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Guardian Bikes Ethos 14 Review

guardian ethos 14 review

For your child’s first pedal bike, you want to pick a bicycle that’s easy to learn on and will help them develop a love of cycling. Unfortunately, most of the kids bikes you can buy on Amazon or at local big box stores are heavy and have terrible geometry. Additionally, they have features that can hinder your child including coaster brakes and training wheels.

Guardian Bikes has developed a smarter first pedal bike. The Guardian Ethos 14 has child-appropriate geometry to make learning to ride (and continuing to ride) easier and more enjoyable.

Additionally, the Ethos 14 offers Guardian’s proprietary SureStop braking technology which is far superior to the traditional coaster brake, and easier to learn with than dual hand brakes. It also helps prevent kids from over-the-handlebars crashes (more on that later).

At just under $250, the Guardian Ethos 14 is an excellent pick in this price range. For all the nitty-gritty details, keep on reading.


Review In A Nutshell

Pros:

  • SureStop braking technology, no coaster brake
  • Upright, child-appropriate geometry
  • Removable steering limiter
  • Internal cable routing
  • Quick-release seatpost collar
  • Dummy proof assembly
  • Includes kickstand

Cons:

  • Heavier than we’d prefer
  • Exposed axle bolts
  • Chainguard / crank interference

Price: $249


SureStop Braking System Is A Differentiator

Why buy the Guardian Ethos 14 rather than another bike? The SureStop braking system.

This proprietary braking system is ONLY found on the Guardian line of bikes, so if it sounds interesting, then buying a Guardian is a no-brainer.

So, what is SureStop? Without getting into the technical nitty-gritty, it’s a brake design that helps prevent over-the-bars braking-related crashes.

A single (rather than dual) hand brake lever applies appropriate pressure to both the front and rear brakes. This prevents kids from grabbing a big handful of front brake and doing a superman over the handlebars.

This design is FAR superior to a coaster brake which is found on the vast majority of 14 inch pedal bikes. (For more info on why we’re not big fans of coaster brakes, read our article on coaster vs hand brakes).

The only parents we wouldn’t recommend the SureStop braking system to is those who plan to introduce their children to mountain biking at an early age. Kids doing serious mountain biking need to learn how to operate and modulate their brakes independently.

The vast majority of children just learning to ride a pedal bike, however, will benefit greatly from the SureStop braking system. It takes away some of the challenge of learning to pedal and to operate dual handbrakes at the same time.

And if you are wondering if your child is really old enough for a hand brake rather than a coaster brake, the answer is yes they are. We’ve found most kids are capable of operating a hand brake around 2.5 to 3 years old (though it may take a little practice).

Upright, Child-Appropriate Geometry Helps Make Pedaling Easy

You would think that all kids bikes would be designed to make learning to bike easy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Guardian Bikes, however, is part of the new wave of kid-specific bikes designed with child-appropriate geometry. It has a long wheelbase and upright position to make learning to ride and balance easy and enjoyable.

guardian 14 in action

Compared to most first pedal bikes that are designed to be used with training wheels (more on that topic later), the Guardian Ethos 14 has a much lower bottom bracket and center of gravity. This allows kids to touch the ground with their feet and to balance easier.

Bike Is Small Enough For Tiny Riders But Offers Room To Grow

When buying a first pedal bike, you want your child to be able to place their feet flat on the ground. This way children can confidently balance and even scoot with their feet until they’ve gotten the hang of pedaling.

The minimum seat post height on the Guardian Ethos 14 is 15.5″. This means your child’s inseam should be AT LEAST 15.5″ as well. (If you’re not sure how to measure your child for a bike, check out our kids bike size guide).

This low seatpost height makes it one of the smaller 14 inch bikes around. Still, it has plenty of room to grow with your child.

The maximum seatpost height is 19.25″ which means the Guardian Ethos 14 has MORE adjustability than both the Woom 2 and the Prevelo Alpha One. This makes it a good choice for parents who want to maximize the amount of time their child spends on the bike.

Heavier Than We Would Prefer

Weight on a kids bike is a relative thing. At 16 pounds, the Guardian 14 Ethos is significantly heavier than our favorite first pedal bikes. The Woom 2, for instance, weighs 11 pounds and the Cleary Gecko weighs 13 pounds. While they are significantly lighter than the Guardian 14 Ethos they are also significantly more expensive.

Compared to other first pedal bikes in the $200-$250 price range (Trek Precaliber, Specialized Riprock), the weight of the Guardian Ethos is on par. And compared to kids bikes you might buy at big box stores, the Guardian Ethos 14 is WAY lighter.

If you can afford a more expensive, lighter bike, I’d recommend it. Weight make a HUGE difference, especially in a first pedal bike and for very young kids. A few pounds may not sound like much, but every pound at this stage will make a difference in terms of maneuverability, speed, and enjoyment.

That said, if your max budget is $250, the Guardian Ethos 14 is a good pick in terms of weight and will be far better than most bikes you’ll find on Amazon or at local shops.

14 Inch Wheels Roll Faster Than 12 Inch Wheels

If you’re shopping for your child’s first pedal bike, you might be tempted to buy a 12 inch bike. In fact, most of the bikes made and marketed to parents of 3 and 4 year old children are 12 inch bikes.

