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It’s a bold move, pitting oneself against an industry giant like Strider, by far the largest name in pedal-free, toddler-friendly foot-powered bikes. But, as our long-term testing proved, Joovy’s new Bicycoo is a worthy contender for the push-bike crown.
The Strider brand has been at the forefront of the pedal-free bike market in recent years, and its excellent ST-3 and ST-4 models have helped thousands of kids enjoy the pleasure of two wheels. Like Kleenex, the brand has become synonymous with its product. But now, competition is beginning to creep in.
We found two kids, both experienced Strider riders, to put the Joovy through its paces. Ben is now six years old and has been on a Strider since he was two and a half, moving to a pedal bike four months ago. Alex is not yet three, and is just beginning his two-wheeled adventuring.
Unfortunately, the Joovy arrived at VeloNews world headquarters with the wrong instructions included in its box. Fortunately, we could count all it’s different parts on one hand, and our crack mechanic squad had it up and running in no time — a feat made all the more impressive given Joovy’s lack of available online instructions.
Grooves in the quill-like stem and seatpost provide perfect alignment of both components every time, making assembly almost completely foolproof. They are a fantastic feature not found on Strider’s ST-3 or ST-4 models.
The Joovy uses pneumatic tires, which require inflation. Many other pedal-free bikes, including the Strider, use EVA plastic tires, which can never go flat but also don’t provide as much grip or cushion. For the performance-oriented pusher, pneumatic tires offer a bit more control and improved ride quality.
The Bicycoo’s aluminum frame is light, and total bike weight is only eight pounds. A bulbous head tube — undoubtedly designed to improve front front-end stiffness and to address high-speed handling and descending concerns — combines with stout seat stays for an aggressive, race-worthy look.
Our testers were immediately smitten with the looks of the Bicycoo. As his team mechanic set about the build, Alex could hardly contain himself: “Isitreadyisitreadyisitreadyisitreadyisitready?,” he asked, repeatedly.
When it was ready, both testers took the Bicycoo out for its maiden voyage. “I like this bike,” Alex commented, adding “this is cool.” Ben let forth a similarly approving “Oooh!”
“Whoa, that’s pretty light,” said six-year-old Ben, noting that his pedal bike weighs about a million pounds.
While most pedal-free bikes limit propulsion and braking to the feet, the Joovy adds a rear brake to the equation. The drum design is not particularly powerful, but it does provide excellent modulation. An outdoor test with Ben at the helm resulted in a 20-30 yard stopping distance after a quick downhill, suggesting that the brake is perhaps best applied alongside the traditional sneaker-dragging method.
Our primary concern with the Joovy’s brake is not its power, but its lever placement. The lever comes mounted on the left handlebar, but activates the rear brake; for most American kids, that is the reverse of what they will experience as they move onto a pedal bike. Grabbing a fistful of left lever with no consequences is perhaps not the best habit to learn.
The lever could be moved to the other side, but it would require removal and remounting of the grips, which are glued on.
Those grips are a plush foam, while Strider’s ST-3 uses a somewhat hard plastic. The newly updated ST-4 uses a softer rubber compound, though. Nonetheless, the Joovy grips are slightly more comfortable for most hand sizes. For very small hands, the smaller diameter of the Strider grips may be best.
The aforementioned oversized head tube on the Joovy is not as smooth as Strider’s headset setup. The Bicycoo “doesn’t turn very well,” Ben said.
The Joovy’s saddle looks more like a mini-motocross perch than a bicycle seat, but the flat sides should prevent much-dreaded scoot chafing. The Bicycoo has less saddle adjustment than the Strider options, and Alex was just barely tall enough to ride the bike without shoes; with shoes, the fit was better. (It should be noted that Alex is under Joovy’s recommended age range of 3-6.)
The Joovy is missing an element both testers appreciated on the Strider: foot rests. This may increase fatigue over long training pushes.
Both riders appreciated Joovy’s use of rubber tires, particularly when used indoors. Alex routinely slides the front wheel of his Strider on wood floors, his mechanic said, but, after optimizing tire pressure for the course, he had zero problems on the Joovy rubber.
Stressed-out mechanics, more concerned with getting their riders to the start line on time, may appreciate the lack of maintenance that comes with an EVA tire, rather than an inflatable rubber one.
When asked which no-pedal bike he preferred, Ben was quick to answer, pointing straight at the Joovy. “This one,” he said. “This one is a little bit lighter. It has a handbrake instead of a feet brake. You know how I have to use my feet on the Strider.”
Ben appreciated the bike’s on-road handling characteristics as well. “This one is smoother on the road,” he noted, “I like doing loops on it more. I can do better loops without falling down.”
Alex came away from his day on the Joovy with similar praise. “I might be riding this thing the whole day it’s so fun!” he said.
Both testers were nonplussed when presented with the price of each, a factor that may be more important for team owners than the pedal-free athletes. The Joovy, at $150, is significantly more expensive than Strider’s latest ST-4 model, which can be had for only $90. The older ST-3 is $80. Chalk this up to ever-rising prices throughout the cycling industry. Let’s hope to see some trickle-down tech for the masses by Christmastime.
Why no training wheels?
The long-loved training wheels are not only an inferior method of teaching a child to ride, but may actually inhibit his or her improvement. Simply put, there is no penalty for error, and no reward for proper, upright balance.
Problem is, training wheels have always been a necessity on pedal bikes. Pedals get in the way of small children catching themselves, and the act of pedaling itself is yet another confusing piece of the bike-riding puzzle.
The solution? Remove the pedals completely. Pedal-free bikes allow kids to scoot around on two wheels almost as soon as they can walk. They learn balance, steering, spatial awareness and a whole host of other valuable things. Once they’ve outgrown their starter steed, adding pedaling to a kid’s cycling skills takes literally a few minutes.