Rated: Islabike Luath 700 Pro Series
- Price: £1,599.99
- From: Islabikes.co.uk
- Tested: 3 months
I remember it well, September 2013, my son Ben’s first Go-Ride session at our local cycling club, Huddersfield Star Wheelers. Dozens of children happily whizzing around a large artificial pitch, enthusiastically undertaking all manner of games, tasks and challenges. Ben had arrived on his Hotrock mountain bike but we couldn’t help but notice that many of the children were riding the same design of bright red, drop handle barred cycle. This was our first introduction to the Islabike Luath. Fast forward a few months to January 2014, its 7.30am, pitch black and I’m stood in the empty car park of our local swimming pool, while Ben, massive grin on his face, is putting his new 10th birthday present through its paces. You’ve guessed it: a bright red Luath 26. It rapidly became obvious why the Islabike had an almost cult-like following – light weight and perfectly proportioned for junior bodies, perfectly at home either on or off road. Over the next 18 months this little red bike and its owner raced cyclocross courses and tarmac circuits and rode hundreds of miles both on and off road.
Ben has nothing but praise for his first Luath and remembers it fondly as “a perfect starter bike”. I loved its durable reliability and amazing re-sale value too. Interestingly when the inevitable happened and boy became too big for bike the one thing he didn’t want as a replacement was a larger Luath. Why? Firstly the styling, compared to the many adult bikes now available to him (many manufacturers offer XS & XXS sizing) the visual impact of the Luath fell short (a matter not helped by the bike’s sheer popularity). Secondly as Ben was moving up through age categories, competitions were now longer and more demanding, something lighter with better componentry and wheels was desired. A third hand and much raced Ridley X-Fire therefore became Ben’s next cyclocross bike.
It was therefore with great interest that I read last summer about the imminent arrival of the Luath pro-series, a bike which appeared to blend Islabike’s child specific geometry focus with a more striking design and a race spec to satisfy any budding young Wout Van Aert. No surprise then that when Grit.cx offered Ben the chance to race, look after and review one for a Winter Cross season it was an immediate ‘yes please’.
The bike’s arrival during one of our club’s training sessions at the Hammerstones tarmac circuit created quite a stir, amongst adults and juniors alike. It really is a good-looking machine, much more so than pictures portray, “a really stylish colourway, the stripes more orange than red (a good thing)” were Ben’s first impressions. Several neat design touches and the use of Islabike specific components not only add to the bikes visual appeal but hint towards a well thought out product. Its cross specific focus didn’t go unnoticed by parents however, the ability to race circuit and off-road (with a change of wheels) is a big plus for the standard Luath, an option not easily available to the disc braked Luath Pro.
The next morning, we were up nice and early for a shakedown / setup visit to the popular cross venue Thornes Park in Wakefield to discover whether the bike’s performance could live up to its looks. The first ride didn’t disappoint, “really light weight, really responsive in both steering and accelerating out of corners” were Ben’s first beaming reactions. He quickly hopped off the bike shouldered it and ran up the nearest bank. “wow that is light and easy to carry”. Cyclists are well known for being weight saving obsessives, perhaps excessively so in some cases (£60 carbon fibre bottle cage anyone? ) but weighing in at under 8.5kg with pedals the Luath is a full 1KG lighter than his regular ride. This saving becomes even more significant when you consider the rider’s weight is only 37KG. The bikes ultra-light aluminium frame utilises hydroforming to allow a flattened top tube profile to aid shouldering, something Ben definitely appreciates. Not week has passed by without Ben praising the bike’s lack of weight. The ‘grippyness’ of the Lizard Skins DSP bar tape was also singled out for early praise “I can feel my hands moving in my gloves rather than the gloves moving on the bars”. This level of grip was maintained regardless of the weather conditions. Islabike’s small hand specific bars were no doubt also contributing to the high levels of grip and control although Ben did question whether the bars would suit riders with larger hands as the drops were ‘very small’.
A couple of club training sessions led Ben into his first race on the Islabike, Yorkshire Points round 4 at Myrtle Park in Bingley. As a first year U14 this is his first season racing in the youth category (usually following full adult course), a step up which he’s really relished. It would be fair to say this was a day of highs and low for Ben and the Luath Pro. They had a great start, no doubt aided by the course almost immediately making the considerable climb up the park. Light bike, light, hill loving rider and very easy gearing (34t chaining with 11-36t cassette) meant hilly courses have been Ben’s favoured ones (not a view shared by his Dad and Sister). Such low gearing although initially looking a little strange on the back of a cross bike does make perfect sense for a younger, lighter rider. Generally, they have the ability to maintain a high cadence but not necessarily the power to push a harder gear. “Amazing, so good” is Ben’s opinion on the gear ratios. After a few strong laps a coming together with another rider and resulting tumble ended in a few bruises and bent rear mech hanger, bike and rider never totally regained composure.
