Interview with Ryan McFarland of Strider

Mar 28, 2018 View Comments by

 

RoadRUNNER: Strider Bikes got its start when your son was two and learning to ride using a tricycle and a pedal bike with training wheels. What wasn’t working?
Ryan: The bikes were too tall, too heavy, and too complicated. A great analogy would be using Honda Gold Wings in a learn-to-ride motorcycle class for first time riders! There’s a reason why these classes use small dual-sport bikes or Honda Rebel 250s or the like.

You grew up riding dirt bikes and mountain bikes. How did this knowledge contribute to that first bike you constructed for your son?
Riding and racing and performance tuning throughout my life simply gave me some unique insight about how to make a bike perform well. I went into the project with the mindset to make a bike that performed well for my son. There were other balance bikes on the market but there was little in the way of performance engineering that had gone into them.

Learning to ride a bike can be unsettling and even scary for some. How does a balance bike help in this matter?
The balance bike eliminates fear of riding since the rider has full control over the bike and can safely progress at his or her pace. Really, at first, a child is simply standing and walking with a bike between their legs. Their first goal is simply to keep the bike centered under them as they walk. This simple beginning is what allows the process to start at just 18 months of age. Once comfortable with that, they sit down and walk, still keeping the bike centered. Keeping the bike centered is the fundamental skill of balancing. Throughout this progression, there’s no fear because their feet are on the ground, and they have every confidence in their ability to walk. Soon, they start sitting and running with the bike. Once they reach this point, they realize that they can glide between footsteps. Soon they are gliding more and more, gliding through turns, gliding over obstacles. They are riding, truly riding on two wheels.

Has the design of the bikes changed since you started 10 years ago?
The general design has remained the same but nearly every component has seen quality and function improvements. These improvements have made the rider and parent experience much better.

Strider bikes are used worldwide. Have you noticed any interesting trends? In what countries do the bikes seem to be most popular?
The Strider bike is extremely popular in Asia, particularly in Japan. …Their racing events have thousands of kids registering and many of the bikes are customized, some with hundreds of dollars in aftermarket parts. In many countries in Asia, kids go to Strider practice like our kids go to soccer practice. And, it shows—when they come to the Strider Cup World Championship, they win the majority of the trophies!

The Strider Cup is a friendly race series for children ages two to five that culminates in the Strider Cup World Championship. What’s one of your most memorable moments from these events?
I have two great memories I’d like to share. When the Strider Cup World Championship was in Florida, we had a beach day following the race and all the kids brought their bikes to the beach for a ride and to play in the sand and surf. At one point, we were building a giant sandcastle and there were about a dozen kids all working on it at once, and they were all excitedly talking to one another as they were building. The amazing part was that there were four different languages being spoken with really no understanding of those languages by the other kids; yet they seemed to be ‘communica-ting’ just fine and having a good time. Another great memory was when the Strider Cup World Championship was in South Dakota. In the championship race, there was a big crash on the first straightaway and the really fast kid who was favored to win was down and out. All the other competitors were long gone. He was a little shaken up and quite disappointed (but not hurt), and you could see the internal battle he was fighting as to whether to get back on his bike and finish out the race or walk off the track. He won the internal struggle, got back on his bike, ran the rest of the course, and the crowd erupted in applause. Racing is about so much more than winning or losing the actual race.

Strider started out marketing only to early riders, but now offers bikes and educational programming for children with special needs, which has seen much success. What prompted the company to move in this direction?
We receive so many calls regarding how to teach the skill of riding a bike from parents with older children with special needs that we finally built a couple models specifically for that task. The same method that works so well with toddlers has the benefit of being easily implemented by those with special needs. Our success rates are phenomenal and we are making a huge impact in that area. What once was an unreachable milestone is now nearly 100% obtainable due to the design of our bikes and the Learn-To-Ride process of our Strider Education curriculum!

