First Look: Behind the Co-op Cycles REV line of Kids’ Bikes

The line offers a bike for every rider, from those learning to balance or pedal for the first time to older kids ready for gears and trail adventures

“Gosh, he’s growing up so fast.”

I can’t help but think in clichés as I watch my 6-year-old pedaling up the dirt path. I let him set the pace as we ride over small rocks and dodge bigger ones on the Marshall Mesa bike trail near our Boulder, Colorado, home. As the trail steepens, Charlie twists his shifter to his easiest gear and rises to stand on the platform pedals, wobbling slightly as the extra-wide tires bump over a slab of sandstone. A few minutes later, breathing hard at the hill’s crest, he pauses a second to turn and grin at me.

It seems like only yesterday that my son was riding the same trail (though a much smoother section) on his balance bike, toddling along, occasionally mustering enough courage to pick his feet from the ground and glide. Soon he had graduated to pedals and was riding laps (and yes, skinning his knees) in our cul-de-sac on an orange two-wheeler. Now, watching him race downhill on his geared 20-inch bike, I know to savor the moment. It will be the blink of an eye before he’ll size up again, pedaling a 24-incher and cruising even more confidently.

The Co-op Cycles design team had users like Charlie (and cycling parents like me) in mind when creating its line of REV kids bikes, which range from 12-inch balance bikes to 24-inch geared rides. The collection offers nine kids’ bikes for every rider at every stage, from those learning to balance or pedal for the first time to older kids ready for gears and trail adventures. Kids can size up to the next bike as they grow or gain skills. Meanwhile, parents who are REI Co-op Members may appreciate the convenience of being able to trade in those gently used REI bikes through a used gear program.  

Building Bikes That Last

The designers recognized that fast-growing kids put their two-wheelers through the paces, both on dirt trails and city streets. They also knew that parents don’t want to replace parts–much less entire bikes–every season. They wanted to make a bike line that was durable enough to perform for multiple little rippers in a pass-it-down process that benefits both the buyer (less money spent) and the planet (fewer resources used).

“The world needs bikes to be used well over one person’s learning cycle,” says Joe Gray, lead designer with Co-op Cycles.

When the Co-op Cycles team set out to create the REV line of kids’ bikes in 2016, designers knew there was potential to produce something different–and much better–than what mass-market bike manufacturers offer.

REI already had decades of experience building kids’ bikes for the Novara® line. Still, its bike experts dove into researching human biomechanics and the anthropology of human teaching practices to update their sense of how young bodies move and how they learn. The designers then reviewed anecdotes on parenting blogs to understand the conditions in which kids start to ride bikes, whether they use common tools like training wheels, for instance, and at what ages they reach milestones like using hand brakes and gears. Next, the team interviewed parents whose kids are accomplished mountain bikers in order to better understand how they instilled a love for riding. Through it all, the team also kept in mind their own experiences as parents and their own efforts to share the joy of riding bikes with their children.

“I got to look not just back at what my son did when he first learned how to ride a bike,” Gray says, “but also look forward to what’s going to happen soon.”

All of that beta guided the team toward three guiding principles for the REV lineup design process: durability, quality and cost-effectiveness.

Prototypes are put through rigorous third-party testing to ensure they meet or exceed both regulatory and voluntary standards. Why? Because kids are tough on stuff. “Even on a small, little sidewalk bike, we assume that these bikes will be ridden hard, and can still be passed down to other riders,” says Karl Schumacher, development manager for Co-op Cycles. “We plan and test for that.”

Durability was one area, the team realized, where the REV line could really stand apart from the competition. The Co-op Cycles team chose quality materials like aluminum (known for its strength-to-weight ratio and being lighter than steel) for the frame and opted to work with reputable brand names like Shimano for base components. During the design process, the team factored in not just the size of the riders but also their strength when it comes to pushing on pedals and gripping brakes.

