Islabikes Rothan 12 balance bike review
Islabikes are one of the best known and well loved kids bike brands, with a reputation for an obsessive attention to detail, and a price point to match. Their very smallest bike is a balance bike - the Rothan 12 - designed for riders aged 2 years and over.
In this review our 3 year old tester (and his mum Hannah Reynolds) have put the Islabikes Rothan 12 to the test.
In six months of use, our tester went from walking above the frame ‘hobby-horse’ style to full-on feet in the air flying.
Model: Islabikes Rothan 12
Colours: Teal, orange, pink
Child age range: 2 - 4 years
Inside leg measurement: 30cm - 42cm
Max. rider weight: 20kg
Review date: Summer 2022
What we think: A balance bike that feels like a ‘real’ bike complete with an easy to use micro-reach brake that helps teach control
First impressions of the Islabikes Rothan balance bike
Picking the bike up for the first time I was impressed by how it felt; it is obviously light compared to some cheaper children’s balance bikes we have tried but more than that it felt like a quality bike should.
The steering feels light but positive, the headset felt smooth and free in the frame (no grating noise or grinding sensation you get with cheap balance bikes), and the hubs are virtually friction-free.
All in all, the Rothan is a balance bike that will satisfy the passionate bike rider in any household (what ever their age!)
But the true test is with the ‘not-yet-a-bike-rider’, who let’s face it, is more impressed by colour than the lightness of the bearings.
The teal and green struck the right chord and he was keenly astride it before we had a chance to do sensible things like adjusting the saddle height.
Age: 3 years
Inside leg: 35cm
Adjusting the bike ready to ride
All adjustable parts on the Islabikes Rothan balance bike are secured with Allen keys which means our little mechanic wasn’t able to fiddle with them himself – definitely a good thing!
BUT.... if you've headed out somewhere and realise your little one has had a growth spurt and want to adjust things to tune position, you need to make sure you have an appropriate tool with you.
There's pros and cons of quick release mechanisms on bikes this size and Islabikes have gone for safety over convenience, which is a choice to be respected. But at times I really wished they'd made the other decision - the lesson learned is to always carry a bike tool with you at all times!
There isn’t a huge amount of adjustment available for handlebar height, you can move a spacer but not much more.
The one-piece saddle and seat post allows a reasonable amount of adjustment and would comfortably last most children to the point they are ready for pedals. Islabikes do have a larger version, the Rothan 14 for taller children.
While having pneumatic tyres definitely contributes to its brilliant grip and comfortable ride feel, the small wheels, frame and tight spokes make pumping up the tyres difficult with some styles of track pump or mini-pump.
We had to invest in a new pump with a braided hose and smaller head to make it easier.
Review of the Islabikes Rothan 12 balance bike
Once the bike was set up ready to ride, it was over to my son to ride it. I'm glad to report he had an absolute blast on it, quickly picking up speed and confidence on two wheels.
The mini v-brake is fantastic, it feels positive and light when tried by an adult hand and can easily be covered and used effectively by small hands.
We quickly taught our tester how to cover the brakes and still grip the bar and he was very able to do this.
Using dirt tracks we practised squeezing and releasing, going back afterwards to examine our skid marks and tyre prints!
Having a brake that works helps to teach the basics of road sense. How can you expect a child to learn where and when to stop if they can't brake on their own?
Our tester feels very proud (empowered, shall we say) by his ability to stop his bike and look both ways in the appropriate places.
The finishing kit is well thought out; the scoop shape of the saddle aids balance as children can grip the curved shape to stabilise themselves, giving them the confidence to lift their feet up and cruise.
The handlebars are wide, aiding good responsive handling and the grips stay ‘grippy’ in wet and dry conditions. However, on a warm day our tester complained that the grips were making his hands hot.
Maintenance wise this bike didn’t miss a beat. Other than adjusting his position and pumping up tyres nothing else has been needed, despite near daily use in all weathers.
