If you’re committed to developing your little grom into a serious shredder, the Prevelo Zulu Three is equipped to do just that. Designed with the adventurous and aggressive rider in mind, the Zulu Three is a confidence-inspiring and rugged rig that can tackle rough terrain and hold up under every beating your kid will give it.
With an air fork, clutch derailleur, trigger shifters, hydraulic disc brakes, wide handlebars and a slacker headtube angle, the Zulu was precisely designed and spec’d to enable your grom’s adventurous spirit on the downhill, the uphill, and all the flowy single track in between.
Read our full review below to determine if the Prevelo Zulu Three is the right 20″ mountain bike for your rider.
Prevelo Zulu Three Overview
SEAT HEIGHT: 22.8″ – 27.5″
WEIGHT: 23.9 lb. with Heir pedals
FRAME: Aluminum Alloy
BRAKES: Tektro Hydraulic Disc
GAIN RATIO: 1.67 to 5.77
SHIFTERS: Microshift Advent Trail Trigger Pro
DERAILLEUR: MIcroshift Advent Super Short Clutch
TIRES: 20 x 2.25, tubeless ready, Crown Gem
WHEELBASE: 880 mm
What we love about the Prevelo Zulu Three
- Kid-friendly geometry and components create a low center of gravity and nimble maneuvering
- Microshift Advent Trail Trigger Pro shifters are easy to engage and shift smoothly
- 80 mm travel air suspension fork actually works with a small child’s body weight
- Gain ratio range offers plenty of span for efficient climbing and descending
- Wheels and tires come tubeless ready
- 2.25″ wide Crown Gem tires offer great traction on the trail
- Clutch derailleur to prevent chain slapping and slipping
- Hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors are paired with easy-reach brake levers
What you should know before you buy
- The optional HEIR Footport pedals have domed pins to prevent kids from dinging up their shins. They work great and we highly recommend them. (Available in 4 metallic colors!)
- The Zulu comes dropper post ready, but most kids should wait until a 24″ bike for that upgrade.
- While lightweight for a mountain bike with an air fork, it’s not the lightest option available. Timid or petite kids may do better on a lighter bike with a rigid fork.
Zulu Three vs. Zulu Three Heir
The Zulu Three Heir is a higher-end version of the standard Zulu Three. How the models are different has changed over the years. Comparing the 2022 Zulu Three and Zulu Three Heir, the differences (and the price) are smaller between the two models than previous versions.
There are several pretty minor differences between the two models, but the three that matter most and should have the biggest impact on your purchase decision are:
- WEIGHT: The Zulu Three Heir is 1.8 pounds lighter than the standard Zulu.
- SUSPENSION FORK: Both models have forks that offer 80 mm travel, adjustable compression, and lockout, but the Heir fork also offers adjustable rebound. The Heir’s fork is also more responsive for lightweight kids.
- COLOR: The Zulu Three Heir comes in a metallic, glittery black. The standard Zulu Three comes in light gray.
NOTE: While previous versions of the Zulu Three and Zulu Three Heir had different drivetrains, the 2022 models have identical Microshift drivetrains.
Prevelo Zulu Three Review – Results of our Test Rides
With the launch of the 2022 Prevelo Zulu Three, we’ve now tested three different versions of this bike. In our first review, we awarded the Zulu the title of “gateway drug of mountain bikes”. This honor still holds true!
This latest Zulu model was primarily tested by our very strong, confident, aggressive, and tall 4.5-year-old shredder over a 4-week period in Bentonville, Arkansas. The delight, excitement, and stoke she exuded on each ride was an absolute joy to experience as a parent who has been developing this little rider for the last 3 years. Finally she can really shred!!
We will continue to update this review over this season and next as we long-term test this bike and other 20″ kids mountain bikes.
Who is the Zulu Three Best For?
The Prevelo Zulu Three is a rugged and nimble 20″ mountain bike that is an exceptional choice for kids who are (or will become) confident and aggressive shredders.
With a front air fork, slack headtube, upright seat tube, long wheelbase, and shorter chainstays, the Zulu Three is especially ideal for general trail riding with a lot of chatter, as well as descending on technical or flowy trails.
This Zulu is also a capable climber for shorter bursts, but our test rider did struggle on steeper, longer pitches compared to the rigid woom OFF 4 (which is 6 pounds lighter).
If your child is petite, timid, or will be doing a lot of climbing without a tow rope, a lighter mountain bike like the Zulu Heir or woom OFF should be considered.
