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High Roller helps big kids revisit their childhood

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Still miss that Big Wheel trike that your mom sold in the yard sale -- decades ago?

Nostalgic grown-ups now have a head-turning adult option: the High Roller.

Unlike the Big Wheel for kids, which sells for $59.99, the adult-targeted High Roller -- which comes with an extra-cushy seat made with four inches of plush foam -- fetches a cool US $599.99. And, yes, it comes complete with a bell and handle-bar tassels.

But it's not Jakks Pacific, the current owner of the Big Wheel brand, that's making the adult-size version. At least, not yet. Jakks tells USA Today it, too, plans to roll out an adult-targeting Big Wheel. But that one, for about $400, won't be available until 2014, says Ron Cohen, president of the Kids Only division of Jakks Pacific.

Until then, tiny High Roller USA is the company behind the adult three-wheelers. The giant trikes are so low to the ground they're arguably too dangerous for most folks to even consider riding anywhere but on the sidewalk. "Cars in the street might not see you," says CEO and designer Matt Armbruster.

Even then, the 45-year-old entrepreneur says he's already sold his first 300 -- and plans to sell at least another 1,000 this year. His sales pitch: pure nostalgia for the trike that changed the suburban landscape after it rolled out in 1969. "We may call it High Roller, but every kid born after 1969 calls it a Big Wheel," says Armbruster.

Beyond nostalgia, another growing trend could propel its sales: adult play. "There's an interest in introducing more 'play' into our already stressed lives," says trends guru Janine Lopiano, partner at Sputnik. "As adults, we don't allow ourselves to experience the creative energy that play releases in us."

High Roller recently earned the dubious distinction of being named to The Worst Things for Sale blog. "Childhood joy was more about exploring a world of endless possibilities and less about your material possessions (like Big Wheels)," the blog said.

"That might be true," says Armbruster, who laughs off the blog's comments and prefers to revel in the free publicity.

As a kid, Armbruster recalls blasting his way through three Big Wheels before moving on to bikes. "I just wore them all out," he says.

But his passion never wore out. As a student at University of Colorado in 1991, he founded an annual Big Wheel rally -- a night-long fundraising rally across local bars and restaurants. Twenty years later, the annual event attracts hundreds of participants.

Folks at the rallies kept asking Armbruster where they could get adult-size Big Wheels. He couldn't find any either, so the aerospace engineer quit his job to design them himself. He raised $89,000 through Kickstarter and found a manufacturer in Taiwan to make them.

"High Roller has taken over my life," he says.

His target: men 35 to 45. Some grandparents have ordered High Rollers for their adult children, he says, so they can ride along with their Big Wheel-pedalling kids.

"Everyone wants to tell me their Big Wheel story," he says. "I'm happy to listen."

-- USA Today


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2013 B6

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