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October 2, 2013

Balance bike racing for tots is catching on

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) — They gather at the starting line with their tiny handlebars nearly touching. Decked out in helmets, jerseys and protective knee guards, they wait at the gate, listening to the call of “On your mark, get set, go!” before racing off.

Between 18 months and 4 years old, they look like mini versions of BMX racers.

They are — sort of.

Yes, they are on bikes and they are racing. Difference is, these little tykes are on balance bikes, also known as Strider, kick or push bikes.

That means no pedals, no brakes, no fear.

Only fun.

“It’s awesome,” said Benno Scheidegger, whose daughter Kira became a nationally-ranked BMX racer after learning how to ride on a balance bike. “It really is a great thing. I recommend Striders for everyone who has little kids who want to ride.”

Balance bikes go back to the early 1800s, when the first bicycles, known as walking machines, featured wheels and seats but no pedals or brakes.

Racing on pedal-less bikes, at least by kids, didn’t really take off until a few years ago, when a mechanically inclined father decided to strip down his 18-month-old son’s bike so he could tool around on the family’s land in South Dakota. A mountain bike and dirt bike enthusiast, Ryan McFarland wanted his son Bode to ride along with him. Bode had plastic toys he could push around in, but he was too small to ride clunky, heavy tricycles and bikes with training wheels.

McFarland came from a family of tinkerers — his grandfather was a racecar engineer and his father owned a motorcycle dealership — and he held several patents from his own inventions, including a bicycle seat post and a suspension system for wheelchairs. So when Bode needed something different, it was natural for McFarland to take a blowtorch to his son’s bike, chopping it down and taking away everything that was unnecessary for a little rider who hadn’t been walking that long.

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