Retrospec Koda 2 Plus – Kids Bikes Review

When it comes to budget-friendly kids bikes, Retrospec Koda bikes are easily some of the best. Many big name brands emphasize cute and cool designs that quickly woo buyers in the store, while the bikes are quite difficult to ride once they get home.

With the new Retrospec Koda 2 Plus models, Retrospec has managed to combine cute, cool, easy to ride, and a fair price all into one previously elusive package.

Read our full review below for our experiences on every Retrospec Koda kids bike from the smallest 12″ to the largest 24″.

Collage of kids riding 12", 16" and 20" models of the Retrospec Koda 2 Plus kids bikes

Retrospec Koda 2 vs. Koda Plus 2

For this review, we tested five different Retrospec kids bikes – single speed 12″, 16″, and 20″, and 7-speed 20″ and 24″.

The single speed models are all available as the Koda 2 or Koda Plus 2. We tested the Plus models. So what’s the difference? The Plus models are slightly upgraded versions that also cost just a little bit more.

What are the Plus upgrades?

  • Rims and some components are higher-quality aluminum (which also won’t rust)
  • Baskets included with some colors
  • Single rear hand brake on 12″ and 16″ (non Plus only have coaster brake)
  • Dual hand brakes and no coaster brake on 20″ (non Plus has a coaster brake and single rear hand brake)

In each section below we’ll address these upgrades and whether or not they may be worth the extra money.

JUMP TO REVIEWS BY SIZE

Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 12

MSRP: $129
SEAT HEIGHT: 15.5″ – 19″
WEIGHT: 16 lb. (without training wheels)
BRAKES: Coaster brake and rear wheel hand brake
TRAINING WHEELS: Included
RECOMMENDED: No. The short crank arms make it difficult to pedal quickly, or to stop using the coaster brake. If you are planning on using training wheels on a 12″ bike, the Retrospec would be a decent choice as training wheels naturally limit the speed of the bike (don’t use them on a hill though!) and the coaster brake is easier to engage at lower speeds.

What We Love About the Koda 2 Plus 12

  • Great geometry for a budget 12″ bike. Hands down better than any 12″ bike found at a big-box store
  • Comfortable saddle and grips. The saddle also has a built-in handle for when you need to carry the bike.
  • All models come with a bell and some colorways come with cute baskets on the front handlebar
  • Has a MUCH lower minimum seat height compared to other budget 12″ bike.

What You Should Know Before You Buy

  • The hand brake on the Koda 2 Plus 12 works, but not great. It is challenging for young riders to pull the lever with enough force to fully engage the brake. As a result, plan on your child using mainly the coaster brake.
  • Due to its small crank arms (a problem with all 12″ bikes), the Retrospec Koda 12″ can be hard to pedal forward as well as backward (to engage the coaster brake). While the Koda can absolutely be ridden by kids without training wheels (as shown by our tester above), it is likely best for use with training wheels due to the reasons mentioned above.

If you are on a tight budget and really want a 12″ pedal bike, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better quality bike than the Koda 2 Plus 12″. With a minimum seat height of 15.5″, the Koda 2 Plus is considerably smaller than other awkwardly-sized 12″ budget bikes.

For example, the popular Huffy 12″ Rock It bike has a minimum seat height of 18″! This is really tall for a 12″ bike meant for 3 and 4 year olds. The Koda 12 has a minimum seat height that is 2.5″ lower, so your child can likely fit on the Koda 2 a whole year before they can fit on the Huffy Rock It.

The Koda 2 Plus 12 also offers a much more stable ride. With a longer wheelbase as well as a lower seat height range, the child’s center of gravity is considerably lower on the Koda 2 than on a Huffy Rock It. The lower center of gravity makes the bike easier to balance and control.

That being said, due to inherent problems with all 12″ pedal bikes, we would highly recommend purchasing a 12″ balance bike, such as the Retrospec Koda Plus balance bike, instead of a 12″ pedal bike. With a seat height range of 11.5″ – 15″ the Retrospec balance bike is slightly smaller, but can still fit most 3 and 4 year olds.

Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 16

Girl riding 16" Retrospec Koda 2 Plus down the sidewalk

MSRP: $149
SEAT HEIGHT: 18.3″ – 23″
WEIGHT: 19.1 lb.
BRAKES: Coaster brake and rear hand brake
TRAINING WHEELS: Included
RECOMMENDED: Yes, very solid quality and design for the price

We have tested almost 50 different 16″ bikes over the last 10 years, covering a very wide price range. The Koda 2 Plus is easily the best budget-friendly 16″ bike we’ve tested.

What We Love About the Koda 2 Plus 16

  • Frame design and sizing is very kid-friendly, the best designed 16″ budget bike we’ve seen
  • Solid quality and durable construction will happily take a beating from your kid
  • Available in several fun colorways – boy, girl, or gender neutral colors. Some come with baskets.

What You Should Know Before You Buy

  • Coaster brakes (back pedal brakes) will always be found on 16″ bikes at this price point, but not being able to pedal backwards makes it harder for kids to learn to ride.
  • The rear hand brake only results in a coasting stop, so your child will need to use the coaster brake most of the time.

Geometry is Excellent for the Price

The biggest problem with “low price tag” bikes is that their sizing and design makes them difficult and awkward for kids to ride. The smaller the bike, generally the worse this problem is.

In the past, if you didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a 16″ kids bike, your options were pretty terrible (although masked by overly cute designs and characters).The Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 16 has set a new and high benchmark for affordable 16″ bikes.

While certainly not as fine tuned as a high-end kids bike like the Priority Start 16 or woom 2, the Koda 2 Plus 16’s overall frame design and geometry is actually pretty similar. Compared to mid-price bikes like the popular REI Co-op REV 16, the Koda’s design is better.

Here you can see our 5-year-old tester maxed out on the seat post on both the Koda 16 and the REI REV 16. At this point she’s a bit perched “on top” of the REI, while she’s still settled “in” the Koda.

Side by side comparison of 5 year old on Retrospec 16" bike vs REI 16" bike

To help with comfortable fit over time, the Koda 16’s handlebars can be raised along with the seat post. Here is the Koda 2 Plus 16 with its handlebars set to their lowest and highest points, with the saddle set to the highest point. The REI Co-Op REV 16’s handlebars cannot be raised.

Side by side comparison of 5-year-old girl on Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 16 with the handlebars at their lowest and highest points.

Sizing

The Koda 16 has a seat height range of 18.3″ – 23″. This is a very low seat height for a budget-friendly 16″ bike, which makes it a great option for young riders eager to get going on two wheels.

Most cheaper 16″ bikes have higher minimum seat heights that make it necessary to use training wheels with smaller riders because they can’t touch the ground with their feet. For example, the Schwinn Krate EVO has a minimum seat height of 20.25″, the Huffy Sea Star 20.75″, and even the REI REV 16 has a minimum seat height of 20.1″.

Below you can see how the Koda 2 Plus 16 fits on two of our test riders in the mid and high range of sizing. The 4-year-old boy is 43.5″ tall and has the saddle set to 21.1″. The 5-year-old girl is 47.5″ tall and has the saddle set to its max of 23″.

Sizing comparison of 4 and 5 year olds on Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 16 inch bikes. Both are a good fit.

Coaster Brakes Work Great, Hand Brake Needs Improvement

Coaster brakes (back pedal brakes) are found on almost every 16″ kids’ bike. They are cheap and effective, so unless you’re spending $300+ on a bike, you should expect to have a coaster brake instead of hand brakes. (Coaster brakes in general are problematic for kids, which you can read about here.)

High quality hand brakes – that are easy to pull for little hands and also offer solid stopping power – are significantly more expensive. This is why you will rarely see a hand brake on a small budget bike. And if you do… they are most likely not very effective.

We did extensive testing on the handbrake of the Koda 2 Plus 16. It seems to be much better quality than other budget hand brakes we’ve encountered. However, it really only slows a kid down, rather than stopping them completely.

In our testing, we could only get the bike to stop quickly with the hand brake when our too-big 10 and 12-year-old riders were in the saddle. With stronger hands, they could pull the brake lever harder. Our 4 and 5-year-old riders did not have the hand strength to achieve a full stop with the hand brake.

