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Don't children grow so fast?? One day you've bought them their first balance bike, and proudly watched as they experience the joy of cycling for the first time. Then, in what feels like no time at all, they're whizzing round confidently and ready to move to pedals. The search for their first pedal bike commences and the balance bike soon lies discarded. And then, before you know it, they've outgrown this bike and you're looking for a second pedal bike! Wouldn't it be cheaper, easier and more environmentally friendly to have one kids bike that converts from a balance bike into a pedal bike, and then grows with your child as they get taller and more confident with their cycling?
Enter Black Mountain - a range of quality children's balance and pedal bikes that grow with your child, therefore reducing the expense and environmental impact of their cycling.
The bikes are the brain child of dad of two, Andy Lloyd, who also happens to be a rather talented engineer. When he experienced first hand the frustrations felt by so many parents with rapidly growing children, the cogs in his engineering mind began to whir. Surely there must be a better way...... and so began his quest to design a quality kids bike that grows with the rider, converting from a balance bike into a pedal bike. This was no easy task, and it took almost a decade of designing, building and testing before Andy finally perfected his design, which he's called the EPOK system. It's based around four principles and technologies which combine together to make these "growing bikes".
Firstly, the bikes are built around a patented pivoted "growing" frame design that has been named UP:SCALE which can be adjusted to suit the height of the rider. The frame starts in Mode One (small) and can be adjusted to Mode Two (large) as your child grows, thus removing the temptation to buy a bike that's too far big for your child to enjoy riding now so they can "grow into it" later.
Next, Andy needed pedals and a belt drive that a parent could easily add when their child is ready to move from balance bike to pedal bike mode. This needed to adapt for the growing rider and the IN:GEAR two speed drive system is the result. It's powered by a reinforced polymer belt rather than a traditional bike chain which greatly reduces the need for maintenance. No more rusty chains and no more oily clothes or fingers when your little Cycle Sprog decides to investigate the inner workings of their bike!
When your child moves from the balance bike to pedal mode you install the first of the IN:GEAR modes, which provides an easy entry into the world of pedalling. As they gain confidence and increase in height and weight you can adjust the IN:GEAR system to have a slightly harder gear ratio, meaning they can continue to ride the bike for longer. The aim is that one single Black Mountain bike will replace the need for a balance bike and two different sized single speed pedal bikes - a 12" and 14" in the case of the Pinto and a 14" and 16" wheel bike in the case of the Skøg.
The other two areas Andy concentrated on when designing the bikes are their GO:LOW saddle position and MY:SIZE components which are designed specifically for small people to ride (and more importantly brake) in comfort and safety. This obsession with getting the sizing correct for their riders puts Black Mountain up there with the best of the other quality children's bike manufacturers .
It's the growing bike frame and the add-on pedals that really differentiate Black Mountain bikes from the other quality children's bikes on the UK market. But it's not just the physical design of their bikes that's setting them apart. An environmental ethos is embedded deep within the psyche of the company, with the aim to move parents away from the traditional route of "balance bike followed by two single speed pedal bikes".
This is the path that parents have been following since balance bikes usurped stabilisers as the best way to teach young children how to cycle, and its one that involves the need for multiple bikes that are only used for a short period of time. With the Pinto and Skøg, Black Mountain are challenging us to divert onto a different trail - one with less use of raw materials and energy to produce and transport what we're buying for our children, and less waste when its natural life is finally over. (It's worth saying the bikes have been designed to last, so if things go according to plan for Black Mountain expect there to be a healthy second hand market for their bikes in a few years time).
This has knock on financial benefits, as whilst your initial outlay may be slightly higher, the longer term expenditure on bikes should be less than if you're buying individual bikes during the same time period.
So once the bikes were ready, they needed a name. The Black Mountain brand reflects the area of Wales where the company is based. As the Pinto starts as the equivalent of a 12” balance bike, then grows through two sizes and two speeds of pedal bike into a 14” bike it was named after the 1214m high Pinto Mountain, from the north central Joshua Tree National Park, California USA. Clever!
The Skøg, takes over from where Pinto left off, spanning from an equivalent 14” bike to a large 16” bike, and is named after the 1416m Mt Skog in British Columbia, Canada. The ø has been added because Skøg is a lovely word, which is Danish for "forest".
