Review: Islabikes Luath 700 Pro Series
09 December 2016
Islabikes made quite a splash in May this year when it announced its new range of ultra quality bikes to sit above its successful existing range.
Few product announcements in the children’s cycle market have ever produced such strong, polarised reactions: either condemning Islabikes for daring to offer such expensive bikes to mere children, or salivating at the tremendous specifications of the new bikes. You can read our initial views here.
Out of the whole Pro Series range the Luath 700 was the model that we were most interested in testing. It’s obvious from any regional youth cyclocross race that many children are already racing on very high spec bikes – either on extra-small adult bikes or on upgraded children’s bikes (often based on the standard Luath 700 Small).
So, we really wanted to see just what Islabikes can do when they take a no-compromise approach to producing the best possible junior cyclocross bike.
Our reviews tend to be pretty in-depth so think of this more as a reference guide than a quick summary. We’ve tried to cover every possible angle and our goal is to leave no stone unturned – both the good and the bad.
|Product||Islabikes Luath 700 Pro Series
|Weight||7.8 kg / 17.4 lbs (without pedals)|
|Supplier||Islabikes – www.islabikes.co.uk|
2. About the bike
3. Geometry and fit
5. Frame and forks
6. Wheels and tyres
11. Customisation and upgrade
12. Service and support
13. Value for money and resale
We tested the bike in precisely the conditions it’s intended for: in cyclocross youth races and training sessions.
It was ridden hard on everything from dry, early-season courses through to wet grass, gravel, sand – and eventually all kinds of mud once the British Autumn arrived.
For reference, our main tester was an experienced rider who is 152cm tall and weighs 37kg. His own bike is a considerably lightened, upgraded standard-series Luath 700 Small, which makes a useful comparison with the Pro Series bike.
Because the test rider is already an Under 14 (Youth B) it meant that the Pro Series was raced over full adult cyclocross courses with all the technical features you’d typically expect: corners, hills, descents, hurdles, steps, run-ups, adverse cambers, ditches, etc..
Those were mainly at local level but the bike was ridden in a round of the National Trophy too.
We fitted the Pro Series with a pair of Shimano Deore XT SPD pedals. The only other change we made to the bike’s spec was fitting a longer handlebar stem, which we’ll discuss later in this review.
The Luath 700 Pro Series makes an impact even before you actually see it – you notice just how light the box is when you lift it for the first time as the courier drives away.
The bike itself makes just as much impact. Its attractive grey and orange colour scheme looks great, and there’s exquisite detail everywhere. There’s nothing childish about the bike’s sophisticated design – it looks more impressive than many top-end adult cyclocross bikes.
If you’ve owned a Luath 700 Small then the proportions of the Pro Series bike will already be familiar to you. In fact, though, almost everything about the Pro Series is different to the standard bike: the most obvious things are the elegantly shaped frame tubes, carbon forks, the presence of disc brakes instead of cantilevers, an entirely different drivetrain, Stans rims, and classy-looking cyclocross tyres.
Islabikes pioneered the concept of proportional fit for children, and the Ludlow company has steadily introduced it to every aspect of a child’s riding position & movement on a bike. We expected the geometry and the fit of the Luath Pro Series to be spot on.
And in almost all respects we weren’t disappointed. The frame’s geometry is ideal for a small rider racing cyclocross – the design gives just the right amount of standover height for good agility but there’s still enough space within the frame’s main triangle for the rider to shoulder the bike when required.
We measured the Luath Pro Series frame geometry to be almost identical to the geometry of the standard Luath 700 Small. It’s a proven formula.
There’s a small saddle and reasonably narrow handlebars with their forward throw and drop scaled proportionally. However, we think that 360mm bars might improve the proportional fit even further instead of the 380mm bars fitted as standard. Slightly narrower bars wouldn’t harm the bike’s handling or control.
Islabikes thoughtfully fits thin bar tape so that the overall grip diameter doesn’t become too fat, so small hands can hold it more comfortably.
The brake levers have adjustable reach and were supplied ready-adjusted for small hands. That’s a detail that is often overlooked in the assembly process – we’ve tested children’s bikes before which have adjustable reach brake levers but are supplied with the levers wound right out to their maximum reach setting.
