“Keep It Simple.” That is the philosophy behind the “Ethos” versions of Guardian Bikes. With the Guardian Ethos 16″ you get everything you need, and nothing you don’t.
Even though the Ethos is Guardian’s “economy” line, you still get a mitten full of great quality things to introduce to your young rider. Key amongst these is Guardian’s proprietary SureStop braking technology, a safety feature I’ll discuss more later. It’s this braking system that really sets Guardian apart from the crowd.
For parents that are on the fence regarding how much to invest in the next bike, knowing that there may be others in the future, the Ethos is a great buy, a smart buy, and definitely one that I would highly recommend.
Review in a Nutshell
- Freewheel rear hub, no coaster brake
- Super easy assembly (<5 minutes)
- Sure Stop Brake Technology (safe, simple, adjustable)
- Rare to find this kind of tech on a “budget” bike
- Low standover height
- Superior customer service and informational website
- Same great looks as its more expensive cousin (the Guardian AIROS)
- Some older, more advanced riders may want gears
- Weight isn’t as light as others, but at this price, it’s pretty darn good
Price & Where to Buy:
Guardian 16 Inch Ethos Detailed Review
Transitioning To The 16 Inch Bike
I often compare the 16-inch bike to the years spent in junior high, odd and uncomfortable. Yes, things got better during 8th grade, but 7th was a different story. Long arms, but short legs. Deep voice followed by an awkward high voice. The list goes on and on, and you are probably wondering what this has to do with a 16-inch bike.
Well, when your child first saddles up on a 16 inch bike, there are going to be a lot of weird parts of the bike that they may seem foreign or odd to them. For one, they may have been used to coaster brake. That’s gone. Training wheels on the last bike. They’re gone too. Compact but high position on the bike. No longer.
Guardian makes some great bikes, with probably its greatest asset being the Sure Stop braking system. For other companies, regardless of the industry, it is competing in, it is rare for them to put their “best option” on all of their products, especially their budget-friendly ones.
Guardian Bikes is a different company. They want kids on bikes! Great bikes to be exact. Simple as that.
Even though customers may think they are sacrificing quality or performance because of the $100 savings over the Guardian AIROS 16 inch, they will be pleasantly surprised once they open the box upon delivery. Just take a look at how good this “budget” bike looks.
Bikes from big box stores are not going to have this kind of quality. Remember, in the biking world, higher weight does not equal higher quality.
Back in the day, a heavy door and hearing that thud when closing a car door symbolized higher quality. With bikes, quality is reassured by looking at the parts, welds, the way it’s put together, and sometimes its lack of weight. Many new shoppers will go to a big box store, lift a bike and say it is built like a tank, thinking it will last forever.
Saying the Ethos version of the Guardian AIROS is a watered-down version probably wouldn’t be fair to say. A better explanation would be to describe the Ethos as a “remodeled” version to keep entry-level buyers happy and wealthy.
To be honest, if there was not an AIROS version to compare it to, customers would never know that this bike isn’t Guardian’s top of the line model.
For anybody not familiar with the benefits of a freehub over a coaster brake, stop here for a moment and read this article first:
The Guardian Ethos bike comes standards with a single hand brake, which I’ll talk more about later on in the review. The addition of a hand brake, of course, removes the need to have a coaster brake (one that is activated by turning the pedals towards the rear of the bike). Not only does this help with balance when not pedaling, it also allows for the rider to adjust the position of the pedals to take off from a standing position.
We own a Woom 3, a 16 inch bike that also has a freehub (no coaster brake) in the rear, however, even though the Woom costs a significant amount more than the Guardian, I found the freehub on Guardian Ethos to be smoother and more efficient than the Woom’s.
In fact, although this may sound weird to people new to the bike industry, I really liked the “buzz” or sound of the freehub. Your lil’ rider will be working hard to maintain speed, since a 16 inch wheel only allows for so much momentum, but the freewheel spins effortlessly.
