In my regular job, I work with a number of children with physical or sensory impairments, ranging from hearing or vision loss, to neurologic disorders like cerebral palsy, or more subtle low muscle tone, balance, and trunk stability issues. Riding a traditional bike independently can be harder or impossible for kids with such challenges. But learning to ride a bike is such an important rite of passage and delightful means of independence that I've been researching "adaptive cycling" solutions for fun, feasible, and hopefully affordable family cycling. The affordable part seems hardest, since these are quite often rarified/customized bikes.
A bakfiets-style "box bike" or MADSEN would be excellent starter solutions, since the boxes on both of those bikes can easily adapted to carry even older children in ways that support their trunk in stable positions. Wike and others also make larger bike trailer/strollers for older kids with special needs, which is a less expensive way to go (but also less social).
It might be more challenging to use cycling for transportation if a child has other adaptive equipment (walker, chair, etc) or medical gear that needs to come along, but with all the new cargo bikes and trailer options out there, I wouldn't rule it out! Nihola even makes a roll-aboard wheelchair carrying trike. Electric assist could also be helpful, either for parents pulling kids and gear, or for older children and adolescents needing some help from a motor.
When possible, however, it's preferable to get older kids with disabilities into a more active solution, both for fostering independence, but also for "active transportion" style exercise.
- Bikes with larger "training wheels" for stability
- The upcoming Gyrowheel, especially when larger wheel sizes are released
- Pedal-powered and hand-trikes for older kids and adults
- Upright trikes with additional torso support, adaptive grips, and other adaptations
- Recumbent trikes, with pedal and/or hand-cranks
- Hase Trets recumbent convertible "trike slash trailer"
- Family tandems (either those designed for kids like Kidztandem or Bike Friday, or with crank adaptations)
- Side-by-side tandems (more stable and social, but wider and less nimble)
- Tandems with recumbent seating in the front (Counterpoint Opus/Bilenky Viewpoint, Kidztandem or Hase Pino)
- Tandems with detachable front wheelchair
As in family cycling with typically-abled kids, there's a natural tension between letting kids ride independently (but often more slowly than sibs or parents), and riding together on family bikes/tandems/trailers that allow the family to cover more ground together, yet have everyone contribute at a pedaling effort that works for them.
Many of the kids I work with have impulsivity issues that would make me nervous about independent cycling in city traffic, even if they're physically more than capable. Family tandems or trail-a-bike solutions make a lot of sense there too, with the Trail-Gator or FollowMe Tandem offering some nice detachable kid bike flexibility. See our Family Cycling Ages & Stages article for these and more kid transport ideas.
We're lucky to have a fantastic organization in Seattle called Outdoors for All (formerly SKIFORALL), which has an adaptive cycling program and and "the nation's largest fleet of adaptive cycles" (over 70!). They hold rides all around Puget Sound, and are committed to making their programs accessible and affordable. Check out a sampling of their fleet for an illustrated review of various adaptive cycling solutions with pros/cons of different configurations, and their adaptive cycling resource list. Attending one of their demo days or day camps would be a great way to try various options before you invest.
Other Adaptive Cycling Resources:
- Cascade Bicycle Club also maintains a list of adaptive cycling resources.
- If you live in the Bay Area, The BORP Adaptive Cycling Center in Berkeley also looks excellent.
- The AdaptiveCycling.net Family Cycling Center has a pricelist of various bikes as well.
- Creative Mobility has a nice catalog, with extensive customization options.
- Many of these solutions are quite pricey. The Washington Assistive Technology Foundation has low-interest loans for adaptive equipment.
Any adaptive cycling experience or ideas out there you'd like to share? For children with more involved disabilities, having local experts to provide custom adaptations (trunk support and straps, adaptive grips and pedals, etc ...) is essential. Please comment if you know of local shops or mobility folks with expertise in adaptive cycling.