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.