Sizing – Transitioning from a 16″ to a 20″
Last summer, this little ripper began her MTB journey on the Prevelo Zulu Two 16″ bike. Her transition to the 20″ Prevelo Zulu Three has been natural and smooth, but there are a few things that are helpful to keep in mind.
A 20″ bike is significantly more bike for your child to handle. While it’s never a good idea to buy a “too big” bike that your child will grow into, it’s especially not a good idea on a mountain bike. So let’s make sure your grom is the right size!
The seat height range on the Prevelo Zulu Three is 22.8″ – 27.5″. Our very tall 4.5-year-old test rider is 46″ tall and has a 20.2″ inseam with her Five Ten riding shoes on. She rides with the saddle set to 23.4″.
For kids on the lowest sizing end of the Zulu, at the pedal’s high stroke, riding with the saddle lowered all the way to its minimum seat height creates a tighter bend and a less efficient pedal stroke. (This is a result of a higher bottom bracket/longer cranks combo to create more ground clearance for the pedal low stroke, and a better platform while standing and pedaling.)
As a result, the “best buy” fit really is for a child that can ride with the seat set at about 23.5″, which allows for a looser high-stroke knee bend, making it easier to push down on the pedals. While you certainly can ride with the saddle lower, pedaling on flat and incline trails will require more effort.
Geometry and Performance
Whether baby bombing down Bentonville’s famous Thunderdome slalom downhill run with Mom and Dad, racing through the flowy trails of Black Apple Creek, or navigating the short-burst climbs and descents of Slaughter Pen, the Zulu Three showed off its technical capabilities at every turn, and instilled gobs of confidence in our little shredder.
(To paint a holistic picture of riding with a 4.5-year-old, there were also plenty of tow rope rides, several mid-trail meltdowns, and a few character-building crashes. Knee pads, gloves, and helmet… every time!)
With a slack 66-degree head tube, longer 880mm wheelbase, and wide 600mm bars, we were quite impressed with how much stability and control our rider maintained with the bike pointed downhill. Reaching much higher speeds than she had previously accomplished on her 16″ bike, her confidence was audible as she hooted and hollered her way downhill.
The bike’s low center of gravity certainly contributed to her downhill sucess, but also was pivotal at slower speeds as she purposefully tackled technical terrain like rock gardens, rock bridges, and wood features. Her ability to remain balanced and maintain control through her chosen line impressed us once again.
With 4.5″ ground clearance for the pedal at the low stroke, the Zulu truly is designed with the aggressive trail rider and technical terrain in mind. As a comparison, the woom OFF 4 is designed with a more beginner/intermediate rider in mind (or true cross-country riding), and has less ground clearance at 4″.
Like most modern adult mountain bikes that are adopting a slacker headtube, the Prevelo Zulu Three also features a more upright 74 degree seat tube. This combination keeps the rider over the bottom bracket and more of their weight forward, putting them in a better seated pedaling position.
If there was one area where our shredder displayed more frustration than others, climbing would be that area. She is absolutely a little goat and prefers standing climbs in a slightly higher gear to sitting climbs. It’s a blast to follow behind her and watch her pump her little legs like she’s climbing for ice cream (which she quite often is!).
She triumphantly conquered many short climbs during our testing period, but the added weight of the Zulu (23.9 pounds) compared to the rigid woom OFF 4 (17.2 lbs) was noticeable on steeper and longer climbs. If you will be spending a significant amount of time climbing without the aid of a tow rope, you should weigh the pros and cons of the lighter woom OFF 4 (review can be found here.)
All in all, the geometry of the Zulu provides a more aggressive, yet well-balanced approach to riding. About the only riding style we wouldn’t recommend it for is if you’ll be spending more time or miles with the bike pointed uphill than flat or downhill.
Prevelo Zulu Three Components Round-up
The Prevelo Zulu Three is an admirably rugged bike. Kids are rough on their bikes in general. But aggressive kids on a 20″ mountain bike??
This little shredder is a bit more ambitious and confident than makes mom and dad comfortable at times. Taking risks doesn’t always end well, so she also crashes on the regular, gets back up, and keeps on riding.
Despite all the crashes and dings to the derailleur, the Zulu Three has held up to every beating this kid has subjected it to.
Air Suspension Fork
For our 50-pound test rider, we ran the psi at 25 on the 80 mm travel Spinner 300 20 Air Fork. At her weight she is not able to utilize the full travel of the fork, and running anything less than 25 psi doesn’t put enough air in the chamber to be useful.