Does that matter? Of course. That means that your child will be able to coast at a greater rate of speed and maintain that speed for a greater time/distance than other riders on lower-quality bikes. I did a spin down test (while the rear tire is off the ground, turn the pedals round and round a bit, stop pedaling and let the rear wheel spin until it stops) for both the Ethos and our Woom 3 and the Ethos stopped about 10 seconds AFTER the Woom 3.
That is a big deal. Less resistance equals less effort. That matters a great deal to a younger rider. You want them to ride and enjoy the ride so much that they want to ride some more. The Ethos free hub will help with that.
Frame and Quality
We own a Guardian AIROS 24 and have been extremely pleased with the build quality we’ve experienced thus far. The Ethos 16 seems to share a lot of the same characteristics as the AIROS 24.
From the styling, internal cable routing, blinged-out wheels, and the tricked out brake system, you are getting one heck of a bang for your 279 bucks. Go check out some big box store bikes and take a look at the trueness of the wheels (see if they spin straight), check the brake calipers and inspect how they engage the rim of the wheels, and look at the welds. In comparison, this bike is classy.
Just as what we have seen with our AIROS 24, everything about the bike, including the cable routing, length of the cables, cockpit (stem and handlebars), looks clean and high end.
To begin, the brake cable has housing (tubing) around it and it has been routed internally in the frame. Big box store bikes won’t have that feature. What difference does it make whether a cable is housed internally in a casing and run inside of the frame tubing?
Simple answer. Legs, shorts, knees, name a body part, and it will make contact with the frame during most cruises, thus if cables run externally, this could lead to possible scraping or damaging of the really nicely painted frame.
With exposed cables, which are usually run above or below the top and down tubes, it leaves them open to the elements (puddles, dirt, dust, or the occasional rainstorm when the bike is “accidentally” left outside). Our youngest son sees a puddle and locks in on it like a hunting dog. It’s not a matter of if he’s going to go through it, it is a matter of how many times he’s going to go through it. Water and cables are not friends.
The more grime, dirt, water, etc. that the cables are exposed to, the shorter the life of the cables, not to mention their ability to operate efficiently. With the Ethos’ internally run cables, braking will remain flawless and you’ll be able to pass this bike onto the next lucky kid knowing that the “guts” are near perfect.
The Safety Stuff
We want our kids to enjoy riding their bike and a great deal of that enjoyment comes when they feel comfortable on their bike. They can lift it up comfortably, throw their leg over the seat comfortably, pedal comfortably, and stop comfortably.
You get my point. Guardian has built a bike that will undoubtedly instill confidence in your young rider and will inspire them to keep riding.
As a parent, safety is always number one in my book. Unfortunately, I turn to the next page and that’s extreme speed, followed by adrenaline, and then jumping, etc.
Regardless, safety is of the utmost importance for our kids, especially for the things in their life we can control. Their ability to stop on a bicycle comes down to two elements: their ability and their bikes ability to apply the brakes when necessary.
Teaching your child how to brake should be done before you teach them how to move, definitely not after, unless your voice can travel farther than mine. The complexity of a dual hand braking system is not easy for many kids to perfect, especially considering riders on a 16-inch bike may be 3 to 5 years of age.
My 4-year-old needs to be told which shoe goes on which foot when he’s tired, but I’m going to trust his ability to apply pressure to the front and rear brake simultaneously in all conditions, in all circumstances, while riding his bike? Nope, ain’t going to happen.
Knock knock. Who’s there? The SureStop braking system that is revolutionizing the kid bike industry, that’s who.
Fall left or fall right and chances are your kid is going to bounce back up. Flip over the handlebars and you might be taking an extended TV timeout. Many kids go from a bike with pedal brakes (which are engaged by turning the pedals backward) onto a bike with dual hand brakes. With some practice, kids can usually get the hang of it pretty quickly with no issues.
But be it tomorrow, next week or next month, at some point in their young riding career, something is going to cause them to have to stop in a hurry. Whether it is a car backing out of a driveway, a squirrel running out in front of them, or a rider in front stopping in a hurry, your little one’s little brain is going to have to react and brake accordingly…pull back on both brake handles hard enough to stop quickly but not too hard to lock up the wheels.
