The Retrospec Dart 20 and Dart 24 are our favorite kids bikes in the $200 price range. In this review, we’ll cover the features that make the Dart bikes better than other cheap kids bikes, and also what you’re giving up by not increasing your bike budget.
Retrospec Dart 20 and 24 Overview
WHEEL SIZES: 20″ and 24″
USABLE SEAT HEIGHT: 23″ – 28.3″ (Dart 20), 25.5″ – 29.8″ (Dart 24)
BEST FOR: Confident kids ready for neighborhood biking adventures without training wheels. Please note our safety-based sizing restrictions in the full review below.
WEIGHT: 25.9 lb. (20″), 28.5 lb. (24″)
GEARS: 7 speed
SHIFTERS: Shimano Tourney Revo Twist
DERAILLEUR: Shimano Tourney
TIRES: 2.1″ wide, multi-terrain tire tread
What We Love About the Retrospec Dart Bikes
- The best quality and design we have seen at this price point. If you’re considering a Kent, Schwinn, Huffy, or Royalbaby, consider Retrospec instead!
- Comfortable, semi-upright body positioning which many kids this age prefer. Allows kid to lean in to get more speed and get more aggressive.
- Seven gears allow advancing riders to adjust their gearing to climb hills more easily or race faster through the neighborhood
- A derailleur cage helps protect the derailleur from damage and costly repairs
- Free shipping
- Available in five different colors
What You Should Know Before You Buy
- While we love these budget bikes, we recommend them with a strong caveat related to sizing. We do not recommend using either of these bikes at their minimum seat heights for comfort and/or safety reasons. Please see below for a detailed explanation of their actual seat height ranges vs. what we call “usable seat height ranges”.
- You will need to adjust the brake levers so that it is easier for kids to reach them. This is not included in the assembly instructions, but we’ll show you how to do it below.
- While general assembly of theses bikes is straightforward, adjusting the drivetrain (gearing) and braking system will take some time and skill. If you are not comfortable with bike maintenance, you should have a bike shop do this for you. (Which will run you about $50 – $80 if you bring them the bike already assembled, or about $100 to assemble from scratch.)
- These bikes are on the heavy side, but that is to be expected for any low-priced geared kids’ bike.
- The kickstand needs improvement, as it only holds the bike upright if the front wheel is turned to the left, not the right.
- The Dart 20 and 24 are Retrospec’s geared neighborhood bikes. Retrospec also has a second line of kids bikes called the Koda 2 (link to our review), which is a single-speed line available in 12″, 16″, and 20″ sizes. The geared Koda 2 20″ and 24″ are being replaced by the Dart line.
Retrospec Dart 20 and 24 Review – Results of our Test Rides
Retrospec is a brand dedicated to bringing you the best products possible at very low prices. We have had many conversations with their team, and they have been very receptive to our feedback. While Retrospec bikes are not perfect, their team is constantly trying to improve them, while maintaining a low price point.
In this review, we’ll cover what works great on the very budget-friendly Retrospec Dart 20 and 24 considering the price, and also what needs some improvements.
We put the Retrospec Dart 20 and 24 to the test with five different test riders (ages 4 to 10). From neighborhood riding to climbing hills on the commute to school, our goal was to determine how easy and comfortable these bikes were to ride, especially considering their lower price tag.
Is the Retrospec Dart right for your child?
Overall, the Retrospec Dart is an impressively good neighborhood bike for its price. It doesn’t feel or look cheap like the aisles of pre-assembled bikes you’ll find at many big-box stores. That said, it still won’t be the best bike for every family on a budget. When deciding if the Dart is right for your child, there are a few features of the Dart that you need to consider:
1. Child’s height and hand size – Sizing can be a safety issue!
We’ll go into this in depth in the following section, but the Dart 20 and 24 are not a good fit for some kids who are on the lower size ranges for the bike. This is not just a comfort issue, but also a potential safety issue, so please continue reading for a full report on which kids are a great fit, because many are!
2. Body Position on the Bike – Better for confident kids
With lower handlebars than Retrospec’s single speed bikes, a child will ride the Dart in a slightly leaned forward position. This position is ideal for confident and adventurous kids who will want to lean in for speed, or to get a little bit aggressive. However, if your child is very timid and prefers to be mostly upright, the Dart would not be the best bike for them.
3. Gears – Helpful, but not necessary for every kid this age
Especially on a 20″ bike, many kids are still too young to want to bother with gears. While it generally doesn’t hurt to have them, if your child doesn’t need gears at this age, there’s no reason to pay for them. You should also consider the single-speed Retrospec Koda 2 20″ , which will save you about 20 bucks.
