Cleary Owl Review

The Cleary Owl is the perfect 20 inch bike for aggressive kids who want to ride fast, do tricks, go off-road, or just cruise around. Read the review below to find out more reasons with love the Owl!

boy riding a blue Cleary Owl

Cleary Owl Overview

RATING: Highly Recommended

MSRP$430 (single), $500 (3-speed)

BEST FOR: Aggressive young riders who love to get off the paved trails or do tricks, and want to occasionally use gears

SEAT HEIGHT: 21″ – 26.4″

WEIGHT: 19.1 lb.

GEARS: 3-speed internally geared hub (not on single)

PROS:

  • Stable and sturdy design instills confidence in young riders to try new things
  • One of the lightest 20″ bikes on market
  • Dual hand brakes
  • Fast and high-performing on varied terrains – it’s the “FUN” bike

CONS:

  • More difficult to assemble than expected
  • Trigger shifter can be hard to engage (on 3-speed)
  • Internally-geared hub requires kids to stop pedaling to shift gears

Cleary Owl Review – Results of Our Test Rides

Boy riding down curb on Cleary Owl

The Cleary Owl is the perfect bike for aggressive young riders who want to ride fast, do tricks, go off-road, and also just cruise around the neighborhood. Built for performance and built to last, the 20″ Owl is available as a single-speed and as a 3-speed with an internal hub.

We’ve extensively tested both models and found the single-speed Owl to be a worthy investment for kids who love to adventure on two wheels and have awarded it our “Exceptional” rating.

The 3-speed version of this bike is identical to the single speed except that this newer offering features a Sturmey Archer internally geared hub and a trigger shifter. While the geared Owl still offers an exceptional ride, we found the shifting on the 3-speed to be difficult for our young riders, especially compared to other geared 20 inch bikes.   As a result, we’ve given the 3-speed Owl a “Recommended” rating (more details about shifting below).

Overall Performance

I was nervous that our tester wouldn’t want to ride the Cleary Owl because the last bike he tested was the Islabikes CNOC 20″, which is a truly exceptional bike. My worries couldn’t have been farther from reality.  

Boy doing a trick on the Cleary Owl 20

Our tester fell in love with the Owl pretty much immediately, asking to ride the “fun bike” when requesting to go on a rides with me. His very eloquent summation of why he loved the Cleary more than other bikes was, “You can do so much more fun tricks on the Owl!”

Our tester was confident and daring on the Owl in a way I’ve never seen him on a bike. The Owl was lightweight enough for our tester to maneuver easily, but also substantial and sturdy enough to give him a feeling of security and confidence. What resulted was one joyous ride after another as he left the paved trails to ride through the grass, dirt, ditches, rocks, and hills.

Boy riding Cleary Owl 20 inch kids bike through a dirt ditch

Sizing of the Cleary Owl 20 Inch Bike

With a seat height range of 21″ to 26.4″, the Cleary Owl is one of the smallest 20″ bikes on the market. It’s an ideal fit for the experienced riders with an inseam of 19″ – 23″.

For younger kids (or shorter kids) with an inseam less than 19″, the smaller 16-inch Cleary Hedgehog would be a better fit than the Owl.

In the images below, the picture on the left shows our kindergarten tester with a 21.5″ inseam who is correctly positioned on the bike with his tip toes touching the ground. Because a 20″ bike is most likely a child’s 2nd or 3rd pedal bike, they should be positioned in this way to gain maximum leverage on the pedals. They do NOT need to be able to fully touch the ground with their feet flat.

Child’s Inseam to Seat Height Comparison

Comparison of seat height versus the inseam of the child rider. 6-year-old with 21.5" inseam fits the Cleary Owl perfectly, while his 8-year-old sister with 23.5" inseam is almost too tall for the bike.

The second picture illustrates the same child with the seat height lowered to its minimum height.  As you can see, his feet are touching the ground and his legs are bent, indicating plenty of room for a child with an inseam several inches less than his.

The last picture shows our 8-year-old tester with a 23.5″ inseam.  With the seat set at its maximum height, she is approaching being too tall, with her heels almost able to touch the ground. Based on her size, she would be fine riding this bike for a few months, but for a new bike the larger 24 inch Cleary Scout or Meerkat would be a better fit.

Lightweight, Even Though Frame is Steel

Weighing in at 19 pounds, the Owl is one of the lightest 20″ bikes on the market, even though it has a steel frame.  While not as lightweight as the 15 lb. high-end CNOC 20″, it seemed that those few extra pounds actually helped our tester feel more stable and confident in doing tricks and going off-road.

Tires – Best for Paved and Mild Off-roading

The Owl’s 20″ tires are 1.95″ wide (compared to the CNOC below at 1.4″), which makes the tires heavier, but better for off-roading. (The tires below are both 20″ in diameter – the angle is producing an optical illusion for the overall size, but the width is accurate.)