That said, this fork did a great job of smoothing out the chatter of the rockier sections and baby drops on the blue trails she’s starting to tackle.
One of the primary reasons you pay over $1,000 for a kid’s mountain bike is for a suspension fork that will actually work for a lightweight kid. The Spinner Air Fork is certainly not a vanity-fork. It looks cool and works well, but does have its limitations. However, to get an air fork that will be significantly more responsive for lightweight kids, you’ll need to up your budget.
The Zulu Three Heir features a higher-end and lighter-weight Heir-branded fork. Like the Spinner 300, it has 80mm travel, lockout, and adjustable compression, but it also has adjustable rebound. It’s also a more responsive fork, so while we haven’t tested it, you should expect your child to be able to utilize more of the travel of that fork.
If your child is very petite, or not aggressive and will primarily be riding trails that are smooth and flowy, you should consider a rigid bike to save a few pounds.
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
While hydraulic disc brakes may not be necessary on smaller mountain bikes, the speed and aggression with which a child may ride a 20″ bike certainly merits this upgrade. The Prevelo Zulu Three features Tektro hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors in the front and back to provide plenty of surface area to slow things down quickly.
On a 20″ bike, a child is also old enough to take advantage of brake modulation so braking doesn’t send your little one over the bars or straight into a skid when they start slowing down.
As our 4.5-year-old tester has developed a thrill for the downhill, the Zulu’s hydraulic disc brakes have done an exceptional job of allowing her to safely control her speed on the descent. And of course, the brake levers are short-reach and easy-pull so kids can keep their hands on the grips while braking.
Your child may not be developmentally ready for 1 or 2-finger braking at first, but these brakes are set up to allow for that once they are ready. In order to do so, you’ll need to bring the brake levers in to allow for more room on the grips.
On the right side (shown above), the brake lever is set on the inside of the trigger shifter, making it easy to make this adjustment without rearranging anything.
NOTE: From approximately June to September 2022, this Zulu Three model shipped with Radius hydraulic disc brakes, rather than Tektro. We experienced issues with our Radius brakes and replaced them with the Tektro kit about 5 months after we initially published this review.
If you already have a Zulu Three with Radius brakes and have any issues with it, contact Prevelo’s customer service and they are committed to resolving all issues.
Built with triple-butted tubing to keep the frame weight down, the Prevelo Zulu Three is svelt, yet rugged, weighing in at about 23 lb. with pedals. While not the lightest 20″ mountain bike on the market, for a bike with a suspension fork, it’s quite a respectable weight.
If you’ll be doing a lot of climbing, shaving off a few pounds will make a big difference in your child’s stamina and frustration level. A rigid bike like the woom OFF 4 (17.2 lbs) or non-air-fork Pello Rover (20.3 lbs) should be considered for heavy climbing.
1x 9 Microshift Drivetrain
Like a lot of bike brands these days, Prevelo has switched the drivetrains on all of their bikes to Microshift. The Zulu Three features the higher-end Microshift Advent Super Short Clutch derailleur.
This smooth shifting 1×9 drivetrain features a rear cassette with a range of 11-38t, while the front sprocket is a 30t narrow wide. This results in a gain ratio range of 1.67 to 5.77, which offered plenty of span for our test rider on a wide variety of terrain.
Bentonville’s trail system provided a unique testing ground in that it offers climbing, downhhill, and cross-country trails all within the confines of the city. The Zulu’s gearing excelled on all of it.
While an older, stronger rider might benefit from an even lower or higher gear, this range is more than capable for what a young rider on a 20″ bike can throw at it. (As a comparison, my Santa Cruz Tallboy with 12 gears has a range of 1.3 – 6.7.)
The Microshift Advent Super Short Clutch derailleur clearly has a clutch, which keeps the chain tension over bumpy terrain. Paired with a narrow-wide chainring in the front, that chain is not falling off.
While the clutch can be turned off, we always kept it engaged. The only potential benefit to turning it off would be to make the shifting mechanism slightly easier to engage, but we didn’t find this necessary.
Given the clutch derailleur, suspension fork, and overall geometry that make the Zulu Three an excellent choice for trails with plenty of chatter, we appreciate that the deraillauer also has a short cage to provide plenty of clearance.
At its lowest point, the Zulu Three’s derailleur has 3.6″ of ground clearance. By comparison, the woom OFF 4, when outfitted with identical Crown Gem tires, has less ground clearance at 3.25″. For additional reference, the Prevelo Alpha Three (multi-use bike) has a derailleur ground clearance of just 2.6″.
