The Guardian Family is growing! With the introduction of the new Guardian ETHOS 14 Inch bike for the littlest of riders, Guardian now offers pedal bikes in five different sizes from 14″ to 24″. With all of the features of a Guardian in a tiny little package, the Guardian 14 Inch is one of the best first pedal bikes you can get for your balance bike graduate.
Perfectly proportioned for a child’s small body frame, the Guardian 14 Inch was carefully designed to provide your child with a natural and positive first riding experience.
But what’s the BEST part of any Guardian? The proprietary SureStop braking system of course! Who doesn’t want simplified and safer braking? The Guardian guys sold Mark Cuban on it… and we’re sold too. Read the full review below to discover what makes this innovation so compelling for the littlest of riders!
Guardian ETHOS 14 Overview
MSRP: $269 (NOT currently available for sale, no ETA)
BEST FOR: Kids with inseams ranging from 16″ to 19″, or approximately 3T/4T clothes.
SEAT HEIGHT: 16.25 – 20.25″
WEIGHT: 17.2 lb.
WHEELBASE: 25 5/8″
GAIN RATIO: 3.56
- SureStop braking system for faster and safer braking
- Only one brake lever required to engage front and rear brakes – easier to manage for young riders
- Child-friendly bike geometry places child in natural and comfortable upright position
- No coaster brake! (Back pedal brakes can make it harder to learn to pedal a bike)
- Fun color combinations that our testers ADORE
- A bit heavier than other (more expensive) bikes we recommend
Guardian 14 Inch Bike Review – Results of our Test Rides
With just two weeks of pedal bike experience under her belt, our littlest bike tester maneuvered the Guardian 14 Inch with ease and grace. While it’s nearly impossible to get a toddler to articulate what they like about a bike, waking up in the morning and immediately asking “I ride my bike???” is always a good sign. Whether through the bike park, through the forest, or through the puddles, the Guardian 14 Inch met every challenge her little brain came up with.
While still developing her pedal bike skills, after just three days of riding the Guardian 14 Inch, she was rocking that little bike with a new sense of confidence. It really is quite a sight to see a 2, 3 or 4-year-old riding a pedal bike with as much skill as an 8-year-old, but the Guardian 14 Inch makes it easy.
While other Guardians are offered at two different price points (Original and Ethos), the 14 Inch Guardian is only available in the more budget-friendly Ethos line. It’s offered in two colors – bright pink, and geometric black/blue. These little bikes are easily some of the best quality and best priced boys bikes and girls bike on the market.
SureStop Braking System – How it Works and Why It’s AWESOME
While there are a hundred reasons to love the Guardian 14 Inch, the SureStop braking system is what makes Guardian truly unique. If you didn’t catch them getting funded by Mark Cuban on Shark Tank back in 2017, let us fill you in!
The SureStop braking system is featured on every Guardian. There is one brake lever on the right hand that activates both the rear and the front brake. Yep, the stopping power of two brakes, by just pulling one lever! Why does this matter? Several reasons!
(1) FASTER. By pulling the one lever and activating both brakes, Guardian claims that kids can stop much faster. Throughout our years of testing Guardian bikes, we’ve certainly seen this to be true. We’ve also hopped on larger 24″ Guardian bikes ourselves and they really do stop so quickly!
(2) SAFER. The SureStop system promotes safer braking. As kids get older, heavier, and ride faster, braking with the left hand (front brake) only can lock up the front wheel and flip a child (or any rider!) over the handlebars.
Called an “endo”, Guardians prevent a child from endoing because it’s impossible for them to brake with the front brake only. With SureStop, the rear brake always activates first, followed immediately by the front brake. While a child riding a 14 Inch bike will rarely be going fast enough or weigh enough to endo, the SureStop system instills safe breaking technique from the get-go.
(3) SIMPLER. The SureStop system is simple. Have you ever tried to teach a toddler or preschooler the difference between right and left?!? When trying to teach proper braking technique, “Only brake with your right hand!” is an extremely difficult concept for little ones to grasp.
Our toddler often brakes with the left hand only just because I told her not to. HA! Because the SureStop system has only one brake lever, there’s only one option for their little brains to focus on. While one brake lever can be a big benefit for kids of any age, we’ve found it particularly useful for our toddler riders.
No Coaster Brake!
While many 12″ and 14″ bikes come standard with a coaster (back pedal) brake, the Guardian does NOT have a coaster brake. This is a huge win for the littlest riders just learning to pedal!
Why are coaster brakes such a problem? When kids are learning to pedal for the first time, they tend to pedal backwards a lot. This is in part because they haven’t yet internalized that pedaling forward is what helps them move forward. So if they’ve just gotten started, have gained a little momentum, and then decide to back pedal… a coaster brake will stop them in their tracks. All momentum lost!
Additionally, back pedaling can help kids regain their balance if they turn their handlebars too sharply or start leaning to the side. If they are trying to regain balance by pedaling backwards, but stop instead, they often end up crashing.
And let’s not forget how hard it can be to get those pedals in place to start pedaling in the first place. If you can’t move the pedals in both directions, getting them set to go can be nearly impossible!
In a nutshell, there are really only downsides to coaster brakes, and we give Guardian a high five for making sure this little bike is coaster-brake-free.
What size child fits on the Guardian ETHOS 14?
With a seat height range of 16.25″ – 20.25″, the Guardian 14 Inch is one of the smallest pedal bikes on the market, but also has more room for growth than most. The similarly sized woom 2 has a range of 16″ – 19″, while the Prevelo Alpha One has a seat height range of 15.5 – 17.25″.