But unless your child is very young (2.5 years old) or very small, there’s no reason to start on a 12 inch bike. A bike with 14 inch wheels and a small frame size will roll faster and grow with your child a little longer.

14 inch wheels like those on the Guardian Ethos make it up and over obstacles like cracks in the sidewalks easier and also roll faster, so your little pedaler will be able to keep up easier with older siblings or the neighborhood kids.

No Training Wheels (That’s A Good Thing)

Unlike most first pedal bikes that come with training wheels, the Guardian does not. In case you think that’s a bad thing, let me assure you it’s not.

Think way back to when you had training wheels as a kid. They were clunky, difficult to get over obstacles, and held you back when you were trying to keep up with the bigger kids.

Nowadays, the better kids bikes (like the Guardian Ethos 14), are designed so your child never needs training wheels. They have a longer wheelbase and low center of gravity so your child can learn to pedal quickly.

If your kiddo learned to ride on a balance bike, then they will be ready to go. If not, simply remove the pedals (or just don’t install them in the first place) and have them use the Guardian 14 like a balance bike

Internal Cable Routing Keeps Things Clean And Tidy

We love bikes with internal cable routing, but it’s something you usually only find on more expensive bikes. The Guardian Ethos 14 offers this “extra” feature on a bike at a reasonable price.

Internal cable routing means that the cables(s) are run internally thru the frame rather than attached to the exterior of the frame. This helps keep the brake cable clean and tidy.

internally routed cables

Comes Standard With a Kickstand

Many kids bikes are sold without a kickstand and you’re left to buy one as and add-on option. The Guardian Ethos 14 comes standard with a kickstand.

It’s easy for kids to operate, and helps keep your child’s bike from getting scratched or otherwise damaged from laying on the ground.

kickstand

Exposed Axle Bolts Can Scratch Kids

If I’m gonna be picky (and that is my job after all), the exposed axle bolts aren’t my favorite. I much prefer axle bolts that are rounded, cover, or better yet, recessed.

Axle bolts can scratch kids if they crash or even if they rub up against them the wrong way. Is this a serious safety issue? No. But recessed axle bolts are nevertheless a nice to have.

exposed bolts

Interference Issues With the Chainguard

A slightly bigger issue is the interference between the chainguard and the crank arm. On our Guardian Ethos 14, the crank arm ever so slightly hits the chainguard on each rotation.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this creates a not-so-efficient propulsion system. Since I haven’t heard of this being an issue from other parents (or reviewers), it’s possible it is a one-off issue on the bike we got. I’ll be paying attention to see if I hear this complaint from other parents over time.

crank rubbing the chain guard

Removable Steering Limiter Keeps Kids From Over-rotating Handlebar

Like the internal cable routing, the removable steering limiter on the Guardian Ethos 14 is another higher-end touch usually found only on more expensive bikes. A steering limiter keeps kids from over-rotating their bars and crashing.

Some bikes will have built-in steering limiters, but we prefer the removable steering limiter on the Guardian Ethos 14. While kids just learning to ride often over-rotate their bars, once kids get the hang of riding, a steering limiter can hold them back. On the Ethos, it’s quick and easy to remove it.

guardian 16 steering limiter

Quick-Release Seatpost Collar Allows Easy, Tool-Free Seat Height Adjustments

No kids bike manufactuer should sell a bike without a quick-release seatpost collar–and yet the do! It’s crazy.

Kids grow so quickly (and love to swap bikes), that you need to be able to ajust their seat height quickly and easily. With the quick-release collar on the Guardian, you can raise (or lower) the seat in seconds and without any tools.

RideSizer Tools Ensures You Pick The Right Bike Size

Nobody wants to pick the wrong size bike for your child. Guardian knows this and has created one of the most innovative bike size tools around.

Their RideSizer tool will ask you some questions, and then tell you what size bike you need. They also offer free returns and a 100 day test ride period, so if you do somehow get the wrong sized bike, it’s fixable.

Quick, Easy Dummy Proof-Assembly

As kids bike reviewers, we unbox and assemble a TON of kids bikes and I can safely say that none are easy as the Guardian bikes. In fact, we’ve had several Guardian bikes over the past few years, and they’ve improved the assembly process over time.

The Guardian Ethos 14 was insanely simple to unbox and assemble. Everything was labeled and straight-forward. And if you need it (which I’m pretty sure you won’t), the Guardian website offers additional help.

If you’re not super bike savvy, no worries. Anybody can handle it.

assembling the Guardian 16

Bottom-Line: A Superior “Mid-Budget” First Pedal Bike Option

There’s a lot to like about the Guardian Ethos 14. It offers many things found only on more expensive kids bikes: intelligent geometry, internal cable routing, removable steering limiter.

And then there’s the SureStop braking system–it’s the true differentiator and not available on any other bikes, even more expensive ones. It’s particularly useful on a first pedal bike where kids are still learning the mechanics of riding a bike without the added difficulty of dual handbrakes.

The only think we don’t LOVE about the Guardian Ethos 14 is the weight. Ideally, you’d buy a lighter bicycle for your young child, but if you don’t want to spend more than $250, than the Guardian is an excellent option.

Learn More About First Pedal Bikes

See how the Guardian Ethos 14 compares to other first pedal bikes, read additional reviews, and get tips for choosing the best first pedal bike for YOUR child.

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