From 12 months there are some exciting options for getting toddlers onto two wheels.Read More
We regularly get sent kids bikes to review at Cycle Sprog HQ, but it's unusual to receive something completely different to everything that’s come before. So as you can imagine, we were hugely excited when not one but two new bikes arrived that are very special indeed - the Black Mountain Pinto and the Skøg.
It’s the first time we’ve had the chance to review a kids bike that not only converts from a balance bike into a pedal bike, but also grows with the rider as they get taller. It's certainly an interesting concept and probably posed many engineering headaches for the designers in getting it right!
We've had the Black Mountain Pinto and Skøg bikes for a few weeks now, and this is our first impressions review.
The Pinto and Skøg were the brain child of engineer and dad of two, Andy Lloyd, who decided to use his skills and initiative to solve an (expensive) problem faced by many parents - that children grow so quickly they need a balance bike plus several single gear pedal bikes in a period of just a few years.
The Black Mountain bikes come delivered in balance bike mode (unless you request otherwise when ordering), with a “power pack” that you attach when your child is ready to start pedalling. Later you can increase the frame size and gear ratio to make the bike suited for a taller rider.
This all sounds fabulous in theory, but we were keen to cast a beady eye over the bikes and find out how they work. And, let's not beat about the bush here - we were also keen to see if we thought they were worth the money. At £339 they're certainly not cheap, and we wanted to find out whether we thought we could recommend these bikes to our readers. Please note this is our initial review before the bikes have been ridden extensively. Now we're sending them out to two families who will use them through the various size modes and report back how they got on in a number of months time.
We'd seen images of the Black Mountain bikes before we'd got our hands on them, and because of their “growing” frame they looked very different in design to the 'traditional' child’s bike that people have become accustomed to. We wondered whether there would be a weight penalty due to the additional bolts and the 'growing frame', but in reality they’re impressively light.
I really like the matt finish paintwork on these bikes together with the contrasting decals. It’s different to the glossy paint we see on most kids bikes and gives them a distinct appearance. There are four paint colours to choose from – orange, green, purple and sky blue. I’d seen the blue on the Black Mountain website and decided it was my favourite, so was really pleased when the Skøg arrived in that colour.
The frame shape is definitely a talking point with its unusual design and fixings. The frame welds are comfortingly robust, and everything certainly looks well thought out and put together.
All the components that adorn the frame have been sized for small riders, something Black Mountain have termed MY:SIZE (they like capitals and colons, as you’ll soon learn).
In terms of functionality of the bikes there is no difference at all between the Pinto and the Skøg – the only variations are in the sizing of the bike. The Pinto (the orange bike in this photo) has 14” wheels and is the smallest bike in the range. It’s designed to replace a balance bike, plus a 12” and a 14” wheel pedal bike, targeting a starting age of about 2.5 years.
The Skøg (the pale blue bike in this picture) is a larger 16” wheel bike and is designed for slightly older and taller kids (aged 4 and a half and over) and is intended to replace a large balance bike, plus a 14” and a 16” wheel pedal bike. You don’t actually have to use the balance bike mode, so if your child is already pedalling you can just use it to replace the two pedal bikes.
Two interesting features of the balance bike mode are the brakes and the low saddle position.
As feet are usually the main stopping mechanism for small children, many balance bikes don’t have brakes. They add cost and complexity, so those brands that do fit them often only feature a rear brake to allow children to start to master braking before they move onto pedals.
As the Pinto and Skøg need front and rear brakes for the pedal bike mode you also get them at the balance bike stage. Your child doesn’t need to use them from the outset, but it means that as they gain confidence on the balance bike they can start to practise using the brakes. This removes one of the difficulties some children find with the transition to a pedal bike - having the learn to use pedals and brakes at the same time.
The brake levers on the Pinto and Skøg are made by Tektro, a reputable brand, and the levers are micro adjustable that allows you to alter them to fit the size of your child’s hand.
The other unusual feature of the Pinto and Skøg in balance bike mode is the seat post and saddle. One problem with some children's bikes is getting the saddle low enough so your child can safely get both feet onto the ground when they first get the bike, but still having enough length in the seat post for them to continue using it as they grow.