As a result, you should teach your child to rely primarily on the coaster brake if they want to stop quickly. Additionally, if you can find the NON-Plus Koda 2 16 in stock, it doesn’t have the hand brake and is a bit cheaper.

Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 20 Single Speed

Girl riding Retrospec Koda 2 Plus single speed in the street

MSRP: $179
SEAT HEIGHT: 21.5″ – 27.5″
WEIGHT: 23.7 lb.
BRAKES: Dual hand brakes, no coaster brake
TRAINING WHEELS: No
RECOMMENDED: Yes, very solid quality and design for the price

For neighborhood riders, the Koda 2 Plus is one of the best low-cost bikes we’ve ever tested. In fact, for most riders, we like it better than the more expensive REI Co-Op REV 20 bike.

What We Love About the Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 20, Single Speed

  • Solid quality and durability for the price
  • Dual hand brakes with great stopping power, and NO coaster brake
  • Adjustable handlebars allow for a better fit over a longer period of time for more riders
  • Comes in four fun colorways – boy, girl, and gender neutral colors (some also come with a basket)
  • Comes with a kickstand

What You Should Know Before You Buy

  • Finding a “cheap” 20” kids bike with dual hand brakes and NO coaster brake is almost impossible. The fact that Retrospec offers this at such a low price point is impressive. We did have to adjust the front brake, which may need to be done by a bike shop if you’re not comfortable adjusting it yourself.
  • The Koda 2 20 (NON-Plus) has a coaster brake and only one hand brake. We highly recommend spending the extra $30 to upgrade to the Plus model to get the better braking system.
  • Some 20″ bikes come with gears. This bike is a single speed, which is perfect for casual neighborhood riders at this age. If you think your child is ready for gears, check out the Koda 20 7-speed below.
  • The handlebar of this bike is a little wide for smaller riders. While our stronger and older riders managed it just fine, our more petite riders did have twitchy steering as they got used to it.
  • While the 12″ and 16″ models come with training wheels, the 20″ does not

Good Geometry Makes for a Fun Ride

5 year old girl riding 20" Retrospec Koda 2 kids bike in the bowl of a skatepark

The Koda 20 single speed is sized and designed to make it easy for kids to ride. At this price point, 20″ kids bikes are often awkward and difficult to ride. Many big name budget brands seem to be far more concerned with distracting customers with how cool a bike looks than with creating a positive riding experience.

Retrospec took pains to ensure that their 20″ bike was not only affordable for families, but easily rideable for kids. (And they also look great!)

The riser handlebar allows kids to sit in a comfortable, upright position which is ideal for neighborhood riding. The bar can be rotated towards or away to fine tune the fit as kids grow.

Here you can see how adjusting the handlebars affects the fit for our 4-year-old rider (43.5″ tall), who is riding the Koda 20 with the saddle slammed down to its minimum of 21.5″.

Handlebars Rotate for Short and Tall Riders

Side by side comparison of 4 year old riding the 20" Retrospec Koda bike with the handlebars adjusted high and low for a better fit.

On the left the bars are a bit higher and pushed away from him, which is how we had them set for a taller rider. On the right, we rotated the bars towards him, which also lowered the bars. This was a much more comfortable fit for him.

Sizing

The Koda 2 Plus 20 has a seat height range of 21.5″ – 27.5″. We tested the bike with kids ranging in age from 4 to 8, and height from 43.5″ to 51″. Surprisingly, it was a pretty decent fit for all of them.

On the low end of the sizing, our 43.5″ tall 4-year-old could ride the 20″ Koda with the saddle at its minimum point. Below you can see him on the 20″, as well as on the smaller Koda 16, with its seat set to 21.2″.

16″ Koda vs. 20″ Koda

Side by size comparison of 4 year old on Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 16" and 20" bikes.

As an experienced rider, he could handle the larger 20″ bike, but it was quite a bit of bike for him to manage. The extra wide handlebars contributed to a bit of twitchy steering at first, but if you’re on a budget, you’ll get more room for growth out of the 20″.

If your child is about this size and is timid or a first time rider, the 16″ Koda will provide less room for growth, but will be significantly easier for your child to manage and maneuver.

