Budget Pick

Schwinn SmartStart Series

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Lightweight bikes built with lower grade parts to keep the price down, the SmartStart bikes are easy to ride and balance.

RATING: 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.

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$129.99 $90.84

Geared Bike

No

Rating

Recommended

Weight

20.6 lb.

Seat Height

20.5" – 24.5"

Frame Material

Steel

Tire Size

16"

Brake Type

Coaster w/ Hand Brake(s)

Suspension

None

Gain Ratio

3.7

Handlebar Height

Medium

Wheelbase

711 mm

Bottom Bracket Height

8"

Available Colors

Purple, Yellow

Pros & Cons

PROS:
  • Lightweight for the price
  • Good upright geometry for beginners
  • Long wheelbase provides more room to pedal
CONS:
  • Finicky handbrake

Full 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.

Performance

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.

5-year-old boy riding the Schwinn SmartStart Cosmo 16" kid's bike

Geometry and Overall Construction

To build a bike easier for kids to ride, Schwinn tackled three major problems of kids’ bikes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Collage showing difference in legroom for several 16" kids' bikes. The WOOM 3 has lots of room for kids' knees. The Schwinn SmartStart also has ample room for knees. RoyalBaby Classic has minimal room for knees, while Next Rocket has no room for kids' knees.

Brakes

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.

Size

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.

Comparison

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

Availability

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 WalmartThe 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.

Bottom Line

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.

FTC Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this review.  No monetary compensation was provided for this review.  The product reviewed was purchased by Two Wheeling Tots and not supplied by the manufacturer. 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.

Disclosure: The majority of links provided are affiliate links we receive a small commission on sales made through them (including Amazon).
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