Islabikes is a UK-based company that specializes in all manner of lightweight kid's bike. We took a look at its full line-up a little while back at the Sea Otter Classic, and reviewed its pint-sized 14" CNOC in Issue 23 (in digital and print). From balance bikes to singlespeed starter bikes to geared multi-use bikes, Islabikes makes it all. The current lineup also includes kid-size mountain bikes with suspension forks and drop bar road/’cross bikes.
Just in time for the holidays, we shine the spotlight on the Islabikes Beinn 20 S, a lightweight aluminum-framed bike with 20" wheels and mini V-brakes that can pull duty as a kid's cross racer, mountain bike or paved path carver. It also could be a great Christmas or holiday gift for a young cyclist who would appreciate having gears, or a much lighter bike. It also will be a gift that will keep on giving for a few years, perhaps even starting with the new U10 non-championship race in Hartford.
Originally started in 2005 by a woman named appropriately enough, Isla (Isla Rowntree is a former Masters Cyclocross World Champion), the company has a Portland, Oregon U.S. headquarters and offer some great options for U.S. parents who are looking for better options than they can find in their local "big-box" warehouse store, or even from their local bike shop.
The Islabikes model lineup has always placed an emphasis on lightweight, affordable bikes that fit properly with good ergonomics. The Beinn 20 is a prime example of these ideals.
The Islabikes Beinn 20 Frame
The frame of the Beinn 20 is a 7005 T6 heat treated aluminum and offers a lightweight, sturdy platform to build upon. The 7-speed drivetrain offers just enough gearing for moderate hill climbs. The easy pull and reach of the V-brake levers ensure your young rider will learn proper control and good handling habits.
The company is so serious about proper fit, that they offer the Beinn 20 in two different sizes. Highlighted here is the Beinn 20 S (the "S" stands for small) with a 10" frame and 114mm cranks. The Beinn 20 S is targeted toward children in the 5+ age range with a minimum inseam of 18.5 inches and height of 44 inches. Islabikes has a sizing guide on their website and they are also available via phone for sizing help. For comparison, the Beinn 20 L (large) comes with an 11" frame and 127mm cranks. The Beinn 20 L is aimed at children ages 6+ with a minimum inseam of 20.5 inches and height of 47 inches.
The frame has all the fittings of an adult bike, including water bottle braze-ons, rack mounts and fender mounts for commuting to school or joining parents on a bikepacking adventure.
The Islabikes Beinn 20 Build:
Every component spec of Islabikes models is carefully selected for proper fit, from the size of the grips, to the light action of the twist shifters to the reach of the V-brakes. The cockpit is also specifically sized with proportional considerations taken on the size and shape of the saddle, the handlebars, the stem and even the included pedals. Downsized pedals and saddles like the ones on the Islabikes Beinn are very hard to find (we've tried), even as stock equipment on other kid's bikes. If Islabikes ever sells these accessories separately, every parent of a young ’crosser should rush to order them.
The gearing, with a SRAM X4 rear derailleur, single chainring and 12-32 cassette and 32t front chainring are sufficient for most types of riding a kid will face. On a fast flat road, and definitely on downhills, our tester could max out the tallest gear, and the steepest climbs were still a challenge to pedal up when in the lowest gear, but it's important not to judge the Beinn gears by referencing today's 10-42 and wider cassettes. Most kids with 20" wheel bikes have one gear, and relative to that standard, the gearing range is more than sufficient and appreciated, especially for cyclocross.
Dual chainring guards add a decidedly retro look, but it's functional as well as the guards not only keep the chain on, but keep the little ones' pants clean on their rides to school.
The claimed weight of the Beinn 20 S is 17lbs, 10 ounces, but we found the real world weight to actually be a tad lighter at 17.03 lbs, with pedals, bottle cage, reflectors and the spoke guard. That's light for any geared cyclocross bike (some of the difference may be due to our test bike having different tires than the current spec—more on that later). Yes, this 17-pound bike has 20" wheels, but it's also less than $500. Find a 17-pound adult cyclocross bike for under $500 new and you should buy it (our $528 Cheap Bike Project was nowhere close).
For the little one's live-at-home pit crew, a huge upside of the Islabikes Beinn (and the company's other models) is that all the components will be familiar items, in terms of operation and adjustment. A threadless headset, BSA threaded bottom bracket, mini-V brakes, and quick release wheels all make adjustments, maintenance, upgrades and repair relatively simple operations. Want to throw on some TRP 8.4 or Paul MiniMoto mini Vs on the ride? You could do it.
Size-specific cockpit items, cranks and pedals are great, hard-to-find items for kids, but the icing on the cake for the Islabikes Beinn is really the wheels and tires. The 20" wheels (decimal sized 406mm diameter, not 451mm fractional or vintage 419mm Schwinn diameters) use lightweight alloy rims and thankfully, have an appropriate number of spokes (just 20). Considering the weight of the rider and small diameter rim, these lightweight wheels are plenty strong for kids but aren't the bulky, overbuilt steel hoops found on most kid's bikes.
