Sunday, September 1, 2013

Islabikes: Real Bikes for Kids

There's been a veritable revolution since this blog was started. It used to be difficult to find a good "bike for the rest of us," suitably designed and equipped for everyday riding by regular folks. Not so, 2013. Walk into any reasonable independent bicycle dealer and you likely to find a decent practical bike for your purposes, whatever they happen to be... unless you're a kid, or shopping for one.

There are good reasons why good kids bikes are hard to come by. A decent multi-speed bike, regardless of the size, is going to cost $300-$500, and not a lot of people are willing to spend this kind of bread on a kids bike. I suspect this is because kids (1) grow like weeds, (2) won't necessarily "click" with bicycling, and (3) don't always take great care of their possessions (not a judgement, just an observation).

There are some good kids bikes available and they are getting better, but the variety is lagging the adult market by at least ten or 15 year. What does that mean? Well, you can now find good road bikes for kids, traditional and "flat-bar" style, and there are "cruiser" style bikes and decent mountain bikes for kids, but not many that meet the criteria for a "Bike For The Rest Of Us."

For example, Fuji's Ace 24" and Absolute 24" and 20" are good for fun, fitness, or even youth competition.

But these are not great for practical transportation, or just kicking around town--there's no room for wider tires or fenders. Also the stand-over height is a bit tall, limiting the potential audience. Kids are top-heavy--their heads are bigger in proportion to their bodies than grown-ups--so a scaled down adult bike doesn't fit properly. This is a pretty huge point that gets overlooked sometimes.

Here are some options from widely available brands: Giant Revel Jr. 20" and Specialized Hotrock Street 24". Both come in "Boys" and "Girls" models, and in versions with 20" and 24" wheels. Lets see...  

Lower stand-over height? Yes, good job.
Wider tires? Yes. (But the Giant Revel Jr comes with heavy knobby tires--bad choice.)
Can you mount a rack on the back? Yes.
Fenders? Giant, no. Specialized, yes.
Good upgrade on Specialized Hotrock: stainless steel spokes and quality tires.

But wait: the water bottle mounts are awkward at best, or not available, and 21 gear combinations are unnecessary and overly complicated (most adults have trouble learning good shifting habits--starting with a single shift option--rear only--is a GOOD idea).

Next: Trek. Here are the FX 24" Boys and Girls models.

Good thinking, solving problems, and a nice explanatory website (Trek Kids Bikes). I particularly like the dual position crankset/pedals (though it might be a solution looking for a problem). But... the website doesn't list the parts specification, and the steel seatpost and handlebar and high-tensile (heavy and not good at absorbing vibration) fork suggest that other part selections may cut corners.

My final complaint: what's with the differentiation between girls and boys models? It is entirely unnecessary, stigmatizing, and just a bad idea. The girls models lose water bottle mounts, the boys models lose stand-over height, and there's WAY too much focus on color (my daughter was all about pink for a while, then all of a sudden it was no pink allowed, or purple, anywhere). Besides, these are kids bikes, they're going to be outgrown in a year or two, and passed down to a sibling or neighbor--why limit the audience? I guess it's like breakfast cereal: more models = more shelf-space, boxing out competition, and giving the illusion of choice.

Solution: ISLABIKES. Smart smart smart. I don't work for them, I gain nothing by this, and, disclaimer, I've never seen their bikes in person, but they've solved all the problems I see challenging kids bike design.
Isla Beinn 24" (

I'm too tired now to write down how they solve all the problems. Check out the website and read it for yourself. Maybe I'll finish this off later, but it's a nice day to go outside and ride a bike ;-)



Anonymous said...
Check out the Linus kids bikes at the bottom.

Joseph E said...

We bought at 16" (wheel) Islabike for our 5-year old. There are other good options for 20" wheel kids bikes and above, but nothing else compares to their 14" and 16" wheel bikes. They are light (14 lbs with fenders), sturdy, good-looking, and the front hand brake is great. It helps that we live in Portland and were able to go to their warehouse to pick up the bike locally, and could try it out before buying. But I definitely recommend these to anyone who needs a real, quality bike for a 4 to 6 year old.
My only wishes are that they would offer integrated lights and a better chainguard. Oh, and offering more colors would be nice.