The Guardian 26 is the newest (and biggest!) member of the Guardian Bikes family. Featuring Guardian’s proprietary SureStop brakes, kid-friendly frame geometry, smooth-shifting 7 speeds, and eye-catching colors and designs, the Guardian 26 inch bike has been a big hit with our testers.
With 26″ wheels, this exceptional bike is uniquely sized to allow young riders currently on large 20″ bikes to jump up to a bike that will provide more room for growth than a standard 24″ bike (which is typically the next size up). For kids already on a 24″ bike, the Guardian 26 likely won’t offer much room for growth. Read our full review below to see if it’s the right fit for your child’s size and riding style.
Guardian 26 Inch Bike Overview
RATING: Highly Recommended
BEST FOR: Neighborhood riders – timid, average, and even aggressive kids love SureStop brakes!
SEAT HEIGHT: 28.1″ – 36″
WEIGHT: 27.8 lb. (with kickstand and pedals)
GEARS: Microshift 7-speed, Grip shift
FRAME: Aluminum Alloy
GAIN RATIO: 2.44 – 5.59
BRAKES: Surestop Dual Hand
- Proprietary SureStop brakes for simpler, faster, safer braking
- Kid-friendly geometry and sizing for a comfortable and natural ride
- 7-speed Microshift grip shifter easy to engage and smoothly shifts through gears
- Gear shifter indicator window provides visual cues to help kids determine which gear they should be in
- A fun variety of colors and designs
- Plenty of room for growth
- Pattern on grips can irritate hands if kids grip too tightly
Guardian 26 Bike Review – Results of our Test Rides
NOTE: In May 2023, the Guardian 26 model was updated. This review is for that updated model.
We put the Guardian 26 to work with seven different testers, ages 8 to 15 to see how well it performed. They all LOVED the Guardian 26, and one even put up a fuss when she had to go back to riding her own (very nice!) bike from another brand.
If you are familiar with the Guardian brand, be aware that their 26″ bike is sized for young riders moving up from their 20″ Large bike. The Guardian 24″ is a better fit for kids moving up from their 20″ Small bike.
If you are new to the Guardian Bikes brand, be sure to learn about their proprietary SureStop braking system as outlined below.
Why Guardian Bikes?
Guardian Bikes are exceptionally designed kids bikes, and are on our short list of the best kids bike brands. With lightweight frames paired with kid-specific bike parts designed to fit with the proportions of kids’ bodies, our fleet of kid bike testers have happily and comfortably been riding Guardian Bikes since before they made a splash on Shark Tank.
But within this small pool of exceptional kids bike brands, Guardian Bikes shines for its innovation in safer braking. Every Guardian bike features their proprietary SureStop braking system. SureStop brakes make braking simpler, faster, safer, and even funner (more fun, we know!)
What Type of Rider is the Guardian 26″ Designed For?
The Guardian 26 inch bike is ideal for timid to typical neighborhood riders. With a child’s body in a slightly leaned forward position, it’s in that comfortable and natural sweet spot of not awkwardly upright, but not too leaned forward and aggressive.
Kids this age generally prefer a slightly leaned forward position so they can lean in for speed, turns, or to get more adventurous when the occasion arises.
Timid riders particularly benefit from the simple and powerful stopping power of SureStop brakes, but average and even aggressive riders have a blast stopping on a dime and creating skid marks all over the sidewalk. SureStop brakes are also an excellent choice for kids who live in hilly areas and want the extra assurance of being able to quickly and safely stop when it matters most.
With a relatively flat tread on the tires, the Guardian 26 is best suited for pavement, but certainly could take on packed, basic dirt trails and grassy greenways on occasion. If you’ll be tackling dirt frequently, the similarly-sized Prevelo Alpha Five may be a better option for you.
What size child fits on a Guardian 26?
The Guardian 26 is a small 26″ bike, sized similarly to a large 24″ bike you would find at a big-box store. (Guardian’s 24 inch bikes are on the small end for 24″ bikes.)
The 26″ has a seat height range of 28.1″ – 36″, and is designed for kids sizing up from the Guardian 20″ large bike, which has a seat height range of 22.5″ – 28.5″. From our testing, we believe the Guardian 26 will be a good fit for kids ranging from approximately 52″ to 64″ tall as you’ll see in our images below.
On the Small End – Sizing up from the Guardian 20″ Large
Our shortest 8-year-old tester is 52″ and rides the Guardian 26″ with the saddle at its lowest point (28.1″). As a confident rider, she only needs her tip toes to touch the ground when she’s stopped on the bike.
