Redbull: How Black Mountain is thinking big with little bikes
With a lightweight frame that can grow along with your child, an innovative drivetrain and scaled-down componentry, the Black Mountain bike could be the most advanced kids' bike yet.
Original article can be read here
Are bikes for kids really designed for kids? Sure, they’re little, but the fact they generally mimic adult bikes when it comes to design and components also mean they’re compromised. The result is generally a bike that’s clunky, surprisingly heavy and leaves your child feeling like they’re riding something better suited to The Rock, where being able to keep the bike upright is far more pressing than the enjoyment of riding it.
Black Mountain takes a different approach, with founder and inventor Andy Lloyd tearing up the rule book and starting with a completely fresh sheet of paper. This time Black Mountain’s offering is compact, lightweight and innovative. And, more importantly, because it looks nothing like the bikes most of us are accustomed to, it can actually grow with your child – starting as a balance bike, transforming into their first pedal bike and even growing beyond that with the ability to change the frame geometry as they get older and larger.
Black Mountain Bikes was founded after Lloyd bought his son’s first bike back in 2010, in a bid to instil his own passion for cycling in his children. As Lloyd explains on the Black Mountain website, it turned out to be a big mistake, not least because of the fact it weighed in at around 80 percent of his son’s weight. The brakes didn’t work properly, says Lloyd, the gearing was too hard, and the bars were up somewhere around his son’s chin. “It was wrong, just wrong and basically no fun.”
Lloyd’s first port of call was to modify the bike, changing the gearing, braking and removing any accessories, but it was still far too heavy and compromised. And it didn’t take long before his five-year-old son outgrew it. It’s an expensive problem faced by anybody with children, and one that Lloyd, who has a background in motorsport engineering, decided to do something about.
Lloyd’s research discovered that the vast majority of kids' bikes are made out of heavy steel, with over-engineered frames and components that are a long way from ideal. Worse than that, they’re designed to be disposable, as growth spurts mean you’ll either end up buying a bike that’s too large and hoping your child grows into it, or consigning it to the shed once your halfling quickly gets bigger.
According to Black Mountain, “Lloyd set about designing the ultimate kids' bike with the specific goal of making a lightweight bike that would last more than just one ‘growing year’. As his children grew he recognised that young riders go through really significant changes during their early years and he wanted to make a bike that would properly address that problem.”
It took until 2012 before Lloyd hit on the perfect idea, with a frame design that can grow in size depending on your child’s requirements. The result was to become known as Black Mountain’s EPOK technology, where a bottom bracket and pedals can easily be added to turn what’s effectively a balance bike into a full-on pushbike, with the frame’s triangle offering support for different geometries so it can grow even further as your child gets bigger.
It’s a simple, but brilliant, concept that can see a young child progress from balance bike to 14-inch pushbike, while sticking with the same lightweight frame and custom-designed components, avoiding the purchase of three separate bikes and ensuring a fit that’s always perfect for your child.
The frame is just one area that Lloyd and Black Mountain focused their energy, with lots of effort also going into the choice of components. Their bikes feature a drive belt instead of chain, for example, which weighs a claimed 1/6th of the amount, while the handlebars are skinnier and house smaller, short-pull brakes that are better suited to little hands. There’s even an innovative ‘growing gear’ system, which offers easier gearing for when your child is smaller, while letting them switch to a harder, faster gear as they get older and stronger.
The reception Black Mountain have had so far has been more than positive, with Lloyd explaining to BikeBiz:
“We’re really chuffed by how well the bikes ride. The proof in the pudding has been to see hundreds of kids riding well, quickly and with great stability, and parents are really noticing this – how quickly their child has learned to ride well on our bikes. It makes us feel great.”
It’s also great to see innovators focusing on stand-alone designs for children’s products, rather than simply aping what’s already on the market for adults, as our requirements are clearly different. It’s just a shame we’re too old and big to experience the joy of a lightweight transforming bike for ourselves – fingers crossed Black Mountain has something up their sleeve for adult bikes as well.