Cleary Owl 20 Inch 3-Speed Kids Bike Review

The Cleary Owl 3 Speed 20” bike is a beautiful bike to behold. It has strong lines, a stunning paint job, and a classic looking brown “vegan leather” saddle.

Even better, its good looks hide a secret: an internally geared three-speed hub. This gives young riders a wide range of gearing without having to deal the complexity of rear derailleur.

Hugging the ground on wide, semi-knobby Kenda tires and coming to a stop thanks to Tektro Junior V-brakes, the Cleary Owl is a great choice for adventurous kids that are ready to step up to a 20 inch bike!

Happy Tester holding the Cleary Owl

Pros:

  • High quality components
  • Wide tires for a smooth ride
  • Good riding position for confident kids
  • Internally geared hub requires less maintenance

Cons:

  • At 22 lbs., it’s heavier than the competition
  • Internally geared hub has a learning curve
  • Stiff shifting may be tough for tiny hands

Price: $500


Video Review


Out of the Box

If you like to shop locally, Cleary has a network of dealers throughout the United States. But if you’re not close to a dealer, or you simply prefer to shop online, rest easy knowing you can have a bike shipped direct to your doorstep.

The company’s website states the bike can be “assembled in minutes with three simple tools.” These include a 5mm Allen wrench, a Phillips head screwdriver, and a pedal wrench. (Cleary provides the pedal wrench).

While this is mostly true, we did have to adjust the front v-brake to allow the front wheel to spin freely. Although not requiring super-mechanic skills, this additional step could be a turn off for some parents. Fortunately, a quick google search and YouTube video later, we had the Owl ready to fly.

cleary owl

Our second-grade tester stands 46″ tall with an 18″ inseam, and the Cleary Owl fit him well. The bike features modern geometry with a low, flat handlebar position and low bottom bracket.

This puts the rider in a fairly aggressive riding position with a low center of gravity. The position allows the child to weight the front-end of the bike and really push it into corners with some gusto.

Observant riders will immediately notice the shift lever is not mated to the expected rear derailleur. Instead, you’ll find the three-speed internally geared hub from Sturmey Archer. This gives the bike a sleek look while still providing a range of gearing for hilly terrain.

The brown vegan leather saddle adds to the overall look and feel of the Owl. As we assembled the bike, we commented that if it rode half as good as it looks, it would be a winner in our book.

So, how did the Cleary Owl ride? Read on to find out!

The Ride

Our tester pronounced the Owl “fast and smooth,” and after watching him cruise around the neighborhood, we have to agree. It did take a brief discussion regarding how to shift the Owl.

The 3-speed Sturmey Archer internally geared hub actually requires shifting while the bike is coasting (not pedaling), which is opposite to how a bike with a derailleur works. Once he understood that, our tester was off to the races, confidently climbing and descending the hills around our home. 

Action Shot

Weight

He was quick to note the additional weight of the Owl when going uphill. But he also said it made the bike feel faster on the way back down.

At 22 pounds, the Owl is a full five pounds heavier than our son’s Woom OFF 4, which features wider tires and a nine-speed drivetrain, albeit at a higher price-point.

cleary owl weighing in at 22 lbs

Even more significant, however, is the weight difference between the Cleary Owl and our tester’s Belsize 20” Belt Drive, which weighs a paltry 14 pounds. That’s a nearly 35% difference!

We are HUGE proponents of lightweight bikes for kids. As a 170 lb. adult, my 32 lb. enduro mountain bike is less than 20% of my bodyweight. Our seven year old tester tips the scales at just about 50 pounds. That means the 22 pound Cleary Owl is nearly 45% of his bodyweight.

That’s a lot! Because of this, we would not recommend the Owl for serious mountain biking or climbing. If, however, you’re looking for a solid around-the-neighborhood or down the rail trail ride, the Owl will delight and turn heads at the same time. (Did we mention it’s a great looking bike?!)

Shifting

A note about the shifting. During initial assembly, we felt as though the trigger-style shifter was overly stiff. Our tester’s initial ride confirmed this. My son struggled to engage the shifter, especially when moving from higher to lower gears.

After trying a few adjustments, we called Cleary. They confirmed the shifter was assembled correctly, but recommended changing the position on the handlebar to better mate up with the rider’s hands.

Shifter and Brake Lever

We took their advice, and the shifting became noticeably easier. Even so, it remains stiffer than more traditional setups from SRAM or Shimano.

One thing we did like about the shifter was the visual indicator that allows the child to see which of the three gears they’re currently using. For kids that are new to shifting, it’s nice to only have three gears to worry about and a bright, easy-to-understand indicator to show whether they’re in first, second, or third gear. 

Quality Components

Between the unique internally geared hub, the industry-standard Tektro Junior V-brakes built for small hands, Kenda tires, and that brown vegan leather saddle, it’s obvious that Cleary chose high quality components for the Owl. This is a bike built to last (and Cleary stands behind it with a lifetime warranty)!

Saddle

The beauty of the internally geared hub is that it eliminates the pesky derailleur, which on all modern geared bikes, sits in a precarious position. This is an issue which is only exacerbated by the smaller wheels young children require. We’ve had a few family rides end early thanks to a stick catching a derailleur, or a run-of-the-mill crash that bends a derailleur hanger.

With an internally geared hub, these problems disappear. Is the whole setup heavier than a traditional drivetrain?

Rear Hub

Undoubtedly, but the reduced maintenance and durability offset the weight disadvantage. If you’re in the market for a geared bike that is basically “set it and forget it,” the Cleary Owl is a great choice. 