Islabikes fits 160mm length cranks to the Luath 700 Pro Series just as it does to the standard-series Luath 700 Small. Whilst this is certainly a lot better than the 165m cranks (at best) still fitted by many big name brands to their children’s bikes, we’ve always felt that it’s longer than it should be.
If you consider that a 5′ 10″ or 6′ rider would typically use 172.5mm or 175mm cranks, the proportional crank length for a 5′ rider is in fact around 150mm… Short cranks mean that youth riders can spin their cranks at a higher cadence more smoothly – and, in turn, that means they ride more efficiently and faster. It’s kinder to their knees and it gives a better bike fit too because the rider’s knee doesn’t rise up so high at the top of the pedal stroke. Not only that, but there’s less likelihood of toe-overlap with the front wheel when short cranks are used with small frames.
We think that the Pro Series would be an even better bike with 155mm cranks fitted.
One of the Pro Series key features promoted by Islabikes is a particularly narrow “Q-factor”. That’s the horizontal distance between the pedals. A narrow Q-factor is more proportional to the length of short legs and it allows a young rider to pedal in a more vertical plane. That should be better for efficiency, comfort and a smooth pedalling style.
In the case of the Pro Series, Islabikes has designed and manufactured its own cranks with a Q-factor of just 135mm. That compares with a standard-series Luath’s 150 mm or so, and a typical low/mid-range adult bike’s 160 mm. Bringing the pedals so close together means that the crank arms clear the chainstays by just a couple of millimetres. Only by integrating the design work for the cranks and the frame within the same project can Islabikes be sure this all comes together correctly.
Reducing the Q-factor might also increase the risk of the rider’s heels fouling the rear of the chainstays too, especially with the rear dropouts of the frame spaced slightly wider apart to accommodate a disc brake. So we were keen to see whether this new initiative to further improve proportional fit works well in practice.
These are the full measurements:-
|All dimensions in mm|
|Top tube (effective horizontal)||500|
|Top tube (actual)||490|
|Seat tube (centre-to-centre)||415|
|Seat tube (centre-to-top)||460|
|Handlebar width (centre-to-centre)||380|
We weighed the bike at just 7.8 kg (17.4 lbs) without pedals. And that’s when running the tyres with inner tubes fitted – the bike’s Stans Crest rims and Islabikes own tyres are tubeless-ready, and if you run them like that you could expect to reduce the bike’s overall weight by a further 150g or so.
That compares with the standard series Luath 700 Small’s weight of 9.8 kg (21.6 lbs), and is slightly lighter even than our own highly modified Luath 700 Small which weighs 8.1 kg (17.8 lbs).
As we often point out in our bike tests, weight saving matters much more to small children than it does to adults. So, even the very light weight of this Pro Series is still the equivalent of a 16 kg bike to a 75 kg adult rider – consider accelerating a bike like that out of dozens of tight, low-speed corners, lifting it over hurdles every lap, or shouldering it on steep run-ups…
One or two of our testers who usually ride good cyclocross bikes such as the standard series Luath 700 Small or the Worx JA700 actually found themselves accidentally lifting the Pro Series too high over hurdles, because they weren’t used to the feel of a 20% lighter bike!
The overall geometry of the Pro Series’ 7005 grade aluminium frame is similar to that of the standard range’s Luath, but its construction is very different. The standard bike’s cylindrical tubes are replaced by finely shaped structures which each flatten and widen along their length according to the particular qualities required.
Knowing that the bike will only be ridden by lightweight riders, Islabikes should be able to design exactly the right degree of strength and compliance into the frame for a small rider racing the bike over rough ground. They should be able to shave all unnecessary material from the frame. The elegant pencil-thin seat-stays are an example of how the designer has approached the job.
It was nice to see Shimano’s Flat Mount disc brake standard used. The industry is widely adopting Flat Mount as the most versatile, efficient method of mounting brake calipers onto a frameset.
The full-carbon fork weighs 450g – about the same weight as the lightest cyclocross fork from Kinesis, for example, and hundreds of grammes lighter than the Cro-moly fork fitted to the standard series Luath. The front brake cable is routed internally through the left fork blade which keeps everything very neat and tidy.
The fork has huge mud clearance. There’s plenty of clearance around the rear wheel too, but the rear tyre passes closer to the chainstays than it does on some adult cyclocross bikes. That’s despite the chainstays being crimped & flattened as thinly as possible where they are closest to the rear tyre. It’s a result, presumably, of having to design the frame around a traditional British threaded bottom bracket shell and using a chainset with a very narrow Q-factor.
