A bicycle called the Strider that has no brakes or pedals is proving popular with parents of young children learning to ride, as its intrinsic instability helps improve sense of balance and eliminates the need for training wheels.

The Strider, developed by a U.S. company, is propelled by the rider kicking the ground with his or her feet and enables children to come to a stop or make a turn by instinct, enhancing their natural sense of balance.

Rihito Suzuki, 3, who began riding a Strider shortly after his first birthday, has already learned the technique of riding by standing on the saddle with only one foot and can ride a regular bicycle without training wheels.

“It’s great that children can play at their own pace and learn how to ride a bicycle naturally at the same time,” said his mother, Junko Suzuki.

The Strider came to Japan in 2009. By the end of 2013, an estimated 200,000 were bought, according to Strider Japan, a sales unit of Strider Sports International Inc. A model for 2- to 5-year-olds sells for ¥9,800.

In November, the company staged a promotional event called the Strider Cup in a Tokyo park that attracted 468 children aged 2 to 5. They competed on their Striders along a 120-meter course. The first such event was held in Kanagawa Prefecture in March 2010.

“Different from tricycles and training-wheel bikes that are stable and do not fall over, the Strider naturally inspires a rider’s instinctive sense of balance,” a representative for Strider Japan explained.

Striders come in a wide range of colors for bodies, wheels, grips and saddles, while sports equipment manufacturers also sell high-end accessories, including fancy handlebars. The fun of customizing the bike is another attraction for many children and parents.

With the pedal-free concept catching on, Japanese toy maker People started selling a two-wheeler called the Rakusho (Easy) Rider in November with removable pedals.

The seat post and handlebars are adjustable so that a growing child aged 4 to 9 and 100 to 130 cm tall can keep riding the same bike for a long time after starting out with no pedals during early childhood. Its suggested retail price is ¥19,800.

Masayoshi Kametani, a lecturer at the Tokyo YMCA academy for sports trainers, instructors and nursery teachers, said exercise to develop balance is essential for children during the early stages of development.

Such exercise is the basis of all kinds of athletic ability. In the past, children used to naturally develop their sense of balance by climbing trees and playing on jungle gyms in parks, Kametani said, but these opportunities have been disappearing.

“It’s been pointed out for a long time that the physical strength of children is declining due to lack of exercise. But the environment surrounding children has yet to be improved,” Kametani said.

With urbanization showing no signs of abating, people will have to come up with new concepts like pedal-free bicycles to make sure kids develop properly.

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