Here you can see how she fits on the Guardian 20″ large vs. the Guardian 26″. While she can still ride that smaller bike (saddle is set to 27.4″), she is ready to transition to the Guardian 26 when set to its lowest saddle height (28.1″).
52″ Tall 8 yo on Guardian 20 Large vs. Guardian 26
She is certainly on the small end of the Guardian 26 and a bit stretched out, but she loved this bigger bike from the moment she hopped on and preferred it to the smaller bike she’d been riding. For many kids transitioning from Guardian 20″ large bikes, the Guardian 26″ will be a great next bike.
For her best fit, we’ve raised the handlebars to their max on the 20″ large, while the handlebars are at their lowest setting on the 26″.
Middle of the Sizing Range
In the middle of the sizing range, you can see below how our test riders who are 55″ and 59.5″ tall are also a good fit. Our 55″ girl tester (10 yo) has the saddle set to 30.6″, while our 59.5″ tall boy tester (12 yo) has the saddle set to 33.4″.
55″ Tall 10 yo vs. 59.5″ Tall 12 yo on Guardian 26
Tall End of Sizing – How Long Will the Guardian 26″ last?
Considering kids this age often go through major growth spurts, it’s important to consider how long they will fit on the bike. This will depend, for the most part, on how quickly they grow.
In the image below, you can see how the Guardian 26 fits on the smallest end and the almost-maxed-out end.
52″ Rider vs. 63.5″ Rider on Guardian 26
Remember, our smallest rider is 52″ tall and has the saddle set to its lowest point of 28.1″. Our 12-year-old, 63.4″ tall rider is still a good fit on the Guardian 26. He has the saddle set to 35.2″ (max is 36″). These kids represent almost a full foot of comfortable growth, which is pretty exceptional for a kids bike.
Note that for our younger rider, the bike’s handlebars are set to their lowest point, while for our taller rider, we’ve raised them 1.5″ to their highest setting.
Guardian states that their recommended height range for their bike is 54″ to 64″, and recommends ages 10 to 14. Based on our tests, we would lower the age range to 8 to 12 (depending on your child’s height) and recommend heights 52″ – 64″.
Guardian 26″ vs. Guardian 24″
The Guardian 24″ is also an option for riders moving up from a smaller 20″ bike. The Guardian 26″ has a larger frame as well as larger wheels compared to the Guardian 24″. The larger frame makes the Guardian 26″ a more spacious and comfortable fit for taller riders compared to the Guardian 24″.
As you can see below, our 56″ tall tester fit great on both sizes of Guardian bikes, but has more room in the cockpit (about 2″) on the Guardian 26″ than on the Guardian 24″. Between the two bikes, he preferred the 26, but was able to comfortably ride the 24″ without any concerns.
56″ Tall 10 yo on Guardian 26 and Guardian 24
Considering the minor price difference between the Guardian 24 and the Guardian 26, it’s best to choose the larger 26 as long as your child can fit on its 28.1″ minimum seat height.
Guardian Bikes 26″ Components Round-up
Guardian Bikes spec solid quality components on all of their bikes, with the intention that a Guardian bike can last for many years and through several kids.
SureStop Braking Technology – How It Works and Why You’ll Love It
SureStop braking technology is genius, and actually quite simple. With just one brake lever on the right hand, a child engages both the rear and front wheel brakes.
One brake lever = the braking power of dual handbrakes. No need to wonder which brake lever to pull – because there’s only one! When that brake lever is pulled, the rear brake engages. The rear brake immediately activates the front brake.
The magic lies in a special rear brake pad. When engaged by the rider’s right hand, it slides slightly forward due to friction on the rim. This pulls on the wire, which triggers the front brake.
So why do kids and parents love SureStop brakes so much?
- SAFER – Traveling at fast speeds, if a rider brakes only with the left hand (front wheel brake), the front wheel can lock up and buck a rider off the bike. (Called endo-ing.) Because the SureStop system always engages the rear brake and then the front brake, a Guardian bike won’t endo.
- SIMPLER – With only one brake lever to engage, there’s less for a kid to think about when riding.
- FASTER – Compared to many other bikes on the market, Guardian claims that SureStop brakes stop a bike faster. While we haven’t conducted tests to quantify this ourselves, through our years of experience riding bikes, we’ve seen both timid and aggressive kids gain confidence as they feel the power of these brakes in action!
- MORE FUN – SureStop brakes are a ton of fun, and create exquisite skid marks on the pavement! Even us parents have gotten in on the action after watching our kids delight in braking on a Guardian Bike.
