Strider’s founder Ryan McFarland wasn’t looking to go into business when he developed his first prototype; he was just looking to share his love of riding with his son. “I grew up riding dirt bikes — my dad had a dealership back when I was a little kid, so I’ve been around this my whole life,” said the Rapid City, S.D., resident. “So when I became a dad, I was just super eager to get my little boy started.”
When McFarland’s son turned 2, he bought a tricycle, a small bicycle with training wheels and a Yamaha 50 with training wheels. However, McFarland soon realized that the boy was too little to use any of the vehicles. “The tricycle and the pedal bike weighed almost as much as he did, and the Yamaha 50 with training wheels was four times his body weight. They all look small to us as adults, but when you see a little kid interacting with them, you start to see that they want to do it and are trying their hardest but they can’t get the thing to move, or they can’t get the pedals to work right.”
That’s when he realized that his son shouldn’t have to fit a bike; a bike should fit his son. McFarland took the small 12-inch bike and stripped it of things that add unnecessary weight — including its pedals. “I came to the decision that what I’m after is trying to teach him to balance and ride on two wheels,” he said. “I don’t care what makes the bike move … riding is being able to balance on two wheels and lean and steer and counter-steer the bike to maintain that balance.”
The emphasis on balance seemed to do the trick, and once the bike was made into a simple, lightweight, low-to-the-ground design, McFarland’s son was instantly zooming all over their yard. “We live out in the country, and he was just all over the place on it — places you could never take a tricycle or a training wheel bike or anything like that. It was phenomenal what he could do.”
It wasn’t long until McFarland started to receive numerous inquiries from fellow parents about the bike. That’s when he realized he’d created something special, and in January 2007, he established Strider No-Pedal Balance Bikes as a business.
Since the concept of a balance bike was so new, McFarland felt the need for dealer involvement was vital. “You’d think this is something that would be in the mass market channels like Walmart or Target, but it really needs to be in stores where there are experienced sales staff helping to explain what the product is,” he said. “They’re enthusiasts and understand what it means to ride and what it means to teach kids to balance. I think motorcycle dealers understand the concept of the bike and how it really develops skills that lead into their business. It helps sell 50cc dirtbikes when little kids are [eventually]good at riding … and that gets mom and dad excited about buying that little 50.”
Since its inception six years ago, the Strider brand has truly taken off — so much that the little bikes have their own racing community. Strider is an officially licensed class in USA BMX, and races are held at all national events. Sanctioned for riders ages 2 through 5, each rider races in his or her own age category at all 400 BMX tracks nationwide. The brand also hosts its own annual Strider World Championship, in which distributors from all over the world venture to Sarasota, Fla., for a business meeting and racing event. “They have a small track for Striders, which we use all day for the kids to play on and practice on, and then we do the championship race out on the big track,” said McFarland.
“Racing in the United States and around the world has just really exploded and if you think about it, it’s the only sport for a 2-year-old. And it’s a true sport. They’re standing on the line by themselves, the gate drops, and they have to get to the other end under their own power. Kids typically learn how to ride a bike around 6 years old. We’ve taken that 6-year-old range, and we’ve just put it back in that first position, so you can start learning to ride a bike when you’re 2.”
Strider has co-branded with a number of OEMs, including KTM, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Ducati and most recently Harley-Davidson, with the hope that one day these young riders will become motorcycle enthusiasts.
“Not only is it a profitable product to sell but it really leads into future business,” said McFarland. “Strider really helps ensure that their first experience is a positive one.”