The Islabikes founder’s new range of bikes for those aged 65-plus shows how different people can often have very different cycling needs
Peter WalkerFri 25 Jan 2019 15.01 GMT
On the Bike Blog we do wang on quite a lot about the vital importance of safe infrastructure to get more people cycling, and with very good reason. But there’s another aspect also worth considering: having people on a suitable bike.
Why did this occur to me? Because of a chat with Isla Rowntree, the eponymous founder, head and design supremo for Islabikes, who has spent 13 years thinking about how bikes can be made easier and more fun for children to ride, and is now branching into intended bikes for older people.
As a brand, Islabikes inspire strong reactions in some people, ranging from undying loyalty to disbelief that a bike aimed at a five-year-old can cost nearly £400 – though of course the latter factor is leavened by the bikes’ famously strong second-hand value.
Whatever one’s view, Rowntree is a fascinating and thoughtful person with whom to discuss cycling, and her reasons for setting up the company. It began 13 years ago after relatives and friends started asking her as “the resident cycling expert” – she is a former UK cyclocross champion – about the best bikes for their young children. She says:
At that point in time, I think children’s bikes had reached an all-time low in terms of their functionality and the riding experience. They were really heavy, because they had great big fat tubes to make them look like adult mountain bikes, but made of steel, and very often some kind of faux-suspension that added another couple of kilos, huge numbers of gears that young children couldn’t understand.
They seemed to have gone away from the shapes that fit an actual child – huge, long cranks, brakes that they couldn’t reach and with springs so heavy they couldn’t pull on them.
I was coming from the angle that as a cycling evangelist you really like to persuade people to enjoy what you love. And the thought that the children of my nearest and dearest might be put off cycling – that’s how bad I felt the bikes were – was quite distressing for me.
Her solution was lightweight machines with child-sized components, something now mimicked by a series of other children’s bike brands.