But gears do come in very handy for kids who are itching to ride faster, or who need to be able to adjust their gearing for climbing hills. Where you’ll be riding and how aggressive your child is will determine if they really need gears or not.
Most 24″ bikes will have gears. Most cheap 24″ bikes (by Schwinn, Huffy, etc.) have gearing that has shifting for both the left and right hands, which results in added weight to the bike, added confusion for your young rider, and more opportunities for parts to need adjusting.
The Dart bikes have a Shimano grip shift system on the right hand only, which is a much better system for young riders. Overall the gears work quite well (once adjusted correctly), and offer pretty smooth shifting.
The RevoShift on these bikes is Shimano’s most affordable twist grip system. While it gets the job done, its wide diameter twisting barrel can be difficult to grab and twist for small hands. It takes significant effort while also requiring a child to release or greatly decrease their grip from the handlebars. Keep in mind that this shifter is pretty much the standard shifter for almost all low-cost, geared kids bikes.
Overall, if your child needs to be able to shift gears quickly, the RevoShift isn’t a great system. But it will work just fine for the vast majority of neighborhood riders. Additionally, given the same system is on the Dart 20 and Dart 24, smaller kids on the 20″ model will probably have more issues with twisting the larger barrel.
4. All-terrain tires – Provides versatility for riding off the pavement
While the Dart certainly isn’t a mountain bike, its tires have a nice all-terrain tread that will offer good traction on grass, dirt, or just general neighborhood off-roading. The tires are also a bit on the wider side, at 2.1″ wide, adding more surface area for traction. This makes the Dart a great option for kids who like to find adventures off the pavement.
Hard to Reach Brake Levers and Difficult Braking System Set-up
The biggest issue that needs to be improved on the Dart bikes is the brakes. Once adjusted correctly, the brakes offer quite solid stopping power. The issue is that on the bikes we received, they needed quite a bit of tweaking to get there.
Brake System Set-up
We have assembled hundreds of bikes over the years, and the brakes of the Dart 20 and Dart 24 needed much more adjustment than most. All of this tweaking would be a lot to expect of your average parent. Major tweaks that we needed to perform on our test bikes included:
- Adjusting the placement of the brake pads
- Tightening the brake cables at the cable anchors
- Tightening the brake lever adjustment screws all the way down to decrease the reach for little hands
While your bike may not need all of these adjustments, if it does, many parents will need to go to a bike shop and have these adjustments done by a professional. To get both the front and rear brakes working correctly would cost about $50 at a bike shop.
Harder to Reach Brake Levers
The Dart 20 and Dart 24 have the same braking systems, which includes the same brake levers. They are not “easy-reach” as advertised.
The levers can be brought a bit closer to the grips to make them easier to reach and grab (see skinny red arrows below), by tightening the brake lever adjustment screws all the way down. (See fatter red arrows below.)
Brake Lever Farther from Grip (top) vs. Closer (bottom)
For our test riders big enough to comfortably ride the 24″ bike (at a seat height no lower than 25.5″), their hands were big enough that they could safely grab and pull the brake levers.
Based on our testing on the Dart 20, even after the brake levers were adjusted so they were easier to reach, they were still a bit problematic because kids riding a bike this size will generally have smaller hands than kids riding a 24″ bike. Retrospec’s single speed 20″ Retrospec Koda 2 has shorter-reach brake levers that will be a much better fit for many kids this size.
With the brake levers adjusted as close to the grips as possible, our 43” rider on the Dart 20 could just barely reach and pull the levers. I was uncomfortable with the potential safety issue and we only rode a short distance with her mom running alongside her.
After adjustment, our 47″ tall rider could reach and pull the Dart 20 levers safely, although it would still be easier if the levers could be adjusted even closer.
While we certainly can’t guarantee that your child’s hands will be big enough, we recommend that a child about 47″ is more likely to be able to safely pull the brake levers.
The angle of the brake levers (in relation to the grips) can make it easier for a child to pull them. This is a matter of personal preference, but we recommend having your child test the brake levers in several positions to determine which will be easiest for them. (The levers can be moved by loosening the allen bolt on the plastic piece that attaches to the handlebar.)
But once again, if you think your child may have difficulty reaching and pulling the brake levers on the Dart 20, consider the Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 20 instead.
