracket may seem like an old-tech throwback, but it was chosen for a specific reason: The short spindle allowed the bike to be designed with a very narrow Q factor to make the bike easier to pedal with short legs. And the pedaling is done with 120mm cranks.

All this quality comes at a price, of course, and the fact that this bike goes for $899 is going to cause a coronary event for someone. I’m not sure what the resale is like on a bike of this quality, but that’s not how I do the math. I look at the fact that both of my boys will be able to ride this bike and only after the Deuce has outgrown it will I consider selling it.

There’s no doubt that Mini-Shred likes this bike better than the other bikes he has ridden. He had his fastest, most controlled descent of our local Dirt Crit race course this past weekend. I think of it is really simple but when you’re not quite four-feet tall and weigh less than a Labrador Retriever, it’s a genuine challenge, what with all the decomposed granite blocks the size of his feet; heck, some are bigger than his feet. What I see is a kid who already loved cycling thrilled to ride a bike that allows him to ride more aggressively, and while one needn’t be aggressive to enjoy this bike, it’s in his nature to play with verve and the Zulu Three is perfectly suited to that.

There’s one other note to strike on the subject of quality. I’ve seen kids crash Big Box Retailer bikes and destroy derailleurs, levers and brakes with a single hard landing. Mini-Shred isn’t shy and he’s gone down a few times already but he has yet to do anything other than scratch a part here or there. Good grief, most of the resin pedals I see look like they’ve been chewed on by a Mastiff and the Zulu Three, true to form, features lightweight alloy pedals with sealed bearings. This thing will last longer than a 1950s Chevy in Cuba.

This bike has great standover clearance for smaller legs. It has a minimum saddle height of 58cm and a maximum saddle height of 71.2cm, so it will fit a child for quite a long time. Its weight is a refreshingly low 23.4 lbs. That is still substantial to a child who weighs only 50 lbs., but when compared to any other bike they’ve encountered, it will be appreciated for just how light it is. Put a child on this bike and you’ll see what I saw: someone who can’t wait to go rip.

If ever you wanted a love potion for cycling, giving a kid a bike as nice as the Zulu Three is almost certain to cast a spell.

Final thought: Maybe you can buy love.

 

Action image: Jorge Flores, JustPedal

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8 comments

  1. Austin McInerny

    “He had his fastest, most controlled descent of our local Dirt Crit race course this past weekend.” This is a testament to his coaching more than the rad bike!! Some really choice quotes in this review and it is cool to see brands stepping-up their game to satisfy demanding young talent like Mini-Shred and his younger brother.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Aw heck. I don’t feel like much of a coach. It’s mostly just, “That’s it!” And, “You’re doing great!” He’s got a sharp eye for a good line. I wouldn’t know how to teach that to someone so headstrong. That said, I’m ready to learn how to be a good coach.

  2. Matt Leonard

    There are a lot of amazing kids bike these days. Commencal, Cleary, Spawn, Trailcraft, Islabikes, etc.. Did you see the Islabikes pro series bikes at Sea Otter??? Amazing (and pricey…).


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Only one of those companies, Spawn, offers a bike with truly parallel features and it goes for $250 more than the Zulu 3. The Islabikes Pro line is great, but almost twice as expensive and doesn’t include a suspension fork.

    2. Matt Leonard

      You should do a direct comparison with the Commencal. I think the Prevelo looks like a nicer bike, but also $200 more expensive. It has hydro disc brakes, 11-34 cassette (9 speed), narrow wide chainring, SRAM X5 shifter/RD, nearly identical weight, etc. But a coil fork, and personally, I think the crank arms are too long (145 mm) for a 20″ bike. I got my son the 2016 24″ model almost two years ago and have been really happy with it. Hard to go wrong these days with so many great bikes, and it’s nice to see another player in the market to keep upping the game.


    3. Author
      Padraig

      Early in my career I faced the fallout of a shootout. When someone wins, someone else loses. Invariably the loser is alienated, so I avoid doing that. If someone encounters the Commencal Meta, which is their most equivalent model at $699 (it’s been reduced from $789), and likes it, I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of that purchase. I think it’s a fine bike. That said, when I compare the Meta and the Zulu 3 side by side, I conclude that the Zulu 3 is a better bike, which is why I chose to review it.

  3. Matt Leonard

    Fair enough, but just to clarify:

    “I’ve yet to see another 20-inch bike that has more than seven speeds in the rear. Not only that, the Zulu Three sports an 11-34 cassette, which is by far a broader gear range than any other competing bike I’ve seen.” Commencal (9 spd 11-34), Spawn (10 spd 11-36), etc.

    “The Zulu Three’s next big difference is the fact that it has hydraulic disc brakes. While you can find plenty of 24-inch wheel mountain bikes with hydraulic disc brakes, I haven’t seen hydraulic discs on wheels this size from anyone else.” Again, Commencal, Spawn, etc.

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