Riding is Life


Joy Rides: A five-year-old’s Prova 

We kick off a new series today with one very special kid's bike.

Dave Rome
by Dave Rome 16.06.2023 Photography by
Dave Rome and Prova Cycles
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Welcome to Joy Rides, the new series that serves to share unique bikes from around the world. Sometimes Joy Rides will cover drool-worthy customer bikes from the bespoke world. Sometimes we’ll use this series to cover bikes from an era or two ago. Other times, we’ll look at production bikes that serve as a paint canvas for some incredibly talented artists. On occasion, we’ll even cover everyday bikes that offer a unique story. 

To kick things off, we have one of the most-talked-about bikes from the recent 2023 Handmade Bicycle Show Australia – a custom titanium creation from Prova Cycles that has been hit with a shrink ray. 

There are countless names within the custom bike scene that are responsible for rolling works of art. Prova Cycles is certainly one of them, with founder Mark Hester having deservedly shot to fame with a rare combination of engineering work experience in automotive and motorsport, incredible fabrication skill, an eye for detail, and an endless amount of curiosity toward improvement. 

In recent years Prova has become a family business, with Mark’s sister, Kelly, becoming hands-on in the everyday production processes. And so with Kelly’s daughter Charlie approaching the age of five, it only made sense that she too would ride a bike bearing the name of the family business. And just like that, Prova Cycles has produced its first 20″-wheeled kids bike – the Piccolo. 

This was certainly one of the most over-the-top bikes displayed at the Handmade Show. It also happened to be one of my favourites. And the attention to detail and personal elements perfectly symbolise everything I love about this boutique scene. 

From grow to show

Young Charlie was beginning to hit the upper limits of her 16″-wheeled single-speed bike, and was ready to make the step up to one with 20″ wheels and gears. And rather than go to a store, it was uncle Mark that suggested they build her a bike from scratch.

“I thought it would be a simple build, but we’ve obviously incorporated it into the show, so it’s pretty special,” said Kelly of a bike that is obviously very different to anything previously showcased by Prova. 

“Pretty special” may be underplaying it. The Piccolo features all the same processes Prova uses with its full-size bikes – including in-house butted and shaped titanium tubing, 3D-printed titanium components, and almost everything else the menu offers. 

Having never made such a small bike before, the sizing was somewhat of a rabbit hole. “The fitting was difficult, because Charlie doesn’t fit on the Retül jig,” joked Mark. 

“It was kind of tricky to mock up the sizing. We were looking up percentile charts, where Charlie was in relation to that, where she’ll end up in the next year and a bit.”

Sizing a bike for a small human proved a new challenge. The legs of Escape Collective’s Jason de Puit appear here for scale (he stands at approximately 174 cm).

Mark then puzzled over the geometry. “I looked at scaling down what we’d do for a trail mountain bike, such as front to rear centre ratios, and where the bottom bracket is relative to the axles.” 

The result is a bike that mimics modern trail mountain bike geometry but just made smaller. It fits Charlie now with some room to grow. The head angle sits at 65.5° at ride height (sagged position), the seat tube is just 260 mm in length, and the head tube is 86 mm and was custom machined in-house from titanium billet (aka, bar stock).

Getting geekier 

“[From a technical sense] the frame is a scaled-down version of our Mostro gravel platform. So it’s the same dropout design, and the same 3D-printed yoke design,” said Mark.  

 “We have a parametric 3D model [effectively software-enabled automated size scaling – ed.] of every model that we make. So it was fun to take out a 430 mm chainstay and punch in 320 mm and see what happened.

“Ideally, I’d have used smaller-diameter chainstays, but all of our tooling is intended for the larger size, and I had to draw the line somewhere and not buy new tube-bending tooling just to make one bike,” he joked with a wry smile.

In the jig and ready for the tack welds. Photo by Prova Cycles

The bike of course has other markings of being a Prova. The internal cable routing through the down tube is done with 3D-printed titanium ports that are welded in place and provide a large funnel shape for easier cable and hose installation. 

Furthermore, it may just be the world’s first 20″ bike with a SRAM UDH dropout. “We haven’t tested whether a SRAM Transmission derailleur would touch the ground, but it would be close,” Mark said. “Hopefully, they release a version for downhill and we could use that.” 

Up front you’ll find another Prova creation – the one-piece titanium handlebar and stem, yet another scaled-down version of something found on one of Prova’s adult models. “It uses a 3D-printed titanium stem lug, and a custom-bent 22.2 mm titanium tube as the bar,” Mark said. “The bars are 590 mm width.” 

Super short reach.

