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Group test – junior road/cyclocross bikes (part 2)

19 December 2013

Yesterday we published the first part of our group test of four top junior road/cyclocross bikes: the Scatto J-Cross 28Formeula 700, Juniorworx JA700 and Islabikes Luath 700S. Read on for the final part of our review.

8. Brakes

Tektro dominates the market for inexpensive, lightweight cantilever brakes for bikes in this price range, and all four bikes use them. There’s some variation of the model used and the way that the brakes are cabled up, but essentially there’s little functional difference between the brakes of these bikes.

Many cyclocross bikes are supplied with “auxiliary” brake levers mounted on the central section of handlebars. We’re not fans of these additional levers – they’re intended to allow the rider to brake while hanging well off the back of the bike on steep descents, as you would if riding a mountain bike. However, they are mounted so close together that there isn’t enough steering control to do that anyway. They also add complexity, crowd the handlebars, make the cable routing awkward, and add a little weight. Worst of all, though, young riders can develop a habit of relying on them at all times instead of using the main brake levers from the hoods or the drops.

Scatto J-Cross 28

The Scatto is fitted with Tektro Colorado brakes, which have a more traditional, wider design than lower-profile cantilevers like Tektro’s Oryx. They are easily balanced and adjusted, give powerful braking, and don’t clog with mud easily. The Scatto is fitted with auxiliary brake levers.

Formeula 700

Tektro Oryx cantilever brakes are fitted. These are very popular and have earned a good reputation for adjustment, reliability and performance. The Formeula does not have auxiliary brake levers fitted.

Juniorworx JA700

The JA700 also uses Tektro Oryx brakes, but Worx has specified replaceable brake pad cartridges instead of the more usual one-piece brake blocks with integrated allen-bolt fixings. There are no auxiliary brake levers fitted.

The other three bikes use a headset-mounted brake cable hanger, but the Juniorworx has a cable hanger bolted to the brake bolt hole drilled at the top of the forks. That’s a better solution as it avoids an extreme bend in the front brake cable when the handlebars are set to a low position, and it also means that headset spacers can be removed or swapped around without affecting the front brake’s cable adjustment.

Islabikes Luath 700S

Islabikes uses Tektro brakes across its entire range and the Luath is no exception, mounted with Oryx brakes like the Formeula and the Juniorworx. Isla Rowntree is a champion cyclocross rider herself as well as the company’s chief designer, so she must have reason to believe in the benefits of auxiliary brake levers, because the Luath is fitted with them.

9. Components

Scatto J-Cross 28

Paul Milnes Cycles has configured the Scatto with quality Deda components for the steering. There’s a short, 60mm oversize handlebar stem, 400mm-wide handlebars with junior-oriented geometry, and matching Deda bar tape too. There’s a discreet headset from the Taiwanese Chin Haur brand – that might not be a very familiar name but Chin Haur produces three million headsets per month, and its products are rebranded and used on countless bikes around the world.

There’s a stylish Superleggera seatpin too. The top of the actual post has a number of grooves for its cradle to sit in, and we couldn’t quite set the saddle perfectly horizontal – it was either pointing a tiny fraction upwards or downwards as the cradle settled into one groove or another. This is quite a common design, and the upside is that the saddle is held firmly and won’t move accidentally during use.

There’s a much better choice of lightweight junior saddles available now than there was just a couple of years ago. The Scatto is fitted with a quality Madison saddle that is the right size and shape for the bike.

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Formeula 700

Moore Large, which developed and owns Formeula, is a large distributor which gives it access to many manufacturers and components. It has created a brand called “One23” for the finishing kits that it uses with its Formeula bikes and its senior range of Forme bikes.

The One23 seatpin, 400mm-wide handlebars and suitably short 65mm stem are unremarkable but are sized correctly and do their job well.

The red-anodized aluminium seatpin collar and headset spacers match the bike’s red hubs, quick-release skewers and spoke nipples. The effect of these combined with the matching One23 components is striking, lifting what would otherwise be a fairly ordinary appearance. These things do matter to young riders, and we think it’s one of the reasons that Formeula has sold well this year.

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Juniorworx JA700

Worx has sourced its own handlebars, stem and seatpin. A slightly longer stem (85mm) compensates for the relatively short top-tube. The 385mm-wide bars are well-proportioned for the bike. See our comments about the seatpin’s shape in the earlier “Geometry” section – in summary, a small rider might want to replace the pin with a straight one which allows the saddle to be lowered further.

The stylish Worx-branded saddle matches the bike well, and FSA supplies a quality hidden headset.

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Islabikes Luath 700S

At first sight the Luath’s components don’t look particularly notable, but look more closely and the Islabikes philosophy and attention to detail comes through. We mentioned earlier that Islabikes now designs and manufactures certain components of its own. The own-design stem, for example, uses just a single allen-bolt to attach it to the forks’ steerer tube. That’s because Islabikes has decided that a single bolt is all that’s needed for a small rider on a bike like this, so a few grams are saved. The same approach is taken with the stem’s handlebar clamp too – it uses just two bolts instead of the more usual four and, again, less material is needed, and a few more grams are saved.

