Islabikes Creig 26 Children’s Bike – Long Term Test

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Sanny recruits his daughter for some long term testing of the Islabikes Creig 26.

When it comes to children’s bikes, it is probably no exaggeration to say that Islabikes enjoy an enviable reputation as the undisputed market leader and have a level of brand awareness amongst the non-cycling fraternity that others would covet. Much of this can probably be attributed to the fact that their founder, Isla Rowntree, was the first person in the industry to recognise that kids bikes do not have to be heavy, unreliable and not particularly fun to ride.

“Sunshine? In Glasgow? Are you absolutely sure?”

As someone who grew up in the era of Raleigh Chippers, Choppers and the piece of pig iron with an atomic density not far off that of depleted uranium aka the Grifter (it rode like it too to be honest!), the first Islabike came as a real breath of fresh air. No longer were kids treated as second class cyclists who had to put up with cheap and nasty components, quirky handling characteristics (ever tried doing no handies on a Chopper and lived to tell the tale? Thought not!) and a bike that would give even The Rock a hernia trying to lift it. It was a brilliantly simple idea – a kids’ bike that was not shit but it really captured the imagination of parents and children alike.

The Creig 26 re-imagined.

A bike designed specifically for kids.

Fast forward to today and the Islabikes Creig 26 is the latest version of their mountain bike. A mainstay of the range for many years, 2019 saw a fairly radical revision to the design and spec. Building upon the attributes that made it so popular with both casual riders and the budding race set alike, Islabikes have refined the design and specification to come up with a bike that is both lighter, features more modern trail geometry and with some noticeable upgrades compared to the previous version.

The previous iteration of the Creig 26 set a really high standard for the latest model to live up to..

In order to test a kids’ bike, one obviously needs a kid to do it. Fortunately, I have an 11 year old model of my own who has a real liking for riding bikes and who took zero persuasion when I asked her if she would like to be my long term test buddy. She has ridden it and the previous version in all weathers on all manner of trails for the last eighteen months and has developed some clear opinions about the bike and its capabilities.

Imagine this had been your first ever mountain bike?

As with all bike tests, let’s start with the spec.

The 26 in the name should be a clue – the Islabikes Creig 26 runs on 26” wheels. Gasp! Remember them, kids? It’s funny how after decades of riding 26” wheels, as soon as 650 and 29 became mainstream, what everyone had ridden and loved suddenly became old hat and consigned to the dustbin of history. However, while they may have lost the popularity battle when it comes to modern mountain bikes, they still very much have a place and have found a brilliant application in kids’ bikes.

In this case, Islabikes’ own branded 6 bolt disc hubs are matched with 24 hole Stan’s Crest tubeless rims and Vee Tyre Crown Gem 2.25” tyres. Not being ridden by 20 stone’s worth of clumsy IT consultant, the low spoke count and lightweight rims make for a fast rolling choice for the intended user.

Everything is designed around the smaller rider.

The frame is constructed from lightweight aluminium tubing and is very well finished. The welds throughout are smooth and consistent while the matt effect teal paint job with orange graphics has proven tough and durable throughout the duration of the test. Julia initially preferred the orange and red finish on the previous version but the new colour has really grown on her.

Neat welds and a durable paint job.

The IS disc mount might appear a little old fashioned in this age of post mount discs but it is arguably better suited to smaller frame sizes where there is less room to fit a disc calliper. Give me ease of adjustment over streamlined looks every day of the week. As you would expect, the rear mech hanger is replaceable while there is space to fit a water bottle. The lack of mounts for a mudguard is a surprising omission given that other bikes in the range feature them. There is a lot to be said for being able to use proper mudguards over clip on ones.

Less is more.

In terms of drivetrain, gone is the wide 11 speed 11 – 42 cassette, Gripshift and 30t single ring of old in favour of an 8 speed 11 – 40 Sunrace cassette, SRAM X4 Trigger shifter and 26 tooth single ring mated to Islabikes’ own brand direct fit cranks. The inclusion of trigger shifters marks a big departure for Islabikes but was done in response to consumer demand while the seemingly retrograde step of having fewer gears instead of more was done in order to save weight and to make things a little easier for little ones. When it comes to kids’ bikes, the logic is that a wide gear range matters more than close spacing between gear ratios.

In terms of finishing kit, everything is scaled down to accommodate smaller dimensions from the grips and bars to the saddle and resin pedals. Braking is taken care of by SRAM Level hydraulic brakes with 140mm and 160mm rotors back and front.

