Since before their days on Shark Tank, we’ve been huge fans of Guardian Bikes and the extra level of safety their SureStop brakes bring to kids bikes. With very few balance bikes on the market that even offer a handbrake, we eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Guardian Balance Bike.
Upon testing this balance bike with four different toddler riders, we found its overall quality to be exceptional, but discovered one feature that needs to be improved before we can give it our seal of approval.
Guardian has already committed to making this change and the improved balance bike should be available in early to late Fall 2022. Read our full review below to understand what we discovered.
Guardian Balance Bike Overview
RATING: Not Recommended (Temporary rating while new design is implemented)
BEST FOR: Current model is not recommended for young riders who are still learning to ride and are likely to walk the bike.
SEAT HEIGHT: 12.5″ – 16″
WEIGHT: 8.5 lb.
BRAKES: SureStop brakes (one lever activates front and rear brakes)
FRAME: Aluminum Alloy
TURNING LIMITER: Yes (removable)
- Dialed-in, kid-friendly geometry for a fun and natural ride
- Air tires for great traction and cushioning
- SureStop brakes – front and rear brake activated with a single hand lever
- Removable turning limiter
- Comes in boy, girl, and gender-neutral designs
- Comes with valve extenders to make tire pumping easier
- Young toddlers who walk on the bike can hit their ankles on the low brake mount
- Brake can hit the curb when riding up or down a curb or stairs
- Handlebar can’t be raised for taller riders
Guardian Balance Bike Review – Results of our Test Rides
We tested the Guardian Balance Bike with four different toddlers who varied in balance bike riding ability – from very beginner to skilled and confident. In the process, we discovered that this little bike is very likely to scrape the ankles of new riders. Because almost every toddler will start their journey as a beginning rider, the Guardian Balance Bike has a temporary status of “not recommended.”
Brake Calipers May Hit Child’s Legs
While young toddlers with inseams at least 12.5″ can technically fit on the Guardian Balance Bike (they can stand over the bike with at least both of their full feet touching the ground), that still doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good fit. One of our two-year-old testers with close to a 13″ inseam quickly ran into issues with the Guardian’s low-placed brake mount.
Being new to balance bikes, he naturally started out walking the bike (rotating from standing to sitting). While doing so, the back of his ankle repeatedly hit the rear brake calipers. This happened multiple times within a 10 to 15 minute time period.
At the end of the time frame, he had several marks on his ankles as well as general redness on his skin.
While we have seen this issue on other balance bikes, we have not seen this issue on similarly priced higher-end balance bikes. As a result, we are hesitant to recommend the Guardian for beginning riders.
Other similarly-sized balance bikes, such as the Yedoo Too Too, have the brake caliper mounted above the frame to prevent any contact with the rider’s legs.
Brake Calipers Mounted Below vs. Above Bike’s Frame
There are a few high-end balance bikes that do have the brake calipers mounted below, but the shape and placement of Guardian’s set-up is wider and much more likely to interfere with a child’s legs.
Wider Brake Calipers on Guardian Balance Bike
No Issues with Older, Experienced Riders
To be fair, we did test the Guardian balance bike with several older and/or more experienced riders who did not have any contact with the brake calipers. Ranging in age from 2 to 4, these testers were able to complete their full stride without any contact and thoroughly enjoyed riding the Guardian balance bike.
Even though the bike performed great for these riders, knowing that many families pass their balance bike down to younger siblings who will walk the bike, we are still hesitant to recommend the Guardian.
Trouble with Curbs and Steps
While our more experienced riders that sit on the saddle and run didn’t have the issue of the brake calipers hitting their ankles, the low-placed brake mount on the Guardian can still be problematic. The calipers can hit curbs or steps when going up them. While not common with pedal bike riders, young balance bikers tend to be much more explorative on their balance bike and try to take them everywhere, especially up stairs and curbs.
With one of our small testers, the brake hitting the curb actually caused him to almost fall off the bike as the bike came to an unexpected stop. This happened on steps as low as 4.5″ tall.
A Fix is on the Way!
Upon reaching out to Guardian to address our concerns with the brake placement, they were very receptive and quickly went into action to make changes.
As a result, an updated version of the Guardian balance bike is expected in early to late Fall 2022. The new design will have the brake mounted on the top of the frame (right above the chainstay) versus below. With this switch, we do not anticipate any concerns with the Guardian balance bike and we will be sure to update this review!
Guardian Balance Bike Components Round-up
Despite the issue with the low-placed brake mounts, as a whole, the Guardian Balance Bike is one of the best-quality balance bikes on the market. As a result, we are confident that once the brake issue is fixed, this little balance bike will be an exceptional option.
