We put 'the world's safest children's bike' to the test
Is this ‘Shark Tank’-winning kids' bike as safe as they claim?
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Some of my most vivid memories of childhood were of me flying like Superman over the handlebars of my bike and knocking out a tooth. Yes, I said “memories.” Yes, I meant to pluralize that.
Considering my own personal biking traumas, it’s hard to blame my 7-year-old for his hesitancy when it comes to learning to ride a bike. As much as I try to assure him with my “child of the 80's” carefree approach to personal safety, I couldn’t manage to sound reassuring when he asked me if it hurts to fall off a bike.
When we first heard about Guardian Kids Bikes, we were immediately curious to learn more. Here was a bike company that claimed to have a unique brake system design to make stopping safer, eliminate bike flipping, and mitigate kids flying over the front handlebars. The company claims to manufacture “the world’s safest children’s bike” and, as a mom who wants my kid's childhood to be free from unnecessary rites of passages that occasionally result in lost teeth, I was excited to put its claims to the test.
What are Guardian Kids Bikes?
Guardian’s first claim to fame was getting a $500,000 windfall from Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban, when its founders positioned their idea for “the world’s safest children’s bikes”, and showed the buzzworthy SureStop brakes—for the first time ever—on a kid’s bike.
Prior to the Shark Tank appearance the company's founders, Brian Riley and Kyle Jansen, had patented a safer braking system for bikes based on the same idea and engineering as those found in anti-lock brakes in cars. After selling their brakes for years to adult bike manufacturers, they noticed a void in the kids’ market. Rather than simply modifying and selling brakes to children’s bike manufacturers, they opted to launch a new business and design their own bikes, with a few additional safety and usability features that specifically cater to improving the overall safety of a child's bike, without compromising style and rideability.
How are Guardian Kids Bikes different?
As we found out during research and testing, there is a lot that’s different about these bikes. Let’s break it down.
Our son, his friend, and I, each took the 20-inch small Airos for a series of test rides over the past few weeks. This single-speed model comes in at 18.7 pounds and is the more lightweight of the small 20-inch bikes Guardian offers. Guardian sells bikes in five size options, ranging from 14- to 24-inches. The three smaller sizes are single-gear, while the size 20-inch large and the 24-inch models are multi-gear.
The 20-inch small Airos, in particular, is built with a variety of features that make it well-suited to kids who are just starting out.
It has a patented SureStop brake system, which is arguably the brand’s most distinguishing feature. The brakes, quite simply, allow for faster and more balanced braking, eliminating the jerking forward that often occurs when a bike’s front brakes are actuated during a rapid stop.
The 14-, 16-, and 20-inch small versions of the bikes, all are designed with a lower center of gravity. This design allows for more self-assured riding and lets kids more easily throw their feet down for balance—even while seated.
While it’s not the lightest bike on the market, it’s far lighter than most, making it easier for kids to handle and maneuver on their own. Kids are also less likely to fatigue on longer rides if they have a bike that isn’t heavier than they are capable of handling.
Guardian also employs a steering limiter. While there’s some debate as to whether a limiter is a pro or a con for kids’ bikes, we happen to be fans. They prevent the bike from jack-knifing, and they prevent front wheels from completing a full 360-degree revolution. Proponents of turning limiters hail them as a simple safety feature that helps prevent injuries during a fall, and we find them to reduce frustration when a child is trying to gain control of a bike.
The brakes are what truly sets this bike apart from other kids’ bikes; there is a lot that makes them exciting. Guardian Kids Bikes are the only children’s bikes with the SureStop brake system—and that brake system is impressive. To put it plainly, this design eliminates flipping and kids flying over the front handlebars when engaging in a rapid stop.
Instead of a typical two-handed brake system, Guardian’s brakes are designed to be one-handed. The hand depressor engages with the rear brake automatically, thereby maintaining a stable center of gravity while stopping. If a child is biking while pitching forward or in a standing position, only the rear brakes engage. If a child sits, both the front and rear engage. How much the front brake engages depends on how much weight the child has distributed to the rear of the bike.
