by Mark Alker
August 12, 2013
Isla added the Beinn 29 to the range because lots of parents who’d bought her age-specific bikes wanted a bike of the same quality for themselves.
Isla Rowntree served the perfect bike industry apprenticeship. A combination of blitzing races in every discipline, building her own frames and working with some of the industry’s biggest suppliers culminated in the launch of Islabikes, which now makes some of the best kids bikes on the planet. The Beinn 29 is its only off-the-peg adult production offering at present.
Isla added the Beinn 29 to the range because lots of parents who’d bought her age-specific bikes wanted a bike of the same quality for themselves. Isla’s a great believer in riding the biggest wheels that’ll fit your frame size, for both stability and ease of roll, so 29in wheels were a rational choice. Our test bike is a medium, for riders from 5ft 7in to 11in. The small is for riders from 5ft 2in and the large for riders from 5ft 11in. There’s loads of adjustment in the seat post and stem on every size and the stem length, bar width and crank lengths are different on each size. This sort of detail matters in terms of ideal posture but isn’t apparent on many other sub-£500 bikes.
The Beinn is superficially what many mountain bikers would call a hybrid. The £449.99 version comes with Kenda’s 1.5in ‘Kwik Trax’ tyres, intended for easy trails and rapid road use. But the frame has room for bigger 29in tyres and for £35 you can upgrade to 2in Continental Race Kings when you buy, and that’s how we’re testing it. So why buy a skinny-rib bike with rim brakes and a rigid fork when you can get a more chunky looking one for about the same amount with disc brakes and suspension? OK, it won’t suit everyone, but consider the pros and cons carefully and you might end up a better rider as a result.
- Frame 7005 T6 butted aluminium
- Fork Chromoly steel
- Hubs Islabikes disc-ready
- Rims Islabikes
- Tyres Continental Race King 2in
- Chainset Truvativ 32t with guard
- Front Mech N/A
- Rear Mech SRAM X5 11-36t 10-speed
- Shifters SRAM X5
- Brakes Tektro rim
- Stem Islabikes stem
- Bars Islabikes 26in riser
- Grips Islabikes
- Seatpost Islabikes
- Saddle Islabikes
- Size Tested Medium
- Sizes Available S, M, L
- Weight 26.1lb (11.75kg) without pedals
For a start, the Beinn 29 weighs about 26lb, compared to the 30lb or more of typical mass-market, sub-£500 mountain bikes. You’ll instantly notice that sort of weight difference on the climbs, in acceleration and in the general agility of the bike. Also, shunning the dubious advantage of hefty and function-compromised low budget suspension forks makes price room for the smooth-rolling advantages of 29in wheels, still surprisingly rare on entry level mountain bikes, and a fair few other interesting features that you won’t find on other sub-£500 bikes. For example, the adjustable rear dropout configuration allows you to fit a single sprocket if you feel the urge. The gearing is also unconventional for a sub-£500 bike, but practical in a market where many beginners are confused by too many gears. There’s a single 32-tooth chainring and the 11-36t 10-speed cassette provides a big enough range for all but the least fit on the steepest hills.
The rest of the componentry package is well thought out too. Disc-ready hubs require just calipers and rotors for an upgrade to a full disc set-up, but the rim brakes are perfectly adequate for milder riding or riders who aren’t already used to discs. Front and rear rack and mudguard bosses are fitted for utilitarian or touring duties, and if that’s what you’re planning you can opt for Islabikes’ racks and ’guards when you order. In short, the Beinn 29 is a lot more adaptable than the more typical clumpy, low budget mountain bike.
While a rigid fork inevitably challenges on radically rough terrain, we still took it on all of our usual trails, including a few of the ones we normally reserve for full suspension outings. To put it simply, the Beinn 29 copes with everything provided you ride with reasonable finesse. Its low weight and handling agility makes it way faster up the hills and on easy trails than most of the guys on 30lb+ full sussers, and on most loops it was already through the rough bits before they caught up again. The handling manages a rare mix of feeling both sharp and relaxed on most terrains; it’s lively but easy-going both on and off road and much easier to accelerate than other low budget mountain bikes.
The big wheels, easy riding geometry and 26lb weight combine to ensure that it can confidently keep up with more costly bikes on all but the roughest trails. It’s way faster on the climbs than suspension forked mountain bikes around this price, but for those who might be worried about missing out on big hit thrills the fork is long enough to allow a suspension upgrade without wrecking the geometry. In short, it’s the best all-terrain all-rounder we’ve tried at anywhere near £500.
In the case of starter bikes, like the Islabike Beinn 29, a rigid fork makes good practical and economic sense too. Most budget mountain bikes have poorly controlled suspension that adds weight and drags investment and attention away from other aspects of the bike, aspects that can make them a genuine pleasure to ride. In short, the Beinn is more fun, and easier, to ride than other £500 mountain bikes on anything short of radically rough terrain. It also teaches you to ride with far more finesse, which helps to make you a better rider on other bikes. There’s a lot to be said for new riders learning their skills on rigid forks, or for long-in-the-tooth riders going back to rigid occasionally. If you lust after a sprung Beinn at a later date, then an upgrade is easy: you’ll add a kilo or more to the weight but it’ll still be a few pounds lighter than most other entry level mountain bikes.