My 4-year-old just raced in the Strider Bike World Championship.
Everyone always thinks that my husband and I are going to push our kids because we’re athletes. Honestly, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact last year, when the Strider Bike World Cup came to Salt Lake, we signed her up for fun, and she finished dead last. I think. I really don’t know, but it was super fun and she loved her purple jersey. If you don’t know about the Strider bike, they are no-pedal balance bikes that have replaced training wheels as a first bike. Click here for more info.
Since her debut, she has raced bikes exactly zero times, but she has gotten much smoother at her run-run-run-coast. She’s no longer dismounting for cracks in the sidewalk, so that’s impressive.
At some point I always feel like I failed her a little. Some of her local peers have already pedaled into year four and left the Strider behind. I haven’t taken her to the pump track (I am going to). But she loves riding her little green bike, and when she doesn’t, we do something else. At first, she didn’t want to ride it at all. I said nothing. Over time she has really picked it up, and now it’s usually her first transportation choice.
When Strider announced they would be holding the World Championships in Salt Lake—and that there was no qualification—we figured, “hey, why not!”
Serious Strider Bike Racing
This year’s event was serious. There was no day-of registration. Packet pickup was the night before, and there was…bike inspection. Ten years racing on the road, cyclocross, and mountain, and the only place I ever had a bike inspection was racing a crit in Canada.
We scored a nice one-hour street spot in downtown Salt Lake on Friday and I lugged both kids, two Striders and a wagon over to check-in. I was a little nervous—after all, we accidentally smashed her bike last week and I spent nap time on Thursday moving her old parts to a new frame. Once a dirt bag bike racer, always a dirt bag bike racer—it’s easier to sell new parts. Much like IKEA, the whole thing requires a 10mm crescent and a 5mm allen wrench, aka the two tools you could always find in my shop apron in the 90’s. I just hoped I had tightened it all down just right.
It turns out the inspection was more about making sure the bikes were Striders and not modified beyond the rules. Yup, you should have seen some of these bikes. I think I saw the winner of the 5-year-old class had deep dish carbon rims—I’m not joking. Strider makes aluminum stock frames, and with that there are numerous nice parts you can use. The bikes come with solid rubber tires, and I’m sure the upgraded pneumatic rubber takes corners better. But alas, we’re just getting to the point of coasting, so we’re good.
We rolled up on race day with a decent breakfast in her belly. For her. As in, when she attempted to eat an actual cup of sugar I didn’t let her. I am in no way exaggerating this—it happened. She was very excited that this year’s jersey colors included pink, and that there was a fountain nearby she could jump in after the race.
Over 400 toddlers and preschoolers, ages 2-5, race a heat and a main event depending on their heat finish. Now I’ve been around to some bike races, and I even did a handful of road and cyclocross World Cups. The Strider toddler races are easily some of the best-run events I have ever seen. Last year was good, this year was unreal. The heats were listed on a big LCD screen. Within minutes of each heat, they had results and seeds set up for the main races. Miss M. rode across the finish line and back to the start, where they had her next race seed set up.
Before her start, she rode a couple of parade laps. There was a pretty big downhill ramp on the course that she initially didn’t ride, but after another lap she figured it out. Those are the times I am most proud—not at the finish or about results, but seeing her take a calculated risk after assessing the situation.
When she lined up for her first race, she was pretty enamored with the helmet on the kid next to her. It had owls on it. She also made some polite start line conversation. “Your bike is blue. Mine’s green,” and, “I’m 4, how old are you?” But when they said go, it actually looked like bike racing—albeit a little slower and with more smiles. The serious contenders were off in seconds, but the rest were running their little legs off too.
As professional as it was, every Strider representative I came across was all about fun. The starter gave high-fives and knucks down the row every race. The announcer managed to pronounce every name—all 400+ kids, many from Utah—as they came through the final stretch. In our case, he even included her nickname.
Strider Bike Racing
After the first heats, every 1st place finisher moves to the A Main event. Those are the kids racing for the overall championship. They run a main for each placing, and M made the D main this year. That means she finished in about the top half of 100 4-year-olds. For us, that’s a win. After all, last year she was just about last. Both years though, she was smiling, because in a bike race it isn’t “winner” and “loser” because there aren’t just two teams.
The course is part grass, part pavement, with some obstacles like ramps, grates, tunnels, etc. Nothing super scary. We didn’t sign up our 2-year-old because blades of grass or sprinklers sidetrack him. It turns out the same goes for half the kids. While the winner of that race could probably have given the 4-year-olds a run for their money, there were many who had to be gently redirected back to the course by one of the many Strider race crew on course.
The competition was fierce, and most of it came from Japan, where Strider racing is huge. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when discussing an international competition among at least twelve countries that includes the two to five age group is, “gross.” At least that’s what I say about most kids’ athletics.
Believe me when I say that aside from reminding M how the start goes, we don’t “train” or “practice”. It’s clearly a very serious activity in Japan, and the matching jerseys, tricked out bikes, and utter speed of these kids was nothing short of amazing. But kids are kids. I watched the eventual third-place boy hit the deck so hard warming up…full superman. He got up and was crying, and there was his mom, with a tissue and a hug. Like most 4-year-olds, he was off again in two minutes.
The atmosphere around the Strider bike races covers the entire spectrum—from international super stars of the sport to kids having a blast on two wheels. Strider makes larger bikes for kids with special needs who don’t move to pedal bikes right at five, and they have a race for those kids too. It’s inclusive, it’s positive, and it’s fun.
Miss M made her way around the course in about the middle of the pack. She didn’t fall, need redirection, or chop anyone. When you think about it, for most bike racers, that’s considered a pretty good day. She had a cheering section of three grandparents, two awesome friends and their baby, Mom, Dad, and little brother. And when it was all over, after a quick bite of a PB and J, she got to ride right through that fountain, little green Strider, pink jersey, and all.