In the same spirit of British Cycling’s famous “aggregation of marginal gains” approach, a number of small individual weight savings can add up to a significant overall reduction of the bike’s weight. This is one of the reasons that the current Luath is almost a kilogram lighter than its predecessor.

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10. Performance

All of these bikes are well-designed, have quality components, and weigh a lot less than cheaper run-of-the-mill bikes aimed at young riders. So they all performed impressively on the road and off-road. There are a few subtle differences between them though, reflecting the different approaches taken by their designers and suppliers.

Scatto J-Cross 28

Unsurprisingly the Scatto was a favourite of our smallest testers. Its low weight, small frame size, low standover height and short cranks meant that they were agile and confident riding it. The small frame would make it very difficult to shoulder the bike, but since it’s unlikely that Under 14 riders would be small enough to fit the Scatto that’s not a practical problem.

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Formeula 700

Conversely, our larger testers were happy on the Formeula with its relatively long reach. Testers noticed the extra weight of the bike compared to the others without being tipped off about it. However, the bike is stable & predictable and our riders had confidence in it.

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Juniorworx JA700

On the JA700 our riders always felt they were riding something a little different to the others. This was partly because of the Microshift gear shifting method (which all the riders liked) but probably also because the bike looks so different to the others with its sculpted frame and forks, matt finish and attractive graphics.

All of our testers enjoyed riding the JA700 and felt fast on it. However, they independently reported the relatively large amount of toe-overlap with the front wheel when tackling very tight corners on technical cyclocross courses.

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Islabikes Luath 700S

This was the only one of the four bikes that most of our testers had already ridden or owned themselves. They were able to compare this latest model with the previous one as well as the other three bikes on test.

The current Luath shows how Islabikes’ experience has fed back into its product development. For example, our testers noticed the lighter weight of the bike compared to its predecessor, and they preferred the improved gear shifting of the Shimano Claris STI units compared to the previous thumb-levers.

The Luath was popular among our testers. Each rider had their own overall favourite, but the Luath was well liked by all of the riders. It was efficient and stable and gave them confidence to ride technical obstacles hard.

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11. Customisation & upgrade

Many youth riders will simply keep these bikes in the original spec and won’t change any of the components. All of the bikes are certainly good enough to race on road or cyclocross without any changes. However, as a rider becomes keener and competes at a higher level they’ll naturally be interested in how they can improve the bike and make it lighter.

We’re looking here at sensible upgrades which could be made for each bike. For all of them, though, a second pair of wheels would make the biggest difference by far. Each manufacturer has supplied wheels which must be strong enough for cyclocross, and that means they’re a little over-engineered for youth circuit racing. A second pair of wheels could also be fitted with a different cassette which helps comply with the gear restrictions for the child’s particular age group while providing a full range of usable gears.

For cyclocross at Under 14 national level, a rider would be much more competitive on one of these bikes fitted with a pair of lighter wheels and tubular tyres, keeping the original wheels in the pits as spares or using them for training.

It’s entirely possible to save 1.5kg overall by fitting carbon forks and lighter wheels. For a 40kg youth rider that’s a lot less to carry over your shoulder or ride up a hill.

Scatto J-Cross 28

The Scatto already has carbon forks so no upgrade is needed there. It’s possible to save a few grams by fitting a few lighter components such as a seatpost but, unless you happen to have one available already or are buying second-hand, it’s not worth the expense.

Formeula 700

Full carbon forks can be bought for less than £100 and, after a wheel upgrade, this would save the most weight and make the biggest difference to the bike’s competitiveness.

Juniorworx JA700

Worx does in fact offer higher specification wheels for the JA700 at extra cost instead of the standard wheels supplied. So if you think you’ll be upgrading the wheels anyway it’s worth asking Worx about the weight difference.

Like the Formeula, a carbon forks upgrade could be considered.

As we mentioned earlier, a smaller rider might fit a shorter handlebar stem and a straight seat post so that the bike fits them more correctly.

Islabikes Luath 700S

Because there are so many of them in use already, it’s not uncommon to see upgraded Luaths being raced with lighter wheels and carbon forks. We know of a couple being used in Under 14 National Trophy cyclocross races at the moment.

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12. Service and support

All of these youth racing bikes are likely to live a hard life. The mud and sand of cyclocross (and the repeated bike washing that follows it) are pretty destructive to all components. Crashes in youth road racing and cyclocross are quite common. So a good source of spares and a reliable warranty service can be valuable.

Scatto J-Cross 28

Paul Milnes Cycles not only sells Scatto in the UK but also builds up the frames into bikes at their Bradford shop. If you’re near enough to Yorkshire you can visit the shop and talk to Paul or to the mechanic who built your bike. The shop sponsors local club Bradford Olympic RC as well as sponsoring local race series.

