On May 28, Silas McCain competed in the Strider Cup World Championship, a bike race in Osaka, Japan, looking to build on his success a year earlier at a competition in Bentonville, Arkansas.
He finished fifth out of 67 participants in his age group in that race. [Editor’s note: We unfortunately had to go to press before hearing about his finish in Japan.]
Asked his favorite thing about riding a bike, Silas, who lives in Joplin, Missouri, said, “Dinosaurs.”
Silas is 3 years old. That may sound young for a racer, but Silas has been riding for as long as he could walk, and he will be competing against fellow toddlers.
His parents, Mikey McCain and Zanna Duckworth, wanted to get him atop a bike saddle as early as possible “kind of for selfish reasons,” McCain said.
If Silas were able to ride, he could join his parents when they ride their bikes. Plus, they wanted to inspire in him their own passion for the hobby.
“It’s not like I thought he would regret it,” McCain said. “Riding bikes is really fun, especially when you’re a kid. That’s the best time to ride a bike, right?”
Strider, founded in 2007, is one of the most popular brands of balance bikes, which contain two wheels but no pedals. Instead, kids propel themselves by running or walking — Flintstone-style.
The model serves as an alternative to bikes with training wheels, and according to several studies, is more effective.
“We argue that the advantage of the balance bicycle arises because they challenge children more to actively maintain balance,” researchers reported in a study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.
“I think that training wheels — not for every kid, but for a lot of kids — can be pretty counterproductive,” McCain said. “The kids will start to depend on them a little bit, and so they don’t actually learn to balance on the bike.”
Cycling helped McCain find stability during a childhood that did not have much structure, he said.
“I didn’t have the greatest upbringing at all, so I always [turned to the bicycle]. It was an escape for me,” he said.
Not only that, but in his early 30s, McCain didn’t have a vehicle, so he rode his bike about 10 miles each way to work as a supervisor in the grocery department at Walmart.
“I never once went without having a job or had any difficulty getting to work” despite not have a car, “so I think it’s not only good for the individual but society as a whole as a means of transportation,” said McCain, who has also completed a number of long bike trips, including one from Missouri to Washington State and down the California coast.
McCain met Duckworth when they were attending Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri. He was walking on the side of the road because his car had broken down, and Duckworth offered him a ride.
About six years ago, he introduced her to cycling. Before Silas was born, they rode about once a week. Now, it’s more like two or three times.
Duckworth, who works as a legal assistant, learned about the Bentonville race from Strider’s Facebook page.
The company organizes such events to unite families who purchased Strider bikes and “are letting their kids explore the world on it and just really building their confidence,” said Ali Bice, events and international marketing specialist for the South Dakota-based company.
The Bentonville course was 800 feet long. If kids started going the wrong direction, staff helped turn them around.
“A lot of them kind of follow each other,” Bice said.
Silas would participate in one heat and then try to loop back around to participate in another — even though he wasn’t supposed to — because “he just wanted to do it again,” his mom recalled. “It was one of the best days we have ever had.”
The Japan race will feature about 800 riders. Strider is providing $1,000 sponsorships for six families to travel from the United States, including Silas and his parents.
“Traveling with a toddler is a lot of work and taking him somewhere like Japan that’s heavily populated, where you don’t know the language, you can’t read the language, and you’re somewhere brand new is kind of nerve wracking but super exciting at the same time,” Duckworth said.
There has been another bit of excitement for the family recently. In March, McCain opened a bike shop, Wizard Works Cyclery, in Neosho. This fulfilled a dream he has had for much of his adult life, he said.
He described owning a business and the uncertainty that comes with that as a “little intimidating.”
Of course, he sells Strider bikes there.
Asked why he wanted to own such a shop, McCain said, “It’s fun being able to talk with other people who are also passionate about bikes.”
Author: Eric Berger is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Silas McCain at a Strider race in Bentonville, Arkansas.