There are so many awesome pint-sized outdoor products for kids these days. If I spend more than a few minutes wandering the kids’ section at REI, it’s enough to make me drool. Snowsports, apparel, camping gear, outerwear, footwear, you name it. The adult version is just downsized for a kiddo. So why isn’t the same true for bicycles?

We’ve bought our share of relatively expensive kids bike products by Raleigh, Burly, Specialized, and Trek–but the story is always the same. Heavy, crappy components, cramped cockpits, giant mustache handlebar, unreasonably high stand over height etc. It’s miraculous that somehow children still love to ride despite such inferior bikes!

Eva is four in this picture. Note the chin-level handlebars.

Eva is four in this picture. Note the near chin-level handlebars.

Last fall I was in the market for a new 24″ wheel bike for Eva so she could hand down her 20″ Raleigh to Clara. I came across Elle’s Tiny Helmets blog about Islabike. High quality, lightweight children’s bicycles that we could actually get in the States? I had to know more.

A few delightful conversations with Tim Goodall of Islabike’s stateside headquarters in Portland later, and I bit the bullet on two Islabikes. A BEINN 24″ for Eva and a BEINN 20″ Large for Clara. We pushed the size boundaries for both girls, buying slightly larger bikes than Isla recommended. Emmett nearly got one too, but we decided to wait until he crashed with a little less frequency.

The bikes arrived in time for Christmas. Donning bows on the handlebars, the bikes were under the tree and a huge surprise Christmas morning. After listening to the girls complain all summer that they wished they could ride their own bikes on tour, Santa delivered big.

BEINN 24 and BEINN 20 large, equipped for adventure

BEINN 24 and BEINN 20 large, equipped for adventure

Pulling the bikes out of the box on the night of the 24th, Mark was immediately impressed. The components were superior, the bike was noticeably lighter, and the whole package–bike, rear rack, fenders, water bottle cage, bell and all was beautifully assembled and ready to ride. The Islabikes will accommodate any riding style, urban, mountain, cyclocross, and our favorite, tour! 

Eva is in the middle on her Islabike

Eva is in the middle on her Islabike

Being no expert on components, my gauge of quality was how easy these bikes handled on their very first ride. The shifting was effortless for both of my girls. That doesn’t sound like much to ask, but the grip shift on the Burly Piccolo trailer bike we took on tour was too difficult for the girls to operate without using both hands. Very safe indeed.

The Isla hand brakes were also well assembled. The action was softer and the brake levers were within a reachable distance for a child’s hand. Eva’s first bike with handbrakes, a Raleigh Rowdy, had an adult-sized reach. As shipped, she had to brake with her wrists on the handlebars. Mark rebuilt the brakes, and eventually replaced the handlebars to accommodate a more comfortable riding position. Instead of being cocked and ready to shred, I’m more interested in my daughter sitting up where she can see oncoming cars. The Islabike has a very natural and upright riding position.

Maybe it's the dress, but the riding position looks Dutch

Maybe it’s the dress, but the riding position looks Dutch

As you might expect, Islabikes are not the cheapest kids bikes, but they are comparable to most major brands. Tim of Islabike explained that they keep costs as low as possible. Instead of artificially inflating their prices and then discounting them during a sale, they keep the price constant. I’m not sure I trust a salesman, but it seemed about right. When we bought Eva’s Raleigh 20″ it was on sale, but the retail price was roughly the same cost as Clara’s Islabike. In terms of quality, ridability and equip-ability there is no comparison. These Islabikes are for recreation and transportation, so we justify the extra cost.

Riding to school

Riding to school

Mark and I pride ourselves on owning quality, useful bicycles–and Islabike is the tot equivalent. We’ve equipped the girls’ Islabikes with fenders, racks, lights, kickstands and bells and these bikes are the go-to school commuting machine. For their birthdays, we purchased panniers for each of the bikes. A standard rear pannier like the Ortlieb Backroller Classic fits perfectly on Eva’s 24-inch BEINN. Clara’s 20-inch Islabike has a smaller rack, so she inherited our Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus panniers. Both girls are really proud to have such bomber-looking rigs. They are hoping to ride on their own two wheels for our next self-supported tour. I can’t wait for them carry some of their own clothes and equipment. Not only are they moving under their own power, but they can carry what they need on their bike. What a wonderful feeling of independence and self-sufficiency. 