The rear gear cable is routed underneath the frame & bottom bracket rather than using a classic cyclocross approach of routing it above the top tube or internally through the frame. It keeps the cable out of the way when lifting the bike or when holding the top tube as the rider “hovers” approaching a hurdle dismount, but it does leave the inner cable exposed to mud thrown up by the front wheel.
Both brake cables are fully enclosed within their outer casings which protects them well from mud. The front cable has very neat routing through the left fork blade itself, keeping it well out of the way of mud. This is much better than the alternative often used of clipping it to the outside of the fork where it reduces tyre clearance around the fork crown – and which always looks scrappy too. The Pro Series’ internal fork routing is presumably more expensive to manufacture and assemble this way, but it’s a good example of Islabikes going to great lengths to make the bike as effective as possible.
Like the gear cable, the rear brake cable is routed under the bottom bracket. It’s well protected though by being fully enclosed.
Islabikes fits clear adhesive frame protection patches as standard to all points of the frame that the cables would otherwise rub.
There’s lots to talk about here…
The lightweight Islabikes hubs have very smooth cartridge bearings, and they are fitted with super-light hollow quick-release skewers.
There are 28 spokes in each wheel. The spokes themselves are very lightweight butted 14/17 gauge – that means they’re only 1.5mm wide. The Islabikes approach to weight saving with the Pro Series is demonstrated by the specification of light alloy spoke nipples instead of heavier brass nipples, for example.
Whereas the standard series Luath uses Islabikes-branded rims, the Pro Series uses highly regarded Stans No Tubes ZTR Crest rims. These are significantly wider than the standard-series Luath’s rims as they are designed solely for wide cyclocross tyres, not for narrow road tyres too.
Although the Pro Series is fitted with inner tubes when it leaves the factory, the rims and tyres are tubeless-ready. Luath 700 Pro Series owners are likely to have a thorough approach to racing & equipment so we would expect the majority to run the tyres as tubeless.
We won’t go into the pros and cons here of tubeless cyclocross tyres versus using inner tubes or running tubular tyres instead – there’s plenty of discussion on cyclocross websites to refer to. It’s enough to say that using tubeless tyres for cyclocross is a good solution for lightweight children – it offers almost all of the benefits of tubular tyres without the practicality downsides.
The Luath 700 Pro Series is supplied with Islabikes brand new own-design Greim Pro cyclocross tyres. Of course, there are already dozens of good cyclocross tyres on the market to suit every possible condition, type of rider, and budget. Islabikes must be confident that it was worth investing in the R&D and production of a whole new range of premium tyres in sizes from 16” up to the 700c Greim Pro tyres on the review bike.
And the new tyres proved to be excellent under testing. 32mm is an ideal width, just nudging inside the UCI’s maximum width limit, but with plenty of air volume to allow them to be run at low pressures and give a large contact patch. The actual measured tyre width & profile when mounted will vary a little depending upon the width of the rim being used.
They have a similar tread to one of our favourite cyclocross clincher tyres, Challenge’s Baby Limus “Open Tubular”, with tall, widely spaced lugs at the shoulders of the tyre to dig in and shed mud when cornering or when riding off-camber, and shorter lugs along the centre of the tread for faster straight-line speed.
They coped well with the whole range of conditions that we tested under, and they make excellent all-purpose racing tyres. When racing on slippery wet grass & very muddy terrain our test rider ran them right down to a very low pressure of 17 psi to give excellent cornering grip and traction. We wouldn’t normally recommend such a low pressure for clincher or tubeless tyres unless you’re confident that the course is unlikely to cause an impact puncture, that the rider is lightweight & rides smoothly, and that the tyres are a nice tight fit on the rims.
Like most cyclocross tyres the tread is directional – i.e. you fit the rear tyre in a certain direction to maximise grip from the powered wheel. With their cream coloured sidewalls the Greims look great too.
The new tyres weigh 320g each which is very competitive, especially for a tubeless-ready clincher. It compares with the Baby Limus’s 360g, for example.
The casing has a relatively high thread-per-inch (TPI) count of 185 to give a supple ride. That’s higher than many rival tyres, but some clincher tyres have as many as 300 TPI.
