Have you ever seen someone do a super-man over their handlebars? It’s not pretty. Unfortunately, this is a pretty common bicycle accident and it can have dire consequences: broken collarbones, bloody faces, and worse.
Most over-the-bar occurrences happen due to grabbing a little too much front brake. Knowing this, Guardian Bikes was founded with the goal of stopping brake-related accidents.
Their bikes are made with a unique, proprietary “SureStop” braking system. This system ensures that power is applied efficiently to both the front and rear brake.
Instead of pulling both a right (rear) and left (front) brake lever, kids simply pull one brake lever that activates both the rear and front brakes. (Well, there’s a little bit more to it than that, but you can read more below if you want the nitty-gritty). The cliff’s note version is that the brake system does an excellent job of preventing brake-related accidents.
For kids that are brand new to hand brakes or who don’t have great eye-hand coordination, we HIGHLY recommend the Guardian kids bikes. They are also great for parents who worry about bicycle safety and want to have peace of mind that they’ve done everything they can to protect their child.
Review in a Nutshell
- SureStop brakes prevent braking accidents
- Grip shifter is easy to operate and intuitive for young kids to learn
- Durable steel frame
- Easy assembly that even the mechanically-challenged can handle
- Excellent customer service
- Heavy when compared to bikes in the $400-$450 price range
Price & Where to Buy:
- $339 at GuardianBikes.com*
Guardian Kids Bikes Video Review
Sure Stop Brake System: A Safer Way to Brake
The real differentiator for the Guardian bikes is their proprietary SureStop braking system. If you want this technology for your child, these are the only bikes that have it. If it sounds familiar, it might be because you saw it on the TV show Shark Tank.
The braking system is activated by a single brake lever mounted on the right side of the handlebar. Having only one brake lever rather than two is particularly helpful for kids who struggle with coordination or who get easily frustrated on the bike.
The single brake lever activates the rear brake. The force to the rear wheel, in turn, activates the front brake. This works better than a single brake lever that is wired to both the front and rear because it takes into account the positioning of your child’s weight on the bike.
Not only does this braking system avoid over-the-bar accidents as mentioned above, it also helps kids stop faster and maintain traction even in wet weather. In fact, if you live in a rainy area (Seattle for instance), the Sure Stop braking system makes even more sense.
For more information on the Sure Stop braking system, this video helps explain.
Before leaving the topic of braking altogether, I did want to mention the brake lever itself. My 5.5-year-old who has tiny hands, did find it difficult to reach the lever. Our 7-year-old tester had no problem.
The reach on the brake lever is adjustable via a screw. Make sure to take the time to make sure it is set up properly for your child’s hand. Even so, the positioning of the grip shifter makes it so that kids have to reach at a bit of angle to manage the lever.
Because the braking system doesn’t require a lot of force, I don’t think this is a deal breaker. Still, it is something to think about especially for younger kids with small hands. They may be better off on the single-speed version that doesn’t have a grip shifter to get in the way.
Two Size Options
Guardian offers their 20″ bikes in a size “small” and size “large.” The two different frame sizes allow a larger range of kids to fit on their 20″ wheel offerings.
The 20 inch small bike has a singlespeed drivetrain, while the 20 inch large bike has a 6-speed drivetrain.
Quality, Easy-to-Operate Drivetrain and Shifters
Most kids being introduced to a 20″ bike have never operated gears before. And let me tell you–learning to use gears can be a bit tricky when you are 5 or 6 years old.
That’s why I appreciate the grip shifter on the Guardian 20 Large*. Compared to trigger shifter, grip shifters tend to be much more intuitive and easier for little hands to operate. My 5.5-year-old, who is accustomed to shifting but had never used a grip shifter before, got the hang of it quickly and had no problem moving the chain between gears.
The Shimano drivetrain is high-quality and the 6-speeds provide more than enough gears for young kids to manage both flats and uphills with ease. Over several weeks of testing, we never experienced a missed shift or a dropped chain, which is actually pretty amazing considering that young kids aren’t excellent shifters.
While many kids will benefit from having gears, you may also want to consider the single-speed version of the Guardian 20″ bike. If your child hasn’t yet mastered pedaling without training wheels, for instance, they are better off having one less thing to worry about. The single speed version is also lighter weight, so if you have a petite child or live in an area without a lot of hills, the 1-speed version could be the way to go.
Colorful, Durable Steel Frame
The Guardian bikes have flashy, colorful paint jobs that kids love. We have a whole stable of bikes that the neighborhood kids can pick from, and they all wanted to ride the Guardian because “it looks cool.”
Nifty paint job aside, the frame is made from high-grade steel which is highly durable. The steel is heavier than other kids bikes made from aluminum, but there is always something to be said for the longevity of a steel frame as well.
Durable, Fast-Rolling Wheels and Tires
The wheels of the 20″ Guardian are snazzy. And let’s be honest, when you’re 6-years old, the way your bike looks is almost as important as how it rides. The colorful rims look good, and I was pleased to discover that they seem to actually make the bike stand out a bit more when riding in traffic.
The bikes has Kenda Kontact tires, which are some of our favorites for everyday riding. The minimal tread pattern is ideal for fast-rolling on roads and bike paths, but offer enough grip to provide traction when riding over gravel or grass as well.
Heavier Than We Would Like
Our only real complaint we have about the Guardian 20 is the weight. At 22.9 pounds, the Guardian 20 Large is signficantly heavier than higher-end 20 inch bikes. The Woom 4, one of our favorite 20″ bikes, weighs a mere 17.9 pounds.