Guardian’s single lever brake design intelligently removes 99%, if not all, of the front dismounts due to emergency braking. I help coach a junior mountain bike team and even our 10-year-olds have not mastered the technique of using their front brake in unison while engaging their rear brake. The Guardian’s Sure Stop Brake technology was developed specifically for these reasons.
Sizing, Adjustability and Comfort Features
Since there is such a large range of ages and sizes of riders for this rig, there is a ton of adjustments that can be made to ensure your child is safe and comfortable. First of all, to follow up the review about the brakes, it’s worth noting that the brake lever is fully adjustable to accommodate for large or small hands/fingers. A simple turn of the provided Allen wrench and you can bring the brake lever in (closer) or out (farther) from the grip.
The seat height is fully adjustable and is easily done by loosening the quick-release seatpost collar.
Not all bikes, especially bikes in the 16-inch category will come with a quick-release feature. If a bike does not have this lever in place, cross your fingers that you brought your Allen wrenches to adjust the seat when your son or daughter says the seat is too high for them…even though they managed to ride the last 2 miles to the ice cream shop with it being that way!
It also comes in handy when you have friends visiting and the Ethos is so much radder than their bike so they want to take it for a spin. They should have chosen cooler parents.
The super-low standover height is another great feature of this bike. I put our Woom 3 up to the Ethos to get a sense of the difference, and there’s a big one (as shown in the picture below).
The lower standover height allows smaller riders to mount, stand, and dismount the bike with ease. Our son graduated from a 14” bike before he was 4-years-old and one of limiting factors in him riding a 16” was standover height, minimum seat height and reach to the handlebars.
The Ethos 16” squashes those concerns. According to Guardian’s website, the ideal child height range is 40-46 inches. Our son, who is 4 and a half years old, stands 43 inches tall with shoes on. The bike fits him comfortably now, so I would think someone under 40 inches could rock this bike and not have a problem.
If in doubt, Guardian offers a fantastic “RideSizer” tool on their website to make sure you pick the correct size bike.
The large, upright handlebars might not be a fan favorite for everyone, but for a 16-inch bike, I think they are a good call by Guardian. As stated earlier, comfort is key, and if riders of all sizes will be hopping on this bike, the more upright position may be suitable for younger riders.
If your son or daughter would prefer something more aggressive for trail riding, jumping, pump tracks, etc., you should look at something else. Although I like the Guardian bikes (especially the braking technology) so much, I’d probably look to swap out the handlebars for a different set before looking to get a different bike.
One thing to add, however, is that a more upright position is going to be easier on the arms and back of your child, and comfortable riding equals happy (longer) riding. They are fully adjustable (inward/outward) so you can determine the proper reach that will be best for your child.
The Little Extras
For example, in my recent review of the Guardian AIROS 24 inch, I highlighted the great kickstand that comes stock on the bike. The Ethos version gets the same NUVO kickstand.
And it works flawlessly. Many big box store bikes come equipped with a metal kickstand that does not work from day one. Many bikes that get parked in our driveway when friends visit have these very same kickstands that are extremely difficult for children to operate. They seem to either be very difficult to get up/down or they don’t seem to stay fully locked when riding. I have seen many sticking out or hanging down a few inches while the bike is in motion. Riding a bike is dangerous enough, but let’s not add a javelin to the list of potential causes for injury.
The kickstand that comes standard on all of the Guardians, Ethos included, has a great feel to it. It is operated with an internal spring that keeps it doing what it is supposed to be doing, whether locked in the position to support the bike while parked, or safely tucked out of the way when riding the bike. It works extremely well.
Shown above is the front chainring, crank, and chain guide/cover. No need to worry about a dropped chain, filthy fingers or a greasy pant leg since the Guardian Ethos comes standard with what you see. Everything is enclosed so you don’t have to worry about kids getting their pant leg, shoelaces, or anything else tangled in the chain or chainring. It can, of course, be removed if desired. The chain is surrounded on both sides by a guard (shown below) that ensures the chain will stay where it should be: on the chainring.
