Giving everyone a shot at bicycling

If you enjoy riding a bike, imagine the joy it must give someone whose mobility can be challenged.

I observed that several years ago when my special needs daughter and her fellow classmates got to ride adaptive bikes that were brought to the school for the day by the Seattle-area nonprofit Outdoors For All.

Many of these kids don't have the muscle tone, balance or coordination to handle the regular bikes they see other kids riding, but they laughed and squealed to roll around on adaptive trikes and two-seaters.

Social interaction

Recently, Seattle orthopedic surgeon Sean Adelman, wrote about “Biking and Independence” at his blog Raise Expectations.

Bicycling is important for many children to learn how to “get around,” but it also has a social aspect.

“When your friends are going for a bike ride, going with them is a big deal.  When your friends ride their bikes to school, riding your bike is a big deal.   When you walk a little slower, or run a little slower, riding a bike can allow you to keep up you friends.”

And, as we all know, bicycling has physical benefits. For some kids with special needs, this is the best exercise they can get.


Here are a few groups that offer bicycling for people with special needs:

— First there's Lose the Training Wheels, which offers clinics around the US for children whose disabilities make riding a bicycle a huge challenge. The founder, Richard Klein, says learning to ride a bike increases self-esteem, inclusion, improved quality of life through recreation, and adds a positive element to family dynamics.

I wrote about program in 2008, and I'm glad to say they're still going strong. Check the list of clinics coming up in 2011. Here's a video from a local TV station.

Assisted Cycling Tours offers single- and multiple-day bicycling trips around Colorado for people with special needs and their families. The Westminster, Colorado-based nonprofit also presents clinics and training on how to incorporate bicycling into family activities.

You can follow their activities on Facebook, where they keep updates of their activities.

— Closer to home, the Seattle-based Outdoors for All offers all types of activities for people with physical, developmental, and sensory disabilities. They offer outdoor excursions in skiing, kayaking and canoeing, but I'm partial to their cycling programs.

Their trailer is filled with many styles and sizes of adaptive trikes and tandems. They use it for their summer programs, and you'll see it at other public events where folks with special needs may gather. Here's their summer brochure.

— The Ypsilanti, Michigan-based Programs to Educate All Cyclists aims to help people with disabilities improve their lives through using bicycles for transportation, recreation, fitness and therapy. Last summer the nonprofit sponsored summer-long programs in Ann Arbor, Saline, Taylor, Plymouth and Detroit. Contact the group for this summer's programs.


In terms of bicycling equipment, I'm most familiar with Rifton Adaptive Tricycles, which are pretty much bomb-proof. My daughter uses these at school. There's also a website — e-Special Needs — where other adaptive bikes are compared and sold.

Also, I've run across stories and websites where folks have developed new styles of bikes for special needs kids.

One is the JoRide, first developed by an Illinois father for his son with autism. Here's a recent story, “'We can ride as a family now:' Dad's modified bicycle suits cyclists with special needs.”

Another is the Buddy Bike, which is an in-line tandem bicycle that puts the “stoker” in the front seat while the larger rider controls the steering from the rear. This allow both cyclists to enjoy a view of the road and the parent a better chance to monitor the child.

There also the side-by-side quadribents, which I've been adapted for special needs folks.

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