Post-race examination of the bike highlighted not only the need for a new mech hanger (nothing unusual here for a cross race) but also the fact that the end of the drive side pedal thread was passing right through the crank arm and catching on the chain-stay. The later addition of a spacer to the Shimano MTB pedals did stop the pedal thread from protruding from the crank arm but didn’t totally solve the chain-stay rub. A slight rubbing of crank on frame still occasionally occurs as the crank arm can flex enough to touch the chainstay. Paint damage on both the crank arm and chainstay are clear to see. This is an occasional and by no means constant rub and to be fair Ben says he has never actually felt the contact but with a heavier more powerful rider on board it could be an issue.
Islabikes’ literature references the very low Q factor (distance between cranks) on the bike and whilst this no doubt makes for a better junior fit this has left clearances just a little tight. Islabikes has already identified this issue and has developed a revised frame which apparently keeps the Q factor the same while improving clearance for the cranks. All those who have bought this bike have been contacted and the frames are being collected and replaced at Islabikes’ expense. The good news for Ben is that he’ll be getting this replacement to test too, so he’ll not be having to bid adieu to the Luath Pro just yet.
Bike and rider cleaned and repaired the Luath’s cross season continued through the Yorkshire Points calendar with an odd National Trophy event thrown in. Ben was quickly at one with the bike, particularly he thought, “it’s great that the front wheel never catches your toes, something that doesn’t happen on my other bikes” (small adult’s bikes). After a relatively dry early season, November brought the pressure washers to life as the mud became deeper, a real test for any new cross bike. The bike’s all round mud clearance is excellent, single chainring, disc brakes and some clever shaping of the aluminium frame contributing to an almost total lack of awkward debris collection points. As bike cleaner / mechanic I was pleasantly surprised to see the Avid BB7 cable disc brakes also continued to work respectably in all conditions. My previous experience with cable discs and muddy conditions (TRP Spyres on a Giant TCX ) had seen hours of maintenance followed by an expensive upgrade to hydraulic when they still failed to deliver adequate stopping power. The Avid units have been virtually maintenance free, are easily adjusted and consistently maintained their performance. The cables have so far avoided performance reducing dirt ingress also.
One improvement the Luath Pro offered over Ben’s regular bike was a tubeless tyre setup, or so we thought. We returned home from training one evening rather perplexed, a flat tyre with no obvious signs of tyre damage or sealant leakage. Removing the tyre we were rather surprised to discover a punctured inner tube. A quick check with Islabike revealed that although the rims are indeed tubeless compatible (Stan’s Notube Crest) the Islabike stock tyres aren’t. To be fair none of the Islabike literature promises a tubeless setup, our assumption has been made from looking at the rim choice and reading online articles ( which had obviously made the same mistake ). It does seem a missed opportunity though, not to fit a tubeless tyre with its inherent off-road advantages on such a race focused bike. The tyres themselves were however highly rated by the rider and not just for their plentiful grip “for mud tyres they handle really well on the tarmac, they don’t fell ‘laggy’ as some mud tyres do”. With a tread pattern optimised for cyclocross riding, not only do they perform well across a range of off-road conditions but with their tan coloured side walls they look the business too.
The only significant mechanical failing the bike suffered from was with the Quick Release Skewers. These eye-catching lightweight components look great but unfortunately weren’t up to the job. On two different occasions (once just before the start of a National Trophy race) Ben was left trying in vain to tighten his QR after checking it only to find it passed from too loose to over tight in a tiny fraction of a turn. Islabikes are aware of the issue and I was contacted to say an updated set of skewers would be sent out to all Luath pro owners (good pro-active customer service at work). At the time of writing this the new components had just arrived but we hadn’t had time to test them.
So having raced in the National Championships in Bradford, the Luath Pro’s winter cross season is almost over, Ben’s overall thoughts on the bike? “Despite having a few problems it’s really good, especially given it’s Islabike’s 1st attempt at a race bike, not a do it all bike.” More specifically “lightness is the best thing about the bike, because it effects so many other things, especially acceleration out of corners and ease of carrying”. Perhaps the biggest testament to his love of the Luath Pro is the fact that out of 2 bikes we have brought to every race this winter the Islabike is always the one Ben chooses to start on. He pitted just once in his National Championship race (arguably he should have changed more), swapping for only half a lap, which was just long enough for me to clean the Islabike and get it back to him.
Overall: £1599 is not an inconsiderable sum to pay for a child’s bike, but amongst a grid of serious U14 cyclocross racers it’s not out of place. For the lighter, smaller rider it offers something that an extra small size adult bike simply doesn’t, namely a bike that’s ergonomically tailored to their specific needs. Controls, gearing and geometry are all optimised in a quality package, something much appreciated by a 12-year-old rider and his Dad. Yes, there are a few flaws, but these could be easily rectified with simple modifications and hopefully the further testing we’ll be doing will demonstrate as much but Islabike has created a striking looking bike that is offering something genuinely different to what is currently available. If your junior rider is in the market for a race focused cyclocross machine and your budget allows we highly recommend it.