Black Mountain have a clever solution to this called GO:LOW. The way the saddle attaches to the seat post can be altered by rotating a clamp, so you can get the saddle really low for new riders and then benefit from a few extra cm growth out of the seatpost as your child gets towards the height limit.
Another little engineering change that is fascinating about this bike is the way you adjust the seatpost. Usually on a kids bike there is a quick release lever or a bolt just above where the seat post enters the frame (at the top of the seat tube). However, in balance bike mode on the Pinto and Skøg it’s different. The seat post sticks out from underneath the frame, and the adjustment is done at the bottom of the seat tube, using an Allen (hex) key. This is to allow the saddle to drop lower than it would if the clamp was positioned at the top of the seat tube.
This unusual way of adjusting the saddle is great to get it into a low position, but it does have a knock-on effect when your child starts to grow. The photo above has it in the highest possible position, with the bottom of the seat tube hidden inside the clamp. The moment the seat post is raised above the clamp you can no longer tighten it. This isn’t a problem if your child is going to be moving up quickly onto pedals, but if your child is either very tall or struggles with their coordination then you may find yourself not being able to tighten the clamp. Thankfully Black Mountain have already thought of this, and can supply longer seat posts if the need arises in sizes 185mm (Pinto), 225mm (Skog), 250mm and 260mm.
When your child is old enough to start to pedal, you need to apply the “power pack” which consists of a longer seat tube (with the seat post clamp at the top and the crank at the bottom), a reinforced polymer belt drive and two pedals. The power pack comes in a cardboard box (no plastics here!) for storing away until required.
The process itself does require a certain amount of practical know-how. The manual suggests that if you are confident removing a wheel to fix a puncture then you’re probably going to be OK. If not, you need to factor in paying your local bike shop to do the adjustment for you.
As an example, this is what stage 1 and 2 in the manual state:
"First undo the seat-post clamp with the 4mm hex key, then remove the seat clamp from the Balance Bike Mode seat tube.
Using the 12mm spanner, loosen the nut on the left-hand side of the eccentric bolt and carefully remove the nut, eccentric bolt and eccentric washer from the frame. The frame will drop slightly when you do this – be careful not to trap your fingers. Keep the nut, eccentric bolt and eccentric washer in a safe place."
Now, if this fills you with dread and you’ve broken into a cold sweat, then this may not be the bike for you. If you’re thinking “Aha – that’s clever – they must be using an eccentric bolt to tighten the belt drive - can't wait to fiddle with that” then you’re going to sail through the adjustments! Most people will be somewhere in between and if you follow the instruction manual you’ll be OK.
There is a very clear instruction video available on the Black Mountain website which shows step by step what to do, but we found the booklet sufficient for Chris’s needs. I’d watched the video separately in advance, which really helped me understand what we were doing at each stage.
I’d recommend you do the work whilst your Sprog isn't around, as it does take quite some time and you don’t want an inquisitive child desperate to ride the bike getting in the way. At some points having two pairs of adult hands is useful, as is having extra eyes to read the instructions whilst you do them.
Black Mountain supply all the tools for the job, which is essentially a couple of hex keys and a bike spanner. They were sufficient for the job in hand, although keen bike mechanics will probably want to use their own. However, throughout the instructions you are told to tighten bolts to various Nm torque, which needs a torque wrench. This is another reason why this bike is likely to appeal to those parents who are happy to tinker with bikes and have the appropriate tools. You can tighten by hand, but be careful not to over tighten (as you do need to loosen again to move into the next size mode) or not tighten enough (as the bolts could become too loose and fall out).
I’m not particularly practical and Chris loves building and restoring bikes, so he did the majority of the assembly, whilst I took photos, made notes and read the manual. The only time I needed to intervene was when Chris was convinced the instructions were wrong, so I just followed them and it worked fine!!
The most difficult part was refitting the bolts into the frame after swapping the seat tubes – a bit of wiggling the frame around was needed to make them fit.
It took us just over an hour to do the conversion, but we were taking notes and photographs along the way. At the end we had a real sense of achievement having adapted the bike, and I can imagine if you were doing this for your own child, rather than a review, it would be even more so.