Formeula 700

The owner of Formeula (and its sister brand Forme Bikes) is Moore Large, one of the largest distributors in the cycling industry. It sells through a large network of retailers, and there’s likely to be a bike shop selling and servicing Formeula bikes near you.

Juniorworx JA700

Worx is a new company based in Oxfordshire founded by a cycling enthusiast with a successful career in motor racing and the motor sport industry. Worx sells its bikes direct to the customer from its website, not through a dealer network.

Islabikes Luath 700S

Like Worx, Islabikes sells direct rather than through dealers, but also from its Ludlow HQ. A conscious decision was made not to sell online, but to deal with customers over the phone so that a conversation about the model and size of bike takes place before an order is placed.

The company has been selling quality junior bikes since 2005 and has established an excellent reputation for after-sales service.

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13. Value for money and resale

Scatto J-Cross 28

At £600 the Scatto costs £100 more than the Formeula and the Luath. However, its carbon forks would account for most of the price difference. Our test bike is in “Option 1” configuration. Option 2 (£730) has 9-speed Shimano Sora transmission, Option 3 (£850) has 10-speed Tiagra, and Option 4 (£999) has 10-speed Shimano 105. As we said earlier, Paul Milnes Cycles is flexible and can tweak the specification to a customer’s requirements. The frame and forks are available separately too.

The Scatto brand isn’t well known but we think the bike will retain its value well if looked after because of its quality and specification. However, a seller might need to explain to potential buyers what Scatto is.

Formeula 700

Although the Formeula costs exactly the same as the Luath its overall specification is a little lower. However, bear in mind that Formeula supplies a pair of quality cyclocross tyres and a pair of road tyres with every bike, knowing that most riders in the target age group are likely to use the bike for both disciplines. That’s a £30 to £40 saving against the Luath.

Potential second-hand buyers are likely to be familiar with the Formeula brand name, and we’d expect the bikes to be quite sought-after and easily sold.

Juniorworx JA700

£750 is a big jump up from the price of the other bikes, and it’s likely to be out of reach for many parents and children looking for a junior road/cyclocross bike, no matter how good it is. However, there’s extra value in the JA700’s frame, wheels and components which justifies the cost.

Also, if you compare the price and specification of the JA700 with those of similarly specified full-size bikes for adults, it’s actually rather good value.

As a premium product the Juniorworx is unlikely to sell in as large numbers as the Luath or Formeula, so it will be relatively rare on the second-hand market. However, like the Scatto, we think the bike will be sought after by those who understand what it is.

{Ed. May 2015: Bike now costs £595}

Islabikes Luath 700S

As mentioned above, the Luath and the Formeula are priced identically. The Luath’s specification is a little higher, but if you want to ride cyclocross or junior triathlon races on grass you’ll need to find £30 or £40 for a pair of cyclocross tyres too, as the bike is supplied with road tyres as standard.

There can’t be many bikes (either junior or senior) which are as sought after as the Luath on the second-hand market. Even quite tired examples fetch a large proportion of their new price. Last year there was a period of short-supply when there was a waiting list for new Luaths, and second-hand ones on eBay fetched the full price of a new one.

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14. Verdict

All four of these are great, versatile bikes, and all of them are highly suitable for youth circuit racing and cyclocross. It’s healthy for the sport that there is now such a good choice of quality bikes on the market for young racing cyclists. Each bike has its own particular strengths though, and there’s quite a wide range of prices.

Scatto J-Cross 28

The Scatto is a very well-sorted bike which particularly suits smaller riders. Its all-carbon forks mark it out from its competitors. The Scatto’s other key feature is actually the fact that its specification can be varied in any way that the customer requires, to suit their individual needs.

Formeula 700

The Formeula is priced very competitively which will certainly gain it fans among parents. The bike’s colour-coordinated anodized alloy components attract their kids too. You can see where cost is being saved in certain aspects of the specification, though, such as the chainset. Being able to test it in a bike shop before buying is attractive to parents who are new to cycling. And being able to take it to the same shop for servicing gives those parents confidence too. The Formeula suits larger riders well but we’d recommend smaller riders try one for size before buying.

Juniorworx JA700

For those who wish to spend the money, we think the JA700 justifies its cost premium over the other bikes. We applaud Worx for making a bike with such a clear racing focus, for paying attention to detail, and for drawing up a high specification for a junior bike. In most respects it’s a great bike, but it needs a couple of tweaks to suit smaller riders.

Islabikes Luath 700S

Dominating the market clearly hasn’t made Islabikes complacent, and the company obviously hasn’t neglected its product development. The latest Luath holds its own against its new competitors – it’s a very well-integrated package that simply works very well, and it was always very popular among our testers. It might not have the rarity or glamour of the Juniorworx and Scatto but the Luath’s special edition colours make it more attractive than the standard red version.

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1 response to:

Group test – junior road/cyclocross bikes (part 2)

  1. January 1, 2014

    There is a huge untapped market for these bikes in the US. I am glad to see the Islabikes here as there are few 42-42 cm CX or road bikes available here.

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