In the last couple of years, Trek did a major rehaul of their Precaliber kids bike line. With these recent changes, we got our hands on the Trek Precaliber 12 and are super impressed with what they now offer for the price. We were particularly pleased to find that this little 12 inch pony now boasts a much lighter aluminum frame, making it one of the lightest 12 or 14 inch bikes on the market.
That lightweight, durable frame combined with solid-quality components, and high-end kid-specific geometry has truly elevated the Trek Precaliber 12 into a better tier of bikes. It’s about on par with much more expensive boutique brands like woom and Prevelo.
But… yes, unfortunately there’s a but. The Trek’s coaster brake and no handbrakes is a pretty big oversight that keeps it from dominating the pack. Read the full review below for all the details on what we love about this Trek kids bike (and just a few things we don’t).
Trek Precaliber 12 Overview
RATING: Highly Recommended
BEST FOR: Kids in size 2T to 4T pants
SEAT HEIGHT: 15.25″ – 18 5/8″
WEIGHT: 14.3 lb.
BRAKES: Rear coaster
TRAINING WHEELS: Come standard
WHEELBASE: 628 mm
- Very solidly built for maximum durability and longevity
- One of the lightest 12/14″ bikes on the market
- Long wheelbase offers a roomy ride and better maneuverability
- Wide, knobby tires provide great traction and cushioning on a variety of terrains
- Handlebars can be raised or lowered by adjusting spacers, can also be rotated
- Soft saddle is comfortable for young riders
- Training wheels are included and don’t require tools to install
- Angled tire valve for much easier filling of tires
- Available in boys or girls color scheme
- Rear coaster brake and no handbrakes
- Seat height adjustment require an Allen key (no quick release)
Results of our Test Rides on the Precaliber 12
We purchased a Trek Precaliber 12 from our local bike shop. To put it to the test, we had three of our 3-year-old testers take it for a spin. Two of those riders were experienced pedal bike riders, while the other is just transitioning from a balance bike.
Frame Design – Much Better Than Most 12″ Bikes
If we’re being honest, most 12″ pedal bikes on the market are garbage. They are awkwardly sized so that the seats are too tall and the frames are too cramped for the small riders they are supposedly designed for.
The Trek Precaliber 12 is the best designed 12″ bike we’ve tested. It has a unique combination of shorter seat height, adjustable height handlebars, and longer frame, which make it a natural fit and ride for the youngest riders.
Low Seat Height
Its low minimum seat height allows very young riders to safely touch the ground with their feet, instead of just grazing the ground with their toes on a too tall 12″ bike. For example, this 12″ Trek bike has a minimum seat height of 15.25″, while the REI Co-Op Cycles REV 12″ bike has a minimum seat height of almost 18″!
This lower seat also creates a lower center of gravity so that the child is sitting much more “in” the bike rather than perched on top. An additional benefit of this low center of gravity is that balancing and maneuvering the bike are significantly easier.
The Precaliber’s long wheelbase provides ample room between the saddle and handlebars for a child to stretch out comfortably, and also contributes to easier and smoother maneuvering.
With adjustable height handlebars, the Trek has a more customizable fit than most small bikes. This allows not just the saddle to be raised as a child grows, but the handlebars as well. (More on that below!)
Additionally, the handlebars can be rotated towards or away from the rider to adjust the distance a child has to reach to grab them.
Trek Precaliber 12 vs. Typical 12″ Bike
Look at this side by side comparison of the Precaliber 12 (left) and the REI Co-Op Cycles REV 12 (right). Our little 3-year-old tester’s knees are practically on top of the handlebars on the REI bike. While the seat is only set about an inch above its minimum, she already has no room for growth.
Contrast that with her positioning on the Trek. She has plenty of room to ride in comfort, and she’s actually riding with the seat set to its maximum height!
The Trek’s minimum seat height is 15.25″, while the REI REV 12’s is much higher at 18″. A higher minimum seat height should be a larger bike designed to fit a taller rider. But clearly the REI REV is not proportioned for a taller rider.
Unfortunately, the sizing issue with REI’s 12″ bike is quite typical, which is why we generally tell parents to avoid 12″ bikes.
Sizing – Balance Bike Graduates vs. Training Wheels
Whether or not the Precaliber 12 is a good fit for your child depends a bit on if they will be using the bike with training wheels.
Balance Bike Graduates
This little pony is one of the very smallest pedal bikes on the market, making it a great option for young balance bike masters ready to take on the challenge of a “big kid bike”.
Transitioning from a balance bike to a pedal bike, a child should initally sit on the saddle and have legs straight and feet flat on the ground. This allows them to stop and start the bike with their feet, like they’re used to on a balance bike. It also makes it very easy to set their feet down without falling over.
Once a child has become a confident pedaler, you should raise the seat about an inch so that they are on their tip toes. This leg position creates optimal knee bend, and makes it much easier for a child to complete the pedaling motion.
With a minimum seat height of 15.25″, the Trek Precaliber 12 is an ideal purchase for balance bike graduates with inseams ranging from about 15″ – 16″.
First Time Riders with Training Wheels
With balance bikes taking the world by storm, small bikes with training wheels are becoming something of a relic. With a minimum seat height of 15.25″, the Trek Precaliber is designed to fit a very small child – about 2 or 3 years old. In our experience, there is no reason to put a child that small and young on a bike with training wheels. Balance bikes are a much better alternative.
