By Drake Baer
When his son turned 2, South Dakota dad Ryan McFarland bought him a tricycle and a bike with training wheels -- each done up in racing stripes.
"My enthusiasm quickly turned to frustration as I watched my eager son of just 20 pounds struggle with the weight and complexity of these so-called 'children's bikes,' " McFarland says.
So McFarland, a dirt bike racer himself, started to rethink the traditional bicycle, looking for ways to turn it into a ride more suitable to his son. He thought about drilling holes or cutting away parts, but then he had an aha moment: He could get rid of the pedal system altogether.
What would provide propulsion instead? Feet.
McFarland took off the pedals, allowing him to lower the bike's center of gravity and thus stabilize the ride. What's more, his son could sit on the bike with both feet on the ground, which gave him full control of motion. He could walk along when going slowly, run to pick up speed, and then lift his feet to glide along. The design helps the rider gets a hang of balance and motion.
Like that, a new kind of bike was born -- a Strider.
In 2007, McFarland used his invention to found Strider Bikes. Since then, it's seen explosive growth. He's sold more than 695,000 products, and the company brought in $10 million in revenue last year. In February, Strider moved to a 26,000-square-foot facility in Rapid City and now has 32 employees.
What's more, McFarland, 45, was named by the U.S. Small Business Administration as one of America's 53 best small business people of the year.
McFarland sees the Strider as filling a need that no other bicycle has met. "I don't think there has been anything in the marketplace that addresses the needs of an 18-month-old or 2-year-old," he tells Business Insider.
%VIRTUAL-pullquote-The kid's mobility is escalated to such an extent it really changes your life.%The Strider not only teaches young kids the basics of riding a bike, it also makes a big difference in parents' lives. "The kid's mobility is escalated to such an extent, it really changes your life," he says. "The parent has been attached to a diaper bag and a stroller the last two years, or they're moving at a snail's pace waiting for this dawdling 2-year-old. All of that changes when the child becomes mobile on this bike."
In a way, it's not too surprising that McFarland experienced such rapid success in the biking business. He's been exposed to racing -- and entrepreneurship -- all his life. His grandfather was a race car engineer, and his dad owned a motorcycle dealership. He grew up racing mountain bikes, dirt bikes and go karts.
Before Strider, McFarland ran companies of his own in biking and home finance. Experiences with those businesses helped Strider grow quickly, since he already had a huge network of contacts in the bike industry and had a good understanding of finance and lending. To that end, McFarland used an SBA-backed line of credit to help navigate the fluctuating needs of inventory. If not for the loans, he says, all Strider's capital would have been sucked into inventory.
But inventory continues to grow as Strider becomes more a part of American childhoods. Already, kids are duking it out in the Strider World Cup Championship. For McFarland, the most difficult part of the business is "convincingly explaining" the concept of the Strider to people. A bike-scooter might not sound like a big deal -- until you see how it can change the way a kid experiences the world.
"Two years old, and they're more mobile than an adult at walking pace," McFarland says. "It's altering the course of this person's whole life -- balance, coordination, confidence, everything. It's going to have a pretty profound effect."