Have a child who is just learning to ride a pedal bike? Or who is still struggling on their current bike? Check out the Guardian Original 16.
Thanks to its proprietary single-lever braking system, lightweight design, and upright geometry, the Guardian Original is a top pick for new or timid riders. It offers a significant step up from the typical, heavy and awkward kids bikes from big box stores.
Review In A Nutshell
- SureStop braking technology
- Upright geometry
- Internal cable routing
- Helpful online tools
- Lightweight build
- Bulky chainguard
- Brakes can’t operate independently for MTB/off-road riding
Guardian Original 16 Detailed Review
SureStop Braking Technology Prevents Over-The-Bars Accidents
If you’ve ever been the victim of an over-the-bars bicycle crash, you know just how serious it can be. These sorts of crashes are usually (though not always) the result of grabbing just a little bit too much front brake.
The folks that founded Guardian Bikes wanted to address this problem, so they created a new proprietary braking system, called SureStop. In a nutshell, a single brake lever operates both the front and rear brake, providing proper braking force. This helps prevent over-the-bars accidents.
This is particularly handy for kids who are just learning to ride a bike and have enough to think about without having to learn how to properly engage both a front and rear brake. We also highly recommend this braking system for any kid that struggles with eye-hand coordination or otherwise struggles to ride a bike.
The SureStop braking system is also far superior to the coaster brakes found on most 16-inch kids bikes. A coaster brake–the kind of brake you probably remember as a kid–engages by pedaling backward. Unfortunately, coaster brakes are actually pretty dangerous and can make learning to pedal confusing. We like that the Guardian 16 does NOT have a coaster.
Our only caveat to a wholehearted endorsement of the SureStop braking system and Guardian bikes, in general, would be for mountain bike families. Skills development on the trails or even at the pump track, require independent use of the front and rear brakes. Additionally, if your child has already learned to operate dual handbrakes with no issue, I would stick with a bike with dual handbrakes.
Upright Geometry Creates Confidence For Kids Just Learning To Ride
We appreciate the upright geometry of the Guardian Original 16. This places kids in a position of confidence, especially for those just learning to pedal.
Even for more confident, aggressive riders, we still like the riser handlebars. Many parents think that their kids need flat handlebars (like they as adults have) but after hundreds of hours of watching kids ride, even skilled riders like the BMX-style handlebars for doing tricks and playing around.
The geometry of the Guardian is very similar to the Woom 3, one of our favorite 16-inch bikes. It’s significantly more upright than a bike like the Cleary Hedgehog, making it less ideal for trail riding (but we’ve already established that this isn’t a mountain bike) and perfect for neighborhood riding.
The Guardian Original 16 and Woom 3 (left) have upright geometry well suited for beginners. The Cleary Hedgehog (right) has more leaned-over, aggressive geometry.
Lightweight Build Allows Kids To Have More Fun Biking
The Guardian Original 16 tips the scales at 16 pounds. This means it is SIGNIFICANTLY lighter than the average kids’ bike. A bike from a big box store, for instance, can easily weigh 10 pounds more than that.
It’s also on par with many other high-quality 16 inch bikes. The Cleary Hedgehog and Pello Revo, for instance, both weigh about 16 pounds as well.
That said, it’s not THE lightest 16-inch bike out there. The Woom 3 comes in at a feather-weight 11.7 lbs. If your child is really petite, or if your family does a ton of biking, I’d opt for the lighter bike. For everybody else, a 16 lb bike is very respectable.
Internal Cable Routing Keeps Things Clean And Tidy
The brake cable is internally routed through the frame. This is a nice touch that reflects thoughtfulness in the design. Internal routing helps keeps things clean and tidy and keeps kids from getting injured on zip-ties or other devices that would otherwise be used to secure the cable to the frame.
Sized Ideally For 4 and 5-Year-Olds
The bike is a “best fit” for kids in 4T and 5T pants or between 40 and 46 inches tall. The minimum seatpost height is 18.5″–which means for beginning pedalers you want your child to have an inseam of at least 18.5″ so they can put their feet flat on the ground. For kids who already know how to ride, they should have an inseam of at least 17″.
If your child is on the bottom side of the size range, they’ll still have plenty of room to grow on the bike. We had both a 5-year-old (5T) tester and a 6.5 year-old (46″ tall) tester ride the Guardian Original 16. Both were comfortable on the bicycle, though our older tester would definitely be ready to size up.
Helpful Online Tools Make Picking The Right Size Bike And Assembly Dummy-Proof
If you’re not sure if the Original 16 is the right size for your kiddo, no worries. Guardian makes the whole sizing process very simple with the RideSizer tool on their website.
