When he was finally ready, his bike was more than up to the task. That’s how I think about my five-year-old son Everett’s evolution to becoming a confident bike rider.
It wasn’t easy. He first learned to ride a regular pedal-bike (after learning on a balance bike) over two years ago. But for some reason he didn’t keep it up. He parked the bike and seemed afraid or nervous about it whenever we urged him to get back on the saddle. Even getting a shiny new red bike didn’t inspire him! I was completely at a loss. I was so frustrated that I just stepped back and stopped even talking about riding (absent dropping a few hints here and there).
Then one day while I was out of town, I got a text from Juli. It was a video of Everett riding his bike. “This just happened,” she wrote.
He got his bike out and just started riding it. All on his own. I guess he was finally ready.
And thankfully, his bike was too.
Since that day Everett has fallen in love with riding. And with his bike — a Beinn 20 model made by Islabikes.
Islabikes is a UK-based company with its US headquarters in southeast Portland that specializes in children’s bikes. That doesn’t mean they put cartoonish stickers and crappy plastic bits all over their bikes — that would be the children’s equivalent of the “shrink it and pink it” approach some bike companies have taken towards “women’s bikes”. Instead, Islabikes creates bikes for kids from the ground up. Their entire approach, from fitting to making their own components, is based around customers who have smaller-sized hands, legs, muscles and brains.
So, how does that approach translate into a good cycling experience for kids?
One of my issues with crappy kids bikes (the ones sold in toy stores and big box retailers across America, which are the only option for many people due to their price and availability) is because they often fail to deliver on the promise of cycling. To get someone hooked on biking, regardless of their age, their experience needs to be as simple and fun as possible, right from the get-go. That thrill of balancing on two wheels that only you control, while coasting effortlessly with the wind in your face: That’s the feeling that creates a lifelong love affair with cycling.
Everett’s Islabike weighs just under 18 pounds. That means it has nimble handling and doesn’t take big muscles to speed up and slow down. It also has components that are easy for him to use and easy for us to adjust and service as needed. We’ve had a lot of kids bikes come through our household (I also have two older kids aged 11 and 13) and the cheap ones are nearly impossible to keep running smoothly. When I need to put my hands on the Beinn it feels like a mini version of one of my own bikes.
Over the weekend I installed a new set of fenders and it took me about five minutes. Everything was in the right place and they went on flawlessly. To me, that’s a sign of a quality bike.
It’s worth noting that the Beinn from Islabike costs $499.00. That’s about five times as much as a bike from Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer. Is it worth it? That’s up to each person to decide for themselves.
Our experience with Islabikes has value beyond the product. To get one, we went direct to the Portland showroom. (Islabikes are only sold direct, so if you can’t make it to Portland, you call and talk to a sales person to make sure you get the right bike for your kid.) After sizing up Everett, we decided on the 20-inch-wheeled Beinn. It’s got flat bars, an aluminum frame, and a 7-speed grip-shifter that’s easy to twist.
The company behind the bike is also first-rate. Not only are they local, they support our community in more ways than one. Islabikes is also behind an inspiring new initiative called the Imagine Project that aims to reduce waste and change the bike-buying paradigm.
But enough about all that: Everett loves this bike! He’s not old enough to really describe what he likes about it; but it’s easy to tell that being on it makes him happy. Whether it’s our daily ride to school (where there are half a dozen other Islabikes in the racks!) or weekend adventures, his bike is growing with him.
Everett’s not the daredevil type by any stretch; but I watch him gain confidence every time he goes out. We’ve been watching videos of the Red Bull Rampage (a famous downhill MTB event) lately and the other day while riding during his sister’s soccer game he came to a steep hill. Nervous, he paused at the top. Then he rolled forward, yelled, “Red Bull riding!!” at the top of his lungs and took the plunge.
That’s all the evidence I need that this is the right bike for him.
Disclaimer: Islabikes provided me with a bike for Everett at no charge and with no expectation of editorial coverage.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org