The Islabikes range was already streets ahead of other kids’ bike collections in terms of detailed design, and their latest round of lighter frames and component updates should put them in a different class when it comes to encouraging the next generation to get into cycling.
“Our bikes were the lightest in the marketplace for their wheel size by a long way, but many of the parts were still ‘standard’ and strong enough for heavy adult use,” Isla Rowntree, who has many cyclocross titles to her name and is founder and designer at Islabikes, told BikeRadar. “I have set about designing parts that were plenty strong enough for the children they are intended for but not ‘over engineered’, with the aim of saving more weight.”
Isla pointed out that she often sees comments on forums where parents compare spec sheets between Islabikes bikes and those from other brands. “They see things like ‘aluminium rims’, ‘aluminium stem’ and ‘short reach brake levers’ and draw the conclusion that the bikes are very similar. They are not.”
Islabikes try to ensure that all of their products can cover the widest possible size range without fit being compromised, while investing in time-resistant features that enables the bikes to be sold on or passed down between siblings as a child grows.
“Our bikes are obviously more expensive than supermarket options, as a result, but because you can sell them on rather than just skipping them because they’re rusted and seized, they work out much better value in the long term.”
Rothan balance bike (ages 2-4 years)
There’s not much weight to save on the Rothan, but a stronger, lighter saddle with integrated long or short aluminium seatpost, plus a new Islabikes rim profile and fewer spokes, helps drop 300g and get it under 3.6kg (7.9lb). The reduced spoke count lets you get a track pump on easily – no solid rubber tyres here – and all the bolts are stainless steel, to stop rusting.
Isla is keen to point out that the original Rothan design advantages are all still there. “The bike still features our very narrow profile hubs, small-diameter handlebars and grips and exclusive micro brake levers. These parts pre-exist the latest round of updates but are crucial differences between our balance bikes and other brands’.
“The narrow diameter hubs stop kids catching their legs on the wheel nuts while scooting. And the small-diameter handlebars and grips allow their tiny hands to get a better hold and move them closer to the tiny brake levers. The latter are genuinely usable by a two-year-old. Many balance bikes have a brake fitted but not many children can operate them.”
The Rothan retails for £129.99.
Cnoc first bike (ages 3-6 years)
The pedal-equipped Cnoc range gets a dramatic 20 percent weight saving in the new range, showing the level of detail Isla deals in.
“The wheels are all new,” she explained. “New Islabikes rims from our own mould are much lighter and laced up with fewer, lighter spokes. Our adult staff team rode a Cnoc 16 at the 24-hour Mountain Mayhem this year, and the wheels were perfect afterwards – we figured they could lose a few spokes and still perform admirably for a four-year-old. Hollow hub axles with Allen key wheel bolts are weight-saving again, and they look gorgeous!”
The alloy frame also gets a lighter chromoly steel fork. The alloy 25T, three-arm chainset is also totally new. “These are much lighter but the biggest gain is ergonomic,” Isla said. “A wide Q factor has a much bigger negative effect on a very short-legged child than an adult, as their legs have to go out at a large angle. We observed this on previous models and designed a crank to reduce this.
“The other benefit is that the bottom bracket height can be reduced, making it easier for a novice cyclist to get their feet down without compromising the lean angle. The cartridge bottom bracket gives better sealing, too.”
The Cnoc 16 is aimed as a first bike for children aged four and up
Your three-year-old’s first pedal strokes will also be on custom platforms: “We observed that very young children would often put their foot on the edge of the pedal and not the pedalling surface. The new pedals are designed to automatically roll under the foot into the correct position. They are also much thinner, which means we can again reduce the bottom bracket height slightly without compromising the lean angle.”
Ask Isla about the new Islabikes saddle and you get an equally thorough development story: “We observed that even though we fitted proprietary kids’ saddles they were very wide, and because the gap between kids’ legs is very narrow they only sat on the front portion of the saddle, leaving a good 40mm sticking out back unused. So I designed a saddle that will fit a tiny cyclist properly. We’ve used a lighter seatpost too.”
