Chances are you've seen them around the valley, tiny tykes wheeling around on what look like little push bikes. Low to the ground, the rigs don't have any pedals. Many don't have any brakes. They don't use training wheels. But what they have are little people spinning around with great big grins.

Those little toddler-fueled machines are called balance bikes or pre-bikes.

"Some kids really take off on them," said Anthony Walker, owner of The Bike Shop in North Conway. "Some of them really like them a lot better. They can just go cruising on the thing."

And there are a few things they don't have to be concerned with.

"They don't have to worry about pedals hitting them on the shin or training wheels hitting them in the back of the legs," said Walker.

Plus, it's a bit less work for dad and mom.

"They don't have to deal with putting air in the tires or the training wheels not hitting the ground and the kids not going anywhere."

Balance bikes do exactly that. Teach balance. A European staple for some time, a company in America's prairie has been the industry leader in recent years.

"Strider seems to be the biggest company promoting it," said Walker.

Balance bikes are big business for the South Dakota company founded in 2007 that has sold more than 1.6 million pre-bikes since then. The Rapid City manufacturer offers a variety of balance bike including a 12 inch for ages 18 months to five years, 16 inches for ages 6 to 12 and a 20 inch for ages 13 and up.

The company's mission is simple. They want to build lightweight, efficient, all-terrain bikes that develop two-wheeled balance, coordination and confidence in children.

They're also selling family fun.

Imagine scores of 2-to-5-year-olds racing on a course lined by orange traffic cones as their nervous and enthusiastic young parents and grandparents offer encouragement while testing their fortitude. Yellow cowbells ring out. All in helmets, some of the toddler racers are still in diapers as they grip their mounts, power themselves with their tiny legs and embark on a 600-foot competitive journey over obstacles like dirt mounds and wooden ramps.

There are some spills but also legions of beaming grins. There's a podium style awards ceremony after the race with some trophies to the top finishers towering over their little heads.

Already this year, races have been held in Fort Worth, Texas and Pittsburgh, Pa. Nebraska's next later this month followed by the Stride Cup Championship in July in Salt Lake City.

But the racing isn't limited to the United States. It's global, with series held in 24 countries from neighboring Canada and Mexico to nations like South Korea, Indonesia, Estonia and Australia.

Shawn Garneau of Garneau's Garage in Twin Mountain, a family-owned automotive garage, powersports operation and Strider dealer, bought a balance bike for his son last summer. Now 2½ , he says his son instantly adapted to it.

"What's nice is he can learn at his own pace," Garneau said.

He's watched as his son has figured out how to steer and lean with the bike. The bike also has two seats of varying lengths so when his son outgrows one he can use the other, thus extending the life of the bike before moving on to another.

"A balance bike is good if they have legs that aren't strong enough for a pedal bike," he said. "They can be frustrated. I've seen it. They want to put their feet down on the ground on a pedal bike but the pedals are in the way."

Plus, there's also less frustration for parents.

"There's no maintenance to the bike," he said. "It's easy to put it together or get it from the store already put together. The kids just get up and go. It's also very safe."

Garneau will soon be getting a couple more balance bikes for two new additions to his family — twins, a boy and a girl.

"It'll be interesting to see how they all progress," he said.

Now that's a balancing act.

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