The tyres have a Kevlar folding bead as you’d expect and, importantly, the Greim is designed to be run tubeless if preferred. Not many of its lightest weight competitors are intended for tubeless installation.
Islabikes sells the tyres separately as well as fitting them to the Luath Pro Series. At £35 each they are excellent value – the Baby Limus RRP is £54, but often discounted by retailers to around £45.
The Greim is our new favourite tyre, and when the wider cyclocross community realises just how good it is we think it will be seen at all levels of the sport.
Let’s start with the new Islabikes own-brand chainset. The 160mm four-arm cranks are exquisitely machined, and are connected via a traditional-style square-taper bottom bracket. There’s nothing traditional about the bottom bracket’s actual materials though: the axle is made from titanium and is hollow to save further weight, and the shell is carbon fibre. The cartridge bearings are very smooth.
As mentioned in Section 3 above, we do think that the cranks are a little too long, especially for children at the bottom end of the bike’s sizing range.
The Luath 700 Pro Series has a single chainring rather than double, and that’s now a standard configuration for most quality cyclocross bikes. To our surprise, though, Islabikes has chosen to fit a traditional chainring with an aluminium chainguard either side to prevent the chain from being thrown off on rough ground. It’s undeniably an effective way to keep the chain in place but we’d expected to see a narrow-wide chainring on a bike of this value and single-minded purpose, negating the need for chainguards.
The double chainguards did their job very well, but we found a couple of minor problems with them:-
Firstly, on certain courses they prevented grass from being cleared from the chainring – not enough to clog up the drivetrain but unwanted nevertheless.
Secondly, with the chain on the biggest sprocket (and therefore at an extreme angle “across” the bike) it grazed the inside chainguard very slightly when pedalling hard. Neither of those minor issues would occur if a narrow-wide chainring was fitted instead without any chainguards.
The 34 tooth chainring gives a perfect range of ratios for youth cyclocross when combined with the bike’s 11-36 tooth cassette. It uses a standard BCD (Bolt Circle Diameter) of 104mm so finding a replacement or fitting a different size would be very easy.
We discussed the chainset’s very narrow Q-factor earlier in this review, and we completely approve of it. However, as a result, the right crank arm is now positioned closer to the centre line of the bike than usual – so close, in fact, that when the bike is in top gear the crank passes the chain with less than 2mm clearance. So we did wonder whether the chain could ever get picked up by the rising crank arm – for example when resuming pedalling after freewheeling down a bumpy descent. We never actually encountered that during testing though, and it’s safe to assume that Islabikes has designed such close clearance having considered it carefully.
Islabikes has specified a 1×11 drivetrain to give a very wide range of gear ratios without big gaps between them. A right-hand Shimano Ultegra 11 speed integrated shifter/brake lever controls the gears. It’s a superbly engineered unit, with positive clicks between each gear and very smooth changes.
It’s easily reach-adjustable to bring the levers close enough to the handlebars for smaller hands. Our test riders could change gear easily when riding on the hoods. Gear changing was almost as easy when riding on the drops too, with a little more effort required from that hand position for the big lever’s arc sweep to shift to a larger sprocket.
There’s a matching 11-speed rear derailleur from Shimano’s high-end Ultegra 6800 groupset. It’s the larger capacity GS version of the unit. Shimano’s product specifications show a maximum sprocket size of 32 teeth, but the Luath shifts perfectly with the 36 tooth sprocket fitted.
The Ultegra unit is excellent but ideally we would have liked to have seen a clutch derailleur fitted instead to such a focused cyclocross bike. A clutch derailleur controls chain tension on bumpy ground and, married to a narrow-wide chainring, this is the leading solution for cyclocross bikes running a single-chainring drivetrain.
Clutch derailleurs tend to be a little heavier (e.g. SRAM’s Force CX1 weighs 261g versus the Ultegra 6800-GS weight of 207g) but, on the other hand, the bike’s double aluminium chainguards would no longer be needed.
In fact many cyclocross riders do use a narrow-wide single chainring with a non-clutch road rear derailleur (like the Ultegra used here) anyway without ever dropping a chain, despite having no additional chainguards or chaincatchers. They often shorten the chain and adjust the rear derailleur’s spring setting to increase chain tension, but it’s still not a 100% guaranteed solution.