For kids a bit bigger, the Koda 20 was the best fit for our 47.25″ tall 5-year-old, shown below. It was even still a comfortable fit for our 51″ tall, 8-year-old rider who had the saddle set just below its maximum.

47.25″ Tall and 51″ Tall Riders

Side by side comparison of sizing of Retrospec Koda 20" bike ridden by a 5 year old and an 8 year old.

This bike has a very wide “good fit” range, which makes it an impressive bang for your buck.

Dual Hand Brakes, NO Coaster Brake

We are so pleased that Retrospec is offering a quality, affordable bike with dual hand brakes and NO coaster brake. Amongst other things, because you can’t back pedal with a coaster brake, it makes it difficult to get your pedals set in “ready” position. It’s also harder to keep your balance as you’re coming to a stop. (Click here for an full explanation of why coaster brakes are problematic for beginning riders.)

Not having a coaster brake makes riding easier for kids, especially timid or less coordinated ones. The dual hand brakes on the Koda 20 have hand levers that are easy to pull and offer surprisingly solid stopping for a bike at this price point.

Retrospec Koda 20 7 Speed

Girl doing tricks on the Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 7 speed in blue

MSRP: $189
SEAT HEIGHT: 22.9″ – 29.25″
WEIGHT: 25.3 lb.
BRAKES: Dual hand brakes
TRAINING WHEELS: No
RECOMMENDED: Yes, very solid quality and design for the price

The Koda 20 7-speed is a slightly taller and heavier than the single speed, and is also more aggressive. This model is still available for purchase, but will eventually be replaced by the newer Retrospec Dart 20. You can read our review on that here.

What We Love About the Retrospec Koda 20, 7-speed

  • Great quality and durability for the price
  • Dual hand brakes provide quick stopping power, no coaster brake
  • 7-speed 20″ bikes are very rare, especially affordable bikes
  • Comes with a kickstand

What You Should Know Before You Buy

  • The Koda 20 7-speed has a considerably more aggressive geometry than the single speed. It’s best for confident riders, or new riders who are likely to quickly get adventurous on two wheels.
  • Some 20″ bikes come with gears. This bike has 7 speeds, which makes tackling various elevations a lot easier for confident riders
  • While this model is more aggressive, the tires are still a smoother neighborhood-style tread, which aren’t great for off-roading
  • Unlike the other Koda bikes above, there is not a Plus and non-Plus version of the 7-speed 20″.
  • We had to adjust both the front brake (so it wouldn’t rub against the rim) and the derailleur (for smooth shifting). If you’re handy, you can YouTube how to do this and try to do it at home. If not, call your local bike shop.

Geometry is Pretty Aggressive

Compared to the 20″ single speed, the Koda 20 7-speed is much more aggressive. With a flatter handlebar and a long stem, riders are much more stretched out and leaned forward. Here you can see the same 5-year-old rider on the single speed vs. the 7-speed.

Side by side comparison of 5 year old on Retrospec Koda 20 7 speed and single speed. The 7 speed is much more aggressive.

Whether a rider prefers to be upright or leaned forward depends on the child’s riding ability and level of aggressiveness. That said, the long stem on the Koda 20 7-speed makes it more aggressive than most 20″ kids bikes.

Our dare devil 5-year-old liked riding both bikes and didn’t express a preference between the two. Our confident but less aggressive 8-year-old tester didn’t like being leaned so far forward and preferred the upright single speed.

Sizing

While the single speed Koda 2 Plus 20 has a seat height range of 21.5 – 27.5″, the 7-speed Koda 20 has a taller range of 22.9 – 29.25″. As a result, our smallest test riders for the single speed couldn’t fit on the larger 7-speed.

Our 5-year-old tester (47.25″ tall, 20.5″ inseam) rode the 20 7-speed with the saddle set on the lower end to 23.9″. Our very petite 11-year-old tester (53.5″ tall), rode on the higher end at 27.5″. Here you can see how they both fit.

Side by side comparison of two kids on the Retrospec Koda 20 7 speed showing how the bike fits on shorter and taller kids.

Because the handlebars are so far forward, the bike actually becomes a better fit for kids on the high end who don’t have to stretch so far to reach them.

