One of the things I really love about having a home in a specific cultural world (in my case, cycling) is how it seemingly opens up the whole world, and often brings it right to your doorstep. By being open to cycling, by opening out to cycling, you actually gain a gateway into a massive range of understandings, experiences, personalities. Cycling is a tremendous connection between people at any time, but significant enthusiasm for and commitment to cycling tends to make you the best of friends before you’ve even met.

So I feel very privileged and quite proud – as well as very happy for my children – that from time to time we have quite esteemed (at least in our cycling world) visitors come to stay. And a week or two ago it felt especially delightful to play host to Isla Rowntree, because although we’d never met, Bobby and Flo have been very happily riding Isla’s bikes (Islabikes) since they started moving on two wheels. As they’ve grown older, they’ve progressed through the Islabikes’ range. Starting from the scooter-bike Rothan, Flo – age six – is now riding a Beinn 20, whilst Bobby – age eight – has moved up to the Luath 24. I absolutely agree with Isla when she says, on the Company’s website, “We believe we have built the best bikes available for children whilst recognising that a growing family is expensive and they must be affordable”.

Bobby was so proud to get his latest bike, a proper drop-handlebar racing bike. Although of course it’s not only for racing,  we did have some wonderful times racing together last summer – Bobby riding a two mile time trial around Salt Ayre cycle track, whilst I rode the 10 mile version (and on one occasion we even managed to persuade Sue out, to ride her first ever time trial – she did the six mile option). Isla can vividly recall getting her own first bike, and it really feels to me that her Company’s ethos embodies the profound love for a bike which children can have. I don’t think I’m overstating the case to call tragic the situation whereby many parents in today’s UK presumably did not experience the thrill of a Christmas or Birthday bike, and the intense liberation which a bike can give, so that there’s little hope of them seeking empathetically to communicate that magical experience down to their own children. We may have almost lost an important (if historically recent) ritual – indeed, rite of passage – of childhood, and I think we should be very, very angry about that – it’s symptomatic and symbolic of a closing-down of the world, a world which – as I said at the start – gets opened up by bike.

Bobby and Flo have been gradually moving up through the Islabikes range, but they’ve probably ridden more miles on Isla’s trailer-bikes. As well as lots of riding around town and local country, we’ve done a couple of big cycle-camping holidays in the Netherlands using these, and their performance has been just superb. There’s no comparison between Islabikes’ trailer-bikes, which pivot over the rear axle of the adult bike, and cheaper trailer-bikes which attach to the adult bike at the seat post. But Bobby has finally outgrown the trailer-bike, so – as with all the other bikes we’ve had from Isla – it’ll soon move on to another home and another child in Lancaster, helping to open up yet another little person’s world. And this year Bobby will graduate to independent cycle-touring. We’re currently busy researching the various options – if you have any recommendations for ideal cycle-touring country for a nine year old, please do let me know!

Isla was in Lancaster as the guest speaker at Salt Ayre Cog Set’s AGM. Paul Andrews from Cog Set had invited her, and because he knew that Sue had done some (obviously favourable!) reviews of Isla’s bikes for the cycling press, and because we live very close to the train station and Isla needed to leave Lancaster at 5 o’clock the next morning in order to get to work, Paul asked if we’d be happy to put her up for the night. “Of course, it would be an absolute privilege!” We already had my workmates Tim and Al, and Al’s son Johnny, staying, which made for a very sociable evening. After giving a by-all-reports excellent presentation to the Cog Set audience, back at our house Isla continued to field our many questions with immense patience and very good grace.

But you know what, if I’m completely honest, I enjoyed the most? Sitting in my lounge around midnight, talking with Isla and Tim about our shared love for cycling, and privately and indulgently dwelling in the thought, ‘there are three people all with Brummie accents talking passionately about cycling in my Lancaster living room! How ace is that?!’

Salt Ayre Cog Set use Isla’s bikes. Islabikes have played a very important role in this thriving Club’s success. Bobby and Flo are learning a (hopefully sustainable) love for cycling much earlier in life than I did, mainly because they’ve got parents who love cycling, but significantly because Isla makes bikes which they can not only ride, but also ride well, and so thrive on. And because good reputations spread, and word as well as the actual bikes gets around, Islabikes is playing an important part in the cultural revival of cycling in Lancaster. There are many interesting issues – well worth exploring – around the contemporary cycle industry. What is undoubtedly the case however, is that we need companies such as Islabikes making good quality bikes for children if not only those children, but cycling in general, is to thrive.

