Totcycle | Family Biking

Tots on bikes, kids as cargo, family cycling, and other high-occupancy velo goodness.

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« Adaptive Cycling for Kids »

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.

Hase Trets in trail-a-trike modeHere are some of the more active adaptive cycling options:

  • 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:

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.

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Reader Comments (6)

Some friends in Tacoma volunteered with their tandem club to give rides to adults at a Lighthouse for the Blind summer camp near Hood Canal. They used gear from Outdoors for All. Most of the riders had never ridden a bicycle and to hear of the experience was inspiring. I'll send you an email with some photos and a full story.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatt in Tacoma

This is a terrific resource and I am going to file it away in case I run into any families to whom this could apply. Is it OK to admit that I've liked you through your blog quite a bit, Julian, but with this tidbit of info about what you do when not parenting, riding, blogging, makes me admire you as well?

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersara

Thanks guys ... hopefully you didn't noticed how neglected my work blog has become since I started this one. That site desperately needs some new content, but between new dad, two kids, and a biking obsession, it's been woefully neglected. And the admiration is mutual!

November 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

This is an inspiring idea. Anyone know of anyone using bikes like this or working with kids with impairments & bicycles in the Bay Area? I'm doing some video profiles of interesting bike riders and it would be so inspiring to find a parent/kid team like this!


November 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Aha! I see you have B.O.R.P listed - thanks.

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Ok, so I found this post many many months later, but it's a great post - and I'm linking to you on my new site..hope you don't mind. . I've just started a biking blog about city biking, family biking, and adaptive biking. We have a 6 year-old with cerebral palsy and we were able to get an adaptive bike for him and he loves it. We have a Burley bike trailer but it was time to get him on his own bike. I hope you don't mind if i quote you on my blog.. I'm trying to build out my own basic 'adaptive cycling' page and I'm still looking for all the info I can find. Thanks!


June 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersamantha

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