Islabikes has fitted a 11-36 tooth 11 speed SRAM PG1170 cassette. It’s a high quality cassette that saves 30g or so against SRAM’s lower end 11 speed cassette. It’s perfectly compatible with the Shimano rear derailleur and gear shifter.
A top gear of 34×11 is enough for all but the fastest sprint finishes on tarmac – you’d be travelling at 25mph when spinning the pedals at 100rpm.
At the other end of the range, a bottom gear of 34×36 is low enough for any tired rider on a steep slope towards the end of a race. If an even lower gear is needed it’s usually the sign that it’s time to get off and run with the bike.
The bike has a quality KMC 11-speed chain. It is fitted with a standard quick-link to split and rejoin the chain.
Disc brakes now dominate the cyclocross world so it’s no surprise to see them on the Luath 700 Pro Series. The pros and cons of discs versus traditional cantilever brakes are discussed exhaustively all over the web so we won’t expand on that here.
Hydraulically actuated disc brakes are now commonplace within cyclocross and are generally regarded as superior to mechanical, cable-actuated disc brakes. So initially we were surprised that Islabikes has specified cable-actuated brakes on a full-on cyclocross bike. Islabikes has said that one reason they specified cable brakes is that there isn’t a set of hydraulic brake levers/shifters suitable for children’s small hands. We’re not sure about that, as Shimano’s 11 speed hydraulic RS685 levers appear to have the same ergonomics and adjustment as the Ultegra levers.
But Islabikes has fitted Avid BB7 Road S brakes which are recognised as among the best cable-actuated models available, equalled only by TRP’s Spyre perhaps.
Sensibly, there are 140mm rotors (not 160mm) fitted to both wheels and that gives more than enough braking power for small riders.
Our initial reservations about the brakes were mostly proved unfounded though. As with all disc brakes, some care is needed to align the calipers and the brake pads correctly to avoid rotor drag or excessive brake lever travel. But once set up correctly the brakes were smooth, powerful and progressive throughout our test. And the BB7’s independent adjustment of each brake pad made it easy to keep the brakes in good tune.
The test bike’s braking was certainly superior to that of our much-modified standard series Luath 700 Small with cantilever brakes.
Interestingly, Islabikes has fitted an Ultegra Di2 left-hand brake lever which matches the size and shape of the right hand Ultegra 6800 lever very neatly. Obviously the lever’s Di2 electronics are redundant, and it’s a nice lightweight solution that avoids the unnecessary weight of a standard left-hand lever’s gear shifting mechanism.
The brake cables are fitted with inline barrel adjusters. These are easily accessible and can be used to adjust the brakes during a race if necessary.
Note that the Pro Series handlebars have the 31.8mm “oversize” diameter that is used almost universally rather than the 26.0mm diameter of the standard-series Luath. That gives much wider options for changing to a different length stem.
The stem fitted to the Pro Series is a 60mm KCNC Fly Ride unit which is surprisingly lightweight for a relatively low-cost stem.
We have always felt that the standard series Luath 700 Small’s stem is too short for its riders, particularly those in the top half of its size range. We have the same view on the Pro Series too, so we fitted a 90mm stem which allowed our test riders to adopt a less cramped, more efficient riding position.
We fitted a Deda Zero stem and, coincidentally, it has an orange and two-tone grey finish that matches the Pro Series colour scheme almost exactly. That’s the stem that you see in most of our photos.
Islabikes’ own brand bars have an ideal shape for small riders, with a short forward throw and a shallow drop without being too cramped. As mentioned earlier, we’d prefer to see 360mm wide bars instead of the 380mm bars fitted. Those would be closer to the shoulder width of the bike’s typical riders.
Islabikes has always fitted good own-brand saddles to its standard-series Luath. Most third-party junior saddles are too soft and too wide – both at the nose and at the rear. Islabikes’ saddles are narrower and more proportional to adult racing saddles.
The Pro Series has a good saddle too. It has different styling to the standard Luath’s saddle, but otherwise it has a very similar shape.
A short 250mm seatpost means there’s no unnecessary weight. We were pleased to see a twin-bolt clamp because that allows the saddle to be very finely adjusted, and it makes a very secure attachment too.
There’s very little layback on Luath seatposts so we usually need to clamp the saddle towards the front of its rails in order to set an optimal riding position for most riders. It’s not restrictive but if your child prefers a saddle position well behind the bottom bracket you might need to fit a seatpost with a bit more layback.
