When champion off-road racer Isla Rowntree set up the Islabikes brand, she was aiming to create the best kids’ bikes on the market. In her spare time she’s custom-built some superb adults bikes for herself and a few friends.
The Beinn 29 is her ﬁrst off-the-peg adult offering, and it’s a great choice for any off-road beginner. With its parts upgrade options, adjustability and adaptability, there are very few riders it wouldn’t suit. The ride feel is as good as 29ers we’ve tested at twice the price and it’s lighter than all of them.
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Ride & handling: one of the most adaptable 29ers we’ve tested
The Beinn 29 feels a bit like a lightweight old-school hybrid when you ﬁrst set off; that’s old-school as in before most mainstream manufacturers started feeling duty-bound to ﬁt low-budget suspension to hybrids. But there’s a lot going on here beyond ﬁrst superﬁcial impressions. In every other sense the Beinn 29 is anything but old-school.
The fact that it’s way lighter than any other hybrid or mountain bike we’ve tested at this price makes it a pleasure to ride both on and off road, and when you do venture off road the handling is superb. It’s relaxed enough to feel at ease on twisting trails but light and lively enough to breeze up the climbs.
We upgraded our test bike with Continental’s grippy but fast-rolling 2in Mountain King tyres, and they’re enough to take the edges off rough terrain, but there’s room for bigger treads if you want to tackle heavier duty stuff. 29in wheels roll smoother than 26ers so the lack of suspension is only an issue if you’re hitting a series of bumps hard and fast, and for that sort of riding you should be looking at bikes that cost twice as much as this.
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Frame & equipment: superb complete bike package
There’s a 26in-wheeled Beinn in the Islabikes range too, for £50 less, sized to suit average riders aged between 11 and 13. But the 29er has extra bonuses as well as bigger wheels and 16, 18 and 20in frame sizes. Adaptability is to the fore, with adjustable rear dropouts allowing the frame to be used for a hub gear/single gear without chain tensioning problems.
There’s masses of ride position adjustability at the stem/head tube and you can choose whether you want mountain bike or hybrid-style tyres. There are bosses for disc brakes, eyelets for a rack and mudguards, water bottles and low-rider rack eyelets on the fork. The latter is long enough to upgrade to a short suspension fork if you feel the need. Bar widths and crank length vary between the three sizes on offer.
As if all that adaptability isn’t enough, a complete (18in) bike weighs just over 11kg (25lb), around 2kg (4-5lb) less than most £400 bikes. That weight saving is partly due to the light aluminium frame and rigid chromoly steel fork but, as with many of Isla’s kids’ bikes, the Beinn boasts a Truvativ single-ring crankset too.
This saves the weight of two rings, a shifter and a front gear mech, while still offering enough gears for most scenarios, although the biggest (32-tooth) sprocket is hard work for beginners on steep climbs. You could upgrade to SRAM’s new X5 10-speed groupset, which comes with a 36-tooth biggest cassette sprocket.
The wheels are light and well built: you’ll need different hubs if you upgrade to disc brakes but rim brakes are ﬁne for most purposes. The bar, stem, saddle and seatpost are all quality Islabikes branded offerings. Not everyone likes Gripshift shifters but they’re very light in action and easy to understand for beginners. It’s a pity SRAM don’t do a 34t or 36t cassette sprocket for eight-speed, That and disc-ready hubs would make the Beinn 29 perfect, but for £400 we’re certainly not moaning.
Islabikes beinn 29: Jonathan Gawler
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.