Islabikes Pro Series: superbikes for children
25 May 2016
Just four years ago Islabikes stood alone as the only manufacturer of quality, lightweight bikes for children. Since then the market has opened up enormously: children’s cycling has seen unstoppable growth, and other brands have arrived which can genuinely compete for parents’ cash on equal terms.
Frog Bikes, HOY Bikes and Juniorworx have led the charge, with Early Rider offering alternatives to Islabikes for younger children. Most of the mainstream cycling manufacturers still struggle to address children’s cycling well.
Islabikes’ product development may have appeared fairly quiet over the last couple of years but the Ludlow firm hasn’t been resting on its laurels – it has been developing the Pro Series which launches today.
These superbikes for children represent a huge extension of the Islabikes range, attempting to create a completely new market for children’s bikes.
What is Pro Series?
So what is Pro Series and why is it interesting to those of us who love youth cycling? These are the key facts:-
- It’s a range of superlight, high-specification, performance-focused bikes that sits above the existing Islabikes range. It’s aimed squarely at youth racing.
- You’ll find lots of custom-made components designed for child-specific ergonomics. There’s a lot of carbon and even some titanium on the spec sheet.
- There’s top specification such as all-carbon forks, tubeless-ready wheels, hydraulic disc brakes, Shimano Ultegra gears, single-ring transmissions, narrow-wide chainrings.
- These aren’t cheap bikes. You’re looking at up to three times the price of Islabikes equivalent standard models. More on that below.
Isla Rowntree has been the central figure at Islabikes since founding the business ten years ago. Recently, though, Islabikes has recruited key people from the cycle industry to run & develop the business, allowing Isla herself to spend more time on design work. Developing the Pro Series must have been a dream job: creating children’s bikes without limits.
About the new models
Cnoc 16 Pro – £800
The standard £260 Cnoc 16 is a mainstay of the Islabikes range, aimed at typically-sized four-year-olds upwards. The new Pro version has a tremendous specification with all-carbon forks, custom-made tyres, pedals with titanium axles, carbon seatpost, and a bottom bracket with ti axle & carbon shell. It almost floats away at 4.8kg including pedals…
Beinn 20 Pro – £1000
Beinn hybrids are amongst our favourite kids’ bikes because they are so versatile. We have long recommended them as being much better for mountain biking than actual children’s MTBs, because they are so lightweight & agile in comparison.
Islabikes is actively promoting this now with the launch of the Beinn 20 Pro: “proper mountain bike for smaller riders”. Intended for highly skilled five-year-olds upwards, this is one of the most interesting Pro Series bikes because Islabikes has needed to apply all of its experience & knowledge of children’s bike design. For example, the only cassettes available with a super-wide range of ratios needed for challenging off-road terrain are 10 speed. However, a bike the size of the Beinn 20 Pro needs such short chainstays that this would require extreme chain angles when using the top and bottom sprockets. So Islabikes has converted the 10 speed cassettes to 9 speed and made them narrower as a result, therefore making the chain angles acceptable. Clever.
Just like with the Cnoc 16 Pro, there’s an all-carbon fork, carbon seatpost, ti and carbon bottom bracket. There are Avid hydraulic disc brakes, Stans tubeless ready rims with Islabikes’ own custom supple tyres, SRAM gears, custom crankset with narrow Q-factor suitable for small children, and more. All this means that the Beinn 20 Pro costs nearly three times as much as the standard £350 Beinn 20 Small. It loses 1.5kg against the standard bike, weighing in at just 6.5kg.
Creig MTB Pro 24 and 26 – £1500
The standard £750 Creig has always been a specialist high-end bike made in relatively small numbers. It has been so sought-after that second-hand examples have sometimes sold for the same price as new ones. The Pro Series versions push even higher.
There’s a higher performance fork, tubeless ready Stans rims with Schwalbe Rocket Ron tyres, custom cranks and Islabikes narrow-wide single chainring, and lots of other tweaks to the child-oriented specification. The bikes weigh around 9kg excluding pedals.
Luath 24 / 26 / 700 Pro – £1600
The standard Luaths are designed with great versatility in mind. As well as being extremely popular for cyclocross and road circuit racing, they are used a lot for leisure riding, touring, and school commuting too. The Pro Series Luaths are aimed clearly at racing though – you won’t find mudguard eyes on the forks here, for example.
