ISLABIKES LUATH 700
Ahh, that magical moment when stabilisers are removed and your son or daughter defies their own logic and remains rolling along on two wheels. That should be the start of a beautiful biking relationship but, more often than not, enthusiasm is somewhat dissipated by children’s bikes that weigh more than a train and are as equally unreliable.
That’s certainly the market opening former competitive cyclist Isla Rowntree walked into when she set up Isla Bikes back in 2005. Rowntree had one clear aim: to make decent road bikes for children.
The Islabike range starts with balance bikes and culminates in the Luath 700 (large for aged 13 and upwards), which 12-year-old Harold (he’s tall) hopped on-board for several months. In that time, he’s racked up a few hundred miles and in my voice but with Harold’s input – and proofreading – here are the results…
From the moment Harold mounted the Luath, it fit like a glove. The Luath 700 large model is designed to be ridden by boys or girls with minimum inside leg 76cm and maximum 86cm. Harold Wiggins came in at 80cm and he seemed at ease immediately. That comfort stretched to the front end thanks to the proportional geometry and proportional anatomic dropped handlebars, and was matched by the perfectly-sized 165mm cranks.
“Braking is easy”
The brakes of one of my son’s earlier bikes were clearly designed by a human being whose hands have always resembled that of dustbin lids. As a (relatively – well, relatively-ish) responsible father, the thought of Harold descending at speed but having no way to stop wasn’t one I wanted played out in real life. (It happened to me when I was young and I descended into a garage wall. The scars run deep…)
Hence, aforementioned bike gathered dust and rust. Not with the Luath 700. The shorter-reach brake levers made stopping a more accessible affair, heightened by the cyclocross-style auxiliary levers that are operated from the bar tops. It’s a useful addition, though can make the front end look a touch cluttered. But we’d argue practicality outweighs aesthetics when young and refining your riding skills.
“The gears are much better than the Dawes’”
Harry’s last road bike, a Dawes Sprint, was a solid enough effort but the gears and brakes remained separate, huge Mickey-Mouse ear paddles sticking upright from the tops for rather cumbersome shifting. The Luath 700, on the other hand, is Shimano’s STI integrated affair. Not only did Harry appreciate this new-found professionalism – “Froome never shifts with Mickey paddles,” Harry told me – it offered swifter shifting options when negotiating the stop-start labyrinth that’s the urban jungle: traffic lights, pedestrians, technical turns, and short, sharp climbs and descents.
It also offered a wide range of gear options – 16 of them, in fact. From a father’s point of view, the 34-46t compact chainset and 11-32 cassette provided numerous options for any topography; for a 12-year-old lad, it was a good, hearty figure to impress his mates with.
“It’s heavier than I thought”
A touch harsh, I replied to Harold. Though he has a point. The Luath 700 hits the scales at 10.42kg including pedals, which was well over a kilogram than one of his previous bikes, the Frog 62. This measured just over 9kg on the scales but, as I explained to our critical whipper-snapper, the Frog 62 is sized up for eight to 10-year-olds, not a lanky 12-year-old. In actual fact, both bikes are constructed from aluminum, though Frog does include a lighter alu fork compared to the Luath’s cromoly steel version. So a few ounces could’ve been saved here and, in all honesty, as your son/daughter grows more confident, you can always remove the second set of brakes for further weight savings.
While it’s not the lightest bike to carry around, which is seemingly often when you’re young, it’s certainly durable. The butted alu frame instills strength, as does the fact the double-triangle design on smaller frames is near bulletproof. Islabikes’ own alu wheelset also adds a few pounds to the scales but its 32-spoke design again provides the durability you’re after with a junior bike. Another positive is that they’re quick-release rather than bolted on like many junior bikes.
“I don’t like the colour”
This is where Harold and I disagreed, and highlights how a bike’s aesthetic is so subjective. When liaising with Isla about whether to go for either the green or red that was shot in the 220 studio, I was convinced green provided a coolness – nay, funk – that’d impress Harold’s mates. I was wrong. “I would’ve much preferred the red,” he protested, which, in hindsight, I should have guessed as his favourite team is Manchester United. (These things matter when you’re young – actually, they possibly matter more when you’re old!).
Still, red or green, in my eyes the Luath 700 is one impressive bike, and is also versatile. There are eyelets for mudguards and bottle cages, and a swift change to knobbly tyres will transform it into a solid ’cross off-roader. You might think £549.99 for a junior bike, which they might outgrow relatively swiftly, is pretty pricey. You could certainly argue it is but we’d heard that Islabikes hold that value well (confirmed when we scanned eBay) so if you look after it – okay, potentially doubtful with a junior bike – you could make back a reasonable percentage of that outlay on resell.
Or you could spruce it up slightly and give it to your son/daughter’s younger sibling when they’re old enough. “No-one likes hand-me-downs,” Harold tells me. Or maybe not then…