Some 16 inch bikes come supplied with a chain guide or a four leaf clover to take with you on rides in hopes that the chain will stay put. I really like this added security that Guardian has provided on the Ethos.
The Guardian Ethos also comes with fast-rolling, non-knobby tires, which you are not going to find on many 16 inch bikes.
We have found that kid bikes either come with super grippy, knobby off-road tires that weigh a ton, or street slicks that aren’t appropriate for use on gravel paths or moderate dirt trails.
The tires are “just right” for almost everything your child will encounter. I (a dad) rode the bike, and found the tires to roll faster than the Kenda Small Block 8s (tires on left) shown in the picture that come standard on the Woom 3 (and is a popular tire that comes standard on many bikes).
The last little extra bit worth talking about that comes standard on the Ethos is the steering limiter. It is a small ring that can be attached (or unattached) to a bolt on the front fork which limits the turning radius.
Many young riders, especially those entering the 16 inch bike game, lack the turning skills that we veteran bikers take for granted. Turn the handlebars too sharply and “down goes Frasier”! This small attachment, although a simple one, limits how severely the handlebars can be turned, thus leading to the avoidance of many turning accidents.
Red Carpet Treatment
From delivery, set up and any follow-up, Guardian Bikes has everything dialed. The bike was delivered on schedule, packaged like fine China, and was a breeze to take out of the box and put together.
If your kid sees the bike box in the driveway, tell them to get their shoes and helmet on, since by the time they are done doing those two tasks, the bike will be ready to go. It really is that fast of an assembly. As a matter of fact, it was the fastest assembly of any bike we have ever purchased.
I won’t take my chances (or rather risk my kid’s safety) with a big box bike that was put together by an employee who probably doesn’t know bikes. Having the bike 99% assembled by professionals upon delivery is reassuring as your kid goes bombing down a hill on their first ride.
The only thing a customer needs to do themselves is to install the handlebars, the pedals, and adjust the brake lever to the desired distance for their child.
For the pedal installation, which stumps me sometimes when swapping pedals on my fleet of bikes, is the direction you turn the wrench when putting the pedals on the left and right side of the bike. Sounds simple enough but “righty tighty” doesn’t work with pedal installation, unfortunately. Guardian has simplified the process with these removable stickers on the crank arms. Thanks Guardian. Now only if high-end carbon race bike manufacturers would do this….ah, at least I can dream.
Red Carpet Continues This Way…Guardianbikes.com
From the moment my interaction with Guardian Bikes began, it has been all good. From the quick replies to my emails, a phone conversation with Kyle (one of the co-founders), the included tools (they even included a wrench), the easy to use website, yada yada yada, Guardian Bikes does it right.
The Guardian Ethos 16 is a breath of fresh air for parents looking to buy a great bike for their young one, all while keeping overall cost at a minimum.
Often a difficult dilemma faces parents: pay a bunch for a high-quality bike or pay a little for a low quality and heavy bike. Luckily, Guardian Bikes lets you have the best of both worlds.
With the Ethos 16 inch, you get a remarkably great bike at a price that won’t break the bank. With the Sure Stop Brake Technology, lightweight/compact design, and quality components, I’d recommend logging onto their website and clicking “add to cart” as soon as you can. You won’t be disappointed.
Do Your Research
Are you the kind of parent that likes to do your research before you buy? So are we. Here’s some more reading to help you make sure you make the best decision for your child.
- 5 Best 16 Inch Bikes For Your 4 to 6-Year-Old
- Best Kids Bikes: How To Choose, Reviews, & More!
- Ultimate Guide To Kids Bike Sizes (And Bike Size Chart!)
About the Author: My name is Michael Pero, a 38 year old teacher, husband and father of two boys, ages 6 and 4. When not building forts, bike ramps, or exploring the great outdoors on two feet, you’ll find me racing on two wheels. With two junior Olympic xc racers in training, I know there are many more smiles and miles in my future.
FTC Disclosure: Guardian Bikes provided a bicycle to help facilitate this review. We did not receive any monetary compensation, and all opinions are our own. The majority of the links on this site are affiliate links and we earn from qualifying purchases.