If you can afford the difference, and you get your timings right so that your child gets maximum use out of it, a premium bike such as this one (£369 at the time of writing) is worth the investment. The transition from balance bike to pedal bike has gone really smoothly, and a lot of that is down to the quality of the Hero Hornit 16. My five-year-old loved it at first sight, and I’ve loved watching her quickly get to grips with the challenge – and possibilities – of her first proper bike.
Belt drive means no oil or sharp edges
Gender-neutral colour scheme
Brakes a little grabby
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When my daughter was presented with a Hornit Hero 16” pedal bike, it’s fair to say that her eyes lit up. Whether you’re 5 or 75, everyone loves New Bike Day. But the question on my mind was whether it would help her to transition her balance bike skills to proper bike riding – and whether a more premium kid's bike could justify its cost against the more mainstream versions that her older sister grew up with.
The Hero is the first pedal bike from Hornit, which began making cycling accessories (the world’s loudest horn, no less) before moving into balance bikes. Initially available in 14” (age 2.5 - 4.5) and 16” (3.5 - 6), it is competing head-on with well-known specialists such as Islabikes and Frog. The 16” version tested here has a starting price of £369, against the equivalent Islabikes Cnoc 16 (£399.99) and Frog 44 (£350).
Both of my daughters started out with scooters to learn to kick, glide and balance, and then moved to a Puky balance bike that is still standing up fairly well (all things considered). From there my eldest moved to a B’Twin 500 as her first “proper bike” and is now nearly grown out of a Ridgeback Melody.
The difference between the B’Twin 500 and the Hornit Hero is extraordinary, with the weight being the most obvious point of comparison – 8.7kg for the former versus 5.7kg for the Hornit – but there’s also the wallet-lightening difference of £260 in the price.
If your child is yet to make the switch to pedals, then be aware that weight really does make a huge, huge difference. Those growing little muscles will struggle to turn the cranks on inclines that are barely perceptible to an adult, and my eldest was also disquieted by the sense of the bike running away underneath her on downhills too. Throw in a little claggy mud on the trail and she was having trouble getting moving at all – and when the riding starts to feel like hard work, interest very quickly wanes.
The Hornit Hero’s weight saving comes largely from the narrow aluminium tubing, which looked and felt just like a “proper” bike straight from the box. The review model was a smooth powder blue, which was popular with my daughter but more so with me, as it’s a great example of gender-neutral colour scheme compared to the shocking pink of so many girls’ bikes (like her sister’s, unfortunately).
Assembling the bike out of the box seemed simple enough, although a lack of concentration on my part meant that I messed up the front brake alignment on the first attempt. More haste, less speed, as per usual…
The obvious innovation in the Hornit is the belt drive system, which means a notched piece of carbon replaces the traditional chain. In a few months’ use I can’t comment on its longevity, but the benefits are clear; no oily mess, no maintenance and – best of all – no sharp edges. Falling off a bike is something that my kids could shrug off without too much drama, but catching skin on the chainring was like the end of the world. Anything that makes riding difficult or painful, whether it’s an overweight bike or the sharp edges of a drivetrain, has potential to take the fun out of learning, and that’s a negative for everyone involved, believe me.
On this basis, there wasn’t much to go wrong on the ride itself, and my daughter took to it really quickly. The upright position suited her nicely, she could keep the pedals moving up small hills, and the belt drive meant that crashes tended to be fairly harmless slow motion topples that she shrugged off easily.
Getting moving was simple, then, but stopping did present some complications. On the B’Twin and Ridgeback we already own, the brakes never felt capable enough. Possibly it’s the difficulty of stopping those heavier bikes, but it always seemed a case of ‘squeeze and……… wait’ as speed was very gradually shaved off. The Hornit goes the other way, and my daughter really struggled to do anything other than reach an extremely abrupt halt at the slightest touch.
Small hands don’t have much reach, so gradually modulating brakes is probably always going to be a challenge. Maybe my initial problems setting up the brakes left the clearance smaller than it should have been. Whatever the cause, I’m grateful that she can stop when she needs to, but it’s usually with a skid and it’s giving her a little bit of nerves about using the brakes at all. It’s my only criticism of the bike during our test period.
The Hornit comes with a ‘lifetime warranty’, which is a nice show of faith, although as it only applies to the original owner it’s likely to be a short lifetime. Sizing is always something to watch out for in kids’ bikes, and we found the Hornit measured up just as promised – my daughter’s inside leg of 50cm put her just inside the stated limit of 50.5cm and sure enough it was a perfect fit out of the box but with very little room for growth. For reference, she is an above average height for a 5.5 year old, but with the motley assortment of heights I see when I drop her at school in the morning, inside leg is the only reliable measurement.
She has certainly enjoyed riding the Hornit Hero 16, and the light weight in particular definitely helped her to get more confident, faster. If I’d bought this bike when it would have fitted my eldest daughter, then between them they would have got four or five years’ use out of it, and I imagine plenty of Ebay resale value at the end of that period.
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