Mums and dads across the country are entering their children as young as 18 months old into bike races almost as soon as they've learned to walk.
While many children wait until four or five to learn to ride a bike, 'balance bikes' – which have no pedals, no stabilisers and no brakes (yikes!) - are changing all that by giving kids the confidence to get in the saddle and then pit their speed against other youngsters in an amazing – and very cute - World Cup.
The sport is backed by Olympic BMX rider Shanaze Reade, who said: "It's events like this that not only give our youngest riders the chance to get on a bike and have a go, but even race against their friends on the same track that I train on. It's an amazing opportunity."
Organised by balance bike manufacturers Strider, the event is designed to inspire the next generation of British cyclists to get out and explore the world on two wheels in an exciting, fun and safe environment.
So what does it involve? Balance bikes, often called running bikes or pre-bikes, are simply bikes with no pedals. The bikes are designed for toddlers and children to easily propel themselves using their feet on the ground giving them more stability, without the complications that come from pedalling.
The Strider Cup events are held all over the world and are 'play experiences' designed to let young kids, aged 18 months to 5 years old, explore the world on two wheels.
At the next tournament in November, three-year-old Ashton Heron, from Nottingham, will defend the title he won in the summer.
Mum Tina, 29, said Ashton's win came as no surprise given his obsession with bikes over the past year.
She said: "He knows what winning is, he's quite competitive. He is on his bike 24/7, as soon as he was old enough to sit on a bike about the age of one, that was it."
The competition saw 120 children take part in four age groups. But Ashton stole the show capping off his win by being picked from a random draw of the winners of all the age groups to represent Great Britain in the Strider World Championships in Florida.
Ashton's proud dad Adrian, 26, said: "I registered Ashton for the competition and took him along. He loved it. He won all of the four heat races he was in which qualified him for the final, which he also won.
"We are so proud of him. There really is nothing else like this type of event around for toddlers and young children in the UK. "It's these type of events that are part of the legacy of this year's Olympics."
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TODDLER BMX
Strider spokesman Mark Hayward gives us the lowdown on the bikes for teeny tikes.
What kind of mums and dads enter their kids for the competition?
A wide range of families have come to events, some travelling a couple of hours to attend an event. The only thing that really ties them together is that they have a member of the family between 18 months and five years old. Most come with siblings, parents and sometimes grandparents as well to watch the action so it has really made the events a family occasion.
How many entries do you receive?
We have had to close entries at around 300 for the next event in Manchester. There are many more out there who want to enter, however for logistical reasons this is our limit for now. The first event we held at the National Cycling Centre in June had 120 riders racing and was a great day. In total across all of the events this year we've had thousands of children riding and racing balance bikes.
How much does it cost to enter?
A. The events cost a lot to put on, however this year Strider has subsidised a lot of the costs of hosting the events, with many of them free to enter this year. The next event in Manchester costs £3 to enter.
For future events in 2013 and beyond there will be a small entry fee but Strider are doing everything possible to keep this as low as possible to make the events accessible to anyone who wants to have a go.
How much does a Strider balance bike cost?
A. The Strider ST-3 balance bike costs £85 and comes in a range of six colours. They are really lightweight (only 2.9kgs) and have patented toddler-sized features.
Isn't 18 months old too young for children to enter competitions?
You really need to do is come and see an event for yourself as the events are primarily about providing a fun opportunity for the kids. The children love being on the Strider bikes; love even more being on their bikes with other children; adore being in their bikes with other children at an internationally recognised venue; and go mad for the chance to race other children.
The main focus of the events from our point of view is to give the kids a fun, unique and safe opportunity to ride and, if they want to, race against other children. The only trouble we have is getting them off the track for the next race, they love it so much they just don't want to stop! At the end of the day it is really up to the kids if they want to race or not.
There has been a lot of criticism in the media recently of 'touchline dads' who scream at their kids from the edge of a football field. Does the Strider World Cup encourage such behaviour?
So far, we have had great children and parents attend events. Yes, many of the parents love encouraging their children when they are riding, however, as the events are set up for having fun, the main concern for everyone is ensuring that the children have a great experience.
• As well as the Strider Cup and World Cup events, Strider has set up a network of centres-of-excellence at world class locations and venues around the UK (including Manchester, Birmingham and Kent) at which weekly training and activities are on offer.
The events, Strider centres-of-excellence and Strider training is all part of a campaign to get as many children to try balance bike riding in order to open their eyes to a new world on two wheels. The campaign in 2012 has given thousands of children the opportunity to ride balance bikes with over 500 taking part in a strider race something we hope to build on in the future.
• For more information, visit the UK site www.stridercup.org.
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