The 406mm rim choice allows for plenty of tire choices, and our test bike came with the excellent 1.75" Kenda Small Block Eight tires. These tires are ideal for all but the sloppiest surfaces, and are surprisingly supple and grippy. The high volume allows for low pressure riding with inner tubes, especially helpful for the younger rides (properly adjusting your definition of "low pressure" for kids means single digits in psi!).
The cherry on top of the icing? It's definitely the Presta valve inner tubes. Pump up your tubular or tubeless cyclocross tires on race day and then inflate the kid's bike without messing with your floor pump's chuck. The Presta valve certainly is a nice touch that's a constant reminder of the thought Islabikes puts into its bikes.
Current Islabikes Beinn specs reveal that the latest models swap out the Kenda Small Block Eight Pro tires for Schwalbe Black Jack 1.9" tires. The tire choice has a bit of a backstory here, as Islabikes worked with Kenda to get proprietary sizes of popular treads for its bikes, but Kenda has found that there's a market for these smaller tires, and has made some of these sizes available to the public now. While the only 20" version of Small Block Eight Pro on Kenda's website is a 1.5" width version, a quick online search shows 1.75", 1.9" and 2.1" widths available in the 20" size now.
Now that the Kenda tires are widely available, Islabikes has moved away from the brand, adopting the Schwalbe Black Jack for current Beinn models. This move might be a temporary one, as the company has now found an alternative for the Small Block Eight with a similar-looking tread in the form of its own tire, called the 72 tpi Réidh (with a "Pro" skinwall line coming). Alright, enough about kid's tires. Let's ride.
Anytime you can remove a few pounds from a bike for a 40 or 50-pound rider, it makes a world of difference. Three pounds for a small kid is the equivalent of ten pounds or so for a 150-pound adult—and yet many of us obsess over just a few grams on our race bikes. Needless to say, put a young kid on a much lighter bike, especially one with gears, and everything is suddenly easier. Acceleration, climbing and especially barriers of any height are a lot easier for a little one. Heck, even picking up the bike after little spill is less of an ordeal.
Islabikes' dedication to size-specific components, including short 114mm cranks allows for a lower bottom bracket and pretty tight wheelbase for both more stability and easy remounts for the little one, but easy maneuverability.
While we won't profess that young testers can articulate ride impressions compared to other bikes, and won't claim that adult-sized and weighted testers can form accurate impressions on rides through the park, we will maintain that compared to another 20" kid's BMX bike and 20" wheel mountain bike, the Islabikes Beinn is both lower (by an inch) and faster steering. The wheel can be tucked in closer with the short cranks, and the head angle is notably steeper than you'll find with a kid's mountain bike. The quick, nimble steering is great for rides around the park and around the kid's ’cross course, but may require some focus when it comes to a long, high-speed descent on a dirt ride. (Note, Islabikes does not publish its geometry charts.)
The shifting and brakes are simple to use, but the larger grip of the GripShift shifter makes the component perhaps the only one that's not ergonomically optimized for small hands. Still, it's easy in operation and intuitive. The brakes have been easy to adjust, and the reach-adjustment makes for easy access for the little hands.
Nitpicks? Sure, we can pick out a few minor ones. Internal cam quick releases would be preferred over the external cam sticks, as there's just less to go wrong, and maybe an even-wider range cassette with a few more cogs might be nice. Both options can be put on the kid's wish list for future upgrades.
This bike is available in three colors (Orangey-Red/Green/Pink) and retails for $499.99. The Beinn 20 S is available direct from Islabikes in the US or U.K. via its website.
If you are looking for something a bit more performance-oriented, Islabikes has recently announced a new line-up of high-end bikes called the Pro Series. If you're looking for something a bit smaller, we took a close-up look at the 16" Stampede Bikes Sprinter here, the 16" Cleary Hedgehog and singlespeed 14" wheel Islabikes CNOC in Issue 23. We've had a few lucky but busy kids help out CXM lately.
Islabikes Beinn 20 S Key Specs:
Frame: 7005 T6 heat treated aluminum
Fork: Lightweight cromoly blades and steerer with fender eyelets
Crankset: Islabikes aluminium 114mm
Brake levers: Islabikes aluminum micro-levers
Brakes: Aluminum mini V-brakes front and rear
Shifter: SRAM 3.0 Comp twist-shift
Rear derailleur: SRAM X4
Front derailleur: n/a
Cassette: 12-32, 7-speed
Pedals: Islabikes proportional resin flats
Seatpost: Aluminum micro adjust 25.4 x 250mm
Saddle: Islabikes proportional saddle
Stem: Islabikes aluminum ahead 50mm flip-flop
Bars: Islabikes aluminum flat bar 480mm, 11 deg
Wheels: Islabikes aluminum double wall rims, aluminum quick release hubs, steel spokes
Tires: Schwalbe Black Jack 20x1.9"
More info: islabikes.com