Soon after the sale of his shop in 2015, he became the executive director of Silicon Couloir, an entrepreneurial development nonprofit for the Greater Teton Region. That position, too, now resides in the rearview mirror, and he’s focusing in on his newer business.
Since leaving his bike shop, Fitzgerald has been spinning his wheels to build up Buddy Pegs. His new company is devoted to getting kids pumped about pump tracks, rolling on two wheels and developing a lifelong love of cycling sports.
Giving children that passion is empowering, he said, pointing out that bicycles impart a sense of freedom to children they might not otherwise feel.
Making matters more difficult, screen time has been wrestling young children away from the outdoors. A 2017 study showed that the average child under age 8 spends about two hours and 20 minutes in front of a screen every day. That’s a 21 percent increase since 2011. And children 8-12 years old spend 4.5 hours on screen media per day.
“Our Buddy Pegs mission is to inspire more families to ride and adopt cycling as a family wellness product,” Fitzgerald said. “We recognized a need to actually teach families and kids at the youngest ages how to ride and adopt cycling as a family activity.”
But teaching like that requires hands-on time. Until now, Buddy Pegs has focused on the publishing niche, releasing two children’s books revolving around bicycles through Kickstarter campaigns and publishing a storytelling podcast featuring the characters from his books.
So to get the wheels on the bike spinning, he and his wife, Jannine, rented out their house and hit the road, deciding to “motor-homeschool” their son and many other children along the way.
The eight-month excursion, called the Raise Riders Tour, started in California with 10 events in the first 30 days, Fitzgerald said.
Their events have drawn as many as 150 families in three days or as few as six families in a single-day event. Ideally, he said, they’d have about 15 families participating in each location.
At each event, called a “bicycle playdate,” parents bring their kids and actively participate. The playdates start with an introduction circle and then move into singing “goofy” songs like “The Bicycle Hokey-Pokey” to loosen parents up and get kids involved.
Then they perform a safety check, and throw in skill games and play-based learning that help kids learn to stop properly, keep their heads up while riding and turn their bikes. Kids are outfitted with a bike from Buddy Pegs’ biggest backer, woom bikes.
Then the ride teams (each family or group that arrived together) collaborate as a group to build a bike playground with simple props like ropes, cones, stuffed animals, ramps, flat boards and some colorful sidewalk chalk.
“We’re hoping the parents are experiencing some of the bike collaboration with kids, then we ride the space,” Fitzgerald said, noting they act as guides to allow families to explore together, rather than as one-on-one coaches or teachers. “We give pointers and move parents and children through the learning curve of riding.”
The whole experience takes between 60 and 90 minutes, and some people are finding it’s a great bonding experience that also cements a love of biking quickly. One mother at a Palo Alto, California, event said her daughter had just started riding a balance bike shortly before the event. She added that she saw a lot of improvement during the event.
“She told me she loves biking now after, like, an hour,” the woman said in a video testimonial provided by Buddy Pegs.
While the events teach and set the foundation for preschool kids to learn to ride, it’s been a learning experience for the Fitzgerald family as well.
“Marketing and getting the word out is a big challenge,” Fitzgerald said. He added that he and Jannine often find themselves up late booking events, finding their next locales and otherwise running the day-to-day business of Buddy Pegs.
“RV life adds a whole bunch of complexity to it,” he said on the phone as he traveled through an area of rough cell reception in Napa Valley, California. “We’re a month in and finding our groove every day. And we’re homeschooling in the midst of all that to the best of our abilities.”
Making financial goals
Throughout the tour, Fitzgerald is trying out various ways to bring in income through the events.
“We’re definitely pushing most of our chips into the middle of the table on this,” Fitzgerald said. “I can’t say it’s do or die, but we are putting a lot of effort in taking this business to the next level.”
So far, income has come mostly from post-event book sales or bike sales from their sponsor.
The sponsor, woom bikes, focuses on building kids’ bikes that “inspire children and their parents,” according to their website. The mission strongly echoes the Fitzgeralds’ mission of “connecting kids (and parents) to the building blocks of lifelong happiness and success through the power of the bicycle.”
“Scott and Jannine at Buddy Pegs share our mission at woom of encouraging the love of cycling in children,” said woom’s CEO and owner, Mathias Ihlenfeld, in a release.
Beyond physical product sales, which are limited in groups of 15 families or less, they’re experimenting with having families pay individually or having a sponsoring location host – like a library or bike shop – that can foot the bill.
The goal, eventually, is to create a network of entrepreneurial ride leaders similar to themselves who can host bicycle playdates all over the country. The idea is to mirror a model developed by Music Together, which develops family music curricula for toddlers that are taught by instructors all over the nation.
But other products are on the way that could help generate financial results. During his interview, Fitzgerald was on his way to meet a potential manufacturer for his first clothing product at Buddy Pegs – a riding cape like the ones used by the hero dogs in his children’s podcast, Poppa Wheelie and Captain Endo.
“The inner goal is to give kids self-confidence to tackle life,” Fitzgerald said. “So let’s make those kids feel like superheroes.”
The other day we were walking through a big ol’ box store to grab some supplies for our life on the road (I mean, have you seen the crazy adventure we’re on?).
After wandering through the overwhelming aisles of the toy section, we wondered “how much of this stuff will just end up in the landfill in a few months...or even weeks?”