As it does take quite a long time to make this adjustment, it is one aspect of the Pinto and Skøg that is a little bit restrictive. If you have a balance bike and buy a separate pedal bike, your child can have a play around with the pedal bike, get familiar with it, but continue to whizz around on their balance bike. If they decide pedalling is not for them you can put the pedal bike away for a while until they are ready. With the Pinto and Skøg you’re faced with having to reverse the process to put it back to balance bike mode. To be honest, it only took about 10 minutes, but you probably won't want to be doing this too often!
On the plus side, you don't have to buy, store and dispose of two different bikes, and your child doesn't have to adapt to riding a new bike when you introduce the pedals. This removes yet another one of the difficulties some young Cycle Sprogs find when moving from a balance to pedal bike.
The Pinto and the Skøg don’t have a traditional bike chain – instead they use a polymer belt. Whilst a belt drive is fairly unusual, some motorcycle manufacturers have used them for years and the technology is proven on kids bikes with Early Rider bikes being keen advocates. A belt drive has the big advantage of being clean and low maintenance, so you don’t need to worry about rusty chains or oily clothes – a quick wash every so often is all it needs. It’s also light weight.
It’s simple to install and you adjust the tension on the belt using the fascinatingly titled “eccentric screw”, which I’ve learnt means that the axle of the screw is offset from the centre, so when you tighten it, it moves in an ellipse rather than a circle. You learn something new every day!
It's when your child starts to outgrow the first of the pedal bike modes that the Black Mountain bikes really come into their own, because you don’t have to go out and buy a bigger bike. You just adjust the bike and, hey presto, they’re on the next size up! If you’ve managed to do the conversion from balance bike to pedal bike mode, then the move to larger bike is much quicker.
Black Mountain have quite rightly given this the capitals and colon honour, calling it UP:SCALE. The frame extends in size by undoing the bolts and moving them into the spare holes in the frame. It does say in the instructions “Take Your Time” and trying to get both the bolts back in was definitely the most fiddly point of the assembly. A bit of jiggling the frame around is needed, as is patience in unscrewing the long bolt at the front which seems at first not to want to come out, but does eventually if you keep on turning your allen key and wind it out. We did notice a small amount of paint flaking off the frame around the various bolts, but this isn’t visible once the bike is reassembled.
As well as growing the frame, you can also adjust the gearing to be more appropriate for a taller and stronger child. Again this is a nifty trick and aptly named IN:GEAR. You simply unscrew the 30 tooth gear sprocket to reveal a smaller 25 tooth one underneath.
In this mode your child should get many more months and even years out of the bike, without you having to invest in a new one. As someone who would much prefer to be outside riding bikes than shopping for them, this is one of the real attractions of these bikes.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable things about the Pinto and Skøg is that they look quite big for the size of the child they are aimed at. This is because the wheels are at least one size bigger than they’d normally start out on. With the Pinto, your 2.5 year old is starting out on 14” wheels, when most balance bikes have 12” wheels (and some 10”).
It's worth pointing out that on their website Black Mountain list the bikes as being two sizes (so the Pinto is listed as being a 12"-14" bike). This DOES NOT mean you get two sets of wheels - it just refers to the fact that the bike is designed to replace these two sizes.
With the Skøg, the wheels are 16" (listed as being a 14"-16" bike), so your child is skipping the 14" wheel size.
Bigger wheels have many advantages, which is why lots of adults now ride 27.5” and 29” wheel mountain bikes, rather than the original 26” wheeled bikes. It’s also why Islabikes have replaced their Beinn 26 Large with a 27.5” wheel version, and Scatto are making a 700c wheeled race bike for 6 year olds. Your child should be able to go faster and further with more stability on larger wheels, although we’re going to be interested to see if there’s any trade off in handling skills for younger riders trying to manoeuvre the larger wheels.
One thing to note is that the wheels on the Black Mountain bikes are not quick release (this is due to the ISO safety rating the bikes have), so you do need to remember to carry your hex key with you to get the wheel off if you have a puncture.
