CLINTON -- The Steed Park Toddler Balance Bike Race in Clearfield drew plenty of attention from parents and bystanders, as little tykes on little bikes raced along the pathway.
These weren't any ordinary kids on ordinary bikes. These were toddlers, ages 21 months to 4 years, on their balance bikes -- all rolling along and being coached by their instructor, Meg Hawks.
Hawks is a representative of Strider, which is introducing balance bikes to parents as a way to teach kids how to ride bikes almost as soon as they learn to walk. Hawks holds clinics to introduce the bike and teach the kids how to use them.
She concludes the lessons with an event like a race, where all the bikers are winners.
A balance bike looks a lot like a child's first bike with a wheel on the front and the back, handle bars and a seat, except for one thing: There are no pedals. This is the strength of the balance bike.
With no pedals, the toddlers use their feet to move forward by pushing or almost running while still sitting on the seat -- set to a child's height so their feet are both on the floor or ground. This way they learn to ride by balancing on the bike with their own weight rather than letting the wheels balance them.
And the balance bikes are lightweight.
Some kids' bikes weigh 20 pounds or more, Hawks said, and that's like putting an adult on an 80-pound bike.
"They are just awkward and heavy to maneuver," she said.
Ryker McArthur, 3-year-old son of Jared McArthur, of Layton, was leading the pack in this race and has become an expert in handling and maneuvering the balance bike.
"We got him a balance bike for Christmas when he was 1 1/2, and within a month or so it just clicked with him. He's been going ever since," said McArthur. "He's a bike guy!"
Hawks' 23-month-old son Noah just stands and walks with the bike at this point, but that's how they start.
She said it's about teaching the balance concept right now, before a child ever gets on a regular bike.
The scariest part of learning to ride a bike is the out-of-control feeling of not having your feet on the ground. The balance bike allows the child to learn to coast and steer with the confidence of knowing their feet can reach the floor or ground.
Liz Kealamakia said her 6-year-old son Tyler has Down syndrome but was racing right along with the other kids.
"Many children with Down syndrome never learn to ride a bike, but the balance bike has really helped him, because he can't ride a bike or a tricycle with pedals," says Kealamakia. "This bike has taught him balance and coordination and hopefully is a stepping stone for him to someday be able to ride a regular bike."
Hawks said unlike tricycles and bicycles, balance bikes teach kids to ride bikes much faster because they aren't afraid of the bike, and from the start the child gets to know how to move on a bike for balance and steering.
"Balance bikes have really caught on in other parts of the country, and there are even international balance bike world cup events," Hawks said. "I'm starting to see kids on them as I'm out and about at parks or on bike paths."
"This type of bike really appeals to parents who are into motorbikes, mountain bikes, road bikes or BMX bikes," Hawks said, "and can get their kids into the sport at a very early age."
She said the concept of no pedals or training wheels is very foreign to some people, but once they are introduced to the idea it makes a lot of sense.
A range of balance bikes for toddlers is available from various manufacturers.
Hawks said the bikes usually cost around $99 but hold their value and can be resold rather than sent to a thrift store or tossed in the junk pile.
"In the end, the cost is about the same after you sell it used, and you get a better quality product that will last however many kids you have and however many neighbor kids borrow it," she said.
For more information about balance bikes and upcoming events, Hawks can be reached at 435-213-7967.