Adapted Bikes Deliver New Independence: Learning to Ride a Bike Is a Rite of Passage for Many Children

By Klein, Richard; Leiberman, Lauren J. et al. | The Exceptional Parent, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Adapted Bikes Deliver New Independence: Learning to Ride a Bike Is a Rite of Passage for Many Children


Klein, Richard, Leiberman, Lauren J., DiRocco, Patrick, McHugh, Elaine, The Exceptional Parent


Its benefits include not only a sense of independence for children, but also better health from regular aerobic exercise, peer inclusion, the ability to participate in family activities, improved self-esteem and improved ability to make decisions. Parents of children with disabilities are often faced with a much larger challenge when trying to teach their children how to ride a bike. (Adapted Bicycles)

Some parents try training wheels fitted onto conventional two-wheelers to accomplish this task. However, Richard E. Klein, PhD, Lauren J. Lieberman, PhD, Patrick DiRocco, PhD and Elaine McHugh, PhD have developed a new option. They believe that training wheels not only epitomize resignation to the "I can't" mentality, but that there are also shortcomings of training wheels in regards to effective learning of two-wheeled steering and balancing skills.

Instead, they recommend the use of a series of special rollers, an ergonomically correct frame design and gearing modifications. These new rollers contain adaptations necessary for children with special needs to succeed in learning to ride a two-wheeler. By switching to rollers of different crown characteristics in a progressive manner, the aspects of the bicycle/trainer can gradually resemble a typical two-wheeler.

In essence, these new bicycle/trainers act like slow motion machines that tailor the speed and motion, bringing them to a level that the child can manage. With slower forward speed and tipping action, the child is able to focus on task improvement, not bracing against falls. This allows the child to identify and internalize the appropriate responses or actions needed for steering and balancing a two-wheeler.

These researchers found that through use of this technique, some children with special needs have mastered a two-wheeler in as little as two hours, while others take longer. For example, of the approximately ten children with Down syndrome enrolled in their 2001 summer camps, all but one of the children became independent bycycle riders. Other advancement was noticed in children with autism, emotional and behavior disorders, Asperger's syndrome, mild vision impairment and developmental delays. The study also found that this new approach appears to be effective for many individuals with a variety of disabilities, as well as those without.

Criteria for success

Successes were largely achieved in an environment that had an array of adapted bicycles, trained staff and a gymnasium or similar space where the bikes could be used on a clear, unobstructed floor. Peer interaction was also key to the process, as socialization and light competition encouraged the desire to learn. However, there are other factors that were necessary for successful learning:

* The child must have all limbs, be ambulatory and able to grip handlebars.

* The child must be able to pedal and propel a bicycle to a minimal extent.

* The child must have enough control of her/his movements to steer a bicycle.

* The child must have the strength and stamina needed to maintain continued pedaling and exertion that accompanies casual bicycle tiding.

* The child must have the vision and/or spatial awareness needed to follow a designed course and avoid objects in their way.

* The child must willingly participate in training and respond to directions.

* The child must want to learn how to ride a two-wheeled bike.

Reasons for Lack of Success

According to the researchers, because of their methods no child has ever failed to achieve mastery of riding due to their inability to balance a bicycle. However, there are factors that could prevent a child from learning how to ride. They include:

* The child does not have the stamina to maintain pedaling because of a disability or chronic condition.

* The child cannot keep his/her feet on the pedals and therefore can't get going.

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