Prevelo Zulu Four 24" Kids' Mountain Bike Review: light on weight, serious on quality

by - Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Prevelo Zulu Four is light on weight, but serious on quality. Check out our comprehensive review of this high quality, ultralight kids' mountain bike.

Prevelo Zulu Four in Kananaskis
Prevelo Zulu Four in Kananaskis 

By: Kheang Ung

A few months ago, I came home from work to an excited mom telling me about an amazing 24-inch kids' mountain bike that had just arrived. I quickly unboxed and assembled the Prevelo Zulu Four so that I could share in the excitement.

Disclosure: Prevelo Bikes generously provided us with a Zulu Four to test and review. All words and opinions are my own.

Initial Impressions of the Prevelo Zulu Four & Featured Specs

I was impressed right away with the following features of the Prevelo Zulu Four:

  • Adjustable air front shock (saves weight) with lock-out (saves energy on mellow urban rides or long relatively smooth climb). 
  • Updated 1 x 10 drivetrain with SLX rear shifter and a Zee short cage rear derailleur with clutch (easy to use, crisp/quick shifting needed for mountain biking, chainring guard and clutch makes chain dropping/slapping is a thing of the past). 
  • Derailleur cable is routed internally through the top tube for clean look. 
  • Hydraulic disk brakes with adjustable reach (requires little force to control speed). 
  • Great pro paint and matte clear coat job that looks like anodized aluminum on my Santa Cruz Blur (seems to withstand scratching better). 
  • Great all-around 2.1” Kenda Small Block tires. 
This is a real mountain bike that you can take anywhere. Honestly, this is a lot of bike. Out of the box, I think the only thing I'd wish for was better pedals.

Prevelo Zulu Four 24 inch mountain bike
Prevelo Zulu Four 24 inch mountain bike 

First Few Rides: Sizing, Shifting, Braking

After a few rides, I think I know what Prevelo was thinking when they came up with the Zulu Four. And oh man, they really found a sweet spot in terms of price and the bike they want to offer.

My daughter does not know why the bike rides so nicely, but I do. The air front shock and 2.1” Kenda Small Block tires with good tire volume make for a comfortable ride, while hydraulic disk brakes allows her to control her speed over bumpy terrain using just two fingers on each brake lever with confidence.

With 10 speeds, Miya has all the gears she needs for all types of terrain. The updated 1 X 10 drivetrain was just like the 1 X 7 drivetrain on her 20-inch bike so there was nothing new to learn. It is simple to use and shifting is quick so that she can focus on getting up that hill versus thinking about how to shift a a 2 X 8 drivetrain properly. The Shimano SLX rear shifter is third from the top; a level typically seen on adult bikes, not kids' bikes.

Prevelo Zulu Four in action!
Prevelo Zulu Four in action! 
The 1 X 10 drive train using a 32T front chainring and an 11-34T sprocket is great all-around, but my daughter being only nine years old, rides mostly on the bigger rear sprocket. So if I were picky, I might swap out the chainring for a 30T to make climbing steeper terrain easier (I would not swap out the rear sprocket for an 11-36T as I hear that the Zee derailleur works best with an 11-34T). But I am not picky - lazy may apply here - as I would have to swap the 32T back next year because she will be stronger next year. Keeping the bike as-is out of the box mean this year she might have to walk up some really steep sections on dirt trails, but she won’t next year. (Update since time of writing: my daughter has not had to walk up any hills!)

I was a little concerned that the bike might be too big for my daughter as she's small for her age, but thanks to the Zulu Four's geometry and low stand over height, she easily jumped on and rode away (we put the seat as low as it can go). While she could have stayed on her 20-inch bike until the end of summer, it's advantageous to put her on a 24-inch bike because she can roll over bumpy terrain better with bigger wheels (bigger wheels absorb more shock). Most 24-inch bikes are too big for her, but Prevelo's geometry allows her an earlier start. We anticipate she will ride this bike for at least 3 years since she is a petite 9 year old.