Side by side comparison of tire width of Islabikes CNOC 20" and Cleary Owl. The Owl's tires are over 0.5" thicker.

Semi-Aggressive Geometry for Adventurous Riders

The Cleary Owl was obviously designed by a company dedicated to kids’ bikes. The overall design and all of the bike’s components are perfectly suited for a child rider to be comfortable, adventurous, and ride efficiently.  Cleary’s website claims, “expert bike geometry centers the weight between the rider’s hands and seat, which creates a stable, quick-handling bike.” We couldn’t agree more!

Boy standing up while riding Cleary Owl 20 inch kids bike

Low Handlebars

A lot of kids’ bikes are designed with high handlebars that push a child into an upright position. While an upright position (when combined with a long wheelbase for stability) is great for young riders on 14″ and 16″ bikes who are still learning to balance and pedal, it’s not ideal for older, more experienced riders.

By the time a rider is on a 20″ bike, they should be confident enough with balancing a bike that they would benefit from a slightly more aggressive, leaned forward position that better allows them to shift their weight while riding. This also lowers their overall center of gravity for better balance.

While an upright position often seems more natural to young riders, it actually raises their center of gravity and decreases their ability to balance. In addition to pushing a child more upright, higher handlebars may also prevent kids from properly extending their arms which can lead to twitchy steering.

On the Cleary Owl, the handlebars are placed lower on the body to help lower the center-of-gravity for better balance, and allow for better arm extension, leading to better overall control of the bike. The handlebars are positioned similarly to the high-end Islabikes CNOC 20″.

The Owl’s Lower Handlebars Allow for Better Control of the Bike

Four different 20" kids' bikes with different handlebar heights, in order from highest handlebars, to lowest. Dynacraft Throttle, Specialized Hotrock, Islabikes CNOC 20", and Cleary Owl.

Rider’s Position on Bike

As mentioned above, the low handlebars of the Cleary Owl create a more “aggressive” body position as compared to most 16″ bikes that your child has probably been riding. (This is because 20″ bikes are designed for more experienced riders.)

This body position, along with the Owl’s wider tires, is perfectly suited for more adventurous riding like off-roading and trail excursions, or simply doing tricks around the neighborhood or at a skate park. It’s also great for paved trails, but don’t be surprised if your kid wants to leave the pavement and venture off for something a bit more exciting.

The Owl’s q-factor (width between the pedals of the bike) is actually wider than other bikes like the high-end CNOC. This widens a child’s “base”, which Cleary did intentionally to give more advanced riders a wider stance, making the Owl more stable for aggressive riding.

If your child isn’t interested in being adventurous on his bike, he’ll still find plenty of enjoyment on the Cleary Owl.  Even more so with the newest 2021 version of the Owl. It features a slightly shorter stem, which doesn’t require a child to stretch out quite so much to reach the handlebars.

Low Bottom Bracket

In addition to handlebar position, the height of the bottom bracket of the bike also affects the rider’s body position and comfort. As you can see below (yellow arrows), the bottom bracket of the Cleary Owl is much lower than cheap bikes like Huffy, and top kids’ bikes found at bike shops, like the Specialized Hotrock.

It’s even lower than the very high-end Islabikes CNOC 20″. In the Islabikes comparison (3rd image below), you can see that not only is the Owl’s bottom bracket slightly lower than the CNOC’s, but its crank arm is also a little bit longer.

A lower bottom bracket (and/or longer crank arm) allows for better leg extension by providing a lower limit to the bottom stroke of the pedals. Better leg extension means it’s easier for a child to pedal because they get better leverage on the pedals with every stroke. The lower bottom bracket also lowers the child’s center of balance on the bike which contributes to the Owl’s superior rider control and stability.

Lower Bottom Bracket on Cleary Owl = Easier pedaling, Control, and Stability

Comparing the bottom bracket of the Cleary Owl to Huffy, Specialized Hotrock, and Islabikes CNOC 20", with the Cleary Owl having a lower bottom bracket than all three.

Dual Hand Brakes – Plenty of Stopping Power

The Cleary Owl features high-quality dual hand brakes (Tektro V-brakes). Once adjusted properly, they are easy to reach, easy to engage for kids’ hands, and can stop on a dime. The bike we received did require minor but important adjustments to the brakes before they worked properly.

Out of the box (see left image below), the brake lever was set at a much farther distance from the handlebar grip than was comfortable for our 6-year-old tester. Luckily, the levers were able to be easily adjusted to fit his hands perfectly. (See middle image.)

Dual Hand Brakes May Need Adjustments Made

Wide brake lever reach out of the box, but the brake lever can be adjusted to make the reach more narrow.

The bigger issue was that we had to adjust the tension of the front and rear brake cables so that the bike braked with enough force when the levers were engaged. The brake cables were too slack for the barrel adjusters (silver knob above) to make any significant difference, so we actually had to tighten the tension of the cable where it attaches to the brake arm.

