The mystery of the bicycle

When a bike and rider are zipping merrily along, the mystery is that they seem to stay upright with relative ease, but common sense surely tells us that if nothing tangible is holding the bike and rider up — it must be quite possible that they could fall down? That makes sense now, doesn’t it?

In the process of learning to ride a bike, intangible matters such as faith and belief arise, as well as stability and balance in a metaphorical sense.

C. S. Lewis (1944) wrote in Perelandra, page 68, “There is no reason why a man on a smooth road should lose his balance on a bicycle; but he could.”

Our point is that there is a certain mystery about a bike. It seems to be so stable remaining upright, and yet common sense, if we actually examine matters, tells us that nothing visible seems to be holding the bike up. If nothing visible is holding the bike up, then it seems obvious that it might fall — unless we start to believe in the power of the invisible.

What Keeps a Moving Bicycle Upright

Other variations on the same question can be phrased as

•How Does a Bicycle Work?

•What scientific principles keep bikes upright?

•Why is it so easy to ride a bike once you have learned?

•Is there an invisible wall, as hinted by C. S. Lewis in Prelandra, (1944, p. 68) that prevents a bike from falling over?
The answers to these and varied questions can be either short or long. In China tourists are told a joke that a bike falls over “Because it is two-tired.”
A friend who is a retired professor of physics, University of Illinois, quipped that a bike works,
“Because you pedal it.”

These are some of the short versions. A somewhat longer version is provided by visiting the various sub-headings in this “Bicycle Science” section.

As a guide to this section, please be advised that it was written almost like a manuscript. Unless you are going for a specific result, our suggestion is that you start with “Intro” (introduction), and then move on down the line of sub-heading tabs from left to right.

The focus on this “Bicycle Science” section will be to present the almost three decades of bicycle related research (1983 to present) performed by Dr. Richard Klein at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

Brad Learns to ride–through email

An Exchange of E-Mail’s that ended up with a Smiling Bike Rider
(C) 2005 by Rainbow Trainers, Inc.
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Note: In May 2005 I (Richard Klein) received a message on the Lose The Training Wheels (TM) web site. What follows is an exchange of E-Mail’s that ended up with an adult who then taught himself how to ride a bike. The series of e-mail’s below took place over a period of about two weeks.

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Subject: Adult Bike Inquiry Long Island NY

Message:

I need your help. I am a 38 year old male and I never learned how to ride a bicycle. I live on Long Island in New York and am trying to find a local coach who can teach me to ride. I would try it on my own. It can’t be too hard because my daughter learned at 4 years old, but I am terrified I will fall and get hurt. Any help or advice would be appreciated. Thanks, Brad

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Hi Brad,

Thanks for your note. Please start by giving me a little more information. I would want to know height, weight, and a general overview of your physical condition. I’m trying to figure out issues such as obesity, or if you tire easily, can you see and walk, etc? Can you jog? I’m trying to figure out if it is only a matter of acquiring bike balancing skills, or do we have to deal with other issues?

I am real busy this week as we start our summer round of camps in seven days. I have tons to do.

Nonetheless we can try to get a feel for what options we have. Is it possible for you to visit us in upstate New York when we are there in August? We’ll be in Utica and Rome NY.

How did you find my web site?

Lastly, respond to this e-mail address as opposed to the “contact us feature” on the web site. I check that less often.

Dick Klein

www.losethetrainingwheels.org

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Dick,

Here are my vital statistics:
Height 5 ft 10.5 inches
Weight 165 lbs
I am in good shape I exercise regularly and do not tire easily. I can walk with no problems and see 20/20 with glasses.

There are no issues beyond learning how to balance and overcome the fear of falling. I tried and tried to learn when I was a kid and gave up. My parents did not know how to ride so they couldn’t offer me much help.

I found your website via Yahoo search.

Upstate NY is going to be challenging. I was hoping to hear that you had a teacher on Long Island.

Thanks for writing back,

Brad

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Greetings Brad,

My sense is that we could set up a special bike to permit you to acquire riding skills. I think that you can teach yourself how to ride a bike. I will make a starting recommendation —

Get a bike that you can feel comfortable on and with seat low enough to the ground so that you can be on the seat and comfortably touch the ground with both feet. Adjust the seat to be low enough if necessary. You must be able to easily reach the ground with both feet while seated on the bike.

I suggest a cruiser style, as opposed to a thin-tired racing bike. I want raised handle bars. I also insist on a hand brake, and on the rear wheel.

Next, remove both of the pedals.

I want you to put your helmet on and be straddling the bike. Now use a frog type of push, where both feet push together (at the same time). This is not walking the bike, but keeping both legs together in unison. Try going forward by pushing your feet backwards. You can first do this on a large flat surface. Don’t do it on a narrow sidewalk or place where obstacles bother you. Of course, pick a spot where street traffic isn’t a concern. When the bike goes forward, try seeing if you can coast a little between pushes (frog pushes). If you are going to fall, then apply the hand brake to stop, and put your feet down. You will not fall and you will not hurt yourself.

The trick to riding a bike is to turn the handlebars gently in the direction that the bike starts to fall. In steering into the fall direction, you will amazingly discover that the bike steadies itself.

Once you can go, say, 20 ft with a good push, you will have then acquired the ability to maintain balance by steering actions only. DO NOT USE YOUR UPPER BODY TO SHIFT SIDE-TO-SIDE, but rather try to achieve and maintain balance by always turning the handlebars towards the direction of fall.