The new bikes cost three times as much as the standard Luaths, but the Pro Series takes a big evolutionary step forward. The geometry looks similar, but the aluminium frame’s tubes are shaped quite differently and there’s an all-carbon fork. One of the biggest changes is the arrival of disc brakes to replace the standard bike’s Tektro cantilevers. The new brakes are Avid BB7 and we’re not great fans of cable-operated, mechanical disc brakes, even ones as good as the BB7s. We think it’s one of the only few specification compromises on any of the Pro Series bikes, and that hydraulic road/CX disc brakes would be much better on such a top-end bike. However, Islabikes tells us that mechanical brakes were selected because the levers are better suited for smaller riders and offer greater reach adjustment than their hydraulic counterparts. Maybe engineering a child-optimised hydraulic brake for dropped handlebars will be the next challenge for the Islabikes experts…
There are lots of custom components within the specification to make the Pro Series Luaths as ergonomic as possible. Performance–related components include custom CX tyres (which appear quite similar to the highly regarded Challenge Limus tyres), tubeless ready wheels, carbon seatpost, ti and carbon bottom bracket, and Ultegra 11 speed gears.
We were very pleased to see that the Luath 700 Pro is specified with a single chainring matched with a wide-ratio cassette. This offers advantages of weight saving, simplicity, and less mud-clogging.
We’d also like to see the additional top-mounted brake levers deleted from the Luath 24 Pro and 26 Pro – and save another hundred grammes or so at the same time! They encourage many smaller children to ride on the tops of the bars with a very narrow grip in all circumstances, and they then tend not to change gear when appropriate because the gear shifters would need a change of hand position. They also encourage parents to put kids on bikes which are too big for them, because the additional brake levers can just about be reached even though the main brakes levers are too far away.
So who will buy them?
We’re expecting some outrage at the prices of the Pro Series: £800 for a four-year-old’s bike, £1000 for a five year old’s!? But Islabikes isn’t ceasing its existing range, and the Pro Series is simply pushing the ceiling of performance, design and specification higher. We’ve talked to Islabikes in the past about whether there’s a market for very high-end kids’ bikes, and we’ve seen many DIY-upgraded Luaths on the racing scene, some of which rival the Pro Series for weight and detailed thinking.
We’ve always been intrigued by the presence of an in-house frame builder at Islabikes, and by the firm’s presence at custom bike exhibitions where they display their one-off creations. But now that makes more sense, as the ability to test and experiment with materials and designs so easily must have been a great help when developing the Pro Series.
Islabikes presumably doesn’t expect to sell Pro Series bikes in their thousands, but each one sold is likely to be more profitable per unit than the standard bikes, especially as the Islabikes direct-sales model means that its margins don’t need to be shared with dealers. And there will undoubtedly be a “halo effect” of offering such bikes: the Pro Series leaps Islabikes well ahead of its rivals and demonstrates its advanced thinking and total approach to designing children’s bikes. Think, perhaps, of the Islabikes Pro Series as the equivalent of Mercedes AMG range which boosts the image & sales of more modest Mercedes cars.
We think you’ll plenty of Pro Series Luaths in Under 12 cyclocross racing, and probably a few in Under 10 and Under 14 races too. You certainly won’t see any in youth circuit racing, though, because disc brakes aren’t allowed.
The Beinn 20 Pro is likely to be seen in Under 8 MTB events, where enlightened parents realise that the bike’s superlight weight and ergonomics make the bikes a lot of fun to race, and a lot faster than traditional heavy junior MTBs with their unnecessary heavy suspension forks and multi-chainring transmissions.
We think the Creig Pro bikes will be seen racing too, but that they are more suited to challenging day rides on very technical trails rather than the relatively simple MTB courses used for Under 8/10/12 youth racing.
The Cnoc 16 Pro is likely to be a rare sighting, we think. It’s a design & technology triumph but we don’t see many being sold.
Resale value could be very interesting. Standard Islabikes have always had unparalleled second-hand value, making overall cost of ownership less expensive than bikes which are much cheaper to buy. The new Pro Series bikes are specialist and likely to be relatively rare. We think they will be very popular on the second-hand market if well cared for and that prices will be kept high, especially for Creigs and Luaths.
And that means that spending what sounds like a crazy amount of money on a children’s bike might actually turn out to be a wise investment for those who can afford the initial purchase…