The Case for a Light Bike

My kid will be a better rider. She can climb better and ride longer with a lighter bike. Many adults could be better riders if they lost 5 to 10 pounds of dead weight in the midsection, or they could go to a high end local bike shop and drop ten grand for a lighter bike. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same thing about your little one. Most active kids are skinny and don't have extra weight to spare.

Driving to the mountains is worth it! The Zulu Four makes the drive worthwhile because it's more likely she can do longer mountain bike trails with her light bike. Three extra gears (10 on the Zulu Four vs. 7 on her 20" bike) help a lot too!

Longevity. We expect to use this bike for three years. My daughter got one year out of the 16-inch, then two years out of her 20-inch bike, but she isn't growing as quickly now, so I'm confident she will get at least three years out of the Zulu Four.

The Case for a Single Chainring 1X Drivetrain

Prevelo Zulu Four 1 x 10 drivetrain
Prevelo Zulu Four 1 x 10 drivetrain 
I have met many adults and teenagers who do not know how to properly work a 3 X 9 drivetrain (this means 3 rings on the front and 9 on the back). They ride big and big or small and small which is called “cross-chaining”. Cross-chaining can bend or break the chain, or in a worst-case scenario, pull the rear derailleur into the rear wheel and absolutely mangle it when you shift under power.

Even experienced riders can have trouble with 3 x 9 drivetrains. Late in an adventure race, a guy on our team named Bob mangled his derailleur - while we were leading by a good margin - because he was tired. My guess is he was tired, could not push the gear he was in, and shifted under power on a climb. Needless to say we did not win the race. I didn't give a crap about the race, but my teammates completely lost it for a good 30 minutes.

Would Bob have done the same thing on an updated 1 X 10 or 1 X 11 drivetrain? I think there is a good chance he would not have. On a road bike I sometime end up in the wrong gear for the terrain costing me a little bit of time, which is no big deal since I am not riding in the pro peloton. However, on a mountain bike, being in the wrong gear usually requires an embarrassing dismount, walking your bike up that hill, or in the worst-case scenario, wrecking the rear derailleur.

Over the years, I have seen three people (adults!) on my commute who couldn't shift properly either wreck their chain or chain and derailleur to the point that the bikes were not rideable. Kids can easily make the same mistake with a 3 x 9 drivetrain, but this problem is avoided with a 1 x 10.

The Case For Front Shocks

Prevelo Zulu Four Front Shock with lockout
Prevelo Zulu Four Front Shock with lockout 
In the mid-90’s my best friend who was one of the top mountain bike riders in Alberta tried to talk me into front suspension on my next bike. I adamantly refused saying that I prefer full rigid bikes like my Bridgestone MB-10 with a fluorescent pink chromoly fork. I told him that I could save money and weight, and the rigid fork would force me to be a better bike handler.

He took me on a ride called Cox Hill to prove his point. The trail has punishing bumps most of the way so by the end of the ride, I had destroyed my bike beyond repair. On the way up, my body had to absorb the bumps and more so on the descent. My friend on the other hand had a rather enjoyable ride because his suspension helped absorb the bumps especially on the descent such that he did not have to always choose the best line. I held on to the bike for a while before giving it away to a relative (for casual riding). Its replacement was a titanium frame with a middle of the road front shock that cost an extra $400.

If you do real mountain biking or frequent dirt trail riding, invest in a good quality bike with front shocks. Many bike manufacturers sell bikes with heavy shocks that don’t work just because shocks make bikes appear more expensive. However, they're just dead weight if they do not work properly. Try to stay away from cheap bikes with shocks.

What I look for in a Kids' Mountain Bike (and how the Prevelo Zulu Four measures up)

It must be a trail worthy mountain bike

Solution: it must have real front shock that works and does not weigh a ton. The Prevelo Zulu Four's adjustable air front shock with lock-out meets this need. You may say why not go full rigid and save a ton of money and weight? Sure, but that would be a different bike, not a trail worthy mountain bike.

