Rocky Mountain Reaper 26 Review: The Kids are Alright

The Reaper lineup of bikes from Rocky Mountain utilizes many of the brand’s popular features from its adult-sized siblings but in smaller versions for growing younger riders. Featuring dialed kinematics and adjustable RIDE-9 geometry, the Reapers–which include 24″, 26″, and 27.5″ wheeled models–are designed as ripping platforms for kids with the same Rocky Mountain DNA as the rest of the storied Canadian brand’s lineup.

Last year, Josh brought in a Reaper 26 for his now twelve-year-old son Holden to ride on their loose and chunky southern Arizona trails. Holden also used the bike to race his first XC season with the Arizona Cycling Association’s Youth Development League.

If you have a young rider at home and are curious how this bike fit, handled, and held up for Holden over nearly nine months of extended use (and abuse), continue reading below…

Reaper 26 Quick Hits

  • 130 mm front and rear travel
  • Shimano Deore 1×10 drivetrain
  • Shimano MT4100 2-piston hydraulic
  • FORM alloy frame
  • RIDE-9 tunable geometry
  • 26″ wheel version for riders with an inseam between 21.5-31.5″ (the frame also fits 24″ wheels)
  • Youth-focused components like SDG Slater handlebar and Toonie 80 mm dropper
  • $1,919 USD (Current May 2024 sale price)

Kids these Days…

It used to be difficult for tweenagers to find a capable full-suspension bike. You know, that awkward age when you’re not really a child but not yet a teenager either? For most kids, it’s a time of rapid physical growth where the Samba Super Suedes they spent all summer saving up to buy only fit for about a month before having to pass along to a younger cousin. It’s a dynamic season of life for parents and kids where everything is in flux.

So, why even consider shelling out thousands on a mountain bike to only have it for a single year? It kinda seemed like an overlooked category. But, in recent years, brands like Rocky Mountain have met the growing demand for young folks with developing athleticism–even going beyond that of many adults–but are in between youth and adult-sized bikes.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details of the Reaper 26, I think it’s important to establish an experiential cycling baseline, including where and how we ride. Holden has been riding for almost his entire life, which is wild to think about from my parental perspective (read: it makes me feel old). Like a lot of kids do these days, he started with a balance bike, advanced to pedals with 16″ and 20″ Cleary Bikes, and then spent two seasons on a rigid Salsa Timberjack 24 Plus.

While they were all great bikes, the Timberjack’s modern geometry, stable platform, and right-sized components helped inspire a lot of confidence in our loose and undulating local singletrack. Holden is becoming more competent with every ride and, like his parents, would rather seek out longer rides with technical climbs and fun descents over hucking himself off big drops. The Timberjack made riding fun at a critical time when he could have been easily discouraged and soured on riding in general, had he been on a less capable bike.

Enter the Reaper

The arrival of the Rocky Mountain Reaper coincided with Holden’s first season of XC-style racing with the Arizona Cycling Association. It’s a summer/fall seasonal alternative to NICA here in AZ, and his team held practices thrice weekly throughout the summer (with 5:00 am wake-up calls to beat the heat!) and concluded with a race series at the end. With a more enduro-focused geometry, the Reaper isn’t exactly the bike your average XC racer would gravitate toward. Still, it’s been great for our young rider, who is after a positive experience rather than a podium finish.

Geometry and Ride Impressions

For reference, Holden is now 5 feet tall with an inseam of about 29 inches. At twelve years old, he’s on the smaller side of his peers, and when he first started riding the Reaper 26, he was about four inches shorter. The bike has grown with Holden, which now equates to about 190 mm of total exposed seat post and 15 mm of headset spacers. We recently swapped the 80 mm stock dropper with a longer 100 mm alternative, which I’ll explain more about below.

The Reaper 26 has much in common with Rocky Mountain’s adult bikes, including thoughtful component spec and the RIDE-9 tunable geometry Morgan detailed recently in their Element review. This allows geometry angle changes across nine positions with a simple rotation of two interlocking chips in the bike’s rear suspension linkage, primarily impacting head tube angle, seat tube angle, and bottom bracket drop.

Riders who spend more time in the saddle climbing might opt for the steeper end of the angle spectrum, while those wanting more stability for shredding downhill would likely choose slacker angles with more bottom bracket drop. Certainly, it is a cool idea to incorporate into a youth bike, as younger riders spend a lot of their time figuring out what and where they enjoy pedaling.

For the Reaper 26, the RIDE-9 adjustments equate to nearly a 1.5° range with head angles from 63.9° to 65.3°, seat angles of 73.4° to 74.8°, and a bottom bracket drop from 14 mm to -3 mm. As shown above, in Position 5, the reaper sits at 64.6° HTA, 74.1° STA, and has a 6 mm bottom bracket drop. Rocky Mountain used this baseline “neutral position” when designing the bike, and this is where we’ve left it most of the time, as Holden’s weekly rides include quite a bit of variety.

Fit Aspects

Moving beyond angles, there are a few other important numeral aspects to consider. First, the Reaper 26 has a short reach compared to other bikes in its class. In fact, its reach is shorter than the Timberjack 24 Holden previously rode. While it’s been fine for us to extend the seat post and bars upwards as he’s grown – and since he’s not riding super aggressive terrain – the somewhat compact fit is something to consider when shopping around, especially if you want the bike to last into middle school.