The ultra-short seat tube caused other challenges for rear brake caliper clearance as the seatstay angle was that much tighter to the chainstays.  “The dropout shape was the same as our gravel bike, but I had to drop the chainstay right down from the axle centreline in order to get that clearance [for the Flat Mount brake caliper],” Mark said.

Overall the makers seemed ultra-happy with the outcome, but of course there were some minor compromises. “I would have liked to use a slightly narrower crank spindle, but it was a challenge of balancing tyre clearance,” Mark said. “This bike will fit up to a 20 x 2.8” tyre. And because we didn’t want to buy new tooling to make the chainstays, there is a bit of a compromise there. It would have been nice to have a road Q-factor crank for it.”

The personal touches 

Beyond the minute size, it’s the rich colour anodising that was attracting attention at the show. And it’s the colour that was top of a short list of requirements from the customer (Charlie). 

“We showed her the crank options on the Appleman Bicycles website, and we went with the colour she wanted,” said Kelly of the American-made cranks chosen because of the suitably short lengths offered. 

“She also got to do the splatter effect on her own bike,” added Kelly. “The process is that the pink is a lower voltage, the frame is anodised to be fully pink, and then we use nail polish as a mask. So she had the bottle of nail polish and had fun with it. Once the nail polish dries, you then re-anodise the whole bike in the higher-voltage blue, and then acetone off the nail polish.” 

Charlie and Kelly doing the masking together. Photo by Prova Cycles.

While Kelly oversees the material finishing at Prova, the anodisation is done with the assistance of Liam from Nine Volt Colour. “Liam has moved his equipment into our factory, so all the finish work was done in-house for this bike,” said Mark. “We have all the media blasting, frame finishing, cleaning, and vinyl cutting capabilities already, so for Liam to bring the anodising element in-house has been really amazing. We have four bikes at the show with his anodising.” 

As for further custom details, a look at the top tube will reveal a small Australian marsupial. “My wife and I went to Tassie over Christmas and we bought [Charlie] a little stuffed Tassie Devil toy,” explained Mark. “She loves it, and wanted it on the bike.” 

The Tassie Devil.

Further colour matching is seen at the wheels. “The wheels feature Light Bicycle’s carbon BMX rims, laced to White Industries hubs. Dan from Superbe Velo had a great time building those – he builds all of our wheels and bikes. He bought various packets of nipples in after we’d anodised the frame so that he could match the colours.”


While obviously show-worthy, the bike was built-up with trail riding in mind and so features a number of sensible equipment choices. 

“We found the fork from a cool company in America,” Mark said. “It has air springs so we can actually get the spring rate right for Charlie. It’s fully serviceable, too.”

Why the dropper? “Well, it is a mountain bike,” joked Mark. “It makes it really easy to get on and off the bike, and is good for going to the pump track”. The chosen dropper is the relatively new 90 mm version from OneUp, a dropper with one of the lowest overall heights of any on the market. It’s connected with a light action Wolf Tooth remote. 

A little dropper is held in place with Prova’s own seat clamp.

With a laugh, Mark explained that the entire groupset on this bike costs less than the usual price of a cassette. And while fitting electronic shifting to this bike hasn’t been ruled out, it currently runs the new MicroShift ‘Super Short’ gearing made specifically for 20″-wheeled mountain bikes. The little 1×9-speed group offers an 11-38T gearing range, a clutch-equipped derailleur, and a trigger shifter.  

As evident by the gravity-friendly Maxxis tyres, weight certainly wasn’t a priority. Still, the bike weighs 9 kg which is a fair bit better than many mainstream geared kids bikes.

Prova isn’t expecting its build queue to fill up with orders of Piccolos. That said, they will make them. Certainly, you can expect to save some money on the build kit, but the frame is no cheaper than a full-size one.

“We’ve done exactly the same amount of work on this as we would on a big bike,” said Mark. “It costs the same as our normal gravel bike.”

(Custom builds mean there’s no set price, but expect a figure well north of AU$12,000 for a complete bike.)

Thoughts from the customer 

At the time of the show, young Charlie hadn’t ridden her new bike. “Charlie saw her new bike for the first time while attending the show, and was understandably sad that she couldn’t take it off the stand to ride it,” Kelly said. “She did sit on it, and possibly hugged the wheels.”

Two weeks on and the bike has seen some trail time. So what does the customer think?

“The best things are the colours and that Uncle Mark and Mum made it. I’m excited to do jumps!”

Enjoy that bike, Charlie. 

Photo from the handlebars of Uncle Mark.

The build


Expect to see more in the Joy Rides series in future.

In the meantime, be sure to catch up on our recent coverage from the 2023 Handmade Bicycle Show Australia. Such coverage is made possible with the support of our members. If you like what we do then please consider becoming a member of the
Escape Collective.

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