From Imagination to Reality – the Islabikes Imagine 20

After months of looking at photos, I finally got my hands on the new Islabikes Imagine 20 when it made its first public appearance at the 2017 London Bike Show on 16th February 2017.

Islabikes Imagine 20 kids bike

Regular Cycle Sprog readers will know that the Imagine Project aims to create a fully sustainable kids bike that will last generations. It’s being designed with the future in mind – when oil and other raw materials start to run out and when the current madness of manufacturing things halfway around the world, shipping them to the UK and then disposing of them in landfill is no longer viable.  If you’d like to know more about the background to the Imagine Project, you can read my interview with Isla Rowntree here.

The Islabikes Imagine 20 on display at the London Bike Show is very much a prototype – it’s the only one in existence. So, as with everything around the Imagine Project, it flies in the face of traditional corporate practice. Usually a new bike design is kept under wraps until the launch day (indeed Islabikes did exactly that last year when it launched the Pro Series). However, with the Imagine Project the idea is to work collaboratively and openly to encourage debate and technical innovation.

How is the Islabikes Imagine being designed?

There are five main principles that Isla Rowntree and her team are using when designing and building the Imagine bikes:

  • Sourced and manufactured locally
  • Longevity
  • Circular Sustainable materials
  • Designed for end of life separation
  • Superb user experience

The long-term aim is that every component of the bike meets the five criteria, but that is a long way off. At the moment the team are testing out different technologies and design ideas, and some parts of the Imagine 20 meet a few of the criteria, some haven’t quite yet reached that stage.

So, let’s take a closer look at how the Imagine 20 is progressing.

Bike Frame

The Imagine 20 is made from Sheffield sourced stainless steel, chosen for its long life and excellent corrosion resistance. The frame is TIG welded and then polish finished with the logos blasted onto the frame to negate the need to paint it. This has the added bonus of removing the problem of paintwork chipping over time, and there is no need to use toxic paint materials.  Seeing the bike in the flesh, I can confirm that it really is pleasing on the eye – in meeting the five principles of the Imagine Project, they haven’t sacrificed style.

Islabikes Kids Bike Imagine Project

Matching saddle and handlebars

The distinctive coloured saddle and matching handlebar tape help make the Imagine 20 prototype look so striking. Islabikes have been working with Brooks saddles to come up with the prototype, and again there is work needed to make the saddle both hard wearing and sized for small bottoms.

Islabikes Imagine 20 Brooks Saddle

There was some evidence of wear and tear on the prototype saddle – an adult one cut down and adapted to fit. However it is still at the early design phase, and with Brooks saddles being renowned for their longevity, I’d be interested to know whether the intention is to have a saddle that can be recovered when it gets worn / damaged, rather than thrown away as the years take their toll.

The material used for the handlebar tape has a slightly harsh feel at the moment, which may rub against small hands that have become accustomed to handling smoother materials

Islabikes Imagine Project Handlebars

Rice Pedals

Those of you who have read our other posts on the Imagine Project may remember that they are currently using what my boys like to call “Rice Krispie” pedals.  Currently manufactured in Taiwan using reprocessed rice husks, the project team are researching whether the pedals could be produced closer to home with by-products of the UK agricultural process (corn husks for example).

Islabikes Imagine Rice Pedals on sustainably built childrens bikes

I wondered whether pedals made from rice would retain any of their food like properties, so in the interests of research I got down on my hands and knees for a quick sniff. I can confirm there is a subtle, slightly sweet, food aroma emanating from them.  However, dear readers, I did draw the line at taking a quick lick so can’t confirm what they taste like.  If anyone wants to take up the challenge, then do let me know how you get on!

Drum brakes

Drum brakes designed for adult bikes are being used on the Imagine 20 to decide whether they work adequately before the team investigate using child bike sized ones. The advantages of drum brakes are that the braking mechanism is enclosed from the elements and there is no wear on the wheel rims. The brake pads are long lasting too!

Islabikes Imagine Front Hub brake

Chain cover

Traditionally it’s Islabikes smaller ‘Cnoc’ bikes that have their chains covered, but this is being carried through to the larger size Imagine, as an enclosed bicycle chain significantly reduces the wear rate of chains, chainrings and sprockets.

Islabikes Imagine 20 enclosed bicycle chain

Hub gear system

The Islabikes Imagine 20 has a hub gearing system. This removes the need for a derailleur and cassette, and as everything is contained inside the hub of the wheel, it greatly reduces the amount of damage from the elements.  The prototype has been fitted with a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub.

No lights just yet

Part of the brief for the Islabikes Imagine project is to have lights that are integral to the bike and powered by the rider. The eagle eyed amongst you will see that lights are not fitted yet, as this is one component the team don’t have a solution for at the moment.  They do however have a rather stylish bell for warning people you’re coming.

Islabikes Imagine 20 bell

What next for the Islabikes Imagine Project?

I had a chance to speak to several of the team from Islabikes whilst I was at the London Bike Show and there is no doubting that this is very much a long-term project.  There is a significant amount of work to do on each component from design to stress testing, whilst making sure it meets all five criteria.  Much of the work completed on the prototype is as a proof of concept before they start the detailed work.

Timescales are in years not months, so don’t expect to see children riding around on Imagine bikes anytime soon. However, the good news is that they are also working on a 700c bike, so I’m looking forward to bringing you an update on that at some point in the future.

For more information on the Islabikes Imagine Project visit their website.

Read my blog about the London Bike Show to find out what else is going on in the world of family cycling.

Why not follow Cycle Sprog on Facebook to get notified of our next article on family cycling as soon as it’s published?

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