However, if you do intend to use the Precaliber with training wheels, it’s best for a child to be able to comfortably touch the ground with their tip toes. This helps a child feel more confident, and also allows a child to set their feet down and prevent a fall if they get off balance. (This happens a lot with training wheels!)
As a result, the Precaliber with training wheels is a good purchase for kids with inseams ranging from about 14.25″ to 16″.
For more information on how to find a bike that is the perfect fit for your child, check out our Kids Bike Sizes Guide.
Training Wheels – On and Off in Seconds, No Tools!
Speaking of training wheels… while we still think you should consider a balance bike instead, the training wheels on the Trek are some of the best we’ve seen.
A large black knob secures the training wheels to the rear axle. When it’s time to say goodbye to the training wheels, simply turn the knob to take them off. No tools! However, if you want to adjust the height of the training wheels up or down, you would need tools to loosen the bolt that connects the actual wheel of the training wheel to its arm.
Lightweight Aluminum Frame
In the past, Trek kids bikes were quite heavy and cumbersome. Their steel frames were not doing them any favors. Heavy bikes are significantly more challenging to ride. Especially for kids. Especially for the littlest kids who are just learning to pedal!
With a new aluminum frame, the Trek Precaliber 12 weighed in on our scale at just 14.3 pounds without training wheels. This is actually the same weight as some of our favorite lightweight 14″ bikes that are made for the same size child, like the Prevelo Alpha One.
Coaster Brake, No Handbrakes are Disappointing
Now we have to get real about something we really do not like about the Precaliber 12. Like all 12″ bike shop bikes, the Trek does not have handbrakes, and has a coaster brake (back pedal brake) instead.
Coaster brakes are mandated by law on 12″ bikes, but brands can offer an optional “freewheel kit” for parents to remove the coaster brake. Considering the price of the bike and Trek’s status as a respected bike brand, we hope that they incorporate hand brakes and a freewheel kit in their next upgrade of this model.
Why does this even matter? Coaster brakes make learning to ride significantly more difficult and frustrating. We put our 3-year-old boy tester on this bike. He’s mastered his balance bike and is ready to tackle the world of pedals. However, like every little rider we’ve seen learn to ride a pedal bike, he was trying to pedal backwards a significant part of the time. The coaster brake stopped him every time!
When first learning to pedal, many kids try to pedal forwards and backwards because is hasn’t yet “clicked” that pedaling forward moves them forward. Additionally, once kids do learn to pedal forward, they still instinctively pedal backwards to try to regain their balance.
In a nutshell, kids learning to pedal are going to pedal backwards. Coaster brakes stop them in their tracks and really delay their progress. It’s not as big of a deal once a child masters a pedal bike, but the process of learning is more complicated than it should be.
While we love so many things about this Trek kids bike, we do think that the coaster brake is problematic for young riders. If possible, we encourage you to consider the slightly more expensive Guardian Ethos 14 ($269), which doesn’t have a coaster brake and features Guardian’s proprietary Sure Stop braking system.
Wide, Knobby Tires Great for Many Terrains
The Precaliber’s air tires are wide and knobby, offering great traction and cushioning on a variety of surfaces. From sidewalks to dirt trails, these tires are capable of handling mostly anything a 2 or 3-year-old can throw at them.
However, due to the coaster brake and no handbrake, we don’t recommend this Trek kids bike for aggressive all-terrain riding.
One small detail that is hugely helpful about these tires is that they have an angled valve. Because 12 inch wheels are so small, they are a huge pain to inflate because the head of a bike pump often can’t fit in that tiny space. The angled valve is curved outward so you can attach the bike pump outside of the wheel!
Handlebars Adjustable for Height
Many kids bikes have limited or no ability to adjust the height of their handlebars. As seen in these images, the Precaliber 12 has four spacer rings on the head tube. The top three spacers can be placed below or above the headset to raise or lower the handlebars. The bottom spacer is shaped differently and should be kept in place.
On the left, with all the spacers under the headset, the handlebars are raised as high as possible. On the right, with the three spacers on top of the headset, the handlebars are lowered to their lowest point.
For our 40.5″ tall tester with the seat height set at the max height, the handlebars set to their max height was an ideal fit.
For shorter riders who need the handlebars lowered, the handlebars can also be rotated slightly towards the child so that they are not only lower, but closer to their body.
Saddle and Seat Post
The saddle on the Precaliber is firm yet soft, and one of the better quality saddles we’ve seen. To raise or lower the saddle’s height requires the use of an Allen key.
Grips and Pedals
While a minor detail, the matching color accents of the Trek 12’s grips and pedals add a nice pop of color. Some small kids bikes have tiny pedals and grips that make using them more difficult. The Trek’s grips and pedals are both sized perfectly for 2 and 3-year-old riders.
The full chain guard on the Trek Precaliber 12 keeps that greasy chain out of reach for little fingers and pants. We love the sleek visual of this full guard that covers the entire chain.
Bottom Line on the Trek Precaliber 12
If you’re looking for the convenience of ordering online and picking up a fully assembled bike at the bike shop, there’s no better 12 inch bike than the Trek Precaliber 12. Its lightweight, well-designed frame makes riding easy and natural for little ones. Unfortunately, it also comes with a coaster brake.
While all 12″ bikes at or below the Precaliber’s $229 price tag have coaster brakes, it’s definitely worth considering spending a bit more to get a bike without a coaster brake. Check out the coaster-brake-free Guardian Ethos 14 ($269), which features an innovative, easy to use SureStop braking system.