Best Balance Bike 2019
Islabikes Rothan review
British balance bike, the Islabikes Rothan, nabs the yellow jersey for giving little riders a great introduction to cycling with its super lightweight, elegant design.
Verdict in 10 seconds
- Beautifully light so toddlers can focus their efforts on balance
- Performs brilliantly on all surfaces
- Easy set-up with the bicycle prepared in advance
- Straightforward design without weighty extras – a mountain bike style for family cycling
- Small frame allows for easy on and off
- A breeze to carry
- Sturdy but not at all bulky
- Simple to micro-adjust the saddle to grow with your child
- Grippy, puncture-resistant tyres with lots of grooves and dimples
- Thoughtful instructions that don’t assume buyer’s technical knowledge
- Brake perfectly designed for little hands with cable pinned underneath the down tube so it won’t get caught in a crash
- Rounded bolts to protect your child’s legs
- Holds its resale value
- Limited age span
- Pneumatic tyres require maintenance
- Allen key needed when adjusting saddle height
- Handlebar height is tricky to adjust
- Only three colour options available (orange, pink and teal)
What are the key features?
- Narrow pneumatic tyres keep this model lightweight and smooth running
- Excellent geometry for comfortable riding
- 37cm wide handlebars sized to child’s shoulders
- Flexible hand grips – small for tiny hands
- Sturdy steel rims
- Adult-standard saddle with a scoop that prevents shifting about while cycling
- Steering limiter
- Brake is easy to reach and operate
What are the specs?
- Age range: Suitable from age two with a minimum inside leg of 30cm and approximate height of 88cm
- Saddle height extends to 42cm (47cm with long seatpost)
- Weight: 3.2kg
- Composition: Aluminium
- Wheel size: 12 inch
- Tyres: Pneumatic
- Maximum rider weight: 20kg
- Five-year guarantee on the frame and forks along with a two-year guarantee on components
- RRP: £180
- Resale value: £90 at time of review
- Comes with a spare inner tube
- Extras to buy: helmet, Lezyne light set, Rothan saddle and seatpost
We have enjoyed taking the Islabikes Rothan everywhere.
How easy is the Islabikes Rothan to ride?
The Islabikes Rothan removes the largest obstacle a toddler might face when learning to ride a balance bike: weight.
At 3.2kg, it’s one of the lightest designs out there and potentially 26 percent of a young two-year-old’s bodyweight. This makes it easy to carry, manoeuvre and gather speed. The Islabikes Rothan was the bike our tester, Adele's, two-year-old daughter was able to ride on the fastest, longest and furthest.
If you’re looking for a balance bike that'll allow your child to take on some serious mileage, the weight and design of the Rothan can’t be beaten.
With its long wheelbase, saddle close to the back wheel and well-inclined fork, the geometry of this bike makes it brilliantly stable. Everything is geared towards getting your toddler to balance as quickly as possible.
Its puncture-resistant, grippy pneumatic tyres make easy work of every surface, whether pavement, skatepark or cycle trail (which our mini tester tried out) – particularly helpful if you’ll be changing terrain mid-outing.
The tyres set it apart from all the other balance bikes we tested. Their small size keeps the design super light (it’s 0.97kg lighter than the Frog Bikes Tadpole), while their rubber composition gives a smoother ride on rough or grassy surfaces when compared to the foam tyres of the Strider 12 Sport.
Islabikes ensures the Rothan stays in worthy shape by providing owners with well-illustrated maintenance advice in the bicycle’s manual, including information on how to check your bicycle for wear and tear, and even a video on how to inflate your tyres.
The brake is well within reach and is super sensitive, meaning toddlers could wrap their heads around it and operate it straight off the bat. This sets them up for good braking habits later on and potentially saves their trainers in the meantime.
The steering is beautifully responsive. This model includes a steering limiter so that a child can concentrate on mastering the skills involved in scooting and balance.
While the limiter can’t be removed, it allows a large, fluid range of movement while preventing the handlebar from oversteering. In the event of a fall, the bike’s bolt’s are also rounded to prevent any injury.
What’s it like to assemble?
Straight out of the box, you’ve got nothing more to do than twist and secure the handlebar with an allen key and adjust the saddle height if needed. The bike comes already prepared by Islabikes’ mechanics so you and your child can get going without a hitch. Bear in mind that if you buy yours second hand, you’ll need to check the bike’s tyres for any damage and possibly pump them up.
