Start ’em young and forget the training wheels
Is your kiddo begging you to let them ride a bike because they want to be just like their older sibling? Perhaps the next Ned Overend or Lea Davison lives under your roof, but you aren’t sure how to initiate their two-wheeled journey. Thankfully, there’s a solution. And it’s an awesome one at that.
When cycling enthusiast Ryan McFarland was bike hunting for his then two-year-old son, he couldn’t find anything suitable at the local bike shop. “Conventional bikes are too big and too heavy for a really young child,” said McFarland. “This creates a perceived need to help the child hold the bike up via training wheels, when in reality, the bike is simply the wrong fit.” Unwilling to heed the status quo, McFarland designed a lightweight, pedal-free bike that his son could learn to stride on naturally.
McFarland later used his design to launch the Strider Bikes brand, which helped to kick-start the popularity of balance bikes in North America. As is true with so many other technologies, however, Europeans had been using pedalless bikes to teach their children to ride for years. In fact, the first known balance bike was built by German inventor Karl Drais way back in 1817. Today, the balance bike has become a popular choice for parents looking to get their children riding as early as when they learn to walk.
Beyond size and weight, the biggest advantage to starting on a balance bike is that children learn the most important component to riding a bike safely: balance. Training wheels, on the other hand, emphasize pedaling over balancing – a problem that can add extra time and hardship to the learning process. The ability to keep feet on—or quickly touch—the ground essentially eliminates the fear of falling. In a world where kids are taught to do everything, balance bikes allow them to learn on their own, building the confidence needed to step up to a pedal bike. Once a child has mastered on-bike balance, the striding motion transfers quickly into a pedaling motion and, voila, you’ve got a bike riding machine!
Not to be viewed as just a toy, balance bikes are typically also built with performance in mind. “Riding a heavy, clunky pedal bike means you have to stay on the boring, flat sidewalk,” said McFarland. “Kids like to play and they like activities that are mentally and physically engaging.” An off-road enthusiast himself, McFarland kept that in mind when he designed the framework of his son’s balance bike.
“Learning to ride off-road at such a young age, and in a playful manner, leads to a natural desire to continue on in this engaging and fun activity in the future,” he said. “Learning how to read the terrain and pick a smooth line is as valuable at two years old as it is at 20 years old. Balance bike graduates are already proving themselves to be fantastic BMXers, MTBers, and even motocross racers.”
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