Schwinn’s SmartStart 16 is an affordable, well-designed, confidence-building pedal bikes for young kids learning how to master a pedal bike. This review is for the older version of the Schwinn SmartStart 16 inch bike. Our updated reviews of the SmartStart Series are separated into their Elm SmartStart line for girls and the Koen SmartStart line for boys (click to go to review).
Schwinn SmartStart 16 Review
RATING: Highly Recommended
BEST FOR: Beginning riders who want a stable, easy-to-ride bike, but who are on a limited budget.
SEAT HEIGHT: 20.5″ – 24.5″
WEIGHT: 20.6 lb.
BRAKES: Coaster with Front Hand Brake
- Lightweight for the price
- Good upright geometry for beginners
- Long wheelbase provides more room to pedal
- Finicky handbrake
Schwinn SmartStart 16 Review
The Schwinn SmartStart Series is an affordable line of bikes that are designed to create a more comfortable, stable, easy-to-pedal bike for young riders. Lighter and more narrow than most big-box stores bikes, SmartStart bikes essentially provide the child-specific geometry offered in high-end brands, but in a lower-grade quality build with a modest price point. SmartStart bikes are available in 12″ to 20″ size bikes. This review concentrates on the 16″ size, but the overall features of the bikes are consistent throughout all sizes.
Even though our 5 and 6-year-old testers are accustomed to testing the most expensive bikes on the market, they both enjoyed riding the Schwinn SmartStart. Easy to ride and easy to get started, it was a simple, yet fun bike to ride around the neighborhood. While certainly not the fastest or the most nimble bike they’ve tested, from their first pedal strokes, it was very clear that this was the best budget bike (under $150) we’ve had them test out.
Both testers hopped on the bikes and easily pedaled away without any challenges or complaints. With other bikes, such as the NEXT line from Walmart or the RoyalBaby Classic, poorly designed geometry and heavy frames cause kids to struggle getting started on the bike and subsequently, to get and remain balanced.
Geometry and Overall Construction
To build a bike easier for kids to ride, Schwinn tackled three major problems of kids’ bikes:
- Reduced the weight of the bike: The Schwinn SmartStart Cosmo used in our testing weighed 20.5 lbs. While certainly a lot heavier than the woom 3 (a high-end bike that weighs 13 lbs.), it is significantly lighter than the similarly priced 24 lb. RoyalBaby Classic. When possible, it is best to purchase a bike no greater than 30% of your child’s weight.
- Placed the pedals closer together: The distance between the pedals is often too wide for kids, which forces them to splay their legs in order to pedal, thereby creating an uncomfortable and less efficient pedal stroke. The distance between the two pedals (known as the q-factor) on the Cosmo is 6.5″, and 7″ on the Next Rocket (Flare). With a narrower q-factor, every pedal stroke on the Cosmo will be more efficient than on the Next bike.
- Lengthened the wheelbase: Most budget bikes are very short lengthwise and provide little room for a child’s knees when pedaling. When pedaling, a child’s knees shouldn’t come close to hitting the handlebars, even while turning. As demonstrated in the pictures below, bikes with a longer wheelbase spread a child out and provide more room for them to ride comfortably.
Most bikes under $150 don’t have a hand brake, so with a front hand brake as well as a coaster brake, the SmartStart Series is a step up. However, while the coaster brake worked flawlessly, the front hand brake was very finicky and hard to adjust. Upon first assembling the bike, the front hand brake didn’t work at all as the brake pads wouldn’t engage with the tire rim when the brake was activated. After tweaking the brake for about 30 minutes, we were able to get the brake functioning, but it was still not sufficient. As a result, don’t allow the hand brake to be a deciding factor when purchasing a SmartStart bike as it can’t be relied on to stop the bike.
The Schwinn SmartStart Boy Series – the Cosmo and Scorch – have a seat height range of 20.5″ to 24.5″. The girls’ bikes – the Twilight and the Jasmine – are likely to have very similar seat heights, but we were unable to confirm their seat heights. The Cosmo we tested was a great fit for our tester in size 5 clothes with a 19″ inseam. Our 6-year-old tester in size 6 clothes and a 21″ inseam was also easily able to ride the bike, but it offered little room for growth. If being used with the included training wheels, a child in 4T pants with at least an 18″ inseam could ride the 16″ SmartStart Series bikes.
The SmartStart is about as good as it gets for its price range. Most budget bikes (under $150) are often either very heavy or have a very short wheelbase that cramps the rider, but not the Schwinn SmartStart Series. Lightweight, with plenty of room to pedal, the SmartStart Series is well worth the small jump in price from many big-box store bikes.
Schwinn SmartStart 16″ Comparison Bikes
|Feature||woom 3||Schwinn SmartStart||RoyalBaby Classic||Next Rocket (Flare)|
|Weight||12.3 lb.||20.6 lb.||24.5 lb.||20 lb.|
|Brakes||No coaster, dual hand||Coaster, front hand brake||Coaster, front hand brake||Coaster only|
|Space for Knee Extension|
|Easy to Start Pedaling|
|Responsive Hand Brakes|
|Durable, high-end components|
Different retailers carry different models of the SmartStart series, but they only differ by name and color scheme, and sometimes a few accessories. The Schwinn SmartStart boys’ line includes the Scorch and the Cosmo on Amazon. The girls’ line includes the Jasmine on Amazon and the Twilight at Walmart. The SmartStart Series in available in 12″, 16″, 18″, and 20″ tire bikes, but at the time of this review, we’ve only tested out the 16″ size.
A great deal for the price, the Schwinn SmartStart Series is ideal for any parent looking for a comfortable, confidence-building pedal bike that won’t break the bank. While heavier, not as fine-tuned, or as well-built as high-end brands, it provides a similar geometry and child-friendly features at a fraction of the price.
For great 16″ options in fun colors for girls, check out our 5 Best 16″ Girls’ Bikes list.