All About Design

But what about its aesthetics? After all, kids want a cool bike. With help from the REI color and pattern design team (Yep, there’s an entire department dedicated to how the gear looks), Co-op Cycles strategized paint colors. Gray and his team knew they didn’t want limiting blue and pink options; nor would they offer bikes with licensed characters and images as many of their mass-market competitors do. Instead, they saw an opportunity to modernize the color scheme, adding hues like Desert Sage, Blue Nights and Pencil (pictured below left).

From top left: Co-op Cycles REV 12 Kids’ Bike in “Pencil”, $199; Co-op Cycles REV 20 Kids’ Bike in “Four Leaf”, $279

Such attention to detail hasn’t gone noticed. “We got [the] green color and [the] finish is matte, which looks premium,” says one customer reviewer of the Co-op Cycles REV 20 bike.

The designers also picked colors for the REV line that took cues from adult-focused Co-op Cycles lines like the earth-toned DRT mountain bike collection and the steely CTY urban collection. “We appealed to the sense of connection that a parent might have with their kid when they’re riding bikes together,” Gray says. “The bikes are not the same color, but they’re in the same family. They look like they belong together.”

Throughout the entire design process, the team also considered cost. “Price is a huge barrier for people getting their kids into bikes, especially quality bikes,” says Heather Henderson, senior product manager for Co-op Cycles. “We’re super sensitive to that.”

As bike designers, the REI team knew that kids need to ride a bike that fits them properly in order to have the best experience. As parents, they knew that guardians want to spend money on new bikes as infrequently as possible. “We know that kids are growing and they’re not stopping that anytime soon,” Gray says. “If you can eke out just a couple of months more, that’s a useful thing for a parent.”

To that end, the designers aimed to make each bike fit the widest possible range of riders while still ensuring that kids are comfortable on the bike. As an example, by reducing the size of the bike frame (by shortening the seat tube or lowering the top tube), each model can fit riders on the smaller end of the spectrum. Conversely, by lengthening the seat post, the saddle height can be extended higher to accommodate longer legs as the rider grows. “This user is changing their body size rapidly,” Gray says. “They’re not going to fit this bike for that long if we don’t make it adjustable.”

Such thoughtfulness in so many areas adds up to quality, REI believes.

A child rides a 12-inch Co-op Cycles REV 12 kids' balance bike
A child rides the Co-op Cycles REV 12 Kids’ Balance Bike, $139

Trading in Your REI Bike

“On a mass-market bike, something is going to break and you’re going to pay as much to fix it as you did to buy the bike,” Grays says, whereas the REV bike might cost a little more upfront, “but your kid will beat the heck out of it and they’ll still be able to ride it. And then when they’ve outgrown it, you’ll be able to swap up for a bike that does fit them. It’s a long-term play.”

REI facilitates that long-term play with its Bike Trade-In Program, which provides an avenue for co-op members to get a great deal on a gently used set of wheels. The program also ensures that each REV bike has a second (or third or fourth) life.

The trade-in process is simple. Bring the Co-op Cycles bike into an REI store and in-house bike experts will complete the trade-in on the spot. No appointment is required. As long as the original purchaser makes the trade (must be an REI Member) and the bike bought within the last three years is in good working condition (no structural damage or mechanical defects, though cosmetic flaws are A-OK), you’ll get a credit of up to 50% of the REI resale price in the form of an REI Gift Card. (See specific terms and conditions).

Back on the dirt trail at Marshall Mesa, Charlie zips along a flatter stretch with Eldorado Canyon and the iconic slabbed rocks, the Flatirons, rising in the distance. I pedal behind him, watching as he confidently navigates the ruts. I grin at Charlie, just as he grinned at me moments before. I’m thankful for the beauty in the world, for the joy my little boy brings, and for the bike that made this moment possible.

Ready to get your little one off and riding? Check out our handy guides about how to choose a kids’ bike and when to upsize your kid’s bike. When you’re ready to make a purchase, our helpful Bike Finder tool will point you in the right direction. Or better yet, head to your local Co-op and have your kiddo take a test ride.

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