The indoor cycling craze has come for America's kids, and child development experts aren't happy.
Little Tikes, the children's toymaker, watched sales of Peloton's stationary bikes soar last year when the pandemic hit. It saw a chance to create something for children to enjoy alongside their parents, according to Little Tikes vice president of product development Kevin Bloomfield.
So this summer Little Tikes released the Pelican, a stationary bike for children ages 3-7, with a screen attached for viewing videos. Pelotons, the popular stationary bikes for adults, come with screens that can display exercise classes and add a social touch to exercising alone. (The bike costs $1,495 and there's a monthly membership fee of $39 to view video classes.)
"We didn't want the parents to be the only ones having all the fun," Bloomfield said in an email to CNN Business. "Our commitment to inspiring an active and imaginative lifestyle among kids sparked the idea."
Stationary bikes have existed for kids before, but have not lasted. Toymaker Fisher-Price launched a $150 stationary bike for kids in 2007 and updated it in 2017. Fisher-Price then cut its price to cut its price to under $100 and now no longer sells the bike. It declined to explain why. The bike was sold exclusively on Amazon, which also declined to comment.
But child development experts aren't having it. They say a stationary bicycle, especially one with a screen attached, is a step backward for what a bicycle can mean to child development. Kids riding a stationary bike lose the learning experiences that come from roaming their neighborhood on foot or on bike.
"It just feels so bogus to me. And it doesn't feel like something that kids will use a lot," Roberta Golinkoff, a University of Delaware professor who studies child development, told CNN Business.
"Kids want to be part of the real world," said Lenore Skenazy, the president of Let Grow, a nonprofit promoting childhood independence. "A stationary bike doesn't prepare them for anything but moving their legs in a circular motion."
Child development experts say that active play like tag or bicycling prepares them to succeed in life because they interact with people and build problem solving skills. Outdoor play helps kids create categories, like the different types of houses or dogs in their neighborhood.
"You can burn calories on this [stationary bike], but you can't get to know your neighbors," Skenazy said.
But Bloomfield said that Little Tikes doesn't feel the Pelican should or will replace a regular bicycle. Little Tikes "created a product that would make kids happy and stay active regardless of the state of the world," Bloomfield said. He added that their research found children wanted to emulate their parents on stationary bikes.
"We wanted to give the option for a safe and engaging experience alongside mom and dad's stationary bike," Bloomfield said.
The Pelican incorporates fun exercise into kids' daily activities, he said, and is an alternative to flopping on the couch after school. Most kids don't get enough physical activity, he said.
But Jason Boye, a pediatric psychologist in the Healthy Weight and Wellness Clinic at Nemours Children's Hospital in Delaware, cautioned CNN Business that using exercise equipment can create negative associations with physical activity.
"Kids can develop an association of being forced to do an activity and make it something they're not interested in doing," Boye said. He's concerned about the bike being used solely as a means of physical activity, but he said placing the bike alongside a parent's Peloton's to ride together would encourage quality time. Family bonding is one of the Pelican's benefits, Little Tikes' Bloomfield said.
CJ Rich, a Florida father who owns a kids' stationary bike said he bought it for exactly that reason.
"I thought it would be awesome for him to have something to copy me," Rich said of his son, who is now 6 and mostly rides a bike with training wheels outside. Rich thinks the stationary bike helped make his son more confident on his outdoor bike with training wheels.
The stationary bike isn't used as much recently, in part because Rich sold his Peloton. (Peloton declined to comment for this story.) He was tired of Peloton's monthly fees and bought a mountain bike to ride outside instead. But he expects his younger son, age 2, will ride the stationary bike once he's big enough.