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Brexit uncertainty, US regulations among reasons for Islabikes’ retreat


Islabikes are a common sight at local schoolyard bike racks.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been a tough year for Portland’s bike industry.

In May, local cargo bike maker Metrofiets called it quits. Then in July, bike shop and community gathering spot Velo Cult announced it would no longer have a retail location. And on Tuesday of this week we reported that UK-based Islabikes decided to close the local office and warehouse that housed their North American headquarters. And yesterday we shared the messy road that led to the end of Renovo Hardwood Bicycles.

I don’t enjoy reporting these type of stories, but I do think the community deserves to know a reasonable amount of detail about them. Given Islabikes’ popularity and large role in our community (as a sponsor and partner of many local events), I felt like their official statement wasn’t enough. Earlier this week, I reached out to Islabikes General Manager Tim Goodall and asked him to share more about why they’ve decided to leave.

Goodall cited Brexit (the UK’s decision to leave the European Union) and a pesky US federal government regulation as two of the main reasons.

“We refused to send bikes that were non-compliant and we also refused to compromise our geometry to meet the requirements,”
— Islabikes GM Tim Goodall on a CPSC regulation that requires children’s bikes to have a coaster brake

As we’ve reported, Islabikes said they want to focus on the UK and EU markets. Behind that intent is what Goodall now says is a concern about the impacts of Brexit. The decision to leave the EU came via a very narrow voter referendum in 2016 and and the official exit is scheduled to occur in March 2019. However, the UK and EU must sign an agreement before it can happen and the debate over that agreement is far from over.

“The uncertainly of Brexit gives any company operating between the UK and EU pause at the moment,” Goodall shared with me via email yesterday. “Islabikes needs to dedicate time and energy to ensure that we’re growing those markets during whatever transition comes.”

I also asked Goodall if their decision had anything to do with a soft US market for high-quality children’s bikes that are much more expensive than big-box and “toy” store options. “The first few years were very strong and encouraging and we definitely think there is room for high-quality kids bikes in the US,” he said. Since Islabikes launched in 2013 several other high-quality children’s bike brands have launched. Was that competition the last straw? “The fact that so many brands with similar missions have sprung up definitely made the piece of the pie we have a bit smaller!” Goodall explained, “But the fact that those brands have come about is also encouraging. Islabikes mission from the start has been to provide children with a better experience riding bikes – there are more and more quality options out there for young riders.”

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Islabikes GM Tim Goodall setting up a customer in 2013.

Then he mentioned a surprise reason: A Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requirement that children’s bicycles (defined as “sidewalk bicycles” by the CPSC) must be equipped with a footbrake (a.k.a. coaster brake, which activates by pedaling backwards). This regulation means all of Islabikes’ popular 14 and 16-inch models must be shipped with a coaster brake.

“We refused to send bikes that were non-compliant and we also refused to compromise our geometry to meet the requirements,” Goodall explained. “Over the past two years we’ve spent vast sums as well as countless hours in an attempt to enact a rule change.” Goodall says the coaster brake requirement is “woefully outdated” and even without a US presence Islabikes hopes it changes someday.

Leaving the US wasn’t part of the plan for Islabikes, but the political uncertainty of Brexit forced them to re-visit their decision.

“The fact that we are letting down our customers weighs heavily on our minds and in no way was the decision taken lightly,” Goodall shared.

We are bummed to see them go. Not only does Islabikes have a great product, the company is full of integrity and Goodall himself is a testament to that. “We relish the connections we have made in our five years in Portland,” Goodall shared with us. “From Sunday Parkways to Kids’ Cross – we have loved seeing our customers out doing what they do best – riding bikes with a smile on their face.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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