Rounding off the spec is a really rather nice RockShox Gold RL air suspension fork with 80mm of travel, lockout and rebound adjustment. Overall, the Islabikes Creig 26 has a real quality look and feel to it. For the money, it puts an awful lot of adult bikes in the shade. Fair to say that if this had been my first mountain bike, my tiny mind would have been blown. It just looks right!

Enough tech chat. How does it ride?

Having had the bike for a full eighteen months, Julia has had ample opportunity to get to grips with the Islabikes Creig 26 and has really put it through its paces. It has seen a lot of use from simple rides to and from school, ice cream shop rides, lockdown urban adventures and photo shoots through to full on mountain bike adventures in Aviemore and the Lake District. During the period of the test, she has grown several centimetres which the bike has accommodated with ease. Suffice to say, she has done more than enough riding to form some definite opinions about the bike.

Islabikes Creig 26
Scoping the right line.

Love at first ride.

First off, she loves riding the bike. It takes very little in the way of persuasion to get her to go out for a ride on it. When I drilled down to find out what in particular she likes about it, the lack of weight was a key factor. Her other bike being a fat bike, Julia is used to riding a bike that weighs as much as children’s bikes of old. To be fair to her, the heft of her fat bike didn’t stop her riding the 40km off road loop that takes in Ryvoan Bothy and Loch Garten The comparison is stark. Instead of being slow and hard to accelerate, the Creig is a veritable rocket ship. Despite sporting 2.25” tyres, the wheels are quick to get up to speed and, more importantly, keep them there. Whether on road or off, the wheels roll quickly and with a noticeable lack of effort. This is definitely a big contributing factor when it comes to rider enjoyment. Grip levels from what look more like an old skool racing tyre are equally impressive. We played about with different tyre options but eventually settled on the stock tyres as being the tyre of choice. They show hardly any wear despite a lot of use although I suspect that may have something to do with my daughter weighing less than half what I weigh and having inherited her mother’s finesse on a bike off road!

One for the climbers.

There is a rocky climb near to Sanny HQ called Rosie’s Road. In the wet, the combination of mud, loose rock and exposed bedrock make for a tough climb to clean. Despite having never ridden it before, Julia decided to have a crack at it on a particularly wet day. To my slack jawed amazement, she went for it and managed to get to the top under her own steam with only a couple of dabs. It was a definite proud Dad moment for me! I’ve seen plenty of experienced riders get off and push in such conditions which made me all the more impressed.

On another occasion, she managed to get up the stupidly steep hill that rises up like a wall from The Badger’s Bar in Rydal up to Rydal Mount. The top section is particularly nasty, leaving the worst for last. She was absolutely determined to do it and she and the Creig were equal to the task. If your son or daughter likes to climb, the Creig is definitely the weapon of choice.

Islabikes Creig 26
A change of tyres and you have a capable road machine.

Well thought out component selection.

As the trails turn downward, the short stem and narrow bars combined with a not-too-low front end to make for a comfortable and capable descending set up. While the current fashion is for low front ends on adult bikes, there is a lot to be said for a more upright position where it is easier to look up and ahead down the trail. It also makes for reduced rider fatigue for longer periods in the saddle. Given the lack of complaints from the rider, I think it is reasonable to say that Islabike have struck a good balance of comfort and control.

Islabikes Creig 26

The brakes are plenty powerful and the dinky lever blades and adjustable reach have proven to be a real winner in our household. I used to regard Shimano as making the best brakes on the market but SRAM have, in my experience of running both, stolen a lead over Shimano when it comes to long term reliability. The SRAM levers may not look quite as aesthetically pleasing but I’ll take the better reliability every day of the week. Seeing that Level hydraulic brakes had been installed made me a happy camper.

Islabikes Creig 26
Arty moody shot.

Goldilocks design that hits the mark.

Given the ease with which Julia has been able to get up and down trails, whether singletrack, canal paths or country lanes, what has become apparent over the period of the test is the neutral handling characteristics of the Islabikes Creig 26. It is a definite Goldilocks machine – not too long, not too short but just right. On this, I think Islabikes have played a bit of a blinder. As mountain bikes become increasingly niche in the way that windsurf boards did in years past, it is refreshing to find a machine that manages to do everything well. There are no weird foibles.

Islabikes Creig 26
Proper fit makes all the difference.