Safety First, but Have Tools On Hand

Kids are rough and tumble, but they’re not indestructible, so we always look for bikes designed with safety in mind. One thing we’re not in favor of is bikes that use exposed bolts to secure the wheels. These have a tendency to cause cuts on sensitive little legs.

Cleary eliminates this concern by using rounded, knurled 5mm Allen heads to secure the wheels to the bike. While not as convenient as a true quick release, and not as stiff as a thru-axle, this is a safe setup, and one which we definitely approve of. 

Mom or Dad will want to keep that 5mm Allen wrench handy on the first few rides, as the Owl does not ship with a quick-release seat post collar (this is one of our biggest pet peeves). Dialing in the seat post height for a new rider will require tools.

Seat Post Collar

Given the Owl is not intended as a true mountain bike, where riders are often adjusting seat height depending on the terrain, we don’t view this as a deal-breaker. A quick-release seat post collar can also be added after the fact if you choose. These are obtained at your local bike shop or online for as little as ten dollars. 

Moving down our safety checklist, the Cleary Owl ships with all required reflectors (front/rear, on the pedals, and the wheels). It also benefits from the aforementioned high-quality components such as the Tektro Junior V-brakes and Kenda rubber, which bring the bike to a stop quickly and provide a secure connection to the road ahead.

Nice Touches

The alloy steel frame that is the heart of the Cleary Owl provides a supple ride, which steel is known for. This attribute of steel offsets some of the weight penalty versus an aluminum frame, which while lightweight, will often ride in a more harsh manner. Steel can dampen rough roads or gravel paths, which makes for a more comfortable ride and will allow children to ride farther before getting tired. 

Let’s talk about water bottle mounts. 20 inch bikes are usually when the bike frames begin to get big enough to accommodate a water bottle mount like Mom or Dad has, and for us, they’re a wonderful thing to be included on a bike, because it means our child can carry their own juice or water! The Owl has a very traditional frame shape, with a flat top-tube, allowing for the inclusion of water bottle mounts.

The company makes a very cool “Owl” shaped water bottle cage that retails for $24. Expensive? Slightly. Cool? VERY!

Looks. While we never recommend buying a bike solely because it looks cool (plenty of Big Box Store bikes look great but fall apart quickly), the paint job on the Owl is another area where this bike shines. Our test bike came in the “Miraculous Whip” matte white color, which was  stunning. Sometimes you have to look good to feel good, and combined with the gorgeous brown saddle, the Cleary Owl delivers in that department!

Internal routing for the rear Tektro Junior V-brake is another nice touch we appreciate. Internal cable routing is not a guarantee on children’s bikes, so for Cleary to include it in order to clean up the looks of the bike and provide a protected path for the rear brake cable is nice.

Cleary’s ReRide Program

We get it – kids grow fast, and the bike that fit them perfectly this spring may not fit so well down the road. When that happens, Cleary has Moms and Dads covered with their ReRide Program.

Upon purchase of a new Cleary model, the company will provide a rebate to the purchaser in return for their old bike. Cleary takes the pre-loved bikes, cleans and tunes them up, then donates them to various community cycling programs, giving someone that needs a bike an opportunity.

The current rebate for the Cleary Owl 3 speed is a solid $110. This helps offset the purchase of your child’s next bike, while providing a very nice bike to a child in need. In our eyes, it’s a definite win-win!

Who Is It For?

The Cleary Owl is a great bike for the child that wants a fun, capable bike for neighborhood adventures and bike path rides with Mom and Dad. The three-speed internally geared hub allows little legs to climb up and down hills with ease. The wide, multi-use tires with smooth center tread and raised blocks on the edges of the tires make for a comfortable, confidence inspiring ride on a variety of surfaces, from pavement to dirt or gravel roads.

Although the Owl should not be mistaken for a purpose-built mountain bike like those from companies like Woom, Spawn, or Trailcraft Cycles, it can handle more than just pavement, and for that reason we can enthusiastically recommend this bike!

Cleary stands behind their bicycles with a lifetime warranty against any and all manufacturer’s defects on their bikes, so Mom and Dad can rest assured their investment will be protected for the life of the bike. This is something we love to see, as not all manufacturers offer lifetime warranties. As Cleary says, “Ride hard! We’ll be here if you need us.”

Also Comes In A Singlespeed Version

The Cleary Owl also comes in a singlespeed version without the Sturmey Archer hub. This saves 3 pounds, which is a lot on a kids bike.

A singlespeed can also be a good choice if your child is still new to pedaling or on the younger side for their height. Not all riders transitioning to a 20 inch bike are ready for the added complexity of gears.

The Bottom Line

If you’re in the market for a good looking, high quality 20” bike for your child to take their riding to the next level on, the Cleary Owl is a great choice. The fuss and maintenance-free internally geared hub means more time spent riding and less time spent dealing with bent derailleur hangers (a common issue when transitioning a child to their first geared bike) or imperfect shifts due to grit and grime.

At a suggested retail price of $500, the bike sits squarely in the middle of the price spectrum for quality children’s bikes. It’s more expensive than offerings from companies like Guardian or Co-Op, but less pricey than the Woom 4 or Prevelo AlphaThree, which sell north of $500.

As a child’s first 20” bike, the Cleary Owl is a great buy. And one which will serve your family faithfully for years to come! 

Learn More About Choosing A Kids Bike!

About The Reviewer

Chris Del Sole


Chris Del Sole
 has been an avid cyclist for over 20 years, and is now sharing his love of the sport with his wife and three children. A Marketing Director by day, in his free time he can be found riding bikes, working on bikes, looking at bikes, talking about bikes, and generally geeking out over bikes. In the winter, he spends his weekends teaching skiing and encouraging his kids to “send it” off every jump in sight. 

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