Trigger Shifters and Ease of Shifting
The Microshift Advent Trail Trigger Pro shifters are exceptionally smooth and easy to engage. Our little grom learned to shift on the Prevelo Alpha Three, which features a high-quality but more basic Microshift trigger shifter. While the Alpha’s set up is great, the Zulu’s higher-end Advent Trail Trigger Pro is noticeably smoother.
If this bike will be your child’s first introduction to gears, learning the mechanics of double-thumb trigger shifters doesn’t come as naturally as a grip shifter you’ll find on a neighborhood bike. That said, with a little initial coaching, your little ripper should pick it up pretty quickly.
For some hacks to help your child learn to use their trigger shifters, check out our experience in our Prevelo Alpha Three review.
Learning to shift while also developing skills to navigate true mountain bike trails can be a lot for a young child to handle. Kids need patient coaching from their parents to understand when to shift. This coaching may be needed for years!
When first transitioning to a 20″ mountain bike, it may be beneficial for you to set the bike’s gear before your child starts climbing or descending and just let them stay in that gear until they reach calmer terrain when they have the capacity to also think about shifting.
For this little tester, at 4.5 years old, she still needs to look at the trigger buttons when shifting. (I call out a command like “hit the small button two times!”) As a result, if she’s navigating tricky terrain, I never attempt to have her divert her attention from keeping that front wheel straight in order to change gears. Safety first – gears can wait. 🙂
How quickly you try to introduce your child to the full use of their gears really should depend on their age as well as how confident and coordinated they are.
Wheels and Tires Tubeless Ready
The Zulu Three features a very off-road-worthy set of Crown Gem 20 x 2.25 tires. We use Crown Gem on several of our kids’ mountain bikes because they’ve proven to offer gobs of traction on rocks, roots, and loose dirt.
But like most tires, loose rocks and gravel are still problematic. We recommend taking time before rides to remind young riders about the effects that different terrain can have on their ability to control the bike. (Unfortunately, we had this discussion after our 4.5-year-old skidded out on a section of loose gravel.)
It’s also important to remember that while these tires are exceptional, they are still only 20″. Your child’s ability to get up and over rocks or roots is severely curtailed by their 20″ tires in comparison to your larger tires. Be sure to especially keep this in mind when you are towing your child and choosing the line.
Both the WTB i27 rims and Crown Gem tires come tubeless ready. (But not installed – you’ll have to take care of the tubeless conversion.)
Optional Heir Pedals with Domed Pins
Standard composite pedals come with the Zulu Three. They’re pretty good, but if you’re planning to do any aggressive biking, you may want to upgrade them.
We highly recommend Prevelo’s new Heir Footport Pedals ($95). Weighing in at just 307 grams, these alumium alloy pedals are appropriately sized for kids’ smaller feet and are also thin to maximize ground clearance.
Their most unique feature is that they come with domed pins to prevent your child from scratching up their shins. (Um… can I get some domed pins on my pedals please?!) We have absolutely loved these pedals and encourage you to try them. If you end up not being a fan of the domed pins, the pedals come with a bag of the standard pins so you could swap them out if you wanted.
Dropper Post Ready
The Prevelo Zulu Three comes dropper post ready, and can even be ordered with the dropper post installed. However, the vast majority of kids won’t benefit from using a dropper post on a 20″ bike for several reasons.
- It’s one more thing to think about when kids this age are still trying to learn to shift, keep level pedals, maneuver through tricky terrain, etc.
- A lightweight child may have difficulty pushing the seat down mid-ride.
- The Zulu’s optional dropper post adds 1″ to the minimum seat height, but adds 4″ when extended. Prevelo doesn’t recommend using the dropper post unless the child can ride the bike with the dropper post fully extended. As a result, a child wouldn’t be able to safely use the dropper until they are almost outgrowing the bike, so it’s not the best investment.
That said, if you feel pasisonate about teaching your child to use a dropper post when they have grown tall enough to safely use it, you can always upgrade your Zulu Three at that time.
Bottom Line on the Prevelo Zulu Three
There are not a lot of other kids bikes out there right now that have been thought out this well. If you’re looking for a trail bike that can handle climbing and descending on mellow rides as well as some serious single track that will test the skills of any kid, the Zulu line-up has you covered.
For more 20 inch mountain bike options, check out our 9 Best Boys and Girls 20 Inch Mountain Bikes article.