One handy and no handy practices are easy – the front in doesn’t turn in unexpectedly while the ride position is such that the bike has proven to be comfortable even after several hours in the saddle. It is easy to underestimate the importance of this. Your kid isn’t going to ride a bike if it is uncomfortable. End of. What it isn’t is a dirt jump bike but it is rated to handle drops of up to 61cm according to the decal on the seat tube. That is pretty specific although why they couldn’t just say 2 feet I don’t know! Combined rider and gear weight is a maximum of 65kg – which should be plenty.

Compared to the previous model, it was difficult to tell what difference the new geometry made. Julia really liked both bikes which probably says a lot for just how good the previous model was.

A drivetrain that is practically perfect in every way.

Where I believe Islabikes have smashed it out of the park is with their new drivetrain set up. An all new SRAM direct mount compatible single ring design with a 26 tooth ring up front has been mated to an 11 – 40 wide range cassette out back. The cranks are, to my eyes, beautiful. Their clean looks and finish are easily a match for much more expensive big name brand offerings. I would happily run them on my own bikes if they came in my size! Watching Julia ride the Creig, she has developed a really nice and fluid spinning technique. She will quite happily move through the range of gears, the multiple upshift, single downshift SRAM X4 lever proving easy to use for her smaller hands. As an extra bonus, the cranks can be fairly easily removed and the chainring replaced.

Islabikes Creig 26
Simple but brilliant crank design.

The gear range on this version is noticeably wider than on the previous model and I think that is a very good thing. Throw in less weight, a cheaper to replace drivetrain set up and the increased chain reliability that comes with an 8 speed set up and it is easy to see why Islabikes have done this. The 26 tooth single ring that is fitted as standard (you can go up to 32t as Islabikes offer that as an option) shows that a lot of thought has gone into the spec. Even Juniors who road race have their gear range limited. It is far better for a kid to learn to spin than grind and push through too high a gear. Hills become less daunting and in Julia’s case, the better low range has definitely encouraged her to embrace her inner Alaphillipe and attack even the steepest of climbs head on.

Ok. Enough of the gushing. What don’t you like, Sanny?

Truth be told, precious little. While the fork may lack a bolt thru design, it is incredibly easy to set up and adjust to suit the rider. Once set up, we’ve had to do nothing to it. There are no clunks and thuds that you often associate with suspension forks on kids’ bikes. They are plenty plush and the rebound setting is easy to adjust. The inclusion of a lockout adds to the bikes versatility on gravel tracks and canal paths. The inclusion of quick release levers might seem an antiquated choice but for someone who likes to throw the bike in the back of the car, there is a lot less faff when it comes to removing wheels. 

Islabikes Creig 26
Older tech still has advantages.

The matt effect paint has proven remarkably durable. For the amount of riding Julia has done, it has held up incredibly well. The pedals may be resin but again, remembering back to when I was a kid, the metal bear traps on my BMX really left their mark on my shins; resin is a better choice for kids. Despite my initial fears, they have proven to be grippy even on wet days out. 

Islabikes Creig 26
Dusty trails! Remember those?

The seat post is a 27.2 which in theory should add a little flex and comfort to proceedings. For those who like a dropper option, this used to be a bit of a pain size. I am not sure how many parents will blow nearly half the cost of the entire bike on a top end post like a Thomson but with BrandX now doing a compatible dropper for under £140, having a dropper post for your kid is no longer quite the preserve of the mega rich.

Islabikes Creig 26
Own brand saddle in comfy shocker.

The hardest thing to get round is the price. At £1,099, the Islabikes Creig 26 is right up there with some really good quality adult bikes. There is no getting round the fact that it is a lot of money. When I got the bike to test, it was selling at £849. That, if you will allow my inner accountant to come out, is a £250 increase or in percentage terms, a 29% price rise. Bloody hell! You can blame the impact of COVID and the gift that keeps on giving of Brexit on supply chain and manufacturing costs. Throw in the fact that if your kid is anything like mine, in the space of eighteen months to two years, they may go from the bottom to the top of the size range; it’s not a long term investment. They will outgrow it!

In Julia’s case, she did so at quite a rate of knots! For prospective buyers, this makes it a harder decision than when we started the test. However, in my experience, having recently sold Julia’s old Islabikes balance bike for more than I paid for it new, I suspect the Creig, as with pretty much every Islabike out there, will retain a big chunk of its value when it comes to being sold on. They are regarded as a premium brand and second hand prices reflect that, probably more than any other bike on the market, adult or child. If you got a couple of years use out of it and got, say, £750 back when you sold it on, it suddenly becomes a much better prospect. 