When a child is first learning to pedal, you’ll want to have the seat set so that when sitting on the saddle, they can touch the ground with their feet flat. This allows them to use their feet to help them stop, and also prevents them from falling over when they stop. Additionally, learning to pedal from a standstill is much easier when they can paddle their feet on the ground to gain initial momentum.
As a child gains confidence, you should raise that seat height so that they can only touch the ground with their tip toes. This allows for much better leg extension and pedaling efficiency. When you’ll raise the seat depends on the confidence of the rider. For this little nugget, we raised the seat after just a few days. But other toddlers may take weeks or even months.
For reference, this child is 2 years, 10 months and is almost 39″ tall. The seat height is set at 17.5″ in the picture above where she can reach the ground comfortably with her tip toes.
How long will my child fit on this bike?
1 year and 2 months after originally writing this review, we put our little tester back on the Guardian 14 (image on the left). In the collage below she is 4-years-old and 43″ tall with a 19″ inseam with shoes on.
We have the seat of the Ethos 14 set to its maximum height at 20.25″, and we raised the handlebars to the max, giving us an additional inch in handlebar height. While certainly maxed out in every way on the bike, she can still comfortably ride it!
The image on the right shows our little tester on the Guardian 20 inch small bike during the same week. The seat on that bike is set to its minimum at 21.3″. Just a piece of advice to keep in your back pocket… if you’re on a budget and want to skip a 16″ bike, it is possible to skip from the Guardian 14 directly to the Guardian 20 small.
Body Position and Geometry
All Guardians are known for their kid-friendly geometry, and the Ethos 14 Inch is no exception. The Ethos’ mid-rise handlebars and reach place a child in a comfortable, upright position. This helps them to feel natural and relaxed as they’re learning to ride.
The Ethos 14 Inch also places a child closer to the ground for a low-center-of-gravity that makes balancing easier. This also allows a younger, shorter child to safely and confidently ride a 14″ bike without training wheels.
If you’ve ever seen a child perched awkwardly on top of a big-box-store bike, you’ll know why kid-friendly geometry is a big deal. As seen in the image below, our almost-3-year-old can comfortably touch the ground with her tip toes on the Guardian 14 Inch, with its seat post raised about 2″. She can’t even reach the ground on the 14″ RoyalBaby (which is 20 lbs. by the way!) with its seat post lowered all the way.
Big-box-store bikes also tend to have small cockpits so a child feels cramped and has limited ability to maneuver. The Ethos 14 Inch has an extended wheelbase that offers ample room to move and to grow.
Coming it at 17.2 lbs (with pedals and kickstand), the Guardian 14 Inch bike is much lighter than any bike you’ll find at a big box store, and also lighter than 12″ bikes by well-known brands Specialized, Raleigh, and Diamondback.
While it’s not as light as boutique-brand bikes like the woom 2 ($359) or Cleary Gecko ($310), the Guardian Ethos 14 is significantly less expensive at just $279. Those bikes just mentioned also come with coaster brakes and cost about $20 more to get a freewheel kit to remove the coaster brake.
With a gain ratio of 3.56, ease of pedaling is about on par with our other favorite 14″ bikes. (woom 2 = 3.7, Prevelo Alpha One = 3.7, Pello Romper = 3.57). Higher gain ratios (4+) make it harder to get started pedaling, but enable faster speeds. Lower gain ratios make it really easy to get started pedaling, but limit top speeds.
Because of their overall size and the limitations of the size of their components, high-quality 14″ bikes almost always have pretty low gain ratios. This is a benefit because it’s easier for new pedalers to get started pedaling. However, it certainly limits how fast and far a child can go.
Overall, it’s much more difficult for a child on a 14″ bike to go long distances because they can’t get enough “distance” with each pedal stroke. This is the situation for all bikes this size, so just be sure to set realistic expectations on distance and speed for family rides.
While the tires feature a standard street tread, we took this little baby through a romp in the forest and it did just great. The Ethos 14 Inch isn’t meant for trail riding, but it certainly can handle occasional packed dirt.
Whether or not beginner bikes need a turning limiter is always a point of debate, but we love the Guardian 14’s limiter. It’s easily removeable so you can use it if you want to, or just take it off if you don’t!
The Guardian’s turning limiter is pretty mild, so it really won’t restrict steering much at all. Its more important purpose is preventing the handlebars from turning all the way around when a child falls or puts their bike down.
Handlebars can easily get all mixed up and little ones can quickly get confused and frustrated while trying to get them sorted out the right way. This also prevents the brake cables from being stretched as a result of rotating the handlebars the wrong way.
A minor detail, sure… but really, is it minor? Bikes laying all over the garage floor are really annoying! The Guardian 14 Inch comes standard with a kickstand. It’s incredibly sturdy and places the bike at just the right angle so that it won’t easily fall over. This is one small detail we were really excited about.
Assembly is a Breeze
If you’re worried about getting a bike in a box and putting it together yourself, don’t be! These bikes are so incredibly easy to assemble.
Out of the box, both wheels are already on the bike. The only things you have to do are tighten the seat post collar, attach the pedals, and put on the handlebar.
To make this process as simple and fool-proof as possible, Guardian came up with a unique solution. They’ve included peel-off stickers on the crank arms and pedals as well as the handlebars and stem. These stickers help you line up all the parts right and tighten them in the correct direction. It really is simple genius.
Guardian ETHOS 14 Bike Review Bottom Line
We’ve loved Guardian Bikes for years, and have anxiously been awaiting the arrival of a 14″ bike. With a simplified braking system and incredibly kid-friendly geometry, the Guardian Ethos 14 Inch was a hit with our toddler testers and us moms. Its budget-friendly price tag seriously can’t be beat – it’s incredible what they’re offering at this price tag! And when you’re buying a child a bike at an age when they grow so quickly, it’s a benefit we particularly appreciate.