Spending a lot of money on a kid's bike is always a daunting prospect especially with the speed at which they can grow but the Black Mountain Pinto will see your child through the earliest stages of balancing to the heady heights of pedalling for at least a good couple of years. It's a well-built package with some clever design ideas that'll give plenty of confidence to those who are about to start their cycling journey.
Pros: Loads of adaptability, geometry suited to children's physiology, good components
Cons: A big outlay
Isla, my youngest, has been balance biking since she was around three on what is probably the Pinto's main competitor, the LittleBig bike, and she is pretty confident when it comes to handling and picking up speed but she hasn't been interested in making the jump to pedalling.
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Unlike the LittleBig, which has two balance bike setups, small and big, before you add pedals to the big setup, the Pinto does the opposite with a small sized balance bike to which you then add pedals for a 12in bike, before adjusting the frame to convert it to a 14in bike.
With Isla itching to get the pedals on, with that 'new shiny bike' feeling that we all know and love, the 12in bike seemed like a good place to start.
At the beginning of the test period Isla was a few months past four, and judging by her friends at pre-school about average height.
With a standover height of 395mm and a minimum saddle height of 430mm (it's 420mm on the balance bike), she certainly felt comfortable about being able to put her feet easily to the floor should she need to.
One of the most important things to get right with a child's bike is the geometry, something which the likes of Islabikes really focused on, making a massive difference to how much the young 'un enjoys riding by boosting their confidence on the bike. Often the bikes in isolation don't look big enough or seem an odd setup but when the child sits on it they look perfectly matched.
The Pinto achieves this and Isla taught herself to pedal and ride in literally 20 minutes once she'd learnt to push herself off.
The lack of twitchiness at the front with its shallow 67-degree angle meant that in the space of a few seconds, where she was picking up enough speed to stabilise the bike, she could concentrate on the pedalling rather than the handling.
It made a massive difference over the cheapy superstore chain bike sitting in the shed that I'd tried to get her to pedal on after removing the stabilisers.
Another bonus is the weight, or lack of it. The Pinto with its all-aluminium alloy frame and fork tips the scales at just 5,930g.
This means that it's manoeuvrable for even the slightest of children, plus they can lift the front up over low kerbs and the like.
As the test period went on, nearing three months in total, Isla had a pretty massive growth spurt which has seen her climb to 110cm, about the figure that Black Mountain quotes for the upper height limit.
With confidence growing it was time to move to the large setting, which sees the top tube length increase from 323mm to 380mm and the wheelbase stretch out from 630mm to 662mm while still retaining the same 395mm standover.
The way that the whole bike has grown with her is pretty impressive, and even though it changes the geometry it has maintained the neutrality in the handling and the way the bike behaves, so Isla has maintained her confidence.
She is now at the point where she is right at the top end of the Pinto size-wise, which is why the bike looks a little small for her in the pictures. At this stage, the next step would be Black Mountain’s Skog which has much the same design but a larger frame and bigger 14in wheels.
Three bikes in one
This is the clever part. The frame is created in three sections. The head tube and top tube, the rear end which you consider as a down tube and chainstays, with both bolting to the seat tube and bottom bracket assembly.
It's a good quality piece of kit with tidy enough welding for the price and you even get internal cable routing for the rear brake cable.
Unless you request otherwise, the Pinto is delivered in balance bike mode, which sees it fitted with the shorter of the two seat tube assemblies; after all, you don't need a bottom bracket do you?
Out of the box it requires minimal setup, even the most novice of home mechanics will be able to follow the printed card with photos, or if you like your instructions digital than there are plenty of YouTube videos available on the Black Mountain site.
You get all the tools you need in the box including a multi-sized spanner similar to those that came with Raleigh bikes back in the day. It's not the most comfortable to use, being pressed from quite thin steel, but it does the job if you don't have a decent tool kit.
Balance to pedal
Changing from the balance bike to the pedal bike means removing a few bolts to swap seatpost assemblies. The bottom bracket and crankset assembly are already fitted so it's just a matter of slotting the tube into the bike, dropping the rear wheel out and fitting the drive belt before reassembling.
The clever part is the eccentric bolt which joins the top tube to the seat tube: an offset washer (the hole isn't in the centre basically) means that when the bolt is tightened it changes the angle of the seat tube to tension the belt ready for riding. We see it commonly on singlespeed bikes that don't have track dropouts to adjust chain tension, although there it is often used in the bottom bracket.
The final transition is to the large bike, the 14in. You move the bottom section to the second row of the top tube bolt holes to extend the length and do the same at the seat tube/eccentric bolt end. It's a simple tweak that'll take 10-20 minutes.
All of this clever engineering is covered in a solid paint job. Like any kid on their way to learning to ride a bike, Isla has decked this thing loads of times and there isn't a scratch on it.
The Pinto comes in four colours and Isla chose the green which is certainly bright and vibrant. Like any fluoro colour, though, it will soon fade if it spends a lot of time in the sun and our test model has certainly dulled on the top tube.
Orange, purple and light blue are the other options.
It's not a massive list of components admittedly, after all there aren't any gears to worry about, but what Black Mountain has specced is some good, solid stuff.
We see a lot of entry-level adult bikes with woefully inadequate brakes so it's great that Black Mountain hasn't scrimped here. The Tektro V-brakes are very powerful on a bike of this size and will stop the bike instantly. Admittedly, at first Isla was a bit on/off with the braking until she learnt how to modulate them, but as soon as she was, she comfortably took to letting the bike go on the downhills, knowing that she could stop.