Both the Cnoc 14 and Cnoc 16 cost £199.99.
Beinn do-it-all flat bar bikes (ages 5-15 years)
The Beinn range has lost between 11 and 14 percent weight. Again, a lot of this is thanks to new custom rims and reduced numbers of lighter gauge spokes. A 32T version of the new, narrow-stance Islabikes chainset is used in five different lengths for each bike size, the company sticking with double chain guarded single-ring simplicity rather than double-changer confusion. The platform pedals and saddle are a slightly larger version of the ones on the Cnoc bikes, too.
Both 20in-wheeled (£299.99) and 24in-wheeled (£349.99) bikes also get a custom designed stem. “The previous stem was really quite a heavy OEM item. We fit 25.4mm handlebars and there weren’t lightweight, reasonably priced items in the short length we required, so I designed a new stem. We have two sizes – a 1in, 50mm version for the Beinn 20 and a 1 1/8in, 60mm version for the bigger bikes. They are seriously light and very cute.”
The 20 sits at the bottom end of the Beinn age range
The rest of the cockpit has been totally reworked. “Fat grips are a major factor in making brake levers hard to reach,” Isla said. “When using cable operated brakes with tiny hands, you’re right at the limits of what’s possible to achieve light action braking that’s within reach.
“It’s not enough to just wind in the reach adjusters on an adult lever. We’ve designed our own super slim grips because diameter is such an important factor in getting the child’s hand as close to the brake lever as possible. We also have our own brake levers that are much smaller than anything else available.”
“The flat bars are custom items, too. There’s not enough space to get two bends onto a kids’ riser bar and made them the correct width while accommodating the levers and shifters. But the wrist angle of a riser bar is preferred by many riders. We have our own handlebars that have a narrow bulge, so we can make them the correct width for tiny riders but have a slightly bigger bend, so having the same wrist angle as a riser. The best of both worlds!”
The junior Beinns also get a lighter seatpost and stainless steel kit, while the adult-sized Beinn 29 (£449.99) has been upgraded to a lower range 10-speed transmission and disc brake-ready wheels, following our feedback. The Beinn 26 retails for £349.99.
The Beinns will turn their hand to anything, with custom racks and mudguards available.
Creig mountain bikes (ages 8+ years)
The Creig bikes are dedicated off-roaders, and the latest versions get an extended fit range and a complete component makeover.
A new 24in-wheeled Creig 24 (£649.99) means riders from eight and up can get a proper mountain bike to polish their singletrack skills on. The Creig 26 (£699.99) now has a wide range 11-36T cassette, matched with a single ring and chainguide.
The Creig 24 allows children aged eight and up to enter the hardtail MTB market
“Changing from 3x8 to 1x10 with the extremely wide 11-36 cassette saves lots of weight while giving a seriously low bottom gear and plenty at the top,” Isla said. “Some parents seem concerned that their little one won’t have a high enough top gear for the downhills, but I ride with these ratios and even occasionally still race (at elite level) – you never run out of gears on proper off-road trails. Sure, if you pedal flat-out on a steep, straight firetrack you might, but I prefer to lose my height on a twisty piece of singletrack.”
Avid Elixir 3 hydraulic disc brakes should keep youthful exuberance under control, while chainstay mounts allow a switch to lighter, more forgiving seatstays. The Creig also gets the new Islabikes wheelset, chainset, pedals, cockpit, saddle and stem suite, to save weight and improve fit at every contact point.
Luath road/cyclocross/touring bikes (ages 8-16 years)
At the other end of the spectrum, the Luath range gets lighter rims built up with fewer spokes and lightweight chainguards, with 34-36 chainrings on the Luath 700 (£499.99). The new Islabikes stem saves a few grams and ‘tacky’ bar tape should keep small hands secure on the drops – perfect for the increasingly rich junior cyclocross scene.
RRP for the Luath 24 and 26 (pictured above) is £399.99.
All bikes are fully hand-checked at Islabikes’ Ludlow headquarters before being sent out, so should be ready to go as soon as they’re unwrapped. For more details, see the Islabikes website.