Monday, September 10, 2018

BSNYC Fall Product Review Spectacular Part 4: Islabikes Luath 24 (plus auxiliary follow-up reviews!)

Some months back I took delivery of an Islabikes Luath 24, and because it was too small for me I begrudgingly gave it to my 8 year-old son:

As it happens, prior to the bike's arrival my son had been pestering me for a cyclocross bike.  Quite honestly I'm not sure how he even learned about cyclocross--I mean I guess I must have explained it to him at some point but I don't really remember.  Anyway, whatever I said must have stuck, because on our short rides around the neighborhood he'd practice dismounting and remounting his mountain bike and going on about how he wanted a real cyclocross bike.  As you can imagine, he was rather excited when the genuine article arrived.  (Not nearly as excited as he is about anything Nintendo-related, I'm not gonna lie, but still excited.)  Subsequent to its arrival, we've ridden it to the zoo and other places, but he had yet to partake in any actual cyclocross.

That finally changed yesterday.  Once September rolled around I headed over to BikeReg to see if there were any area cyclocross events that included kids' races, and in fact it turned out there was a training series about an hour's drive north of us put on by Pawling Cycle and Sport that looked like it would fit the bill.  (Spoiler alert: it did fit the bill and I recommend it.)  So early yesterday morning we loaded up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and hit the road.

Of course now that I'm a born-again Fred I had to race too.  There once was a time when I raced the cyclocrossing often:

(I should attribute this photo, but I've long forgotten the source.)

However, with young kids it became very difficult to justify driving many hours just to suck at racing bikes for 45 minutes, and the last time I wrestled myself into a skinsuit was probably like eight years ago or something.  In fact, at this particular juncture in time I don't even have a cyclocross bike.  I do, however, have a Jones SWB Complete, and you may recall Mr. Jones himself using one for the cyclocrossing in his video about the bike:

(Guy in the blue is like, "I just wanna play volleyball!")

Since seeing that video I'd been wondering how the SWB would do as a cyclocross bike, and I figured a low-key training race behind a bike shop in Putnam County was a perfect opportunity to find out.

It was also a perfect opportunity to bust out the SuperClamp EX 2 again, and I had no problem hauling both bikes despite the considerable size difference:

While this is only like my third trip with the hitch rack I think I'm ready to say I prefer it to the roof rack.  Even though I have to attach and remove it for every trip it's still less of a hassle than removing wheels and so forth, especially when multiple bikes are involved.

Once I'd removed the saddlebag, handlebar purse, and bottle cage (though I'm not sure why I bothered as it wasn't like I was going to be shouldering the bike) from the Jones I was ready to...well, if not race, at least ride around the course briskly:

Of course New York isn't Portland:

But I was heartened to find there were lots of kids there ready to race--including my son, who enjoyed himself considerably, and who rode with aplomb thanks to his mother's genes because I can't imagine mine were any help:

The sartorial choice however was all mine.  I personally find the hockey-jersey-and-sweatpants to be very SSCXWC-chic, but after seeing some of the more kitted-out kids now he wants proper cycling clothes.


After his race it was my turn.  Between being mostly there for my son and the casual nature of the event I hadn't really even given the race much thought, but as soon as I was out on the course it all came back to me: the whole "Wow this hurts!  What was I thinking?" thing after which you eventually find something resembling a rhythm, followed by that post-race elation that makes you want to do it all over again for some reason.  It really is riding bikes distilled.

As for the Jones, not only did it make for a great substitute cyclocross bike, but I'd say that for this particular race it was possibly better than a cyclocross bike.  This was not one of those courses with long paved sections or with sections requiring you to shoulder the bike.  (You'd be hard-pressed to shoulder the Jones.)  Basically it was a bunch of grassy hairpins and a woodsy section out back.  On the grassy hairpins the big fat tires stuck to the course like Velcro, in the woods I just floated, and I could ride up the railroad tie steps everyone else had to run.  The bars were also surprisingly well-suited to cyclocross: I put my hands out front on the straightaways, I had plenty of width for cornering, and despite said width the sweep kept me from clipping the trees.  Also, as I mentioned before, the bike is very nimble in general, and my only complaint was that it was heavy to lift over the barriers--and it didn't get any lighter as the race went on.  (Though this was the only time I felt aware of the bike's weight.)

And no, I didn't attempt to hop the barriers, because I didn't feel the need to embarrass myself any more than I already was.

Not only did using the bike this way give me a whole new appreciation for it, but I also found myself thinking how ironic it is that the popularity of cyclocross kind of jump-started the whole fatter tires on bikes thing--yet the one discipline of cycling that still insists on narrow tires is cyclocross.

Go figure.

All that notwithstanding, this is ostensibly a review of the Islabikes Luath 24.  In this context dorking out over tire width is silly.  Would a child be faster on the kiddie version of a "plus" bike?  Who the hell cares?  Really, this is a bike to teach an interested kid about "classical" drop-bar riding, whether that's road riding, cyclocross, or just the joy of going down a hill while tucked into the drops.  For that it's perfect.  It's got a single-ring drivetrain, top-mount brake levers, cantis, bottle and fender mounts...  The only thing I'd bother to change is the bar tape, which is kind of cheap and harsh.  However, being lazy I just bought him gloves instead, and being a kid he's way into wearing the gloves because it's more gear, so problem solved.

As for the price, $800 is a lot to spend for a kid's bike (or a kid's anything), and of course a kid can discover the joys of road riding or cyclocross or whatever on pretty much any bike.  Still, it's a very fine specimen, and you can always amortize it by having more kids.  (Or, you could save even more money on kid's bikes by not having any kids.)