The Reaper 26 uses the same frame as the Reaper 24 and is sized accordingly to fit shorter riders, too. Hence, the shorter reach on the 26″ model. This means that a younger rider can start on the 24″ bike (it’s specced with smaller components such as cranks) and grow into 26″ wheels, or families with a younger sibling can theoretically buy the 26″ Reaper and swap 24″ wheels down the road as the smaller child is ready for it.

With the short reach comes a low standover of 729 mm, which is great for kids starting on the shorter side of the sizing range and, even when they grow taller, helps to inspire confidence in handling (knees not banging into the top tube) and easy access to bail when needed. The rear center and wheelbase are what you’d expect from a modern trail bike, providing a stable platform for descending with planted traction for climbing.

Unfortunately, the Reaper’s short reach and low standover come at the expense of water bottle storage. There are no bottle bosses inside the frame’s front triangle, nor is there any place to lash one on with aftermarket systems like Wolf Tooth’s B-RAD Anywhere Base. While I understand not everyone lives in the desert like we do – which requires more water consumption than most regions – I think all bikes should have room for at least a small bottle.

Component Spec

Finding quality components that don’t break the bank and feature appropriately sized touchpoints for younger riders is a tricky balancing act. This has been a conundrum with youth mountain bikes since I was a kid.

Looking first at the drivetrain, the Shimano Deore 10-speed group is a nice blend of versatility and durability. The cassette’s 46T offers plenty of spin for steep climbs, while the 11T high end paired with 30T chainring was enough to propel Holden at relative speed in race course flats. The rear mech even has a clutch!

Hovering between 75 and 85 lbs during the review period, the two-piston MT4100 brakes gave sufficient stopping power. They seemingly lacked much modulation, as Holden often reported feeling either “on” or “off” without much in between. He would have likely wanted beefier brakes if he were heavier or riding gnarlier terrain more often.

The RS Monarch shock and Recon fork are popular options on many smaller full-suspension bikes these days. The fork is fairly lightweight and can be set to lower pressures for lighter-weight riders. Likewise, the Monarch R shock comes with a light tune. At first, I was a little worried about dialing in 25-30% sag when Holden started riding the Reaper and was barely 70 lbs, but they set up just fine.

We did have to service the fork somewhat prematurely, as a bad seal on the air piston likely caused an imbalance of positive and negative air and sucked the sanctions down into the lowers mid-ride. I’m still not sure why the seal went bad so quickly, but a good cleaning, new seals/O-ring, and fluid did the trick.

Branded as Rocky Mountain Toonie, the 30.9 dropper post didn’t fare very well. Unlike the suspension that accommodated Holden’s light mass, the dropper didn’t drop for him for a while despite being marketed as a youth component. He’d have to bounce on it a few times and with enough force to actuate it. This could have led to the cartridge ultimately failing, which it did a few months into the review period. We decided to replace it with an entirely new post rather than purchase a new cartridge from Rocky Mountain. The stock was only 80 mm and was already nearing its minimum insertion after one of Holden’s growth spurts, so opting for a 100 mm KS LEV bought him some more time to fit the bike, and it was much easier to operate.

Moving up to the cockpit, SDG’s 650 mm Slater handlebar is a nice fit for smaller hands to grip. While it has a narrow end diameter of 19mm, the clamp is 31.8 mm so riders can upgrade to a thicker alternative as they grow while still using the same stem. The narrow bars do require 22.2 shims for mounting cockpit controls. We found this to be finicky at times, but was a serviceable tradeoff for having an appropriately youth-sized handlebar.

The wheels didn’t come set up tubeless. But we changed that after Holden got a few punctures early on. We also replaced the stock Minion DHF tires with higher volume, tubeless-ready Ikons, which are also faster rolling for Holden’s riding style.

Wrapping Up

Youth bikes have come a long way since I was a middle schooler looking for one. With the Reaper collection of bikes, Rocky Mountain proves that kids’ MTBs can have high-quality components and geometry on par with adult bikes, while also building in adjustability features for growing riders. Rocky also has a broad dealer network that provides in-person customer service.

Currently, Reaper 26 is on sale for sub-$2,000, down from $2,559. The main difference between the most current build kit and what we reviewed is that it has a Microshift derailleur rather than Shimano, but the package is a solid value. I suspect Rocky Mountain has some plans for updating the Reapers, which hopefully includes extending the reach numbers and finding room for at least one bottle mount. Still, the current version is a versatile and viable option for many riders, particularly those who might want to start with 24″ wheels and change up to 26″ as they grow.

Note: This review was written with youth riders in mind. But, Reapers could and should certainly be considered by adult riders on the smaller cusp of “adult” full-suspension bike sizing. 


  • RIDE-9 geometry adjusts for a variety of different riders/terrain
  • Compatible with 24″ and 26″ wheels
  • Solid component spec for the pricepoint
  • Adept climber for an all-around/trail bike
  • Capable and simple suspension platform
  • Relatively lightweight for a complete bike


  • No space/mounts for water bottle
  • Fast-growing riders could outgrow short reach
  • Dropper can be too much for lighter riders to actuate

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