I mentioned the drive belt and it is a good idea on a kid's bike. There is no oil and maintenance is kept to a minimum.
On the small bike setup the gearing is quite low and as Isla got more confident she was easily spinning out on the flat. Black Mountain has a neat little solution to that, though, with a removable sprocket. By undoing three bolts you can remove the 30 splined version to uncover a 25 splined model. This ups the gearing by about 20% to allow for stronger legs.
The wheels are 14in in diameter and are tough little things: after a few crashes and hard kerb hits they have stayed perfectly true. A CNC machined braking surface allows the brakes their full stopping power potential.
Kenda supplies the tyres, its Small Block 8 models, and they are pretty good. There's enough tread to take the bike off-road on soft mud without clogging up, and they roll pretty well on the road. We had no issues with punctures either.
The handlebar, stem and seatpost are all aluminium which helps to keep the weight down.
The handlebar is 46cm wide, which gives some stable steering especially when paired with what is pretty much a 10mm long stem. It certainly gave Isla some very direct steering without being twitchy. As standard, you get a decent amount of steerer length so height adjustability is pretty good.
The levers are adjustable too, by way of a screw to set the distance from the bar. I never had to touch them though.
The saddle is a pretty smart little affair. It's quite narrow compared to a lot of kid's saddles, and with a slim nose. It's firm, too, but Isla never complained about any discomfort even on rides of around half an hour to our destination, then climbing back on the bike a few hours later for the journey home.
It's quite a grown up little bike with a lot of cues taken from adult bikes.
At first glance the Pinto's £329 price tag looks excessive compared with the LittleBig's £225 rrp, especially as I'm such a big fan of the LittleBig. Charlie loved it when he tested it, and if the Pinto hadn't turned up Isla would have happily progressed through her early riding on it.
The Pinto has the advantage that it can be turned into a bike at a smaller size, so if your child is an early adopter to pedalling it is a much more accessible bike. The increase of gearing size is a smart move too, for when the child gets stronger and more confident.
> Buyer's Guide: 18 of the best kids' bikes
One big factor when it comes to value with children's bikes is resale prices, and the Pinto is too new to really be able to gauge that. Search Islabikes on eBay and you'll see that their used prices are high and if you buy one secondhand you are unlikely to lose much money in the space of a couple of years. If the Pinto can achieve the same thing then it'll be a very good investment, considering how easy it is to ride.
The confidence the Pinto has given Isla to become a cyclist is massive and arguably worth the outlay for what is a cleverly designed bike. The technology isn't groundbreaking but Black Mountain has approached the child's bike concept in a very well thought out way. If those decent resale values can be achieved it makes the investment a no-brainer.
A great little bike to turn the balancer into a pedaller, but it comes with a large outlay
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Make and model: Black Mountain Pinto
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Black Mountain EPOK (aluminium alloy)
Fork Black Mountain 6061 T6 Aluminium
Bars Black Mountain 6061 T6 Aluminium
Stem Black Mountain
Headset Black Mountain
Grips Black Mountain
Brakes Tektro V-brake, micro-adjust lever
Seat Black Mountain Micro
Seatpost Black Mountain GO:LOW
Seat Clamp Black Mountain
Crankset Black Mountain Super Light
Chainring CDRIVE 7075 CNC, 48 tooth
BB Hollow Square taper
Rear sprocket Black Mountain IN:GEAR 30/25
Pedals Black Mountain
Hubs Black Mountain
Rims Black Mountain 14'
Tyres Kenda Small Block 8
Weight Bike 5.7kg (12.5lbs)
Colours Neon Green, Sky Blue, Orange, Purple
Age Range: Around 2.5 to 5 years old
Height Range: Around 90cm to 109cm
Tell us what the bike is for
Black Mountain says, "The world's most advanced kids' bike
"The superlight PINTO weighs in at less than 6kg, and features our EPOK™ growing technologies that make it the ultimate bicycle for your child to learn to ride easily, quickly and safely.
"Our unique patented UP:SCALE growing frame system, and IN:GEAR two-speed drive system, allow you to easily transform the bike from a lightweight balance-bike, into a super-small pedal bike, then into a larger pedal bike as your child grows. The PINTO really is three bikes in one – replacing a separate balance bike, and two conventional 12' and 14' bikes.
"Your child doesn't need to 'grow into it' - with the Pinto, you 'dial' it down to fit them properly from the start, then as they grow and get stronger, the bike grows and develops with them. It fits better and lasts longer than any other kids' bike."
Overall rating for frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Most importantly for a kid's bike it is tough and shrugs off any knocks and crashes.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Both the frame and fork are constructed from aluminium alloy.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It changes, as the bike grows with the child, but it delivers a very stable ride so that the rider can grow in confidence.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
There were no complaints from the test rider over rides of varying distances.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The belt drive delivers instant acceleration.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very positive steering which is well suited to those new to riding, with enough fun for them to take a risk or two.
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Rate the drivetrain for performance:
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Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The drive belt is a good idea on a kid's bike as it is a clean solution that requires very little maintenance. The ability to increase the gearing is a neat touch too.
Rate the wheels for performance:
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Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so
Solid wheels with a good braking surface.
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Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so
Grippy tyres for a range of surfaces that were very resistant to punctures.
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Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Decent kit and well sized for young riders.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
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Use this box to explain your overall score
The Pinto is a great bike for the transition from balance bike to full-on riding thanks to great geometry and the lightweight build. The high price brings the overall score down to an 8, but its resale value will determine whether it's a good investment or not.
Age: 39 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
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