Editorial note: This article first appeared in the March 2021 issue of Roadracing World & Motorcycle Technology magazine.
COPYRIGHT 2021, ROADRACING WORLD PUBLISHING, INC.
All Kids Bike: THE STARTING POINT
By Michel Gougis
The demographics of motorcycling are a constant point of concern for the industry. Some numbers are even worse. Very, very few people get into motorcycling without learning to ride a bike. And in the United States, this year, the majority of kids won’t ride a bike this year, not even once.
âThe trends are getting scary,â says Ryan McFarland, Founder and CEO of Strider Sports International, aka Strider, the producer of balance and beginner bikes. âThree-quarters of American children won’t ride a bike once this year. It’s the whole industry, the whole bicycle industry, the whole motorcycle industry. It’s the same ladder, and the kids don’t even climb the first rung of the ladder anymore.
McFarland is doing something about it. He started All Kids Bike, a program to integrate cycling into the kindergarten curriculum of many public and private non-profit schools.
In just over two years, the non-profit program has helped approximately 40,000 children learn to ride horses. Starting with a simple Strider balance bike, in eight lessons, kids progress to a pedal bike.
And perhaps more importantly, McFarland structured the program to focus on teaching teachers how to run the program. Combined with special bikes to minimize repairs and maintenance, it leverages the efforts of the program, allowing it to reach far more children than McFarland could on his own.
The foundations of Strider were personal: âI have always been passionate about motorcycles and mountain biking. My dad had a motorcycle dealership, âsays McFarland, entrepreneur and manufacturer. âWhen I became a dad, I was super excited to get my son to ride a horse. When he was two, I lined up all kinds of riding toys. I had a whole fleet of things because I was so horny!
âThen I realized these things didn’t help him learn to fly. I watched with enthusiasm trying to use these things, but realized that they were too heavy, too big, too complex. My wife told me to give it a year or two, and I said, ‘No I can’t do that!’ “
The basic failures of early machines were scale-related, McFarland explains. They weighed as much as the two-year-old, with a chest-high seat and gear too large for toddler’s leg muscles. So he took a basic 12-inch wheeled bike and started cutting until the seat height was appropriate for a two-year-old. With the seat so low, however, it was impossible to operate the pedals.
Then McFarland had his flash of inspiration. âThat’s when I really realized that the key to all of this was to separate the propulsion from the drive. To ride is to balance two linear wheels while overlapping them. You start to think about propulsion separately. Why not pace and walk? It’s a way to make something happen, âsays McFarland. “What’s the easiest propulsion method for a two-year-old?” Walk and run. Down to earth, Fred Flintstone style. Totally safe, totally confident, just focus on the bike.
McFarland painted it blue to match the Yamaha 450 off-road motorcycle in his garage and stuck Yamaha stickers on it. Soon her son and the homemade Strider bike were inseparable. It was proof that the idea was solid, so solid that the company, founded in 2007, has now sold over three million units.
Yet McFarland was not unaware of the fundamental childhood changes sweeping the world. Not even available a generation or two ago, video-based activities have literally created an alternate reality for those born in recent years, a reality in which their physical bodies are sedentary. In a very real sense, most of the United States is faced with a video-generated reality that is beyond the imagination of those who studied the impact of television on society 60 years ago. Younger people face these changes as surely as anyone else.
âWhat really struck us was the urgency of the problem. This stuff happens fast. How can we solve this problem? McFarland says he’s been thinking.
His solution: get as many children as possible on bikes, as soon as possible. It meant reaching the kids where they gathered – school – at the earliest age they were going to be there – kindergarten. âEvery kindergarten program has a physical education program, and that’s where we wanted to be,â says McFarland.
Two things were needed. One was an online program to teach teachers how to teach their kindergarten children. The other was a somewhat mythical creature – a childproof bicycle. McFarland designed a version of Strider’s 14X bike with solid tires and easy-to-adjust handlebars. The bikes come with a pedal kit that turns a balance bike into a pedal bike in three minutes.
The nonprofit Strider Education Foundation was incorporated in 2017 as a vehicle (pardon the pun) to collect donations and distribute the program and machines to schools. As of 2018, more than 260 schools in 38 states have adopted the program.
The foundation is looking for donors to support the program. For $ 5,000, the foundation can provide a fleet of 24 children’s bikes, an adult-sized teacher-sized bike, helmets, pedal conversion kits, and a five-year support commitment.
It’s all part of McFarland’s plan to save the hobbies he loves and to help American children lead healthier, happier lives. âGiving children a bicycle is not the solution. Teaching them to ride a bike is the answer. It really comes down to the educational part, âsays McFarland. “Children need this experience.”