Premium bar tape is fitted in the shape of Lizard Skins DSP. It’s wonderfully “tacky” in both dry and wet conditions.
Islabikes has chosen the thinnest 1.8mm variant which keeps the overall handgrip circumference to a minimum for small hands. It’s also very light at just 50g per set.
The bike’s performance is simply beyond that of the standard-series Luath and all of its rivals. A lot of that advantage is due to the bike’s light weight, so it accelerates more quickly and climbs more easily. The lighter the rider, the greater that effect is magnified. On cyclocross courses with lots of tight corners, climbs, descents and technical features the Pro Series was noticeably quicker. When lifting the bike for hurdles & steps or when shouldering the bike for run-ups its light weight was very welcome.
In cyclocross a rider needs complete faith in their bike to be able to commit fully to challenging features like slippery, steep climbs or adverse camber corners. The bike’s handling & cornering were very nimble and confidence-inspiring – our test riders felt able to really throw it around, and they loved racing on it.
Our test riders were conscious of a small amount of toe overlap with the front wheel. That’s not surprising with such a small framed bike, especially if the rider has large shoes with the cleats set well back.
The whole bike feels very stiff under hard acceleration and it was very quick off the start line.
Realistically, our testers couldn’t detect any difference in ride comfort between the Pro Series and the standard-series Luath. Besides, the biggest factors in ride comfort are usually variations in tyre volume/pressure and riding position, not frame material or construction.
The bike’s 1×11 drivetrain changed gear flawlessly, even under full load, and the chain never unshipped. As we mentioned above, though, loose grass did start to clog the chainring and chainguards a little in certain conditions.
Braking was very good, with as much stopping power as ever needed. The brakes had a nice progressive feel rather than simply being “on” or “off” like some other cable-actuated disc brakes. Good quality, non-compressing brake cable housing undoubtedly helps here. Brake lever travel isn’t excessive once the brake pads are carefully aligned correctly, although unsurprisingly we had to tweak the brake adjustment after a few races as the pads started to wear.
The new Greim Pro tyres were very popular with our testers. Their grip in all conditions was impressive and they gave skilled riders the extra confidence to ride slippery adverse cambers and very loose corners. When conditions were bad we ran the tyres at very low pressures and they didn’t become too squirmy, and they stayed well-seated on the Stan’s rims.
At a price of £1600 and already supplied with a very high spec you wouldn’t expect to make many upgrades. However, there are a few changes which can make this excellent bike even better:-
- Install the tyres as tubeless. The results are lighter weight, self-sealing puncture capability, and no pinch punctures at low pressures.
- Fit a longer stem if required.
- For best possible racing performance consider a set of wheels with tubular tyres. That’s still the best solution for cyclocross racing but good wheelsets and tubs are expensive. You also have to accept a certain amount of hassle with tubs instead of clinchers with inner tubes or tubeless clinchers.
- Consider replacing the chainring and double chainguards with a narrow-wide chainring to reduce clogging (and save a little weight at the same time). We’ve had no problem in the past with dropped chains even when using a clutchless derailleur like the Pro Series’ Shimano Ultegra rear mech. The tension spring of Shimano derailleurs can often be adjusted to increase the chain tension, and riders will also often shorten the chain by a couple of links in order to ensure the chain doesn’t come off. If you carry out this change you should satisfy yourself that it works well though.
Islabikes only sells direct, either by phone or through its website. Their staff’s cycling knowledge is very well respected and many of them are enthusiastic cyclocross racers themselves (including Isla Rowntree herself of course).
The Pro Series Luath is a high-end, specialist bike and it will always be relatively rare, so you’re unlikely to see them very often. If you’re considering such a major purchase you’d be well advised to visit Islabikes HQ in Ludlow to check one out in person. Islabikes does tend to demo the Pro Series range at major cyclocross events, though, and also at certain cycling festivals.
The company has built an impressive reputation for customer service so you’re unlikely to have an issue if a problem arises with your bike.
You could take the view that £1600 is just too much to pay for any children’s bike – even one as good as the Luath 700 Pro Series. When the Pro Series was launched earlier this year there was a tidal wave of comments from parents, outraged that such an expensive bike was offered to children at all.
