Buying a new bike for yourself is hard enough, but making the exciting purchase for your child is even harder. Where in a personal purchase you have only your own list of criteria to weigh up against the pounds in your wallet, this time you have a dual list of requirements.
Islabikes burst on to the scene in 2005, a creation from competitive cyclocross and mountain bike rider Isla Rowntree (read our interview with her here). Where once bikes for children were an afterthought - heavy and not ergonomically designed for littler bodies, the brand aimed to offer something different. Whilst other brands have since come on board, Islabikes are still the original brand creating 'proper' bikes for children. We gave one to Redhill Cycling Club Chairman Adrian Webb and his daughter Vita to see if it would meet both of their hopes and dreams...
Words - Adrian Webb
A bike for a young female rider is a tricky choice. It has to ride well, look good, encourage riding and be just a bit 'cool' too. My 13 year old, Vita, tried the Islabikes Luath with me probing her with questions throughout the experience. At one point, she wrinkled her forehead and said "Look Dad, it's just nice to ride, OK". If the review was just seven words, those would be the ones, but here's the long version...
Out of the box
First impressions of any new bike start straight out of the box are important. I've opened a fair few in my time and so had a particular eye for detail that comes only when a cycle-enthusiast parent first surveys his offspring's new steed.
- Luath 700c Spec
- Price: £549.99
- Weight: 10.42 kg
- Aluminium frame. Cro-moly forks with mudguard rack eyes.
- Adjustable Shimano Claris STI levers
- Tektro cantilever brakes
In this respect, the Luath made a strong start. It arrived very well-packed with excellent shipping protection for the wheels and frame, and the set up instructions were clear and easy to follow.
Extra brownie points came from the inclusion of three excellent quality Allen keys required to complete the job. They're the kind that any discerning rider would squirrel straight into their own collection. Using them we added the pedals, straightened the handlebars, set the saddle height correctly and made tiny tweaks to the brakes.
The bike was ready to ride in under 30 minutes - although there was extra pressure with a teenager wanting near immediate access. I made her wait and then asked what she thought.
Vita's enthusiasm was directed immediately to the clean lines and lovely orangey red of the frame. My eye was drawn to the finer details that make the Luath such a great bike for young riders during that transition from kids to adult bikes.
First, cantilever brakes. Kids make bikes mucky - they ride in parks. They go out in the woods with friends. Calipers are good for road but can get clogged easily when taken off-piste or cross-country so cantilevers are a great choice.
Second, the Luath came with supplementary 'interrupter' brake levers mounted so kids riding with little hands on the tops don't have to change position just to stop. That’s a lovely touch and one that gave my daughter extra confidence when out and about in the park.
Next, the frame. The Luath has a strong aluminium frame with all the joins and lugs beautifully finished before the paint job has been applied with obvious care. It looks like beauty but will be tough as a beast and able to absorb all kinds of action. Not the lightest but toughness trumps everything available for this age group.
The handlebars are well proportioned with a shallow drop that is much more comfortable and easy for small hands. Mounted on them, STI Shimano Claris gears that are 'exactly like Dad's' - meaning that the gear shifting mechanics are the same as 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace... only with eight cogs on the back. However, the gearing ratios have also been well thought out and adapted for the age group with a range from a good 'dinner plate' granny gear to a 12 tooth highest gear. The reach of the shifters is also adjustable.
When Vita first tried the Luath she looked smooth and confident. Up and down the road 'it felt good'. I asked her to try stopping and to change through the gears to see how that felt. Next to up the speed and come down our road in a high gear.
In short, grins all round. She said that it felt very safe but also that 'it went quickly' when she put some power through it.
Watching her with a neutral eye, it was easy to see that the proportions of the frame were well balanced and that the sizing was just about perfect with knees over the spindles when parallel to the ground.
At the weekend, we went out twice. First to the park again where she bombed about on the open grass and then on the road. I wanted to see how she fared on a 'proper hill'. Near our house is a short but steep road called 'Trumpets Hill' that reaches about 20% for a short time. On approach Vita changed down to her largest cog at the back but only switched to the small ring at the front when about five yards into the steep bit.
As anyone knows, this is a test for the gears and a point where some bikes weaknesses are highlighted. Not a peep from the Luath. The combination of good components, geometry and design saw the bike change smoothly and my daughter get up this challenge without any issues at all. On the short descent after, she weaved past potholes and small obstacles confidently.
"Look Dad, it's just nice to ride, OK".
The Luath is not the cheapest bike in its category but it is very clearly a quality bike and one where the extra month is rewarded with a powerful combination of component and design quality.
It rides beautifully with no apparent downsides and is clearly built to last. The colour schemes - character red or even more character green - will appeal to the superficial eye of a teenager but the whole package has everything to satisfy even the most picky cycling snob parent!
Most of all, when your daughter gets home from school and spontaneously suggests a bike ride rather than relaxing with Instagram and Snapchat, you know you're on to a good thing!
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