Those 4 or 5 pounds can make a BIG difference, especially for more petite or less athletic kids. Of course, the Woom costs significantly more and it doesn’t have the Sure Stop technology.
If you’re looking to save a little weight, the Guardian Small, with it’s singlespeed drivetrain, is lighter. It comes in at 20.7 pounds.
Quick, Dummy-Proof Assembly
We assemble a LOT of bikes at our house (as I’m sure you can imagine), and I have to say, the Guardian bike was one of the easiest assembly jobs I’ve ever done. The bike comes mostly assembled and only takes 5-10 minutes to unpack and get rolling. It comes with a pre-ship checklist that ensures that the bike has been pre-assembled and inspected before being shipped out.
The only thing that stumped me when putting the bike together was that the front brake wasn’t engaging when pulling the brake lever. Thanks to the super-helpful assembly videos on the Guardian website, I quickly learned that the front brake doesn’t engage unless you’re sitting on the bike. Aha!
Thanks to the pre-assembly and helpful written instructions and video tutorials, I can safely recommend this bike to parents that aren’t mechanically inclined. Seriously–anybody can manage this!
Superior Customer Service
In addition to the great videos and tools on the Guardian website, the company also offers great over-the-phone assistance. As a kids bike reviewer, I receive a lot of feedback from parents on which companies offer good customer service and which ones don’t, and I’ve heard nothing but positive (even glowing) things about the customer service from Guardian.
Guardian Bike Sizing
One of our favorite things about the Guardian bikes is the amazing “Ridesizer”* fit tool they offer on their website. It is amazing how many emails I get from parents confused about what size bike to get their child. The Guardian fit tool helps you pick the right size bike without second-guessing yourself, and even differentiates between the correct bike size for an experienced pedaler vs a child just learning to pedal. Genius.
As for the sizing on the 20″ Large, we put my 5.5-year-old (who is already a competent pedaler) on the bike. He is on the cusp between the 20″ Small and 20″ Large, but was still able to fit comfortably on the frame. Had he been a new pedaler, I would have kept him on the 20″ Small.
On the other end of the size spectrum, we had our 7-year-old neighbor (in a 7T pant) test the bike. He is significantly taller than my son but was still able to comfortably fit on the bike as well.
Photos: 5.5-year-old tester (left), 7-year-old tester (right)
Who I Wouldn’t Recommend the Bike For
Despite looking like a mountain bike, the Guardian bikes are not mountain bikes. I wouldn’t recommend these bikes for families who plan on doing any serious off-road riding or even spending lots of time at the pump track.
Why? Trail riding requires the ability to use the brakes independently of one another. Even at a young age, it is important for kids to begin developing these braking skills to develop as a rider. If you’re looking for a mountain bike, check out our list of the best 20″ mountain bikes instead.
Additionally, if you have a child that has already mastered hand brakes and is comfortable with them, I probably wouldn’t backtrack to the Sure Stop system. For everybody else, the braking system is great.
Other Note-Worthy Items
A few other things worth mentioning:
- The Guardian 20 has a quick-release on the seatpost. This allows you to easily raise the seatpost as your child grows, tool-free.
- The bike does NOT have quick-release skewers on the wheels. This means you do need a wrench to remove the bolts when your child gets a flat tire. Not ideal.
- A kickstand is included and is easy for kids to operate. If you don’t want/need it, take it off to save a few ounces.
- There are NO training wheels on the bike. If your child hasn’t already learned to pedal, simply remove the pedals (or don’t put them on when you first unbox the bike). Lower the seat all the way and have your child practice scooting like they would on a balance bike. Once they can coast and balance with no feet, add the pedals back on and teach them to ride.
- We dig the pedals on this bike. They are nice and wide to provide a stable platform for pedaling, and the plastic pins provide traction without banging up shins when/if they hit your child’s shins.
Photos: Quick-release on the seat post (left) and pedals (right)
Other 20″ Kids Bikes
Not sure how the Guardian 20″ bike stacks up against other options? The one thing that the Guardian has that you’re not going to find anywhere else is the SureStop braking system. So if that’s important to you, don’t bother shopping around.
Otherwise, check out our list of what we consider the Best 20 Inch Kids Bikes.
Bottom-Line: A Safe, Easy-to-Operate Bike for Young Kids
If your child is new to a bike with hand brakes, has struggled with hand brakes in the past, or if you simply worry about bicycle safety, the Guardian kids bikes are a best buy. The SureStop braking system performs as advertised, helping prevent brake-related bicycle crashes. The high-quality components and steel frame also make the bike more enjoyable and more durable than any bicycle you might buy at a big box store.
Learn Even More About Buying the Best Kids Bike
Like to be super informed before you make a purchase? So do we. Here is some more reading to help you make the best decision.
- The 5 Best 20 Inch Kids Bikes
- Best Kids Bikes: How To Choose, Reviews, & More!
- Ultimate Guide To Kids Bike Sizes (And Bike Size Chart!)
About The Reviewers
The Rascals are a family of three. Kristen (mom), Blair (dad), and Parker (kiddo). We started Rascal Rides when Parker was born and we didn’t want to give up our passion for biking. As we learned, we shared. Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of kids bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and more.
Kristen is a USA Cycling certified coach and loves to share her passion for biking with other families. Blair is a bike geek, mechanic, and mountain bike junkie. Parker is our resident tester and inspiration.
If you see us out on the trail, make sure to say hi!