Islabikes Imagine 20 – a first glimpse of the prototype

Regular Cycle Sprog readers will know that we’re following with interest the Islabikes Imagine Project. This is an initiative set up by Isla Rowtree, the founder of Islabikes, to develop a truly sustainable kids bicycle using the principles of the circular economy. After months of waiting, today we finally get to see the first prototype – the Islabikes Imagine 20.

Islabikes Imagine Project 20" prototype

At first glance the Islabikes Imagine 20 is just what we were hoping for – a very simple, uncluttered, functional bike made from quality materials.  It looks built to last, but is ascetically pleasing.  It’s oozing quality in most aspects.

Why is the Imagine 20 being built?

If you’re not familiar with the Imagine Project, it’s Isla Rowntree’s attempt to address the issues that she believes will be faced by the bike industry (and the rest of society) in a number of years time when the current methods of manufacture, ownership and disposal of kids bikes are no longer sustainable – either economically or environmentally.  The aim is to create a bike that can be built locally, will last for generations (with each rider entering into a rental agreement so the ownership and responsibility for the bike remains with the manufacturer). At the end of its life the bike must be stripped down and all the parts reused or recycled. For more information on the Imagine Project, please read my interview with Isla Rowntree, that goes into a lot more detail about what she’s trying to achieve and why.

Locally sourced materials

One of the challenges facing the Imagine Project has been the need to source their products much closer to home.  The stainless steel tubing used on the Imagine 20 is from Reynolds Technology in Birmingham and the leather saddle being developed in partnership with Brooks, another Birmingham based company. Both of these had Cycle Sprog’s technical editor Chris drooling, and both are close enough to Islabikes base in Ludlow to be considered very locally sourced.

As Brooks don’t currently make a child size saddle there has been work required to produce one that will be comfy for smaller bottoms.

Brooks child size saddleAt this stage in the project it’s not been possible for all the components to be sourced locally.  Both the hub brake system and innovate rice husk pedals are currently made in Taiwan, but they’re giving the Imagine Project the opportunity to test whether this technology is suited to longevity.

Eagle eyed Chris has noticed that the headset is by Chris King. One of the best available, these aren’t cheap (roughly £130) but with their stainless steel bearings they should last a long time. The fully covered brake cables are another interesting touch which should help increase the life span of these consumables.

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.

Gone are the trademark paint job and decals that make the standard and Pro Series Islabikes so distinctive. In its place the Islabikes logo is etched into the surface of the steel. In theory this should be long lasting and easy to refresh between users. The Imagine 20 will remain the property of Islabikes and be rented out to each user, then returned and refurbished before being sent out again. You can read more about the philosophy behind the Imagine Project in my interview with Isla Rowntree, which explains how the project began, and why.


What next for the Islabikes Imagine 20?

Of course, this is the very first prototype from the Imagine Project, so we can expect lots of changes over the coming months.

At present we’ve not been told what the Imagine 20 weighs, who manufactured the wheels, nor anything about the lacing on the spokes.   The tyres aren’t solids – we’d be keen to know if the Imagine Project are considering using these to help reduce the risk of punctures. We’re also interested to know whether they’ll go for a built in lighting system, such as the old fashioned hub-dynamo system.

If the Islabikes Imagine 20 is going to be an all weather bike, we’d also expect to see mudguards on a future prototype (they’re actually shown on a sketch of the Imagine 20), plus perhaps a built in lock for security.

Sketch of the Islabikes Imagine 20

Chris is also interested in whether it will use a traditional bike chain as seen on all other Islabikes, or a belt driver (like the Early Rider Urban Belter 20 use).

Hopefully the next update from the Imagine Project will tell us more. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything.

If you’re as passionate about kids bikes as we are here at Cycle Sprog, then why not follow us on Facebook or Twitter. You can even sign up for our newsletter, which we’re hoping to launch sometime in the new year.

More details about the technical specifics of the Islabikes Imagine 20 prototype are available on the Islabikes website.

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