How much do Guardian Bikes Weigh?
Coming in at 27.8 lbs. on our scales (with pedals and a kickstand), the steel-framed Guardian 26 is lighter than similarly-sized bikes you’d find at a big box store. While not as lightweight as the 26″ woom 6 (22.1 lbs.), the woom is $300 more expensive. The Guardian is lighter than other high-end kids bikes like the 26″ Cleary Meerkat. (We haven’t tested the 26″ Meerkat, but the smaller 24″ Meerkat weighs 28.3 lbs.)
Overall, unless you have an extremely lightweight or petite child, the Guardian 26 is plenty light enough for most kids to ride pretty effortlessly.
Gearing and Shifting
With 7 gears and a gain ratio range of 2.4 – 5.6, our testers found that range to be comfortable for gaining speed on longer flat roads, successfully climbing neighborhood hills, as well as maintaining control speeding down those hills on the other side.
This range is a little more narrow than other kids bikes, with the lowest (easiest gear) a little higher than normal. This means that if your neighborhood has a lot of hills, getting up the hills won’t be quite as easy as we’d like to see.
The MicroShift grip shifter is easy to twist in either direction, and the MicroShift derailleur smoothly shifts through those gears.
Guardian grip shifters are unique to any kids’ bike shifter that we’ve ever seen because of its “Man in the Window”.
The red man on the bike points uphill, perpendicular the ground, or downhill, depending on which gear a child is in. His position corresponds to which gear a child should be in if they are climbing a hill, riding on flat ground, or going downhill.
Our kid testers LOVE this feature. Not only does it have that extra fun factor, but it takes the guesswork out of the question “What number gear should I be in???” So while Guardian’s SureStop brakes simplify braking, the “Man in the Window” simplifies shifting!
Wheels and Tires
Guardian’s double-wall rims offer extra durability to keep wheels true, even when kids give them a beating! While the rims are painted to give each bike an extra pop of color and personality, the outside edges are texturized and not painted in order for the brake pads to have maximum bite on that rim.
The 26×1.75″ tires have a relatively smooth tread that provides less rolling resistance for where this bike is designed to play most often – pavement. While they can certainly handle a mild dirt trail, if you’ll be riding dirt trails frequently, a bike with a knobbier tire would provide more traction for loose dirt.
Threaded Headset is Height Adjustable
Guardian Bikes offer incredible overall quality for a value price, and one way they do this is with cost-effective threaded headsets. While not considered as high-end as threadless headsets, threaded headsets actually have an advantage in that you can raise them, allowing you to adjust the height of the handlebars as a child grow.
At their lowest point, the handlebars are 36.6″ inches from the ground. At their highest point, they are 38.1″ from the ground, providing 1.5″ of height adjustability.
Saddle and Kickstand
Guardian gets both the big and small details right on their 26″ bike. The matte black saddle is amply padded for a cushy ride. It’s also railed so that you can adjust the saddle’s position forward or backward according to your child’s body proportions, or as they grow.
The kickstand is high-quality and strong, holding the bike upright without issues.
Guardian is proud to assemble and ship all of their bikes from their new factory in Indiana, USA. (The frames and components are still manufactured overseas.) But because they can’t ship this bike 100% assembled, they’ve made it as easy as possible for you to complete that assembly at home.
You must put on the front wheel, secure the brake cable above the wheel, put on the handlebars, and put on the pedals. This is not hard, we promise you! But be sure to watch their assembly video BEFORE you assemble the bike. There are several helpful tips that are important not to miss.
To simplify this process, the Guardian 26 comes with some stickers to guide you through the process, as seen here.
The stickers on the handlebars and headset help you line things up correctly. The stickers on the crank arms and pedals make sure you put the right pedals on the right side, and also that you tighten them in the correct direction.
And while you may not think too much about how a bike is packaged, we do! After assembling hundreds of bikes over the years, we want to give the HUGEST shout out to Guardian for their very minimalistic, yet effective, packaging.
Most bikes are shipped with tons of foam covering the frame and zip ties keeping things from shifting around in the box. All of this can take up to 20 minutes just to remove! Guardian Bikes has designed their bike boxes so that there is no need for zip ties or foam, so no headache for you! You can basically just pull the bike out of the box and put it together in 5 to 10 minutes.
Guardian 26 Inch Bike Bottom Line
For kids who are lucky enough to fit on the Guardian 26, they’ll be rewarded with a fun, smooth, and safe riding experience. With top-notch braking, comfortable frame geometry, plenty of room for growth, and several colorful options, you won’t find a better 26″ kids bike at this price point.