This is genius because if you’re racing with friends, you tend to lift up from a seat to gain speed. Likewise, when we barrel down a hill, we pitch forward slightly—both tendencies can be a recipe for disaster if you need to stop quickly. The modified actuation of the SureStop brakes compensates for that, making for a safer stop.
That’s not the only thing that we like about the brake system. Because it’s one-handed, it eliminates the need to remember which brake to use when in an emergency situation. This makes it a smart choice for kids that are just starting out or those that tend to get easily frustrated or confused in a moment that requires quick thinking.
What is it like to buy a Guardian Kids Bike?
I never would have thought that buying a bike online could not only be an easy process, but a reasonably cool one too. Guardian has really thought out its online business model and has created something that gives a great experience to its customers.
Guardian determines the best size for your child’s bike with its patented RideSizer sizing tool. There are lots of online charts for figuring out the best size bike for your child elsewhere on the internet, but this clever tool gets really specific. It explains tricks for how to properly measure your kid, and then takes you through a series of questions—which even include your child’s athletic abilities and if they learned to ride on a balance bike or not—making for a far more customized sizing experience. After all of that information is calculated, it determines the best size and model for your kid, in our case the Airos 20-inch small.
The bike arrived in a few days broken into six pieces. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty anti-instructions, so the idea of assembling the bike was initially a turnoff. I’m a visual learner so I typically toss instructions to the side and either wing it or try to find a tutorial on YouTube. That being said, I feel like Guardian “got me.”
Assembly was a breeze. It’s a simple six-step visual process that has short and sweet directions. Each step is attached to a video that can explain that step in greater depth, if need be. When all was said and done, the bike was assembled in 10 minutes. I could have done it in 5 minutes if I had one more set of hands holding it steady.
Guardian Kids Bikes aren't cheap, but you definitely get bang for your buck. They start at $279 and then can go all the way up to $479. At each size, however, you can go with the premium ultra-lightweight aluminum Airos or the steel-framed Ethos. The Airos comes in at $100 more than the Eros in each size and tends to run about two pounds lighter. Overall, these bikes are pretty lightweight to begin with so, from what we can see, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot lost by going with the budget option—particularly if your child will mainly use the bike to pedal around the block or to a nearby friend's house. If you're a family of more serious bikers that go for daylong rides, the Airos is a great option.
What we like about the Guardian bike
There is so much to like about Guardian Kids Bikes! It really does seem to have the best safety features of any kids’ bikes we’ve tried, and it is the most frustration-free bike my family has experienced.
The brakes really do have a wow factor. Every person who tried and saw this bike was impressed by them. They are fun to use, easy to engage, and they are both simplified and safer.
These are quality bikes. So often you get a great product but find a small, frustrating component that was cheaply made. These bikes have a cool graphic design that kids love, and are built with attention to quality. Each component, from the brakes, to frame, to wheels, to the kickstand are made with attention to durability and detail. We suspect this will be a great hand-me-down bike that will continue to perform well as it’s passed down.
What we don’t like
Honestly, we liked everything about these bikes. There are, however, some complaints that there isn’t a coaster brake (one that engages when you pedal backwards to stop). There may be a learning curve for kids that learned to stop on a coaster brake and have come to rely on them, but our son found that type of braking confusing so—for us—it wasn’t a problem.
Should you buy Guardian Kids Bikes?
Our recommendation couldn’t be more enthusiastic. If you are looking for a frustration-reducing bike that feels like it was customized for your kid, this is the bike for you. While our child didn’t miraculously turn into a cyclist overnight, we strongly feel that the safe and simplified braking system will greatly reduce frustration once he’s able to start mastering two-wheeled riding.
Guardian Kids Bikes aren’t just adult bikes that have been pared down and made smaller. These bikes have taken into account all of the frustrations and fears that the most timid riders have and problem-solved to make a bike that they can feel the most safe and secure on.
The days of flying over the handlebars as a rite of bicycling passage may be over. Looks like the Tooth Fairy can put in for some much-needed vacation time.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.