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Strider Sports shapes tots into riders

Liz Hochstedler, Associate Editor
April 30, 2012
Filed under Features

Pedal-less bikes created to encourage kids to ride

Upon first glance, a Strider bike looks much like any other bicycle built for youngsters. It’s less than two feet tall, and it has small handle bars, a little seat and two wheels, but one key component is missing — the pedals.

Strider bikes are unique in that they’re purposefully designed without gears or pedals.

“Pedals are a distraction, really, if you think about it,” said Ryan McFarland, founder of Strider Sports International. “A lot of people think pedaling defines a bike and riding, but that’s not really true. What defines riding is balancing on two wheels and turning into curves.”

McFarland designed the bike to get kids riding at an early age, so they can learn the fundamentals about riding before they advance to larger bicycles or dirt bikes.

The idea was born about seven years ago, when McFarland’s son was 2 years old. His son had a tricycle, a bicycle with training wheels and a Yamaha 50 with training wheels, and yet he most enjoyed a four-wheel toy that allowed him to scoot around using his feet. The bikes and the trike, McFarland discovered, were too heavy and too complex for his toddler.

“I thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to mix all that. He’s very capable on the very light four-wheel scoot toy, but he’s not learning anything about balance.’”

An invention is born
McFarland, an inventor who owned a non-powersports-related business at the time, went to work in his garage, creating his first pedal-less bike. When his son got on his new toy, he was able to navigate it with ease.

“He really just exceeded my expectations,” McFarland recalled. “What he could do on it, it just blew me away. He was off-roading, and he was doing tricks, and it was just amazing. When you have your expectations exceeded like that, it just gets you excited about it.”

McFarland was happy his creation worked, but he had no intention of mass-producing the models. However, over the next year and a half, people kept stopping McFarland and his son, asking about the bike.

“It just became really obvious that ‘Holy cow, there is a demand for this,’ and it’s really interesting as a lot of people watch this little kid doing tricks and riding over different types of terrain quickly,” he said.

McFarland and a few friends got together and began developing more prototypes of the bike to research its potential for use, and they found a viable product.

“We had a bunch of little kids on these bikes, and it was the same thing. It wasn’t just that my son was a standout on this thing. It’s just that it just works,” he said.

McFarland decided the bikes were a great product to bring to market, so he, his father, Joe McFarland, and his friend and patent attorney, Gene Woodle, started Strider Sports International. The goal of the company is to get kids into riding before they’re lured by other sports. (See sidebar Strider Cup helps promote bikes.)

“Pre-school, kindergarten and grade school kids are busy now. They’re in all sorts of activities as young as 4 years old,” McFarland said.

“I think all these different sports are in competition for a child’s attention, really, and their parents and their support and spare dollars and everything else.”

Early adapters
If a child gets on a Strider at 18-24 months, the recommended starting age for the bike, then by the time the child is 4 or 5, starting school and learning about other sports, he or she will already know how to ride a bike and may already be into dirt bike racing.

“There’s still going to be this thing they come back to, and it’s a great way to get them into bikes and riding dirt bikes,” McFarland said.

Dealerships can benefit when children get started in the sport early, and can create customers for life. What’s critical to keeping a child on a dirt bike and hopefully transitioning the child to a larger dirt bike or motorcycle at an older age is creating an ideal first ride, McFarland said.

“What’s interesting is there are some kids out there that get put on little 50s that don’t really know what they’re doing, and there’s a high likelihood that those kids are going to get hurt or scared, and when you have a bad experience like that at that age, it’s hard to overcome those fears,” he added.

Getting a child safely involved in riding can lead to a windfall of sales, as children quickly grow out of bikes and gear. McFarland said his son, who is now 9 years old, has owned about half dozen bikes and needs to replace his gear nearly every year.

Ensuring a child gets into riding also usually guarantees their parents will become more involved in the sport, spending more time on trails than watching other youth sports. McFarland knows from experience that this can multiply sales as well, as he’s even more invested in riding now than he was before his son started riding.

“I bought a new dirt bike and bought more gear because I’m riding, and my wife is starting to show some interest, and my dad just bought a new dirt bike. You think just in our family the difference that it has had there in the number of bikes and gear and events that we’ve entered,” he said.

Because of these benefits, Strider has attracted 250 motorsports dealers and more than 1,000 dealers total. It’s international sales now outpace its U.S. sales.

“Some people think, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a lot of dealers,’ but what it says to us is this is a product that has mass appeal,” McFarland said. “Every 2-year-old can use this, boy, girl, no matter what they’re in to.”

Dealer attraction
Westfield Yamaha in Westfield, Ind., started carrying the Yamaha-branded Striders a few months ago because of the rave reviews an employee, Jesse Johnson, had heard from his bicycling friends. Johnson, in marketing for the dealership, said sales have been slow to start because the concept is unfamiliar to most people, but the dealership recently drew 150 people and raised more than $3,000 during a charity Strider drag race in the store.

“Our primary goal in bringing on Strider was just to get an early start to riding, having kids start around 1 or 2, instead of waiting until they’re 5, 6, 7 or 8,” Johnson said.

Because of the response the dealership has received since its event, it is hoping to add a few more models in addition to the Yamaha Strider it currently carries. He says the bikes are ideal for dealerships that have built up a community of off-road riders.

“You have to have that core community, or I don’t think it’s a good fit,” he said. “It’s a phenomenal product. I think it’s very interesting, and it stands to gain a lot of traction in the future.”

In addition to the Yamaha model, Strider also has versions of the bike with Honda and KTM logos on them and about a half dozen other color schemes.

Strider is looking to grow in 2012 by adding more dealers and selling more bikes.

“We expect to sell in excess of 300,000 bikes this year, continuing to grow that at a pretty rapid rate,” McFarland said. “By 2014, we’re hoping to hit a 1 million bikes-per-year production level.”

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