Whilst we’re talking about the wheels it’s worth noting that they run nice and freely on their hubs (Black Mountain branded from Quando). The tyres are the standard Kenda Small Block 8’s which you find on the majority of quality kids bikes. They’re great for all sorts of surfaces, so your child will be fine on tarmac, grass and gravel.
We've taken some measurements ourselves, and they tally with what's on the Black Mountain website, which is always comforting.
|Balance Bike Mode|
|Lowest saddle position||425 mm||475 mm|
|Highest saddle position||470 mm||535 mm|
|Weight||4.85 kg||5.19 kg|
|Pedal bike mode|
|Lowest Saddle position||440 mm||486 mm|
|Highest saddle position||540 mm||615 mm|
|Weight (with pedals)||5.85 kg||6.19 kg|
Weight wise, when in pedal bike mode the bikes are very competitive with the other major players in the quality kids bike market. The balance bikes are slightly heavier than the very lightest balance bikes, as they come with brakes, growing frame mechanism and larger wheels, but they are still very lightweight.
It's worth commenting that sizing wise these bikes do come up on the slightly large side (unlike some kids bikes which woefully underestimate the height / age of children these days). The age guide is just that - a guide - so do make sure you measure your child carefully. There is a useful measuring tool on the Black Mountain website, which will help direct you to the correct sized bike for your child.
My first attempt at finding a reviewer for the larger Skøg failed, because our reviewer was too small for the bike. She's 4 years and 4 months (the guidance says from 4 years 6 months) but was several cm off being able to get her feet on the ground with the saddle in the lowest position.
The minimum size for the Pinto means this isn't a balance bike for a very young child, or for a 2.5 year old with short legs.
We've shown the bikes to a few people, and their first reaction has always been that they look very different. As with many new ideas they do polarize option, with some adults loving them and others not being so keen.
Having had the bikes around the house for a few weeks I've got used to how they look quite quickly. What seemed a bit quirky now seems normal. We've found that children tend to be more receptive than adults to the bikes, and we couldn't get a 7 year old visitor off the Skøg in balance bike mode (even though she usually rides a 20" wheel pedal bike with gears!)
My only complaint about the bikes is that when I was carrying them the frame shape makes it difficult to pick the bikes up by the top tube as there wasn’t room for my fingers to go all the way round. It was OK carrying them by the saddle, but the bikes lack a nice little handle you get on the back of some balance bike saddles.
This isn’t too much of a problem if your child is going to be riding everywhere, but it might be worth getting some kind of balance bike strap to help carrying it if you’ve got weak fingers or often end up having to carry long or steep distances when your Sprog decides that they’ve had enough.
There’s a couple of plus’s and minus’s in terms of the maintenance of these bikes. The rubber belt drive means that you don’t need to worry about lubing chains to avoid rust. However, this is partly offset by the need to keep an eye on the bolts in the growing frame, which you don’t usually get on kids bikes. Every so often you just need to check these are still tightened properly. It’s only a job of a few seconds but is important to do, along with the normal checks on brakes, tyre pressure etc. There’s a handy check list in the manual to remind you which checks to do and at what frequency.
If you're paying £339 for a bike, you expect it to be well made, and we've been very impressed with the quality of the construction of these bikes. The two we were sent are demo bikes, so have had the frames adjusted between the different modes many more times that you'd expect under normal usage. Apart from a tiny bit of flaked paint underneath the bolts (which doesn't show once the bolt is replaced), the only other sign of wear we could find was with the brake noodles. When taking the front wheel out of the Pinto, we noticed that the noodle had started to separate, thereby making it difficult for someone to remove it from the noodle holder when trying to open up the brake calipers. Chris did a quick test to make sure it’s not being caused by catching on the downtube, but this isn't the case, so we suspect this has been caused by the number of times the wheel has been removed and replaced during demonstrations.
This is the million dollar question - or rather the £339 question, which is how much these bikes cost. Yes, it’s quite an investment compared with other kids bikes up front. But when you start thinking about the longer term costs of having to buy various sized bikes it begins to look a lot more attractive. From an environmental viewpoint there’s also big savings, as you’re limiting the amount of raw materials used in production and reducing the waste caused when the bike comes to the end of its natural life.
