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Bike riding: for Family Fun and Exercise.

Riding a bike as a child always gave me a sense of freedom. The world was mine to explore. I could go over to a friend's house, go to the park or the local swimming pool during the dog days of summer. As I got older, it was a means to employment. I delivered newspapers door to door using my bike. One summer, a friend and I towed our lawn mowers using our bikes from house to house, asking our neighbors if we could cut their grass. Eventually, as an older teen, I got a job at a fast food restaurant and my bike was my sole means of transportation.

What do parents do when they have a child with a disability? When should they consider bike riding for their child? It depends on the child's disability. The younger the child is, the easier it may be to acclimating them to being on a bicycle. The key is that the child must have sufficient core muscle strength to be able to sit up and hold up her or his head. The child must also be able to tolerate wearing a helmet while riding as a passenger on his or her parent's bike. Associating wearing a helmet when riding a bike needs to be automatic for the child, completely natural, and the child does not question wearing it for riding or many other sporting activities. Teaching a child to wear a helmet is a major accomplishment.

Young children between the ages of one to four, and weighing up to 33- 40 lbs., and with a height of 40" can ride a bike with their parents using front mounted bike seats. There are a variety of manufacturers that make the front mounted child seats such as iBert Safe-T Bike Child Seat[TM] and Yepp Mini Front Bike Child Seat[TM]. Parents will need to shop around on-line to find a seat in their budget. Front mounted seat supposedly have a better center of gravity than rear mounted seats. It is easier to interact with the child during the ride in the front mounted configuration when compared to rear mounted bike seats or trailers. Since trailers tend to be lower to the ground, some children do not like the amount of dust and dirt that can potentially kicked up during a ride.

Rear mounted child bike seats require the bike to have a bike rack. The child can be slightly heavier with some bike seats rating their weight capacity as 48.5 lbs like the Bell New Classic Child Carrier Seat or Yepp Maxi Rear Bicycle Child Carrier[TM]. These typically come with a five or six point restraint system, reflective devices on the back side of seat, and bucket areas for the child's feet with some sort of restraint. My son and I had many adventures to Manhattan, riding around Central Park, with a rear mounted bike seat. Often he would take long naps as I pedaled home.

Bicycle trailers offer families a number of advantages. Trailer capacity is the first advantage. Many bike trailers can carry 100 lbs. of weight and are designed for transporting one to two children. It means a family can use the trailer system for a longer period as the child ages and grows. Furthermore, the carrying capacity means a single parent can transport two children at a time. A second advantage is that many models of trailers, like the Burley Encore Bike Trailer[TM] or Allen Premium Aluminum 2 Child Bicycle Trailer and Stroller[TM], can easily convert into baby joggers/strollers. Like the other models of bike seats, trailers come with multiple point restraint systems and reflector systems. They also come with high visibility flags for added safety. Many trailer systems come with built in roll cages as an added safety feature. A third advantage of the trailer systems is the ability to better deal with the elements. Trailers provide screens and shade during rides on hot summer days. For rainy days, some trailers are equipped with plastic windshields. Trailer manufacturers even design fleece liners for the seats similar to the designs available for strollers.

Getting ready to ride on one's own is a process that each child takes at his or her own pace. There are a number of exercises and products available to help improve coordination and balance of a young child. A key lesson for the child to learn, however, is to always wear a safety helmet. Tricycles provide a young child with the opportunity to practice the pedaling motion while being on a stable vehicle. Riding scooters will not help the child learn the pedaling motion of a bicycle, but will help the child with the sensation of speed and balance. Pedal-less bicycles (also known as push bikes) are designed for teaching a child the sensation of balancing on two wheels. The notion behind this approach is that it will make the conversion from using training wheels on a two wheel to no training wheels a shorter and easier process. Classic Balance Bike[TM] by Smart Gear[TM] and Skuut Balance Bike[TM] are two examples of push bikes which are meant for children two to five years old.

