Those of you who have bought bikes for children likely know the frustration of finding a decent bike for your offspring. Even bikes from the specialty brands are often clunky, heavy, and difficult to ride.
During the Sea Otter Classic 2015 the other week in Monterey, CA, I met Isla Rowntree and some of her USA staff for Isla Bikes. They design and build higher quality bicycles specifically for children.
Isla (prounounced “EYE-lah”) describes herself as a keen cyclist. For this one-time British national champion, cycling is a means of transportation for herself and her family.
Her attention to detail on children bikes borders on the obsessive, and I love it. I wasn’t able to capture everything she told me about her bikes, but here’s a sampling:
- Custom designed and manufactured brake levers to fit smaller hands.
- Cables and housing minimized to reduce friction, which results in easier shifting and braking.
- Return springs in brakes replaced with lighter springs for easier braking.
- Handlebars with smaller diameters for weight reduction smaller hands.
- Smaller diameter pedal axles for weight reduction, because child bike pedals don’t need to support 250 lbs of weight.
- Better quality alloy frames made with butted tubing and CroMo forks.
- Custom bottom brackets specifically for children.
- Fender and rack mounting points and build options.
There’s more, but I think you get my drift. Isla offers everything from balance bikes for the beginner to junior sized road bikes for the aspiring roadie.
USA purchase is online only through IslaBikes.com. Assembly and shipping happens in Portland, OR. Prices are reasonable for the quality. Carlton Reid, who purchased Isla bikes for his children, tells me the resale value is excellent.
You can see and hear some of Isla’s passion about these bikes in this video from her company.
Very, very sweet 🙂
If I had kids, I would be buying Islabikes in a New York minute. As it is, I’ll be recommending them to my friends with kids. I’ve been following the company for some time and it’s great to know that they have a US distributor.
At 25 and 32 teeth, the chainrings seem a bit small, especially for the smaller wheel bikes. Still, the three piece crank beats the one piece steel things on most other bikes.
I also like the idea of smaller diameter handlebars, but I doubt the shifters are also smaller- that would require a bit of engineering to redesign them for an easy twist while pulling the correct amount of cable per click. It does look like the brake levers are designed so there’s less chance of pinching fingers between the gripshift and the brake lever.
At some point, all these custom parts are going to make replacement/upgrade of parts too difficult for the nominal advantage. Smaller pedal spindles for lighter weight? How many grams will that really save?
At around twice the price of comparably sized kid’s bikes, I’d have to give it a bit of consideration first. As with adult bikes, it would be cheaper when compared to building a custom bike from components, but stock LBS bikes are still pretty decent. These bikes might have passed the point of diminishing returns.
A few months ago I purchased three of their Beinn bikes for my kids (ages 7-9). My kids love those bikes as they fit perfectly, they’re light, and they handle well. As a bike geek myself, I appreciate the attention to detail and will be coming back for the next round in a few years. These bikes are unique and very much worth it.
I’m not sure of the basis for Martin’s “twice the price” statement:
12″ Hotrock $209 vs 14″ CNOC $309
16″ Hotrock $240 vs. 16″ CNOC $309
20″ 6-speed Hotrock $360 vs. 20″ Beinn $440
24″ Hotrock $420 vs. 24″ Beinn $550
Based on my experience, the Hotrocks are the only LBS bikes that are anywhere in the same league with regard to weight and geometry (if you disregard Cleary bikes, which are now available in many local bike shops). The Electra, Trek, Giant, and Novara bikes are unwieldy bricks by comparison, often with useless and heavy suspensions in the 20″ and 24″ size.
We have a Beinn 20 Small and will probably be buying our daughter a Beinn 24 next. But for the coaster brake, we would have bought our son the CNOC 16 for the lighter weight–it’s about 33% lighter than the 16″ Hotrock, but opted for the Cleary Bikes Hedgehog instead, which is heavier but has no coaster brake.
While the Shimano shifter on the Beinn 20 appears to be a standard SRAM shifter, it is definitely easier for my daughter to operate than the shifters on the Hotrock and Giant bikes that she’s tried, not sure why. . .
With respect to replacement, the only part we’ve had break in the year and half my daughter has owned and abused her bike are the handlebar grips and Islabike was happy to supply us with replacement grips at no cost.
In the 24″ size, you would be hard pressed to find a new bike under 20 lbs at that price point. While the Fuji Ace 24″ can be found for a lower price, it weighs 3lbs more (due in part, I’m sure, to the double chain ring on the front, so I’ll give them credit for that) and the are multiple online complaints about the brake lever reach being inappropriate for small hands (by comparison, the 24″ Islabike Luath road bike has shortened reach brakes on the drops AND junior brakes on the top).
Bottom line, in my limited experience teaching two kids to ride, having the right bike makes a difference, both in when kids learn to ride and how much they enjoy riding.
I purchased one of the 24 in Beinn for my 8 year old daughter. Compared to the other bikes we’ve looked at and used, the IslaBike is a joy. What’s particularly nice, is the rack and fenders. While we haven’t used it in the rain (we are in drought after all), it’s great having a place for her to stash her stuff in a pannier rather than needing a backpack.
Having the right bike makes all the difference, as this gives her a bike which helps to improve her riding abilities and confidence.
I was using a Novara 20″ bike for comparison- $215 after 20% REI discount discount which they seem to offer members almost monthly. Yes, it would be nicer with the threadless headset, no suspension fork, and alloy cranks.
There’s also the Raleigh with threadless headset and rigid fork (but still one-piece steel crank) that’s $80 less than the Hotrock, 2/3 the price of the 20″ Beinn if you can’t find one of last year’s on sale.
I might give Isla more thought if I could spread out the bike over multiple children instead of needing to buy two of the same size bike at the same time.
As my kids get older and diverge in size more, I’ll keep Isla in mind- my rationale is that I’m starting them on cheaper bikes so they’ll appreciate the nicer ones more. And yes, maybe I am just rationalizing.
Oddly enough, REI doesn’t seem to be offering the Novara 6-speed 20″ bikes anymore; not sure if it’s a temporary shortage or they’re being permanently discontinued. In any event, this site has a nice comparison of the Novara Pixie vs. the Beinn 20: http://www.twowheelingtots.com/islabikes-beinn-20-review/
Melissa, thanks for the comparison link.
That eight pound difference in weight is pretty compelling. How many adults would spend many hundreds of dollars to shave 30% of the weight of their own bike? Especially with no loss of durability.
I’m disappointed that the review didn’t appear to be all that balanced. There are cons to the Isla that were not addressed at all. Gear range and ease of adjustment for the stem height being two (I also notice the Novara didn’t have the kickstand that the one I purchased had). And I think that it’s best to get anyone- even kids- away from the need to be able to flatfoot both feet on a bike.
But neither did they mention the difference in size of bikes- the Isla appears to have a much shorter wheelbase, which makes it easier to throw in the back of a car/van/SUV.
Still, eight pounds…
Yeah, I also noticed that REI stopped listing the Novara 20″ geared bikes on the website. Even worse, the 20% members’ discount excludes all bikes now vs. earlier when it included Novara and Diamond Back (there has to be a problem with the specifications for the DB 20″ geared bike. The boy’s version is listed as 36 pounds). But the most recent sale does bring the bikes to at least 15% off for everyone.
Thanks for posting great review Richard! These bicycles are looking stylish and I wish there should be more color options available for kids.