An original Islabike and it’s incredible journey…

As part of our 10th anniversary celebrations we’ve been finding out what happened to some of the first Islabikes. Many have experienced fruitful lives, being passed from one happy rider to the next. But we also discovered that one particular first-edition Rothan, owned by former Design Council director Toby Scott, has not only enjoyed family life with Toby’s three children, but it’s also been used as an example of intelligent design in presentations to businesses across Britain and beyond.

The story of the Scott family’s link to Islabikes starts familiarly enough.

“My wife and I used to live in London and we were both obsessive cyclists because it’s the only way to get around town,” Toby told us. “We then had our oldest daughter Hadley, then a second daughter Robyn and then our son Callum. We just thought, goodness me, how are we going to get around with children on our bikes? We didn’t want to compromise.”

“So we did the things that everybody does. We bought trailers, which were great, but eventually we got to the point where we thought it would be great to get the kids their own bikes.”

“At the time, I was a director of the Design Council. The purpose of the Design Council was to advocate for and stimulate good design as a mechanism to drive competitive advantage for Britain and to encourage innovation. That was the Design Council’s main mission: how to innovate. But in the back of my mind I’d always been into very good design,” Toby said.

“the purpose of the Design Council was to advocate for and stimulate good design as a mechanism to drive competitive advantage for Britain and to encourage innovation.”

“I was looking for a balance bike for the children. I found other balance bikes and they were largely a triumph of style over substance. They almost worked, but they didn’t quite. In any case, I was looking for a British alternative and that’s when I discovered Islabikes.”

“My perspective when it comes to product design is that the user has to come first. But what I saw with all other children’s bikes was that it was the wrong user who came first — it was the parent coming first, not the child. For me, the eureka moment was when I first stumbled across Islabikes. That was when I realised, here is somebody who has really thought about the real user.”

“here is somebody who has really thought about the real user.”

First, of course, it was Toby’s children that took advantage of the Rothan. But then Toby realised the Rothan could help him in his working life, too

“I used the Rothan as a brilliant example in the professional workshops I ran when I was at the Design Council. When you’re chatting to businesses and they might be saying, ‘We take our users very seriously,’ you need to show them examples of what other companies do. So I’d first bring out a staggeringly heavy, jewel-encrusted first pedal bicycle. I’d say: ‘Who is that really designed for?’ It’s a nice way of stimulating discussion,” Toby said.

“Then I’d show the Rothan as an example of greater user focus, greater understanding. It was lovely because everybody understood what I was saying, and I had videos and photos of my children using it. It’s compelling and a charmingly simple little story and the nice thing about the Rothan is that it’s a superbly simple little bike. You couldn’t take anything more away from it, and I think that was one of the things that really appealed to me. There’s a lovely principal I agree with, great design is not when you can add more things to something but when you can’t take anything else away. That’s what attracted me to the Rothan.”

“There’s a lovely principal I agree with, great design is not when you can add more things to something but when you can’t take anything else away.”

The Rothan proved to be a huge hit at home and once they had learnt the basics of balancing, Hadley, Robyn and Callum were moving onto bigger things.

“We got the larger Cnoc and Beinn bikes at roughly the same time that we moved to live in the far north-west of Ireland. There are loads of little green lanes and we live three miles from the local primary school, so everything was perfect for us to encourage the children to be as independent as possible.”

The legacy of that original Rothan still looms large at home, though. “We had a great moment last week. It was cycle-to-school day last Friday and all Callum’s friends at school had stabilisers. Callum came home and he stopped me and said: ‘Daddy, why did I not have stabilisers?’ I said, you never had stabilisers because you started off on a balance bike,” Toby said.

“the Rothan remains a great example of user-focused design.”

And as a testament to Islabikes’ commitment to intelligent design, even after 10 years that original Rothan is still proving useful. “When we came over to Ireland I set up the Centre for Design Innovation, which basically had the same role as the Design Council in the UK and I used exactly the same case studies. Everybody has a bike and everybody can appreciate when they see one that has been well made, so the Rothan remains a great example of user-focused design.”

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