They also offer additional online tools for assembly of the bike once it arrives. Their online setup workflow offers video and other help to make the whole process virtually dummy-proof.
Comes With a Kickstand
We think every kid’s bike should come with a kickstand, and fortunately, the Guardian Original 16 does. Kids not only find kickstands fun, but they also help to keep your child’s bike from being thrown on the ground where it can get scratched or otherwise damaged. The kickstand on the Guardian 16 was easy for our testers to operate and kept the bike upright and stable.
Kenda Kontact Tires Are Fast-Rolling
The brand-name Kenda Kontact tires are high-quality and fast-rolling. They don’t have a ton of tread, which makes them best-suited for riding on pavement, but they can handle a bit of gravel and grass as well. These are ideal tires for cruising around the neighborhood or to school.
Grippy Pedals Keep Small Feet From Slipping Off The Pedals
A lot of pedals on kids bikes are an after-thought. The pedals on the Guardian Original 16 though are actually well designed. They are smaller than a lot of pedals on kids bikes which means that they won’t get in the way or cause pedal strikes. There are also quite a few small plastic pins that help provide traction and keep little feet from slipping off the pedals, especially if used with a good pair of shoes with grippy soles.
Removable Steering Limiter Provides An Extra Level of Safety
In yet another nod to safety, the Guardian Original 16 includes a removable steering limiter. This little rubber ring keeps children from over-rotating their bars and crashing. It is particularly helpful for kids just learning to ride.
We also appreciate that the steering limiter isn’t built-in. It’s easily removable, so once your child has the hang of things, you can remove the ring and your child will have the full range of motion.
Quick-Release Seatpost Collar Allows For Tools-Free Adjustments
The bike includes a quick-release seatpost collar. This allows parents to quickly and easily raise (or lower) your child’s seat height without having to use any tools. We love this since kids are constantly growing. It also allows the bike to be swapped easily between kids of different heights.
Chainguard Is A Bit Bulky
The only thing we don’t love about the Guardian is the chainguard. While having a chainguard is important for young kids, the one on the Guardian Original 16 is a bit bulky for our liking. It’s also not removable, so you can’t swap out something less obtrusive.
The chainguard on the Guardian Original (left) is bulky compared to other high-quality kids bikes like the Islabikes Cnoc (right).
Gearing Is Well Suited For Flat Roads And Small Hills
Bikes for young kids, like the Guardian Original 16, only have one gear. This means you need to find a bike that has gearing that is a good match for the type of terrain your child will be riding.
The Guardian Original 16 has a gain ratio of 3.55. Not sure what that means? No worries. It simply indicates that the bike has a pretty mid-range gear–not too heavy and not too light.
This means that the Original 16 is well suited for flat roads and very mild hills. If you plan on climbing bigger hills, you can always buy a Tow-Whee to help haul your kid.
Guardian Bikes Are Colorful And Fun
Kids are more likely to ride their bike if they like their bike. That’s why we appreciate that Guardian has spent time with kids finding out what colors and paint schemes they actually like. In our experience testing the bikes, kids do gravitate toward their paint designs.
We also really liked the pink paint on the Guardian 16 that we tested. We get a lot of requests for recommendations for “girls bikes.” Unfortunately, most “girls bikes” are crappy cheap bikes from Walmart, so we are always happy to have a bike we can recommend that looks feminine but also rides well.
Guardian Original 16 vs Guardian Ethos 16
In addition the Guardian Original, the company also offers a cheaper “Ethos” version. It’s $100 cheaper which can be attractive to parents on a budget.
What’s the difference? The Ethos has a steel frame rather than an aluminum frame which makes it a little heavier. It also has slightly cheaper components.
The Ethos 16 (pictured here) is a more affordable version of the Original 16.
If you can afford the Original, it’s definitely the better buy, but the Ethos is a decent choice if you need to save a little coin.
For more information, read our full review of the Guardian Ethos 16.
Guardian Original 16 vs Other 16 Inch Bikes
To compare the Guardian Original to some of our other favorite 16 inch bikes, check out our list of the Best 16 Inch Bikes for Kids. It includes a detailed comparison chart and additional reviews.
Bottom-Line: An Ideal Bike For Kids Just Learning To Ride
Thanks to its SureStop braking system, removable steering limiter, and upright geometry, we think the Guardian Original 16 is a perfect bike for kids just learning to ride. It’s also a top pick for timid riders and those with coordination issues.
And once kids have the pedaling thing down pat, the fast-rolling tires and lightweight will have kids flying around town.