Retrospec Dart Sizing
As a whole, the Dart bikes are designed so that they are a comfortable and natural fit for kids in the middle and high end of the sizing range. Where we have an issue with the sizing of the Dart 20 and Dart 24 is on the low-end of their sizing range, when the seat height is set to its lowest position and about 2″ above that. We’ll break down the sizing issues separately for the 20″ and 24″.
Dart 20 Sizing
Based on our testing, our recommended minimum seat height for the Dart 20 is 23″, although the seat can actually be lowered to 21.8″. For the 20″ Dart, this a partially due to the child’s comfort, but mostly due to safety and that a small child can’t reach the brake levers easily enough (as explained in the previous section).
Lowest Seat Height
With the seat height set to its lowest position (21.8″), our 43″ tall rider (with shoes on) could ride the Dart 20 and reach the ground with solid tip toes. However, as you can see in the image below, at the high point of the pedal stroke, her knee bend is pretty tight (on her inner leg), making pedaling down more difficult than it should be.
While not ideal, for the price, this is a pretty common problem and isn’t the most drastic that we’ve seen. That said, our much bigger issue is that this rider could not reach the brake levers easily enough for us to feel that she could safely and consistently stop the bike on her own. It is for this reason that we don’t recommend this bike for someone her size.
Mid-Range Seat Height
The Dart 20 was a great fit for our 47″ and 50″ tall riders, who you can see here.
High End of the Seat Height Range
Our 53″ tall rider is riding the Dart 20 at its maximum seat height of 28.3″. Although she’s clearly growing out of it, the 20″ was still a pretty comfortable ride for her. Many bikes are not a great fit when kids are sizing out of them, but the Dart 20 allows for a good amount of growth.
Dart 24 Sizing
Based on our testing, our recommended minimum seat height for the Dart 24 is 25.5″, although the seat can actually be lowered to 23.4″.
Lowest Seat Height
The minimum seat height of 23.4″ is far too low for a 24” bike. The Dart 24 is not proportioned for a child that short. (The other “smallest” 24″ bike on the market has a minimum seat height of 25″.)
At the minimum seat height (23.4”) with our 47” tall (with shoes) tester, her knee bend at the top of her pedal stroke was pointing up at a 45 degree angle, which makes is very awkward and difficult to push down on the pedal. Additionally, her reach towards the handlebars was too far to be comfortable.
Realistic Minimum Seat Height
Our 50” tall rider (with shoes on) rode with the saddle at 25.7”. This is about as short of a rider as we would recommend for this bike. The Dart 24 was still a lot of bike for her to handle, but she is strong and aggressive and managed just fine.
Initially, the handlebars were pretty high for her, so we adjusted the headset spacers to be above the stem so we could lower the handlebars. We also rotated the handlebars towards her.
This lowered the handlebars by about 1.25” and absolutely made a difference for our 50” rider, and would be beneficial for anyone around her height. Here you can see a side by side comparison showing the factory-setting bars on left, and the spacers adjusted for lower handlebars on right.
Dart 24 Handlebars in High vs. Low Position
Mid-Range Seat Height
The Dart 24 was a great fit for our 54″ tall rider with the saddle set to 28.3″ (maximum is 29.8″).
WHAT ELSE NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
Besides those things already discussed, there are two additional features that could used improvement. It’s important to keep in mind that “cheap” kids bikes are always going to have issues, and we feel that the Dart bikes have fewer issues than other cheap bikes.
The kickstands on both the Dart 20 and Dart 24 are too long, which causes them to fall over if the handlebars and front wheel are turned to the right. When turned to the left, the kickstand works just fine.
We alerted Retrospec to this issue and they are working to fix it.
The Dart 20 and 24 are both heavy compared to other 20″ and 24″ bikes we recommend, but that is to be expected given their lower price tag. For example, the $199 Dart 20 weighs 25.9 lbs., while the $319 Guardian 20 is 4 pounds lighter.
Weight should always be considered when deciding which bike is going to be a good riding experience for your child. Lightweight is almost always better, especially for lightweight or less coordinated kids. But lightweight also always comes with a price. How much that is worth is up to you.
Retrospec Dart Kids Bike Bottom Line
If the bike fits (according to our testing results above), the Retrospec Dart 20 and Dart 24 are an impressive bang for your buck for confident neighborhood riders. You won’t find better quality in the kids’ bikes aisles of the big box stores.
For kids on the smaller range of sizing, consider the 20″ single-speed Retrospec Koda 2 Plus, which has easier to reach brake levers.