0370 1500 100

Islabikes has been innovating in the children’s bicycle market for the last decade. With the introduction of its new Imagine Project, the firm has plans to entirely redefine not just bicycle production but the way all industries approach manufacturing.

Over the last ten years, while it has appeared that the UK cycling market has grown significantly — spurred on by the successes of British riders at the Olympics and Tour de France, and even more by the government’s Cycle to Work scheme — in truth only specific areas of the market have flourished. Today, the domestic cycle industry is seeing a range of difficulties with an increase in the cost of imported components and market share reducing among a greater number of brands.

This is true of the children’s cycle market. Ten years ago Ludlow-based firm Islabikes, then a fledgling company, was the only dedicated high-quality children’s bike brand. Today it faces competition from mass-market manufacturers who have seen the value in producing better children’s bikes, as well as a number of new dedicated children’s cycle brands, many of whom were originally inspired by Islabikes.

In its quest to innovate, not only has Islabikes continued to enhance its product line, it has also inspired its new Imagine Project, a venture where Islabikes seeks to address questions of resources, manufacturing and ecological responsibility.

Innovation has been the cornerstone of the Islabikes story. Started in 2006, Islabikes was the brainchild of bike industry expert and professional racer Isla Rowntree. Isla noticed that her family and friends’ children were being given heavy, hard-to-control bicycles. She knew that little riders would find far more cycling success and enjoyment if their bikes were lightweight and proportionally-sized — not just in terms of frame dimensions and wheel diameter but also in terms of component sizes — so set about designing her own range of children’s bicycles.

From humble beginnings in a rented office in converted farm buildings, within two years Islabikes had paid for the tooling to create its own design of proportionally sized brake levers. Today, Islabikes fits its bikes with its own exclusive size-specific saddles, pedals, cranks, handlebars, grips, stems, seatposts, wheelsets and tyres. In the last year it has even diversified into high-performance children’s racing bikes, all in the name of its founding ethos: to provide children with a better experience of cycling through lightweight products and intelligent, holistic design.

Currently almost all commercial products are supplied on a ‘take, make and dispose’ model, also known as a linear supply chain. Raw materials are taken from the ground, processed and then manufactured into a product; the product is then typically thrown away when the end user has finished with it. Linear supply chains are wasteful and ultimately, with diminishing reserves of natural resources, unsustainable.

Although bicycles tend to have longer useful lives than many products, their manufacturing model is still not without waste. At the end of a bike’s working life there is no established mechanism to recover and reuse all the materials that were utilised in its manufacture.

With the Imagine Project, Islabikes wants to change this. By using a unique ‘closed-loop’ or ‘circular’ supply chain, it promises to redefine the relationship between a bicycle, its rider and the manufacturing process. To call the Imagine Project just a cycle rental scheme for children’s bikes is to do it a disservice. More accurately, it is the servitised supply of a bicycle where the customer not only pays for the use of the bike but also other benefits such as customer support. The Imagine Project subscriber will receive a special utility bike, which will require no maintenance and can be exchanged for a bigger model when needed; the anticipated rental period for each bike size is expected to be 18 months. The bicycles themselves are owned by Islabikes, incentivising the company to design for the longest possible working life, thereby gaining maximum value from the materials.

Imagine Project bikes aren’t off-the-shelf standard Islabikes but unique models, with frames built by Islabikes in the UK. Designed and manufactured from the outset for separability, Islabikes aim is for 100% of the materials used in the bicycles’ manufacture to come from reused sources. The stainless steel being tested for the frame comes from Sheffield and currently consists of around 70% recycled material. Once it reaches the end of its useful life (which Islabikes hopes ultimately to extend to 50 years) those materials which cannot be reused to make into new bikes will be sent for use by other industries, thus retaining their original precious properties. No waste will be sent to landfill. Imagine Project bikes will originate close to the place of manufacture, minimising the environmental impact of transportation.

Islabikes wants to ensure that families can continue to access the benefits of cycling in the future by offering affordable access to a quality bicycle. It also wants to pre-empt commercial pressures that will become more prominent in the coming decade: increased cost of transportation of goods across the world, rising wages in South-East Asia — the hub of global bicycle manufacturing — and  and the rising cost of resources.

Islabikes is keen to extol the virtues of this closed-loop approach to other companies in its supply chain. Inspired by the principles of a circular economy, as championed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it wants the Imagine Project to be just one part in a manufacturing eco-system where the waste from one industry provides raw input for the next, forming a continuous, cyclic flow and alleviating reliance on finite raw materials.

With a promise to open-source what it learns during the creation of the Imagine Project, Islabikes wants to encourage other companies to explore a similar path and it hopes that more businesses will follow. More than just revolutionising children’s experience of cycling, Islabikes’ Imagine Project may help revolutionise the manufacturing experience for everyone.

To find out more, visit www.islabikes.co.uk/imagineproject or email The Imagine Project at imagineproject@islabikes.co.uk.

Published: 16 May 2017

Focus on Manufacturing - Edition 5

Sign up for updates from Irwin Mitchell