I’ve been racing bikes since I was 11 years old. My first “race” bike was a Huffy made of a ludicrously heavy steel frame, with equally cheap components. The last 30 years have taught me the importance of investing in quaility bikes and components. Having raced all those years, the one question I always had was, why are kid’s bikes so heavy? Why the cheap components, poor geometry, and lack of any thought whatsoever on what a good youth race bike really needs? Instead of a youth-sized bike frame with cheaply made adult-sized components slapped on by a big-box-store employee, what if there was a quality lightweight bike made with quality parts?
As the gram-counting, gear-loving parent of a blossoming cyclist, the sheer brute force required for me to lift my daughter’s youth sized bike onto the roof of our car was ridiculous. Sure, there are the “high-end” bicycle manufacturers who create an occasional youth-sized bicycle that is nearly the same price as their adult counterpart. But these belong less on the road than they do in Richie Rich’s bedroom. Even large scale US based manufacturers create youth-sized versions of their adult bikes, but seem to give little thought to the small details, practicality, or application of the bike in the hands of a rider still learning the craft.
With that said, I was excited to get my hands on a youth road bike from a company that I had never heard of before. Islabike is a company from the United Kingdom started by by competitive cyclist Isla Rowntree. Having obtained a significant number of impressive palmares in the professional ranks of our sport, Isla eventually decided to focus on the future of the sport of cycling by specializing in producing quality children’s bicycles. Not just smaller versions of adult bikes either. REAL youth racing machines.
Not only has Islabike created a series of top-end riding and racing machines, but they have addressed a concern I personally recall hearing from my very own parents back in the early 80’s: “What if my kid doesn’t end up liking racing? The bikes, helmets, shoes, pedals, and gear required is expensive and the bikes are just to specific to racing!” This is not so with Islabike. This is precisely where the Islabikes Luath comes in.
The Islabikes Luath series are versatile road/cross bikes aimed at kids age 8-13 years old. For any parent, especially those who have a pension for lightweight cycling gear, that was the most noticeable feature of the Luath. It’s lightweight! Made from 7005 T6 aluminum, the Luath boasts the lightweight frame needed for a burgeoning rider to be able to control, lift, cary, and move, without the heavy sluggish steel of it’s cheaper, poorly made cousins.
Since the Luath is specifically made for lighter-weight youth riders, the aluminum tubes are not required to be as thick as what is typically seen on an adult bike, thus saving even more weight by creating slimmer tubes. The Luath includes a solid steel fork, the part of the bike that will likely take the most abuse by the average youth rider.
Tough paint, and quality parts ensure the Luath will look good and last longer, enabling the bike to be handed down to younger siblings with potentially less resistance for the parent. Win.
But here is where the Luath really shines: Versatility. Not only can the Luath serve as a dedicated race, triathlon, or even cyclocross bike due to generous tire clearance and solid metal cantilever brakes, but its pannier and mud guard bolts can allow this bike to work as a touring or town bike too. So if your little pro turns out to be “not so pro” your not stuck with a bike that won’t work to get them to school, friends houses, or to the local shaved ice shack. Another win for weary parents.
With the exception of technical rock-strewn downhill mountain biking or bike park freestyle BMX’ing, there is little the Luath can’t do.
Little hands need littler parts. And this is where the Luath takes a good thing and carries it all the way to completion. Not only have they dealt a death blow to unnecessarily heavy kid’s bikes, but they made the Luath even better by adding Shimano STI integrated brake and gear levers with short reach brake levers. No adult parts on kids bikes. Brilliant.
And to build those ultra-important confidence-building bike handling skills, they included top mount brake levers. Easy to reach, easy to use, easy to stop. The exclusive Islabike handlebars are narrower, shallower and have a shorter reach for shorter arms and growing riders.
A generous flexibility in the stem shape and size allows for use as the rider grows, or as the bike is handed down. Another money-saving focus very well thought out. It’s the little things that most impressed me with the Luath. As a lover of all things Cyclocross, and having tried for two years to get my kiddo to try it, the option to use this bike for both road riding and cross was a winner. My 11 year old daughter with those “growing-too-fast noodle looking arms” could easily lift this bike up over kids-size cyclocross barriers, making this not only an introductory road racing machine, but a great tool for her to explore other disciplines as well.
Wheels. Any lover of this crazy sport knows the importance of good wheels. Something you can never have too many of, and can easily spend too much on. Which makes the Luath even better! The Islabikes alloy rims and alloy hubs use slim stainless steel spokes for a safe and super light wheel set that can handle use both on road and off, and accept a wide range of tires. Be it 20c Triathlon tires or 35c Cyclocross tires, the Luath can do both. The wheel set is standard 700 size road wheels, which means finding variations of tires, tubes, and wheels is a breeze. I could just as easily swap wheels from this bike to my own, meaning if I really wanted to deck out my daughters Luath with a set of over-priced flashy carbon rims, I could. Cyclocross wheels with wider tires and mud clearance? Done and done. Brilliant and easy.