For children who are not quite ready for a push bike or for riding with training wheels, another option exists. This option is also referred to as bike trailer, but it looks substantially different than the enclosed trailers for toddlers and younger children. These trailers usually mount to the parent's seat post and look like a standard bicycle minus the front fork and tire. The children have their own seat, handle bars, and pedals, which is separate from the parent's bike. It gives the children a sense of balance and the practice of pedaling a bike. If they tire, then they can stop pedaling and allow the parent to provide all the muscle power for locomotion. These trailers are easy to disconnect and can accommodate children from four to nine years of age and weighing around 75 lbs. WeeRide Co-Pilot Bike Trailer[TM] and Weehoo iGo Pro Bicycle Trailer[TM] are two examples of this type of trailer.

This is in stark contrast to a tandem bicycle, which requires team work and the ability to synchronize the pedaling motion. The driver in the front of the bicycle must be in constant communication to the "stoker" or person in the back of the bicycle. Often, the driver is much larger than stoker, who cannot see past the driver. This requires a great deal of trust and faith between the two riders. It is a great way to see the countryside, be together, and build a sense of teamwork. I know families with teenagers who have a disability that have conducted cross country biking and camping trips to promote bonding. Tandem bicycles are not for the faint of heart, however. The weight and mass of a tandem bicycle mean that riders can reach very high speeds going downhill. Practice riding in low traffic areas before venturing far on a tandem. Riders should develop signals for shifting gears, avoiding hazards, and turn signals. Once a team of riders gets comfortable on a tandem, the joys of riding one together outweigh the steeper learning curve of tandem riding compared to riding solo bikes.

The final biking option for an older child with a disability is choosing a more stable bike. Three-wheeled adult bicycles provide the stability necessary for individuals who have difficulty with balance. Worksman Port-o-Trike Three Speed Adult Tricycle[TM] and Schwinn Meridian Adult 26-Inch 3-Wheel Bike[TM] are two models of adult-sized, upright three wheeled bicycles. Recumbent bikes, or bikes where the rider lays on his or her back, is another three wheeled option that provides stability. This may require the rider to have more core muscle strength than a rider of an upright bike. It also means the rider is lower to the ground. Mobo[TM] makes a variety of relatively inexpensive recumbent three wheeled bikes.

Practicing riding a bike should be done in an area that is low traffic. Public parks often provide a perfect traffic-free zone to teach a child the mechanics of balancing, pedaling, and braking while on a bike. Parents should review basic road sign meanings, hand signals, and safety precautions. Many municipalities allow children to ride a bike on a sidewalk. Some only allow bike riding on a sidewalk until age 12, then require the rider to ride in the street. Once a child is ready to transition to riding a bike in the street, a new set of skills needs to be taught. These skills include how to anticipate the intentions of drivers, how to make yourself seen and heard while on a bike (e.g. wearing highly visible clothing, the use of lights, and using a bell and whistle), and how to remain alert and distraction free (e.g. not wearing ear phones and a MP3 player or cell phone).

Learning to ride a bicycle not only gives a child a sense of freedom, but also expands their world. It gives them an increased range of mobility that can eventually provide then with transportation to work, shopping and recreational activities with friends. Bicycle riding is also an enjoyable means of staying physically fit that can be done throughout a lifetime.

RELATED ARTICLE: NYIT Program Announcement

In recognition of the benefits of bicycle riding, New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program is pleased to announce the launch of its Bicycle Sharing and Safety Program, where students can borrow a bike and helmet for free from the college after a brief safety orientation.



Ernst VanBergeijk is the Associate Dean and Executive Director, at New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program (VIP). The Vocational Independence Program is a U.S. Department of Education approved Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) program. Dr. VanBergeijk also administers Introduction to Independence (I to I), a seven week summer college preview program for students ages 16 and up.
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Title Annotation:MOBILITY
Author:Vanbergeijk, Ernst O.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2013
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