Eva and Clara sporting panniers on their Islabikes

Eva and Clara sporting panniers on their Islabikes

If you are considering a new bicycle for your child, I strongly recommend you research Islabike. Most local bike shops will not have anything that even remotely compares. The childrens bicycle market is ripe for improvement. Have a product? We’d love to hear about it! 

Written by Mark and Erica

4 Comments

Andy D. (aka Big Dummy Daddy)

Those look like some really nice bikes. You did better research than I did. I recently moved my daughter up to a 24-inch wheeled bike, too. Also unsatisfied with the quality of components on kids bikes, I ended up buying a used Specialized Hotrock (decent frame, mostly cruddy parts) from Craigslist. I then stripped it of the lousy parts, and rebuilt it with good quality parts from my bin. The result is a much lighter, better performing bike, for less than $100 total. However, your process was likely smoother, and the Islabikes look nicely integrated.

Like your daughters, mine loves to be able to carry useful loads on her bike. Kids just seem to inately understand utility. For bags, we’re going more with the rackless bikepacking route, for now.

I strongly agree that overall poor quality parts, particularly cheap Gripshift, is a horror, especially for kids bikes. Crummy shifting and heavy, low-quality parts contribute to poor perceptions of bikes, and reduce the appeal of biking for people of all ages.

Mark and Erica

That’s awesome Andy. Mark and I are resourceful about some things, but something about a new shiny bike makes me spend with reckless abandon! I’d love to see you equip her bike with frame bags–that would be so sweet. Any overnights planned for this summer? We still hope to come meet/visit you guys in the near future. Mark is quitting his “fiberglass-sanding” job at Vestas so things are looking up. We thought it would be fun to do a mini-tour for a few nights to explore Denver this spring. If you find your way north any time, please get in touch!

Shane

How old are the girls now? How long do you think the bikes will last them? Do you expect the 24″ to be a handmedown and upgrade Eva to a 26″ Isla?

Handmedowns aren’t really an option for us- we have to bite the “all three at the same time” bullet so its going to hurt. Well really it will be one now then two next year. My pitch to Missy is that the resale value will be good on these since they are high quality and in limited supply.

Mark and Erica

Thanks for the note Shane. Eva just turned 8 and Clara will be 6 next month. To a minor degree, we are facing the same issue with the girls. Even two years apart, they wear the same size clothes, and it won’t be long before they ride the same size bike. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Eva grows quickly and will be able to size up to a 26″in bike before Clara really needs the 24″… but it’s not looking probable. It seems crazy that we justified the purchase of two of these bikes when we are in the worst financial shape of our parental lives–but we haven’t looked back. We always seem to have just enough for the things that we think are important–and these bikes are really, really cool. Yesterday we were riding to the store and Clara said “I like these bikes because they are just like an adult’s”. It’s true. They are. Maybe partially as a result, the kids take themselves (and using a bicycle as transportation) very seriously. When we were done shopping (it happened to be for some gear for Clara to play soccer), Clara insisted on carrying everything in her own panniers. I lifted up the bike when we got home, and she was pretty loaded down! She never complained on the ride though. She seems to be proud to be able to do it herself. I digress.
I agree with Elle, the sizing on Islabikes runs small. I’m not sure where Isadora falls on the sizing chart, but she’d probably handle the CNOC 16 easily. Even if she only rode it for 6 months, and then you could pass it to one of the boys, I would still go for it. It would take the hurt out of buying all three at once, and Izzy may be ready for the BEINN 20 Small very soon. Let me know what you decide. I’m so excited for you guys. Riding with three children is something else, isn’t it!?

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