Two water bottle mounts should be a given on all bikes, but amazing they are not. But you will find them on this bike!
Even the saddle was well thought out. The Islabikes saddle is perfectly proportioned for a child. What this does is not only keep the weight down, but it allows the saddle to be used by either gender. It’s wide enough for comfort, and narrow enough for performance.
The Luath comes with standard pedals, which while this may seem low end, it is actually not. The pedals are a solid metal, Welgo brand pedal, with good cleat grip. Not plastic platforms that will break the first time its laid on it’s side, which every kid seems prone to do.
As the rider grows and their skills improve, the Luath fosters an understanding and opportunity to learn as well. The bike has quick release hubs front and rear, which means the days of using two box wrenches to fasten those “always-seem-to-be-stripped” bolts are over.
One last note of impressive thought on the part of Islabikes. Color. The red/orange paint scheme was, whether by intent or accident on the part of Isla, absolute brilliance. The red was not so overwhelming that it screamed “boys bike” and the orange lettering softened this enough for it to easily pass as a “girl bike,” at least enough to satisfy my “all things pink” girl.
Negatives for the Luath were few. A quick release on the seat post would be a welcome add on for quick adjustments and riding style to match the bikes versatility.
Overall, my impression of the Luath was hands-down amazing, mixed with a healthy dose of jealousy. It’s fantastic to see Islabikes doing such a great job bringing quality bikes to the industry and as a result, fostering new riders and growth in the sport I love. On the other….I really wished I had this caliber of race bike when I was a kid starting out. Brilliant bike, fantastic quality, and amazing versatility. Well done Isla. Well done. – by Jake Burby
A Second Opinion
Another reader, who are interesting is getting his son into triathlons reached out to me about finding his son a bike. Having more knowledge about roads bike that I, I suggested that he be sure to check out Islabikes in addition to other bikes he was considering. Upon reading Jake’s review, he went for the Islabikes and was clearly impressed. Here is his review:
My 12 year old son is 62” tall and has a 28” inseam and has always enjoyed riding his bikes. As a proud cycling father I have been anticipating the day when I could go bike shopping for my son’s first road bike. Having enjoyed our casual family bike rides my son wanted more. He begged and begged to ride with me and promised that he would be able to keep up on his BMX. Instead of disregarding his request I put him to the challenge. Two miles into our ride he was ready to head back home.
A friend of mine recently purchased a road bike for his son from the local sports superstore. After struggling to assemble his new steel brick of a bike his son was ready to ride. Knowing that I was in the market for a new bike he allowed my son to borrow the bike and father-and-son bike ride part 2 was on. The was no need to warn any pedestrians or other bikes of our approach because they could hear the grinding, rough shifting, and squeaking bike coming from blocks away. Although the ride was rough, my son had a blast.
After riding the sports store bike, I knew that both he and I wanted something a little more than they had to offer. In researching bikes I came across the Two Wheeling Tots website. I contacted Natalie and asked her for a recommendation. She directed me to the Islabike Luath 700. The specifications for this bike made it sound like the perfect bike for us. I was thoroughly impressed by the service that was provided by Islabike. They wanted to make sure that they too had the product for me. By providing my sons height and inseam they assured me that the Luath 700 would be perfect.
A short time after ordering a large box was delivered to my doorstep. The only assembly that was required was to screw on the pedals and handle bars. After adjusting the seat to the correct height my son was off and riding.
His was initially impressed with how quickly he could accelerate. The bike is light, specifically sized for his size, and equipped with quality components. Having grown up with BMX and mountain bikes he was comfortable with hand brakes high on the handle bars. The smaller sized brake levers made braking easy while still being able to handle the bike.
Learning to shift gears with the paddle shifters was quick. The gears shift quickly and smoothly. Having the second set of brakes out on the handles made transitioning to this riding position very easy. Again the brakes are sized so that he can maintain complete control of the bike while braking.
After seeing that my son was comfortable on the bike I knew that he was ready for longer rides. There was only one complaint after completing our first 15 mile ride; why do we have to go home?
Thank you Islabike for this amazing bike. It is great to see a bike company that makes bike that are sized for kids. This is not an adult’s bike that has been shrunk down. All aspects of the bike from top to bottom have been designed with the child’s frame in mind. When asked about his bike my son always says, “Riding is effortless.” – Ryan Larsen
Availability: Islabikes are only availably directly from Islabikes by calling them directly at (503) 954-2410.