Larger bikes are also available for adults just learning to ride. As you continue to expand your offerings, what have you learned? What works when teaching someone to ride? What doesn’t?
Proper fit on the bike is key. Eliminate fear and complexity wherever possible. A focus on the fundamentals is best. Build a process that takes one step at a time and always builds upon the last step in a positive way. For example: first, stand over the bike, then walk with the bike, then sit and walk, then sit and walk faster, then sit and walk faster plus glide, etc. Always one step at a time, always adding just one step. Tricycles and training wheels don’t do this. They actually teach skills that do not transfer to riding on two wheels. These skills then have to be unlearned and the rider is essentially starting over when they move to two wheels. Always build forward, never backtrack.

What is the best way for readers to keep up with Strider events and programming?
We have full-time Strider staff working social media and posting about all things Strider. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, as well as our website at www.StriderBikes.com, all have information about Strider happenings.

 

Interview with Ryan McFarland of Strider

 

How has the motorcycle world responded to Strider? How do balance bikes help children to become better motorcycle riders?
We have had a great response from the motorcycling community. We are motorcyclists; we get motorcycling; and other motorcyclists see that we understand and promote riding, which is near and dear to their hearts. Kids who ride Strider bikes make great motorcyclists because they understand the fundamentals of riding on two wheels. The only difference is using a motor to make the bike move. The fundamentals are the same. My own kids were riding motorcycles (without training wheels) before they were four. And, if you think about it, they had already been riding on two wheels for half of their lifetime prior to that!

Your sons went on to ride dirt bikes just like you. Are they still riding? Do you ride together?
Both my boys still ride and are quite amazing on dirt bikes. Now 14 and 10 years old, they have successfully raced motocross and Endurocross. My oldest has also ridden Slickrock in Moab and run the national Enduro in Upton, Wyoming. …And, we have plans to do a multi-day adventure bike ride complete with camping gear. The other day, the two boys did their first woods ride without adult supervision. They loaded the bikes into the truck and drove to the trailhead by themselves and did a big loop on their own, using their map and GPS. My youngest said, “That was the best ride ever!” when he got home. I love their confidence and their competence. These traits have been enhanced by motorcycling and will serve them well in life.

What has surprised you most in the decade since Strider got its start?
I have been surprised by the speed at which copycats and counterfeiters have swooped in to try to take market share. This hurts the greater cause of getting kids on bikes because these people don’t give, they just take. They don’t contribute to innovation, don’t support education, don’t sponsor events, don’t fight for advocacy for riders, and they don’t engage with consumers socially, and in post-sale support. They just leech off the hard work and good intentions of others.

Where do you see the company going from here?
As our vision statement declares, we are committed to being the #1 global brand that teaches kids to ride and instills a lifelong love of riding. All riding starts with the fundamental of balancing on two wheels. The propulsion may evolve from walking the bike along, to turning pedals, to twisting a throttle, but the big picture is all about riding balanced on two wheels and leaning through turns. We think it speaks volumes when the number-one requirement for taking a motorcycle safety course is the ability to ride a bicycle. The motorcycle industry is dependent on generations that know how to ride bicycles and have a desire to expand that skill to motorcycles. Our next ten years will be spent rolling out new products and programs and messaging that continue to build that pool of riders.

 

Interview with Ryan McFarland of Strider

 

Ryan McFarland
A riding and racing enthusiast, Ryan was born into a motorsports family. His grandfather was a race car engineer and his father owned a motorcycle dealership. This early exposure to cars, cycles, and racing influenced Ryan to drive, ride, and race everything from mountain bikes and dirt bikes to race karts and stock cars. His natural inclination to tinker and his competitive spirit led him to invent the U.S. patented Thudbuster suspension seat-post for bicycles. The inventions continued when Ryan also developed a U.S. patented suspension system for wheel chairs. He is currently the founder and CEO of Strider Sports International, Inc., home of the Strider Balance Bike. Strider has sold over 1.7 million bikes worldwide in just under 10 years. Ryan resides in Rapid City, SD, with his wife and two sons.

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