Thank you, Isla, from all of us.

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8 Responses to “Islabikes”

  1. cen k Says:

    Hi Dave

    I’m green with envy – would have liked to have met Isla as well. I’m regretting not having invested in a couple of islabikes before we left for NZ. Ronan is still on our Islabike trailer, which means it has now clocked up 16 years of near constant use. Bobby’s first tour – what about the Loire valley. I heard at a conference on protected landscapes a few years ago that there is now a cycle way connecting many of the chateaux along the loire and thought of what a great tour that would be for a family: historic, scenic and croissants. Check out – but I hope your french is good!

  2. Dean Luxon-Robinson Says:

    Great blog. I too am green with envy – I think Isla Rowntree deserves a DBE for her work. I live in NE Derbyshire but work all over the UK, always taking my bike with me when I go in order to commute the many congested cities I work in (London, Glasgow, Cardiff….) Last year for his 6th birthday our son received a Beinn 20. When it arrived and we assembled it from the box his mum and I sat there staring at it just thinking, “it’s a thing of beauty”. His riding transformed from labouring on the Halfords bike he’d had till then. This year we’re going to splash out on another for our daughter. I’d thought of buying one second hand on ebay, but have you seen how these bikes hold their value? Three year old Beinn 20’s regularly go for around £150-160. A testament to their reputation, don’t you think!

  3. Steve H Says:

    I can honestly say that I’ve never known anyone who’s more down-to-earth, friendly and so blooming enthusiastic as Isla. Some of my fondest memories are of the many fun/training/club MTB and road rides I used to participate in with her and the (sadly, now defunct) Black Country Wheelers and Stourbridge CC. Always very capable on the bike – as her National titles will confirm…let’s just say that she taught some of us big, hairy men a thing or two about riding bikes… great times and very fond memories.
    It’s no surprise to me that Isla has made a great success of her bike business – long may it continue! I only wish that I had kids of my own so I too could relieve her of a few Islabikes.

  4. Jane Hart Says:

    Just a question, I have my eye on an Islabikes tag along even though I have a seat post mounted one (which I am not keen on). We need it for our holiday in Jersey. Can you carry luggage (ie panniers) properly on the rack of the Islabikes tag along?

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Hi Jane
      Yes, we have put (small, specifically-designed) rack and (ordinary, but front) panniers on an Islabike tag-along, *but* you must be very careful not to put too much weight onto it. For cycle-camping, we have used the panniers on the Islabike tag-along for 4 thermarests (lightweight, inflatable mattresses), which are bulky but not heavy. I’d be careful to avoid putting anything much heavier onto the bike, as it’s not designed to carry loads. It’s worth contacting Islabikes direct if you have any concerns or queries – they are a fantastic, and incredibly helpful, enterprise (and will I’m sure give you useful advice even if you’re not buying anything from them). Good luck, and have fun in Jersey!
      Best wishes, Dave

      • JAne Hart Says:

        Thanks for the reply! Whoops I think I worded the question wrong. What I meant was is the rack supplied with the tag along strong enough to take weight and can you fit panniers on the rack when the tag along is attached. WE now have a tag along and the rack seems very strong. Isla bikes assure me it should be fine to take panniers.

      • Dave Horton Says:

        Hi Jane. Ahh, you mean the rack to which the tag-along is fixed, on the lead, adult bike, right? Yes, those racks are indeed exceptionally strong (and quite heavy!), and will take very big, loaded, touring panniers without a problem. The only thing to be aware of is that the turning circle of the trailer bike is reduced by the presence of the panniers – so if the adult bike’s panniers are full (which they will probably be) then when making tight turns the front part of the trailer bike, where it attaches to the rear rack, will rub up against the panniers. It’s not a big problem so long as you’re aware of it. (Though it could, potentially, damage items you are carrying in your rear panniers, such as tent poles, if/when you try and make a 180 degree turn too tightly.) Does that clarify? If not, please get back to me. Cheers, Dave

      • Jane Hart Says:

        Yes that’s great thanks. Good point about the tent poles!

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