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 – email@example.com
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We love our Beinns (20 & 24).
I just did a 20-mile ride with our Scout Troop this weekend, and my 11-year-old was riding up at the front of the group the whole time. I barely saw him, as I was at the back helping the other kids deal with their heavy, janky bikes.
Really awesome story, Jonathan. Love the look of the Isla bike. My daughter sounds a lot like your son: it took a while for her to feel comfortable with riding. She’s 10 now and fairly confident. Which brings me around to what I think would be a great story: Portland-area (Hood River to Wilsonville to Scappoose) trail riding for kids who are new to mountain biking! Where are the good trails for the newbie beyond the NW Trail Alliance’s fantastic easyClimb trail in Cascade Locks?
Exactly. There aren’t any. My son and I have been driving to Cascade Locks and Hood River for the past four years to ride off-road. I am hoping Gateway Green and the Master Plan will help to fill the void.
Brian, where do you go in Hood River? Thanks!!
family man is a good bet
Yep, we park at Family Man and ride that area for a bit and then ride some of the singletrack (7 Streams) nearby.
Great, thanks for the tip!
You might check out Stub Stewart State Park as well. They have a small but well designed system of trails, including some easy-to-middlin skill level trails.
That’s where we go, but my kids don’t like that you have to do a pretty large climb right off the bat, so they are halfway worn out before we get to the trails. And the freeride area is definitely not beginner friendly.
there a Multiuse trails that have peds, bikes, and horses at Stub also. They are a good bet for beginners.
I stopped by their showroom for the first time on Friday and got first-hand info from the gal there… I was already impressed just by shopping online, but you don’t get the full effect of how specialized these bikes are for the full range of growing kids until you see them for yourself in the showroom…
The specialized hotrock is at least lighter than a huffy but the single-speed and coaster brake have made it hard for my 5yo on hills up or down. We added a caliper front brake and sanded the paint off of the rim. I also changed the saddle and moved it back with a brompton seat post adapter to make it a bit more crank-forward since he has more confidence if he can put his feet down (he started from a scoot bike, no training wheels.) He rode the entire 10mi loop of the last Sunday Parkways. He wants it to have a hand lever for the rear brake, and probably gears.
The fork on this looks much more slender than even the 16in hotrock’s. How is the gearing?
Our kids can climb pretty much anything with the gearing. I wish it wasn’t a grip shifter, but most of the gears are easy to get to (only the last two are challenging).
Standing or spinning? Looks like 32t x 12-32, assuming 19.25in for the tire and: 110rpm * 32/32 * 19.25 * 3.14 * 60/12/5280 = 6.3mph, which is pretty quick climbing on a 10% grade and spun-out around 17mph. I think 24t would work better: 4.7-13mph. 5yo at 15mph?
We got a grant to buy 21 Islabikes some years back and they’re not only light and perfectly proportioned, they have the right gearing – Isla Rowntree has done her research. They suit British Cycling’s age-related gear restrictions for racing and our kids (up to 90 on a Saturday morning – well, once) delight in using them. They can also borrow them for racing (nominal charge).
They also stand up to some pretty rigorous usage with very little servicing. The only drawback for our parents is that they now know what a decent kids bike looks like and costs like. but they do get back up to 855 of the cost price when ebaying them, so the cost per week is pretty low.
My (almost) step daughter has the Beinn 26 and it’s great. No bogus suspension fork that weighs more than her. Decent enough parts. Fenders and rack went on no problem as there was plenty of clearance and the appropriate eyelets needed. Also switched out the Kenda cross style tires for some giant Paselas (Soma branded (YUCK) Panaracers. Got’em at work for like 4 bucks a piece). Anyway, it’s a pretty nice bike.
The cost is prohibitive for most especially since the kid will outgrow it soon enough. I would love to get my kid an isla bike, love the idea of them but darn, they are pricey. There has to be a way to make a light kids bike that doesn’t break the bank
I think about that all the time, it should be doable. The “better” kids bikes do hold their value better though, so when it is time to get a bigger bike you get some cash selling the used bike to help offset the cost.
I pretty much never see these for sale used, and there are people out there asking. I bet when we sell ours we recoup 80% of what we paid.
I wonder if Isla has considered some sort of leasing model for bikes, where you pay an annual amount (I dunno, $150?) and always have the options to trade up a size. Then they expertly refurbish the bike and get it back into rotation. Seems like a neat way to build life long – errr, childhood long – customers.
SilkySlim, check out the link to the Imagine project in the article. Islabikes is planning exactly what you’re describing.
Awesome, thanks for pointing that out. My future children are excited.
Considering the terrible quality level of most kids bikes, I’d bet that Islabikes hold good resale value.
They seem to be more and more available on the used market now. That’s what I would recommend, since they are reliable.
That was a great advertorial
Thanks pooperazi, glad you liked it.
Nice that they seemed to put specific focus on the shift action. I got my 6-yr-old a 20″ Diamondback with a gripshift-style Shimano 6-spd drivetrain. She loves it, but the shift action is quite difficult and it’s taken her the better part of a year to build up the wrist strength to be able to shift while riding.
Shifting can be problematic.
I wonder what Islabike is doing… there web site shows photos of SRAM 3.0 grip shifters. Are they modifying these or have they selected them as the most kid-optimum shifters at the price point?
Also- nothing wrong with a single speed for a kid. Simplicity can be a good thing.
Dan from Islabikes here – We fit a grip shift for two reasons: the shifting is intuitive and clear labeling indicates that one direction shifts up and the other down. The other reason is that we’ve found that children can use their whole hand which is stronger than just using a thumb on a trigger shifter. We chose SRAM due to their 1:1 actuation ratio making them easier to twist than other manufacturers.
Glides Bikes have been building balance bikes from the ground up since 2006 and not offers a 16″ version that you add pedals to. The Go Glider.
Starts out as a balance bikes and converts to a pedal bike just by adding a pedal kit.
We love our Beinn 20 (and now 24, with the younger kid riding the 20). My son went from riding ~5 miles on his hand-me-down clunker, to riding 20+ miles. Now that he’s on the 24, he’s hard to keep up with!
I really hope other manufacturers are paying attention. Kids love these Isla bikes. The only down side is they’re new enough that it’s hard to find d a used one.
The price seems steep at first. But “comparable” models of Giant, Trek, or Specialized, (etc.) are all in the $350 – $495 range. What’s the point of upgrading your kid to a geared bike when the grip shift is made for adults and they can’t use it and get stuck going up a hill in the wrong gear? Pushing a useless super heavy suspension fork on a bike that’s as heavy as they are?
Kudos to Isla bikes.
or one of these monstrosities. Yuck.
I’d like to hear more about the Islabike grip shift. Their website shows SRAM 3.0 in the images… this is not a kid-specific shifter (though it may have been selected as being more kid-friendly).
Wow, just found this awesome list, and it includes the weight of some of their ‘recommended’ bikes:
#6: “quite light and weighs about 34lbs”
#3: “weighs just 36lbs”
Criminy! My chrome moly Bridgestone CB-1 with a 20″ frame weighs 30 pounds. What do they make the kids frames out of, black iron water pipe?