The smallest of the Black Mountain Bikes is the Pinto (£339), which is aimed at children aged from about 2.5 years through to 5 years. Obviously each child is different, but the key measurements for the Pinto are:
Standover height: 395mm
Lowest saddle position (balance bike mode): 420mm
Lowest saddle height (pedal bike mode): 430mm
This will equate to a child of approximately 90cm in height, but some children have short legs and others long legs so do measure your child carefully to make sure it fits.
The Pinto comes with 14" wheels, whereas most "normal" balance bikes have 12" wheels. The adjustable geometry of the frame allows smaller riders onto bigger wheels from the outset.
The Skøg (£339) is aimed at slightly older / taller riders. Whilst many children may go straight onto the small pedal bike mode, it too can be set up as a balance bike, which will be welcomed by parents of taller or older children who struggle with a traditionally sized balance bike. Not all children get the opportunity to start riding a bike when they're really small and other children take a bit more time and outgrow a traditional 12" wheel balance bike before they're ready to move onto pedals.
The Skøg is a 16" wheel bike, so there's plenty of room for growth, with this bike replacing the need for separate balance bike, 14" wheel and 16" bike.
The key measurements for the Skøg are:
Standover height: 440mm
Lowest saddle position (balance bike mode): 475mm
Lowest saddle height (pedal bike mode): 486mm
This equates to an age range of approximately 4.5 to 7 years, with a height range of about 102cm to 121cm.
Before we got our hands on the Pinto and Skøg, I must confess I was skeptical about two things. Firstly, from the photos I'd seen I thought the bikes looked a bit complicated, and therefore possibly heavy. Secondly I was curious about the quality of the workmanship, as these bikes are intended to last a good number of years and do rely on the design and build of some key parts that aren't found on any other kids bikes.
When the bikes arrived at Cycle Sprog HQ our first comment was "they look so much better in real life". The design of the frame is very different to what we're used to seeing on a daily basis, so it does take a bit of getting used to, but it's certainly not unpleasant on the eye. Rather than the usual gloss, the paintwork has a matt finish which really suits the contours of the bike, and I particularly like the pale blue of the Skøg we were sent.
The second thing that struck me was the lack of plastic. I knew Black Mountain were keen to push their "green" credentials, but often when companies do this it can be hard to see what this actually means in real life. With these bikes it's obvious. All the things we're used to seeing wrapped in plastic were either in paper bags or little cardboard boxes.
Unpacking the Power Pack felt a bit like a birthday treat! It certainly reminded me how much our society is now reliant on single use plastic, but that with a little bit of thought it can quite easily be taken out the equation.
Weight wise, because the frames and wheels are bigger than your traditional balance bike and come with front and rear brakes, the bikes are slightly heavier that some other quality balance bikes. However, with the Pinto coming in at 5.7kg and the Skøg at 6.1kg they are impressively light for a first pedal bike. It's worth noting that in pedal mode they weigh more of less the same at the leading quality kids bike brand. I certainly had no problem carrying them both at the same time.
The durability of the bikes is something we need to test over the coming months as we send them out to our review panel, but they certainly look and feel very well constructed. We obviously had a good look at the design of the growing frame and in particular the pivot points, and it all seems well engineered. I hadn't realised that the bikes come with a "transferable" 3 year warranty on the frame, forks and belt-drive system plus a 2-year warranty on all the other non-consumable components. This means the warranty remains valid for the second owner if you sell the bike once your child is ready to move onto one with larger wheels and gears.
At £339 the Black Mountain Pinto and Skøg aren't a cheap up front investment, but if it had saved me the hassles and costs of having to buy and then sell on again three separate bikes when my Sprogs were setting out I'd certainly have been very tempted. When the environmental benefits are added on top, it's likely that these bikes are going to prove a popular new way to keep children on two wheels.
At the present time you can only buy the Pinto and Skøg directly from the Black Mountain website. Both are priced at £339. It costs £10 to ship standard delivery within the UK, £30 for next day delivery or £20 for a scheduled service (where you specify a date convenient to receive your bike). For standard deliveries to Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey the fee is £20. EU and Worldwide shipping is also available.
If your child is slightly too tall for the Skøg then watch this space - we hear there are bigger bikes coming in the not-too-distant future.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Black Mountain. Whilst they have supported us to write the post, all opinions are our own. We are also affiliates of Black Mountain, meaning that if you make a purchase after clicking a link in this post we may get a commission. This helps us to keep Cycle Sprog running so thanks for your support.
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