Islabike’s instructions spread the process into easy-to-follow steps, clearly illustrated with photos and accompanied by repeated reminders to contact their Shropshire-based support team if in any doubt.
Adele was a bit confused about how far to tighten the handlebars at first as they locked very slightly when they turned. Referring to the manual revealed that she’d tightened the wrong bolt – an error she quickly rectified.
The Rothan comes with a standard two-year guarantee for its components and a five-year warranty for the frame and fork. Spare parts are also available to buy.
How adjustable is it?
The Rothan we tested came already set-up for our two-year-old tester’s size but, if you need to adjust the seat, you'll require only the allen key.
It can micro-adjust to any size between the ages of two (with an inseam of 30cm) and four (with an inseam of 42cm). A long seatpost that extends to 47cm can also be added, which could potentially take the age range up to age five.
However, as it's quite a small bike and the handlebars don’t adjust, your child will likely find it more comfortable to move on to a pedal bike when they reach four years old.
How comfortable is it?
Our two-year-old found the Islabikes Rothan an easy ride right from the get-go and it was her bike of choice when given the option, easily racking up hours of cycling.
She stayed put in the dedicated ‘scoop’ saddle without any sliding about and her shoulders were comfortably matched to the bike’s wide handlebars.
It's designed perfectly for little hand and legs.
How does it look?
Sleek, sporty and modern, the Islabikes Rothan is designed to look like a serious mountain bike, but its three bright colour options will also appeal to many toddlers. We tested the green colourway (no longer available), which our two-year-old tester chose and loved.
Along with black tyres and spokes, the overall design doesn't show up any dirt, but the frame and wheels can still be wiped down easily with a damp cloth if necessary.
What’s it like to use day-to-day?
The Rothan is the lightest bike we tested that was also able to cope with every kind of terrain – impressive for any bike, let alone a lightweight one.
Weight means a lot when you consider how much energy it takes for a child to keep a balance bike moving, plus how often you’re likely to carry it. Adele often found herself with a toddler in one arm and a bike in the other without experiencing any discomfort at all.
Grippy tyres allow the bike to glide effortlessly. The design is stable and highly responsive for easy riding, a vital movement to prepare a child for pedalling later on.
Once she’d got the hang of riding a balance bike, Adele's daughter found that she was able to gather momentum with little effort, which allowed her to put her legs up and balance properly.
With some of the other bikes we tested, like the Puky LR1, she needed some help to get going. But, with the Rothan, she would quickly pick this one up and head off when she thought another bike felt too much like hard work.
When it came time to tuck the bike away, the Rothan was a compact option for Adele with a good range of motion on its steering, which allowed it to fit easily into both her front porch and her car boot.
My very small three-year-old loved it and has now progressed to riding a pedal bike smoothly.
The Rothan's impressive lightness combined with its consistent high performance makes for an ideal first foray into cycling, which is why it won the race and was awarded Mumsnet's Best Balance Bike 2019.
This is a bike that you’ll pass from sibling to sibling before selling it on, still recouping much of what you originally spent. It’s an athlete-standard bicycle rather than a toy, ready to take on both the school run and the family cycle ride.
If you can afford it, then it certainly represents good value for money. However, it was the most expensive balance bike we tested and there are other reasonable, workable options available for less.
With that said, a balance bike is a waste of money if a child won’t use it because riding is laborious. You’re also less likely to get your toddler cycling if you're reluctant to be saddled with carrying a heavy load.
Adele scored it highly in every category, only expressing concern that the bike’s age range is limited compared to some of the other models her toddler tried out. You’d be looking at getting another bike by age four at the latest, but since it’s meant to be a transitional bike, your child would likely be ready to move on to a pedal bike by then anyway.
What the model lacks in longevity it more than makes up for with its custom fit designed to give the even smallest of riders the most enjoyable cycling start possible.
With balance and steering firmly in place, your child is likely to then transition to whichever pedal bike comes next with little difficulty and lots of enthusiasm.
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For more information about what to look for when buying a baby car seat, check out our buyer's guide.
All prices correct at time of publication
How we test
Balance bikes have gained in popularity in the last decade, allowing children as young as 18 months to start cycling. To find the best balance bikes for most families, we put 13 different products to the test. Here's how we tested them.Read more »
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