Anyway, once we were both finished destroying the course with our massive power output we racked up the bikes and headed back to the uppermost borough:

Where son left father to unload all the gear:



O4fuxake said...

cyclocross podium!

Anonymous said...

Fun story, and fully support your positive words about the Islabikes - having had a couple of them for my own kids. Very well thought out bikes.

Bender said...

What the hell?

Matt said...

So ur kid is out racing cyclocross wearing his mothers! And maybe it's the angle of the dangle, but those tires on the Jones look HUGE! I've noticed my mtb tires keep getting wider and wider, and other than the heavier tires (really not noticeable) it's all bonus! The grip pretty much anywhere is fantastic, and the MENTAL boost of seeing the big tires under me give me confidence to corner faster than I would normally do. The only downside is having all that fantastic grip and cornering faster and faster means the inevitable wash-out crash from finding the limit of their grip (you only know the true limit when you've surpassed it).

Jake said...

Part Four?

Chazu said...

Happy Monday!

hellbelly said...

Best review ever! I saw you race at what was likely one of your last cyclocross events at Granogue in '11. It seems you had quite a bit more fun this time than you did back then.

BikeSnobNYC said...


Oops! Fixed.

--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

isn't it ironic.
nice juxtaposition of the fat tire/skinny tire hanging off the back of the car.
you also don't want a sloping top tube to carry the bike over barriers.

leroy said...

No root beer hand ups?

wishiwasmerckx said...

I see that Snob, jr. is wearing now-politically-incorrect Nike sneakers. The judges will give you a pass on this one under the assumption that they were purchased before the current kerfuffle, and on the assumption that like most kids, he will have outgrown them within three weeks of you having purchased them.

Of course, New Balance is the official shoe of middle-aged white men, but he is decades away from the unbearable pressure to wear them exclusively.

In fact, his dad is surely on the cusp of mandatory New Balance shodding.

BikeSnobNYC said...


Got them months ago. Felt weird about it then, feel much better about it now.

--Tan Tenovo

Chazu said...

I was going to say the boy needs more Nike logos on his kit, but such a comment is now political in nature, and I didn't want to inject politics into an otherwise perfect blogular entry.

So now I'll say it: The boy needs more Nike logos on his kit!

Huffing and puffing behind the pack said...

Loved the "What was I thinking" line about cx racing - I never get the old ticker up to the level I do in a cx race - never - (training? not for me!)- no doubt that is why I always am "bringing up the rear."

I assume that you are going to turn your child into a profit-making center by signing him up for a kit modeling shoot, right? The sky's the limit on your future profits.

Watson & Crick said...

"...thanks to his mother's genes because I can't imagine mine were any help..."

He also seems mature and not at all smug.

HDEB said...

Hooray for amortizing sporting equipment by having several kids : ) Those silly cyclists riding in the snow in the oldish cx photo, they could have much more fun on xc skis.

bad boy of the south said...

Great article on you and could've stopped at daryl's house post-ride,but that'll be another trip.
Like the swoop.

James said...

I hope you coasted on the grass sections just like Mr Jones.

Anonymous said...

Seems kinda steep for $800. The are closeout Raleigh RX24 with Apex 1X10, cable discs for just over $400.

pbateman uses cheat codes for goldeneye said...

$800 doesn't seem that bad in the context of how much anything bikey not found in a big box store costs.

and someone perched high a top a hand hewn ancient redwood fred sled can certainly afford $800.

what generation Nintendo you running?

I run N64 which is the Campy Athena of Nintendo systems. Goldeneye...Fifa '99 ...fantastic, classic, still work great and that controller allows for precise shifts on mario cart.

The Wii is pretty slick. Its more like the sturmey archer i'd say.

HAL 9000 said...

"I run N64 which is...fantastic, classic...

When I was a boy we had to program our own computer games. I wrote a lunar landing game in FORTRAN. On punch cards.

And drove a Sturmey Archer AW to/from the computer building.

GatorJoe said...

Snob, that may be your best blog yet. Very sweet and touching. You have either embraced fatherhood wholeheartedly, or you are being swept along in the current like a log over Niagara. Cheers.

Old Guy said...

Hey you kids, get your bikes off my lawn.

JLRB said...

Ahh good times - spending time with the offspring - good for you that he shares your bike-love. And he wore a helment

Skidmark said...

@anon2:34 pm- Do you think Raleigh is selling bikes?,
or liquidating inventory?

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 2:34pm,

To Skidmark's point, the Raleigh you site was originally priced about the same as the Islabikes.

--Tan Tenovo

BikeSnobNYC said...

*cite, not site. Oops!

Anonymous said...

The closest I ever got to wanting a kid was in the 1970s, when a Dutch guy came in with his kid's racing bike, looking for 20" sewups to fit it. I recall it had a 4-speed freewheel. Damn, it was cool, but not quite cool enough to have a kid to justify buying one. He ended up going to Mel Pinto to get the tires, if memory serves me well.

jellyfishsalad71 said...

In my experience dads generally have to pump tyres, fill and fit water bottles, locate helmets, gloves and all other requisite gear, charge lights load, unload, etc etc... i reckon its worth it though. Nothing better than a family bike ride where everyone's having fun! :-)

Spokey said...

what NO ONE has asked is - what the hell happened to the hyundai?

that outback is at least 4 years old. i am (or was before i started shrinking) 6'4" and find that too high for a roof rack.

Anonymous said...

Islabikes makes high quality stuff for kids. I'm a fan! And the resale value, when your kids outgrows it, is fantastic.

HC said...

Cute kid. Looks fun. I did the same, and sometimes extreme patience was necessary... 100% it will pay off. But you knew that. Rock on