Just what we needed dept: Electric balance bikes for kids
Instead of being a pathway to riding a bicycle for young kids, this balance bike looks more aimed at grooming young motorcyclists.
Balance bikes are an effective way for kids to transition from riding tricycles to a two-wheeler, and can accelerate the process of learning to balance on a moving bike by removing the need to also learn to pedal at the same time. I've used them with my younger kids, thereby eliminating the aching back that comes from walking hunched over with one hand on the back of the saddle while they slowly learn the basics of balancing and pedaling at the same time, and I heartily recommend balance bikes as a great first two-wheeler that doesn't require training wheels to ride. Although it's easy enough to make your own balance bike by removing the pedals or the cranks from a kids bike, there are plenty of choices on the market for purpose-built balance bikes, including a new option, which looks like it belongs in the 'just what we needed department,' at least for non-motorcycling families.
The Stacyc (pronounced 'stay-sick') balance bike, which is available in two different frame sizes, is built on an aluminum BMX-style frame, and although it is true to the balance bike category by eschewing pedals and a chain, it also incorporates an electric motor and battery pack that allows for the throttle-based electric drive system to reach speeds of up to 11 mph. The Stacyc bikes are intended to first be used as a standard balance bike, in non-powered mode, until the child learns to balance, steer, and brake, after which three different speed settings allow for the child to just twist the throttle and go ("the holy grail of fun"). The range on the bikes are rated with a timeframe rather than mileage, with the smaller bike capable of 30 to 60 minutes of electric riding before charging and the larger one rated at 45 to 60 minutes of riding time, and both take about an hour's worth of charging to top off the battery.
With the cost of a Stacyc starting at $650, these electric balance bikes carry a premium price tag, and although they certainly look like fun, I'm not convinced that they're anything more than an expensive toy, as opposed to being a useful bicycle training tool. While I can see how they might be a good fit for a child who has physical or developmental issues that keep them from being able to ride a conventional balance bike by pushing with their legs and balancing while coasting (in which case a more stable three- or four-wheeled configuration might be better), the average child is more than capable of getting their balance bike moving by using a simple walking motion with their legs.
In my opinion, making it physically easier for young kids, who often have way more energy than they know what to do with, to ride a bike because there's now an electric motor and a throttle, is more of a gateway to early motorcycle riding than becoming a cyclist. And I've got nothing against motorcycles, but these Stacyc bikes are for kids aged 3 to 8, who might be better served physically by pedaling during those thousands of hours of childhood bike riding than to get really comfortable with a throttle-operated bike. And it raises some questions, such as what happens when they outgrow the electric balance bike? Do they then require an electric throttle on their pedal bike, or do they go straight to a small motorcycle? Whereas a conventional bicycle (or even a conventional electric bike) can legally and safely (and quietly) be ridden all over neighborhoods and to school and back, motorcycles have a whole different set of regulations governing their use, as well as other potential issues (risk, noise, expense) if used as basic transportation by kids.
That said, the Stacyc looks to be a good fit for families who do ride motorcycles and want their kids to have a taste of powered two-wheeling, without the heavy weight and high speeds, so perhaps instead of putting this under the 'just what we needed department', I should file it under 'niche products for kids of motorcycling parents'. More info is available at Stacyc.