This was our experience and certainly may have been isolated to the bike we received. If you’re knowledgeable about bikes, this would be a minor inconvenience,  but the average parent would have needed the help of a bike shop or a YouTube video.

Gearing (Gain Ratio) for Single Speed

Easy to get started pedaling, and easy to maintain momentum (even on hills!), the Cleary Owl is geared ideally for pretty much every situation our 6-year-old tester found himself in. From going up and down moderate hills, to off-roading on grassy and uneven dirt terrain, the single-geared Owl was a dream.

The only area our tester had trouble with was steep dirt hills, but hey, this isn’t a mountain bike! If, however, your child will regularly be tackling steeper hills, you should definitely look into geared bikes (like the woom 4 or Prevelo Alpha Three), which are much more suited for hilly riding.

With a gain ratio of 3.37, the Owl won’t gain as much speed on flat rides as single speed bikes like the CNOC with a higher gain ratio (3.98). This, however, is in exchange for the benefits mentioned above. Single-geared bikes can’t have it all, and one gain ratio isn’t necessarily better than another – it all depends on how your child will use the bike.

Boy riding Cleary Owl down a grassy hill

Cleary Owl 3 Speed vs. Single Speed

The Cleary Owl was originally available only as a single-speed, and was the first version we tested (the blue bike seen throughout this review). We gave it an “Exceptional” rating. Cleary Bikes later released a 3-speed version of the Owl that we tested about a year later and gave a “Recommended” rating.

The geared version has just 3-speeds, vs the 6 to 8 normally found on kids’ bikes. Three speeds is a great middle ground to introduce young riders to the world of gears and shifting.

With an internally-geared hub, versus a traditional derailleur, the Cleary Owl 3 speed is also lower maintenance than traditional geared bikes.  With no exposed moving parts to get bumped, scratched, or covered in dust, internal hubs typically equate to more consistent gears and performance, especially with kids who are typically tough on their bikes.

Cleary Owl 20" bike trigger shifter and internal hub

The Sturmey Archer internal hub on the geared Owl is slightly different than other internally-geared 20″ bikes we’ve tested. To change the gears on the Owl’s internal hub, it is recommended that the rider stop pedaling and begin to coast before engaging the shifter. Technically the gears on the Owl can be changed while pedaling, it’s just easier (and officially recommended) to shift while coasting.

Our 8-year-old aggressive tester, however, found it challenging to stop pedaling when he wanted to shift as it was just one more thing he had to think about.  This is probably something he could get used to over time, but he did express that it was hard when he was trying to shift gears while going uphill because he would lose all of his momentum if he stopped pedaling to shift.

The shifter, not just the hub, also made the Owl challenging to shift. Even when he did stop pedaling prior to shifting, our 8-year-old tester found the triggers a bit sticky and hard to push.  Once pushed, the throw between gears two and one was also a little long for his hand, making it a challenge to smoothly engage the gears. 

After a phone call with Cleary and a trip to a bike shop, we confirmed that the shifter was working properly and the Sturmey Archer set up just requires a bit more muscle to use as compared to other brands.  Cleary, however, has not had other purchasers mention a problem with shifting.  We also haven’t been able to find complaints about the shifter on other reviews online.

Ease of Assembly

I am a HUUUUGE fan of the Cleary Owl, but I was a little disappointed at its ease of assembly – mostly because the website says that the bike comes 90% assembled and that there’s just five easy steps to finish it up. While we had no issues with assembly of the 3-speed Owl, we did run into some difficulties with the single-speed Owl.

In full disclosure, I’m not awesome at assembling bikes, but even if I were, there were some slightly complicated additional adjustments that would be hard for the average parent to make – the brakes, as already mentioned, but also the chain ring.  

Assembly isn’t supposed to require any adjustment of the rear wheel, but after putting the bike together, the chain ring was sagging and our tester wasn’t able to pedal and really get anywhere.  The fix was to remove the rear wheel and re-position its axle farther back on the frame to eliminate the slack in the chain.

All of this said, no bike is perfect and I would absolutely go through this minor hassle again because the Cleary Owl is that awesome to ride. Also, Cleary Bikes is dedicated to customer service, so if you do run into any issues with assembly you can give them a call at (844) 543-2453.

Bottom Line on the Cleary Owl

For adventurous kids who love to tackle new terrains and tricks, the Cleary Owl is one of our very favorite bikes. Easy to maneuver and just plain fun to ride, you won’t regret your investment in this well-designed, high-quality kid’s bike. And just as importantly, your kid will looooove you for it!

The 3-speed version features everything we love about the single-speed, but has a trigger shift system that may be difficult for your child to use.

FTC Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this review.  No monetary compensation was provided for this review, however, the reviewed product was supplied by the manufacturer or distributor to help facilitate this review. All opinions and images are that of Two Wheeling Tots LLC.  All content and images are copyrighted and should not be used or replicated in any way. View our Terms of Use.

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