Tight Knee Bend at High Stroke

Compared to other bikes this size, the Koda 20 7-speed has longer crank arms (the arms that connect to the pedals) and a higher bottom bracket (the point where the crank arms connect to the bike.)

As a result, when the saddle is set lower for a younger or smaller child and the pedal is at its highest point of the stroke, it is quite close to the saddle. This makes the child’s knee bend at the top stroke extremely tight.

This requires more effort to complete a pedal stroke and limits overall efficiency and comfort. We hope to see this changed on future iterations of this bike.

Top Stroke Knee Bend – Koda 7 Speed vs. Single Speed

Side by side comparison of Retrospec Koda 20 7-speed and single speed with child at the top of the pedal stroke. The knee bend of the 7 speed is much tighter.

Retrospec Koda 24 7 Speed

MSRP: $219
SEAT HEIGHT: 29″ – 35″
WEIGHT: 28 lb.
BRAKES: Dual hand brakes, no coaster brake
GEARS: 7 speed with grip shifter (2.42 – 4.84 gain ratio)
RECOMMENDED: Yes, great value and performance for the price

The jump in quality and performance between budget kids bikes and high-end bikes is massive! While high-end kids bikes are amazing little machines, the average child rider doesn’t necessarily need all the bells and whistles, just a quality bike that won’t fall apart!

The Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 24 is one of the very few bikes out there that successfully mixes the best of the high and low end of kids bikes.

What We Love About Koda 2 Plus 24

  • With a 1x drivetrain (with only one derailleur in the rear), the Koda 2 Plus 24 is much easier to shift than other budget bikes
  • Clean and classic styling with no unnecessary shocks or suspension forks that mostly add unnecessary weight and very little functionality
  • Dual hand brakes are responsive and easy for kids to engage
  • Comes with a kickstand already installed!

What You Should Know Before You Buy

  • The long stem creates a more aggressive (leaned in) riding position. While great for more adventurous riders who want to take on jumps or fast turns, riders who prefer to sit more upright on a bike will likely be turned off by its aggressive stance
  • Although the Retrospec has 7 gears, the overall gear range is very small. With a 2.42 – 4.84 gain ratio, the Koda 2 Plus 24 doesn’t have a really high or a really low gear. The gear range, however, is suitable for the average neighborhood rider not tackling any steep hills or powering through long straightaways.
  • The Koda 2 Plus 24 does not have a derailleur hanger or a derailleur cage, which puts the derailleur (and the ability to shift the bike) at risk for easily being damaged. As a result, it is very important to ensure your child always uses the kickstand when getting off the bike and is also extra caution to never lay the bike down with the chain side down towards the ground.

Our testers all found the Retrospec Koda 2 Plus 24 to be a fast and fun bike to ride around the neighborhood. With its aggressive positioning, our testers loved putting the bike to work over small jumps, down grassy hills and while bunny hopping over cracks in the pavement. If your adventure-loving tween is looking for a loyal 2-wheel companion that won’t break the bank, the Koda should absolutely be on your list.

From the parent perspective, we love the Retrospec as it offers many features typically only found on higher-end kids bikes, including a 6″ seat height range, a classic frame design without unnecessary shocks, as well as a simplified 1x gearing system with 7 gears.

The Retrospec, however, is on the heavier side and doesn’t come with a derailleur hanger or cage (so be sure to use the kickstand). But all in all, it’s a great bike for its price range. NOTE: The newer Retrospec Dart 24 does have a derailleur hanger, and a much lower minimum seat height.

Retrospec Koda Plus Bottom Line

The Retrospec Koda and Koda 2 line of kids bikes offer great quality, and a fun and comfy ride for neighborhood riders. While not perfect, Retrospec has gone to great lengths to raise the bar for “cheap kids bikes”. The Koda models are leaps and bounds better than what you’ll find at your local big-box store.

FTC Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this review.  No monetary compensation was provided for this review and Two Wheeling Tots purchased the REI REV bikes to facilitate this review. All opinions and images are that of Two Wheeling Tots LLC.  All content and images are copyrighted and should not be used or replicated in any way. View our Terms of Use.

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