The tyres have been ridden on a mix of road and dirt tracks but show little sign of wear (despite the skids).
On muddy surfaces the combination of tread pattern and air-filled tubes provides good grip, the traction helping to teach off-road steering and descending.
We noticed that when cruising our tester wasn’t really sure where to put his feet. He either tucked his toes behind him, resting on the chain stays, or held his legs wide to the sides.
A footrest might have facilitated longer cruises but it hasn’t held him back and aesthetically it wouldn’t have added anything to what is a sleek-looking bike.
What our Cycle Sprog thought of the Islabikes Rothan balance bike
From his first go, the Rothan made him feel relaxed and in control. It is light enough for him to carry it to where he wants to ride or to manually lift the bike around to change direction.
If he falls off he can pick himself and the bike up which has meant that little spills don’t turn into big fusses. A lighter bike also means less fatigue, which means more happy time riding.
The light feel allowed him to practise weaving in and out of obstacles and the presence of a brake meant that using it to moderate speed and importantly stop in a controlled way is now second nature.
And of course, where there are brakes there are skids - another important riding skill nailed!
Parent's point of view
From a parent’s point of view, the light weight means that when you inevitably get lumbered with carrying it home it is not an arduous task.
We toyed with the idea of a shoulder strap to make carrying it easier but it was not really necessary as a) the bike is light and b) he was so happy to ride it, even when tired.
Balance biking makes moving around with a toddler so much easier!
You can move at something close to adult walking pace and go further than little legs will allow. For us, the balance bike meant putting the pram away forever.
Without sounding too preachy this also instilled an understanding of transport options.
When we go out he gauges how far we are going by whether we walk, bike or drive, “if it is far we go by car, but if it's near we walk or bike.” I hope this is a mantra that he will follow for a lifetime.
Our tester has continued to enjoy riding this bike past the point where he is ready for pedals and is still developing new skills.
We have challenged him with different terrains, bumpy downhills, twisty tracks and higher speeds.
Even without pedals, he is still learning. It is definitely a fast bike; on smooth flat surfaces we can get up to speeds that make running alongside him challenging.
He’d make a good training partner if he wasn’t so easily distracted by snails and blackberry bushes.
Alternatives to the Islabikes Rothan 12 balance bike
There's no denying it, Islabikes is an aspirational brand, and many parents (especially those who cycle themselves) will want no other option for their child's first bike, regardless of cost.
There's a strong second hand market for these bikes, so you may be able to pick up a bargain, or else reap a good return on your investment if you buy new and sell on high.
If you think you'd like a footrest for when they pick up speed, then both the Kidvelo Rookie 12 and the Hornit AIRO both have one, come in cheaper than the Rothan and preformed very well in previous reviews. However, neither have a brake fitted (the argument rages as to whether a brake is needed at this age).
A cheaper option with a brake and footrest is the Hoozar Cruz 12, but you will loose the attention to detail that comes with an Islabike.
Finally, the other big-name kids bike brand is Frog Bikes, and their Tadpole balance bike is more expensive but does come in a wider range of sizes and colours.
Overall thoughts on the Rothan 12 balance bike
The Islabikes Rothan 12 is a top-of-the-range balance bike. It will appeal to any keen cycling parents out there because it is a ‘proper’ bike in looks and in performance. It feels light, responsive and encourages speedy riding!
It provides not just hours of fun that builds confidence but the high-quality components, easy to use brakes and pneumatic tires create a foundation of cycling skills and knowledge ready to be built on with a first pedal bike.
It’s a serious bike with the ‘weeeeee’ factor.
Some of the more ‘proper’ bike aspects created minor irritations; the Presta valve was difficult to access between the spokes and small frame and using an Allen key to adjust saddle height was annoying when you had just nipped to the park without a tool.
But if you love bikes, you'll appreciate the Rothan - and potentially embark on a decade or more relationship between your bank account and Islabikes. Be warned!
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