Shifting must be quick and precise on punishing climbs while caked in trail crap

Solution: Shimano SLX shifter with a Zee short cage rear derailleur with clutch to avoid chain slapping on bumpy descent (best buy). Before marriage, mortgage, and kids, my real mountain bikes have XT/XTR drivetrain (not the best buy by a long shot), but it cost four times more than my humble Honda Civic Hatchback at the time. Admittedly, I have not set foot in my favorite local bike shop for more than a decade now.

It must have enough gears for climbing steep terrain

Solution: 10 speed rear cassette.

It must be simple for kids to use so that they can focus on getting over the climb instead of fumbling for the correct gear

Solution: 1 X 10 drivetrain. Not 1 X 8 or 2 X 8 but 1 X 10. 2 X 8 drivetrain requires shifting front and rear derailleur which is confusing for most people (let alone 8 years old) and 1 X 8 is not enough for steep challenging mountain bike terrain.

Stopping power must be achieved with little effort and maintenance

Solution: hydraulic disc brakes.

Prevelo Zulu Four in action
Our daughter testing the Prevelo Zulu Four 24" mountain bike

Overall Impression

I love this bike because my kid can take it anywhere without being held back by weight or lack of gears. As a result, I am sure she loves every ride. The Zulu Four is at home on all terrain from paved paths to smooth dirt or bumpy trails. It is a bike that is ready for any adventure.

My wife later told me the price tag of the Zulu Four. It is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive 24" mountain bike out there. Considering how good this bike is I think Prevelo has done a decent job of keeping the cost down. They built it up with good/sensible components where needed to keep cost and weight low. Personally, I don’t always apply the law of diminishing returns when building / picking components for my bikes. By ignoring the law and the stupid need to keep up with the Jones is the reason I walk out of my favorite local bike shop with insane purchases. For example, I could pay $50 for entry level pedals, $250 for nice race level pedals, or $500 for carbon fibre pedals with titanium axles that were used by a pro who won a big race last year. Applying the law of diminishing returns would see me come out $250 less in the bank, but instead I came out with the most expensive pair of pedals in the store with really fancy packaging (of course this was pre-kids when I had disposable income). Prevelo wants the Zulu Four to meet a high performance standard but not break the bank.

This said, I still think you need to have solid personal reasons to shell out this kind of money. Remember that no bike is good at everything; they were designed to excel in certain types of riding, not every kind of riding. Therefore, the most important consideration is the type of riding your little ones enjoy. We love having this bike because our daughter can ride anywhere on it and she can make use of all the sweet single track nearby.

If your child doesn't mountain bike and will mostly ride dry, smooth paved/dirt road, but you still want a light bike with great geometry and sealed cartridge/bearings, you should consider Prevelo's Alpha series. The Alpha Four costs about half what the Zulu Four goes for and weighs over 3 pounds less because it does not come with front shock or disk brakes (better for riding in wet muddy condition). I took an aluminum road bike without shocks or disc brakes on an 8-month tour of France and Italy riding mostly smooth sealed surfaces, but sometimes gravel, dirt, and even cobbled stone roads. Not a problem. I didn’t need shocks, but disk brakes might have been nice as descending the sometimes wet mountainous sections with a trailer was hard on the pads and rims.

Long story short, if you have a young mountain biker in the family, she will love the Zulu Four! My daughter is super happy with her thoughtfully designed bike and we're considering getting another one for our youngest daughter!

Prevelo Zulu Four 24" Mountain Bike Review
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Where to Buy

Buy the Prevelo Zulu Four directly from Prevelo Bikes (California), or from All Out Kids Gear (central Alberta).

Prevelo bikes ship in a box and are easy to assemble. Check out this Prevelo Bikes video on how to assemble them. Note that instructions for the Alpha Four are the same as for the Zulu Four.


Add Ons

The Zulu Four comes standard with black hand grips, but for a small extra charge you can swap them out for your child's favorite color.

Other add-ons include kickstand, bell, rider name lettering, USB rechargeable lights, and Trade Up Club (available in continental US only - sell your bike back to Prevelo for 40% of what you paid).

Prevelo Zulu Four rider name lettering
Prevelo Zulu Four rider name lettering

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