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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!