Guardian’s SureStop Braking System
Guardian Bikes are known for their simplified and efficient brakes, called the SureStop braking system. For years we have tested and loved this system on Guardian’s pedal bikes.
Guardian’s SureStop brakes require kids to pull just one brake lever to get the braking power of front and rear brakes. The system is fast, easy, and effective. (Learn more about the technical side of SureStop brakes here).
Having tested every size of Guardian bike, we can absolutely attest to the innovation of SureStop for their pedal bikes. We have witnessed the system empower kids to stop faster and with more control on their pedal bikes.
However, balance bike riders don’t travel as fast as pedal bike riders, so we aren’t as convinced about the need for the stopping power of dual-hand brakes on a 12″ balance bike. The SureStop brakes certainly work great, but we don’t see as great of a benefit on their balance bike as we did their pedal bikes.
Keep in mind that most toddlers don’t have the hand-eye coordination to use a hand brake until about they are about 2.5 to 3 years old. As a result, the benefits of a hand brake are only beneficial for older toddlers and preschoolers who are often close to transitioning to a pedal bike.
That said, we will always advocate for buying a balance bike with a hand brake. It is a huge benefit for an older, more aggressive rider to have the stopping power of a hand brake. It also makes the transition to a pedal bike easier if a child can already use a hand brake. This is just to note that you should not be surprised when your child isn’t using the brake for the first several months to a year.
Lightweight Aluminum Frame
At 8.5 pounds, the Guardian balance bike’s weight is on par with other high-end balance bikes its size. The Yedoo TooToo is 8.3 pounds, while the Pello Ripple is 9 pounds.
Air tires and hand brakes always add weight to a bike, but the Guardian balance bike is about the same weight or lighter than popular cheaper bikes that don’t have air tires or a handbrake. (i.e. GOMO weighs 8.5 pounds, Kazam weighs 8.4 pounds.)
While you certainly could buy a lighter balance bike for less (Strider Sport ($110) weighs 6.7 pounds, Bixe 12 ($69) weighs 4.6 pounds), the benefits of air tires and a handbrake absolutely outweigh the weight benefit. The 8.5 pounds of the Guardian is a great weight for the height of the child it’s designed for.
While the woom 1 balance bike has air tires and a handbrake and is only 6.6 pounds, it is a smaller balance bike designed to start a child riding at a younger age. (Minimum seat height 10.1″ vs the Guardian’s 12.5″.)
Air Tires Provide Traction and Cushioning
Balance bikes come with either air or foam tires. Foam tires are much more common because they are significantly cheaper. But air tires offer a superior experience.
The air tires of the Guardian balance bike offer cushioning and traction that you can’t get with foam tires. For the safest and most comfortable balance bike experience, air tires are the way to go. (Watch this video to see air vs. foam tires in action!)
The tires on the Guardian balance bike have a city style tread that makes for smooth rolling on pavement, but will also offer decent traction on dirt, grass, etc.
As an added user-friendly bonus, this little bike comes with tire valve extenders to make filling those air tires soooo much easier.
12″ tires are notoriously difficult to pump because there is such little room to fit a tire pump head between the wheel spokes. Guardian’s removable tire valve extenders allow you to attach the pump head to the valve outside of the spokes.
Turning Limiter is Removable
The removable turning limiter on the Guardian balance bike prevents the handlebars from being turned too far to the left or right. This offers two potential benefits:
- Preventing a child from getting the handlebars twisted and trying to ride with them backward. (This actually happens quite frequently with young children on small bikes.) Twisting the handlebars too far can also stretch the brake cables.
- Limiting how far a child can turn the bars to the left or right can prevent them from jack-knifing and crashing. This is generally most helpful with young riders who are still learning to steer and who are more likely to make sudden jerking movements.
Some argue that turning limiters actually prevent a child from learning the nuances of steering at a time when they are low to the ground and the consequences of crashing would be less drastic. The benefit of the Guardian’s steering limiter is that it can easily be removed if you don’t want your child to use it.
Saddle and Bolts
The soft saddle is comfortable for little bums and is kid-sized to prevent a child from having to splay their legs out to run. The seat collar is a quick release so the saddle can be raised easily as a child grows.
The axle bolts are flattened to prevent them from sticking out and scratching kids’ running legs.
Most balance bikes have a pretty straightforward assembly, but Guardian aims to make straightforward even easier. The only step for assembly is attaching the handlebars, and removable stickers make lining the handlebars up with the stem foolproof.
Guardian Balance Bike – Bottom Line
While the Guardian Balance Bike is one of the highest-quality balance bikes on the market, its low-placed brake calipers may hit and hurt kids’ ankles as they are learning to ride. Guardian is fixing this issue and an updated design should be available in Fall 2022.
To see our list of favorite balance bikes for all ages, check out our 12 Best Balance Bikes list.