Does it push the upper end of the “arms race” way out of reach of the vast majority of parents, so that racing children of wealthy parents have a significant advantage?
We don’t think it’s as simple as that. Firstly, whether we like it or not the equipment arms race is an unstoppable force unless British Cycling imposes a restriction on the specification of bikes used in youth cyclocross racing. It’s something that has been introduced in a very limited way for youth circuit racing, but there have been no proposals to take the same approach in cyclocross.
Just five years ago you’d see many mountain bikes and hybrids in Under 10 and Under 12 local cyclocross racing, and quite a few in Under 14 racing too. The majority of riders on cyclocross bikes were on standard-series Luaths.
MTBs and hybrids are now rarely seen amongst Under 12s, with most riders on cyclocross bikes, and many of those have been upgraded from standard spec in order to reduce weight. Deep rim wheels, carbon frames and disc brakes are already popping up in Under 12 racing.
By the time they reach Under 14, a few riders are on upgraded standard-series Luaths or Juniorworx bikes (if they’re still small enough to fit them) but most are on adult cyclocross bikes, and the sky’s the limit on what those bikes cost – many Under 14s are on top-brand bikes that far exceed the price of the Luath 700 Pro Series. And consider that riders competing at muddy national events will often use two bikes, not just one…
In a way the competition for the Pro Series isn’t so much the wide variety of children’s cyclocross bikes in the £450 to £550 bracket, but bikes from brands like Ridley, Kinesis, Trek, Cannondale, Specialized, Planet X and Giant. The Pro Series allows the smallest Under 14s to compete on more equal terms with the bikes ridden by competitors of the same age who happen to be tall enough to fit quality adult cyclocross bikes.
The spec of the Luath 700 Pro Series is actually pretty competitive with the big brands, especially considering how small the production runs must be for such a specialist, low-volume bike. Unsurprisingly, Planet X and other direct sale brands generally offer a higher spec for the same money.
It’s worth noting that most of the competition at the same price as the Pro Series have hydraulic (not cable-actuated) disc brakes, and many are specified with a narrow-wide chainring matched to a clutch derailleur.
Many of those bikes have high spec frames and drivetrains but economise by fitting heavy, basic wheels. The Pro Series comes with top quality, very light wheels.
The other source of competition for the Luath 700 Pro Series is a self-build (typically using a small Kinesis frame) or a highly modified bike like a standard-series Luath. A carbon fork upgrade, a drive-train conversion to 1×10 or 1×11, and a pair of racing wheels makes a very competitive, lightweight bike at a typical total cost of around £1k. The resulting bike doesn’t have the disc brakes, the advanced frame, or the features like narrow Q-factor cranks of the Pro Series, but it’s still very competitive.
The fact is it’s a free market, and people are entitled to spend their money on whatever they want. And, companies are free to develop and sell whatever they want too – it’s not immoral to sell expensive bikes. No-one is forcing anyone to buy these bikes.
Islabikes won’t have been surprised at the outcry from some parents, and they can legitimately point to a track record of innovative products and initiatives to make cycling for children accessible & economic. Besides, Islabikes still offers its popular standard series bikes alongside the new Pro Series anyway.
In our experience it’s not necessarily the wealthiest parents who buy high-value bikes for their racing children anyway.
The bike’s resale value is hard to predict. Cyclocross bikes get a lot of wear from repeated use and frequent washing, so unless they are scrupulously maintained they deteriorate. Often, higher cost cyclocross bikes lose more of their value than cheaper models too. But second-hand Pro Series bikes will be very rare on the market and they’ll have a top quality reputation. We think they’ll be highly sought after – rather like Islabikes much-admired Creig MTBs which are snapped up second-hand within minutes. Whether the Pro Series will retain quite the same high proportion of its original price as the Creig is unknown, but we’d bet on this Luath being a better investment than any other £1600 cyclocross bike.
The Luath 700 Pro Series is the highest performing junior cyclocross bike ever made. It has been designed, specified and constructed with almost no compromise. The few areas where it’s not quite perfect are relatively minor and they don’t harm its overall effectiveness.
The bike makes most sense for small Under 14s competing on full adults’ cyclocross courses, especially at demanding national events.
Let’s be frank: the price puts the bike out of consideration for most racing kids and their parents. However, we think that the creation of such an excellent children’s bike sets new standards which will drive further innovation and competition within the market.