Long term review: Islabike Luath 700 Pro Series
Jamie and Ben Ramsden take another look at the updated Islabike Luath 700 Pro Series…
- Price: £1,599.99 (currently available for £999)
- From: Islabikes.co.uk
Ben and I last shared our thoughts on the Islabike Luath 700 Pro Series as the winter Cyclocross 2016/17 season was drawing to a close. The National Championships in Peel Park, Bradford, providing a suitably grand finale for Ben’s time with the Luath Pro. It was time for bike and rider to go their separate ways. Happily, the emotional good byes could be put on hold for a while as just few weeks later Islabike (via Grit.cx) offered Ben the chance to test an updated version of the Luath Pro frame. The idea being that the modified frame should hopefully have ironed out the couple of issues that had prevented the original setup from being perfect.
Back on the horse
So, with the pressure washers silenced and the ‘cross bikes cleaned and hung neatly in the garage February and March saw Ben’s cycling focus move to a few MTB XC events and early season circuit races. His true cycling love is however cyclo-cross, luckily living in Yorkshire the next ‘cross race is never far away, the thriving and ever-growing Yorkshire Cyclo-Cross Association (YCCA) summer series kicking off at the end of April. One of the 2 design issues we had identified with the bike had already been rectified by race 1. The Q.R. Skewers with the addition of and extra shim now performed as well as they looked. Their classy minimalist design now being backed up with a rock-solid grip that locked the wheels in place every time, they have performed faultlessly ever since.
The plan was then to return the Luath Pro back to Islabikes so they could remove its components and re-fit them on to the redesigned frame. This was undertaken in early June. Full marks to James and the Islabike customer services team at this point, the bike was collected, re-built and returned within the week ensuring Ben didn’t miss a race.
In early June the new frame arrived, did it solve the crank / chainstay rub issues of the first-generation frame? Yes, it did. The chainstays have been significantly resigned and now sit considerably further inboard as they exit the bottom bracket before flaring out to meet the seatstays. This redesign improves clearance between crank arm and chainstay so significantly that not only is the rub issue removed but also is the need for a chamfered crank arm tip (the cranks are now standard in appearance). I can only assume will reduce flex and aid power transfer from rider to wheel. Simply moving the chainstay inward would have solved one problem but created another, namely that of reducing tyre clearance. Islabike avoided this pitfall by adding a significant ‘pinch’ in the chainstay alongside the tyre ensuring the all-important mud clearance is maintained. The bike also returned with a new and re-designed carbon seat-post. We hadn’t experienced any problems with the original seat post’s functionality but mark 2 with its simpler, more minimalist design was definitely a step forward aesthetically.
So what difference does the rider think the new frame makes to the bike’s feel and handling? “absolutely nothing, you can’t tell the difference “. No bad thing when he was so pleased with the handling the original frame provided.
The Yorkshire Summer Series runs until early August and both rider and bike performed strongly, finishing 3rd U14 in the series. The Luath itself performed faultlessly, admittedly Summercross isn’t quite as harsh on equipment as winter racing but the bike has required virtually zero maintenance. The BB7 cable operated discs have continued to perform well, are a doddle to adjust and have still not suffered from any annoying ‘grit in cable’ issues (much to my surprise). Ben would still ideally liked to have seen hydraulic discs, his thoughts “they are just more consistent and powerful in wet weather, but I am surprised at how good these brakes are for cable operated” The Hydraulic option was rejected by Islabike as they believe “Current hydraulic road levers are too large for comfortable use by smaller hands”. The frame and fork has however been designed to allow braking upgrades to be undertaken if required.
As expected the Ultegra shifter and rear derailleur have continued to be light and accurate in use. A particularly neat design touch is the use of an Ultegra Di2 shifter for the rear brake. Being single chainring no shifting function is required from the left-hand unit but the Di2 unit keeps things looking nice and symmetrical on the bars and no doubt saves a bit of weight too. The ‘fiddle factor’ of having a little switch to play with has never lost its boy appeal either! The single chainring setup is rapidly becoming the norm for cyclocross bikes and also makes perfect sense on a child’s bike. Islabike have tackled the issue of chain retention by fitting double aluminium chainguards, Ben is not a great fan of design believing “there are lighter options that do a better job” (of chain retention). Chain loss has been minimal but not perfect, the setup occasionally allowing the chain to bounce up and outwards on hard bumpy fields. This solution also removes the need for a rear-clutch type derailleur, allowing the fitment of a lighter action non-cutch derailleur.
Ben has continued to run Isabikes Greim Pro cyclocross tyres (standard fit on the bike) throughout the summer and although they have quite an aggressive tread pattern to cope with the muddy stuff he has been pleased with their performance across the hard and dry summer courses. The wet September has reminded us though that it’s in the mud where these tyres really excel. The current generation of the tyre is now tubeless ready, removing a criticism we had of the original set up. At our first review, we did think having lightweight tubeless ready wheels (Stan’s Notube Crest) but not Tubeless ready tyres was a missed opportunity. That said Punctures haven’t been a major issue running with inner tubes but the extra reassurance (and weight saving of course) running tubeless would bring is appreciated.
Seven months on and Ben’s enthusiasm for the Luath Pro’s abilities remain as strong as ever. The unique package of a light-weight, race-focused bike designed without compromise around a young rider’s dimensions and abilities is still something I haven’t seen elsewhere. The few issues highlighted with the first-generation frame have been successfully removed by a re-design and almost 12 months on reliability and durability have proven to be top notch. Now for the bit parents will like, when we originally reviewed the bike it was selling for £1599, it is currently being advertised on the Islabike website for £999 which I must say looks rather good value. As for the test bike and rider, they are already 3 races into the 2017/18 YCCA winter series and with 2 trips to the podium already achieved a promising season lays ahead.
As Jamie and Ben were polishing off their review, we heard from Islabikes, who let us know that they plan to discontinue the Luath Pro Series, hence the price drop. Sad news for small ‘cross racers, but swoop while you can pick up a bargain. Here’s Islabike’s statement:
“While the Luath Pro Series has proven to be the market leading children’s ‘cross bike it has become clear that its disc brake spec is not offering the versatility that our customers want at this price point.
At the time of design it was believed that disc brakes were an inevitable progression and would be adopted by all disciplines of children’s cycle sport beyond cyclo-cross and mountain biking. This has not been the case and as a result we have taken the decision to discontinue the Luath Pro Series.
We will continue to hold stock of spare parts for the Luath Pro Series as we do with all of our other models.”