Three things we liked about the Islabikes Creig 26

  • Carefully selected lightweight but durable component choices that are perfectly suited for the kid rider.
  • Neutral and balanced handling make for a bike that climbs and descends extremely well.
  • Probably the best resale values on the second hand market of any brand.

Three things that we would like to see improved

  • £1,099 is an awful lot of money to lay out for a kids’ bike
  • The teal (grey also available) is a really nice colour but I still like the old colours too.
  • Would benefit from the inclusion of rack / mudguard mounts.
Islabikes Creig 26
Julia not wanting to give the Creig back!


The Islabikes Creig 26 has proven to be pretty much the perfect bike for my daughter. It is light, is comfortable to ride, is a capable performer both on and off road and looks like a bike that costs several hundred pounds more. If Islabikes made an adult version for a similar price, I rather fancy that I would be all over it. The price is high. Of that there is no doubt. However, it is rare to get a bike in for test that is quite as good as this. My daughter has loved riding it and it has opened her eyes to the possibilities of bigger adventures. Ultimately, a bike should put a smile on your face and the Creig 26 has managed that with ease. Of course, now that she has outgrown it and her skills have improved, I cannot help but wonder how she would get on with the Creig 27 with dropper post option……..

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By day, Sanny plies his trade as a Chartered Accountant and Non-Executive Director. By night, however, give him a map and the merest whisper of a trail "that might go" and he'll be off faster than a rat up a drainpipe on some damn fool mission to discover new places to ride. Rarely without his trusty Nikon D5600, he likes nothing better than being in the big mountains, an inappropriately heavy bike on his back, taking pics and soaking up the scenery. He also likes to ride his bike there too although rumours that he is currently working on his next book, "Walks with my bike", are untrue (mostly). Fat biking, gravel riding, bikepacking, road biking, e biking, big mountain adventures - as long as two wheels are involved, you'll find him with a grin on his face as he dives off the side of a mountain, down a narrow lane or into deep undergrowth in search of hidden trails and new adventures. His favourite food is ham and mushroom pizza and he is on a mission to ride all of the Munros, mostly as it allows him to indulge in eating more pizza. He has no five year plan, is a big fan of the writing of Charlie Connelly and reckons that Kermode and Mayo's Film Review Podcast is quite possibly the finest bit of broadcasting around.

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  • Islabikes Creig 26 Children’s Bike – Long Term Test
  • andyflare
    Free Member

    Looks great, although I doubt i would get it past the wife at that price sadly.
    The air fork is a great thing to have on s bike like this. The rubbish over sprung coil forks that come on most kids bikes are a waste of space.

    Free Member

    Interested by your comments about the cost, Andy. At £1,099, it is arguably a much harder sell to parents like yourself than when it was £849.

    I suspect that those who want the bike will still buy it but costs in the bike industry have increased dramatically across the board in the last twelve months and I have no doubt that Islabike have been hit just as hard as the rest of the industry.

    It is a terrific bike and my daughter has loved riding it. The spec is spot on for the intended user which is why it deserves its ST Recommended status. It’s just a great pity that the vagaries of the global economy have conspired to put it out of reach of potential buyers like yourself.

    Free Member


    I should have said that I completely agree about air forks on kids bikes being a very good thing indeed.

    The Rock Shox Gold is a cracking bit of kit and can even be found on the new Trek E bike which costs the thick end of 7 grand!



    Full Member

    As you say, you have to console yourself that the resale values are so good that you don’t lose much ££.
    We’ve had 3 islabikes I think, and easily sold on for something like 3/4 of the purchase price, 2 or 3 years later. Maybe lost £100 if that.
    A LOT less ££ lost than any adult mountain bike. Bet you wont get £5500 back on a 2 year old £6k Santa Cruz.

    Free Member

    I think the price issue is partly a difference of opinion between me and my wife over value for money when it comes to bikes to be honest!. It does look like cracking value (more so pre covid/Brexit) for what looks like a fantastic piece of kit. I agree with the resale value point. We have always got a better overall deal with the decent kids bikes than the supermarket specials but it is still hard to justify at the time!
    I think (as mentioned in the review) the fact kids keep growing is always going to be an obstacle with kids bikes, but also (in my experience) the slightly fickle nature of children with their changing hobbies.

    Free Member

    Were the stock pedals any good, or did they need swapping out?

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