It’s worth thinking about sizing and what you’d be saving compared to buying individual bikes. With the Pinto, this has 14” wheels and is designed to replace a balance bike, plus a 12” and 14” wheel pedal bike.
In reality most people go from a balance bike to a 14” wheeler – the Pinto gives you the benefit of being able to fit pedals to a smaller bike so your child can start pedalling earlier. The combined cost of a Frog balance bike and 14” wheel bike is £375. With Islabikes it’s £460.
The larger Skøg is replacing a 14” and 16” wheel bike – Frog’s offerings come in at a combined total of £520 and Islabikes at £580. That's assuming your child doesn't use the balance bike mode. Obviously savings are greater if it means you don't have to buy a larger 14" wheel balance bike too.
However…… there is a BUT with this. If you have two children close enough in age to both want to be using the bike at the same time, you’re going to struggle. You’ll miss the benefits of being able to pass down the balance bike to the younger child, because the older one is still using it in pedal mode. You may find yourself having to buy a second bike anyway.
As the Pinto and Skøg are so new and will be getting used for longer timescales than a traditional kids bike, it is hard to know what’s going to happen to resale values on the second hand market. We were impressed that the 3 year warranty is “transferable” meaning that if you sell the bike on within the first 3 years (or buy one second hand) the warranty is valid for the new owner.
The longer term resale values will depend on how robust the bikes prove to be. Both Frog Bikes and Islabikes have excellent resale values, and come with a 5 year frame and forks warranty. These bikes have been around long enough to prove their durability and are now well known for generally lasting well beyond this. With Black Mountain the new UP:SCALE growing frame technology means there’s an added variable to consider. However, we have been very impressed with the way the company are taking on feedback, so in the unlikely event you did encounter any problems I'd recommend making immediate contact with them so they can sort things out.
It’s worth saying the frames look very robust and have been tested strenuously by adult riders, so they’re obviously aiming to make a bike that lasts a long time, but time will ultimately be the judge of this.
The Black Mountain Pinto and Skøg certainly catch the eye, and I think they’re going to appeal to various groups of people:
• those who get a buzz from being the first to have something new and ground breaking
• those who love tinkering with their bikes, and relish the thought of a bike frame that grows
• those with no time or interest to keep on researching and buying new or second hand bikes, but who are happy to do two sets of adjustments as their child grows
• those concerned about their environmental footprint and want to limit purchases (although you could argue buying second hand is a better option)
• those who like supporting new and innovative British brands
If you are scared witless by even the most basic of bike maintenance then these bikes probably aren’t for you, unless you’re happy to pay your local bike shop to do the upgrades. Those with two or more children close in age also need to consider whether they'll need to double up on purchases, at which point these bikes stop being quite so cost effective.
When we first heard about these growing bikes we were slightly skeptical that they would justify the £339 price tag, but we have been very impressed with the build quality. The attention to detail that has gone into features such as the GO:LOW saddle and the UP:SCALE growing frame are proof that Black Mountain are serious about challenging the premium end of the children's bike market. Yes, there is a higher initial outlay for these bikes, but the overall cost of ownership provides good value for money as they replace the need for at least two, and sometimes three, other bikes.
If you're happy with the relatively simple process of applying the power pack, then the Pinto and Skog are definitely a good choice for teaching your child to ride a bike, and should hopefully be the starting point of their life-long love of cycling.
Black Mountain are a direct to customer business, so you can only buy the Pinto and Skøg direct from their website. If you’re passing their HQ in the Welsh Black Mountains you can arrange to call in for a test ride or to pick up your bike.
Both the Pinto and Skøg cost £339 with free standard UK delivery. Other charges apply for EU, World Wide, specified and next day delivery dates.
Disclosures: Cycle Sprog were loaned the Pinto and Skog by Black Mountain Bikes for the purpose of this review. We were not paid to write this review, and all opinions are our own. We do however belong to various affiliate schemes, which means that if you make a purchase after clicking on some of the links on this site we may get a commission payment. This doesn't affect what you pay, but does helps us to keep the website running, so we really appreciate you using our links. Thank you!
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