Islabikes celebrated their fourth birthday and the imminent expansion of their highly rated kids’ bike range with a family activity day at their new Shropshire base.
The mass of mini bikers pedalling about all day proved the recent move to the Ludlow area hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of their junior customers or parent purchasers. And the new range they unveiled means more smaller riders than ever can find an Islabike that’s perfect for purpose.
We’ll have a full rundown of the latest bikes here on BikeRadar shortly – including a dramatic change that might startle existing Isla fans – but for now all the details can be found at www.islabikes.co.uk.
The family day also featured stunning trials demos by Ben Savage and Sam Oliver from Savage Skills, and junior skills training from Cycleactive, plus a unicycling clown and particularly good local sausage hot dogs. Islabikes’ new base at Bromfield, just north of Ludlow, proved the perfect base for young riders to try out the new bikes.
Islabikes’ family day featured trials demos by Ben Savage and Sam Oliver from Savage Skills
“The new site was actually quite hard to find because we didn’t want to be on an industrial site with kids trying out bikes while skip lorries were flying about,” said head honcho Isla Rowntree. “Here we can take people on guided rides on almost traffic-free family cycling routes on the Earl of Plymouth estate.
“We’ve got plans for waymarked routes by early summer and plans to open up off-road trails for kids too. Hire bikes will be available shortly too, and with the café and Ludlow Food Centre here already it’s a great little base for bikers. The whole idea of the family day was to launch the site as a ‘destination centre’ for family cycling and it’s great to see so many people here today.”
The whole Islabikes story starts way back when Rowntree began producing custom frames and properly designed rack – not seatpost – mounted trailer bikes for kids. She then raced professionally for Raleigh (she was world masters champion, a three-time national champ and won six overall national trophies at cyclo-cross, as well as winning grass track nationals and picking up medals in national road races, cross-country and even downhill mountain bike championships) before working as a designer for them and then Halfords.
Isla Rowntree knows what makes a good child’s bike after many years making frames
However, in her words: “There was nothing I could endorse with enthusiasm when my friends asked what kids’ bikes they should buy. Bikes were all too heavy and gimmicky. A lot of the problems I have as a small woman cyclist are the same as those with a child’s bike. There’s a need for a small, light frame and smaller brakes to compensate for the lack of power to propel and stop a normal bike.”
As a result, Rowntree restarted Islabikes four years ago in a 900sq ft cowshed and the business has grown steadily thanks to rave reviews and a keen, expanding customer base. She has deliberately kept the whole business totally under her control, from conception to customer. “We design the bikes here and work directly with the factory to give the perfect shortened chain of communication and reaction,” she said.
“We have eight workshop cubes, each identically equipped with all the tools needed for our mechanics to unbox, detail check and final build every bike we send out. There’s even a full frame jig for checking bikes and building prototypes. Having the sales office upstairs allows direct communication with the people building the bikes as orders literally come down on a string. It also lets customers talk to experts who can make sure they get exactly the bikes they need.
“We don’t have bikes in any shops apart from The Hub in Glentress who have them on their hire fleet and in their Saturday club. That means we can make rolling changes as soon as we find a way to improve, and it means every Islabike arrives exactly how we want it to.”
Because Islabikes sell their bikes direct they can make rolling changes
Rowntree is passionate about producing the best bikes possible in the first place, too. Every aspect from tube dimensions and thicknesses to geometry is designed individually for each bike and each size. That means serious investment in custom built components such as the tiny brake levers used on the Rothan and smaller Beinn bikes, and miniature stems too.
“We don’t have model years, just a policy of continuous change,” she said. “I’m ready to design the next bikes as soon as I’ve finished the latest ones. That might sound bad, but as soon as you lose that feeling of permanent dissatisfaction you lose your creativity and drive to improve.”
Rowntree’s resolve to do stuff right certainly seems to be proving the right recipe in a market flooded with overcomplicated but underperforming competition. “We don’t fit anything such as suspension or extra gears that undermine rather than improve performance,” she said.
“The Olympics and the Go-Ride clubs set up by British Cycling have been massively popular and loads more kids are getting into their riding. However, our customers aren’t just enthusiast cyclists any more, like they were when we started; a lot of them are people who are used to buying nice things and want nice bikes for their kids.”
There was plenty for kids’ to do at Islabikes’ new HQ near Ludlow, Shropshire