Once you feel comfortable doing this, try repeating this on a slight downgrade. See how far you can go? Once you can go, say, 100 ft, you know how to balance on a bike. If you are going too fast, use the brake (by squeezing it) to control your speed.

Your next step is to repeat all the above but with pedals. Use the pedals only as footrests, and if you are going to fall, apply brake to stop and put feet down.

Lastly, if you can go 50 to 100 ft on a down slope with feet on pedals, then try next with a gentle pedaling action.

I think you will be bike riding in a few hours. If you get tired or scared, stop. Have fun. Sing a song as you try this out. Far too many learning riders are too stiff because they are afraid. Stiffness is the bad thing, so relax and enjoy it. Don’t overdo yourself, but work on it gradually.

If you are embarrassed, go in the car to some distant locality where nobody knows you.

I can give you more tips, but try this first.

More later, good luck,

Dick

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Greetings Brad,

It is important for you to get what we now call a cruiser. It is actually a throwback to bikes of the 1950’s and 1960’s with big balloon tires, comfortable triangular seat, single speed, coaster brake, and handlebars that come up fairly high. You don’t want to be all bent over and on some narrow tiny seat.

If you go to yard sales, or to thrift shops (Salvation Army, Goodwill), you might get one in the $40 range. You will need to know how to take the pedals off. Moreover, most cruiser style bikes have what is called a “one-piece crank.” The threads have opposite directions as one side is right-handed and the other side is left-handed. The tool that you normally use is an open end wrench. If your bike is old it will be 9/16ths inch (usually). If it is a modern bike the standards are all metric, typically 15 mm. If you are clever you might be able to borrow a cruiser from somebody. Once you are able to maintain balance and go for a distance, things will become easier. It wouldn’t surprise me if you mastered bike riding and then would be more comfortable using a slightly different bike. I do recommend the cruiser style. To get an idea go to a bike shop to look at cruisers.

I urge you to avoid discount stores. That shiny bike in the discount store, even if a Schwinn, is actually a piece of junk. In the trade we refer to them as disposable bikes. You would be far better off buying an older bike such as a genuine Schwinn from years past, although the very old Schwinns have different standards so it is hard to get parts.

I have low regard for Huffy, Murray, Roadmaster, Columbia, as they are the bottom of the market. It is just my hang-up as I have to work on them.

You want a bike with a coaster brake – as that is what we call a brake that is applied when one pedals backwards. They are also called Bendix brakes after the name of the company that caused them to become popular. In addition you will want a hand brake on the rear tire (operated by a lever usually on the right handlebar). The multi-speed bikes like ten speeds, 15 speeds, and mountain bike styles are not your cup of tea – at least not for right now.

Once you try pushing off and coasting a bit you have to focus on turning gently in the direction the bike is falling. This causes the base (the tire-ground contact points) to steer or track (as it moves forward) underneath the bike and rider, and that is in essence how one “balances on a bike.” It is actually quite easy.

If you buy a new cruiser, the prices run up to about $300. I don’t know your budget, and so if it is just experimenting around you can do that on something far less expensive.

If you are afraid of falling, especially on pavement, you might try the frog style pushes on a slight downward grassy slope. I don’t know what kinds of riding areas you can find.

If you feel yourself falling, remember to apply the hand brake (that will stop forward movement), and then you can put your feet down. You should be able to catch yourself easily. If you can’t catch yourself as you might fall, then back off and do less vigorous pushes. You’ll be swinging both feet forward at the same time, and pushing back with both at the same time.

Best regards,

Dick

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Hi Dick,

Thank you very much for the tips. I am going to buy a bike as you described over the weekend and I will make a trip to a park (far far away from where I live the following weekend). I will let you know what happens.

Thanks,

Brad

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Dick,

I did it! I did it! Thank you sooooo much!

I appreciate your advice regarding bike selection. I did not get a used bike because I wanted to get one quickly and get instant gratification by getting this over with. I have pained over this for over 30 years. I realize that the bike I bought may not last forever, but it served my purposes and I learned how to ride.

I purchased a Schwinn Jaguar Cruiser at Target yesterday – $99. I printed out your emails (which you obviously spent a lot of time writing and I REALLY appreciate your help and time). I went alone to a deserted office building parking lot Sunday afternoon, took off the pedals, strapped on my helmet and did the frog pushes. There was not much of a hill where I first started, so after I went 20-50 feet, I put the pedals on. I did not pedal at first, then after a minute or two, I tried pedaling. The next thing I knew, I was hundreds of feet away on the other side of the parking lot in total awe when I looked at my car far away. The whole learning process took about 20 minutes. Then I rode around, and around, and around for about an hour. It was 90 degrees!

Wow – finally. I am on top of the world!

I found that downhill or flat ground was MUCH easier than uphill. There was a section of the lot that went uphill. I had to pedal very quickly to get up the hill and stay balanced. If I slowed down my pedaling, I became unsteady. I made circles around the lot and have to practice more, because I found turns also a bit challenging. Any advice on how to control the bike in turns?

Also, the bike comes with 7 speeds. How do you use speeds? There is a speed selector on the right handlebar. I learned on speed 7, then found I was going too fast and set it to speed one. Not sure what I am supposed to do.

Also, I bought a bicycle pump and had a hard time filling the tires. They remained sort of flat so I used my auto electric pump. Any recommendations about bicycle pump brands.

I ended the day on my block riding down the block showing my wife with neighbors outside, and they had NO IDEA that I learned only hours before.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I really appreciate your help.

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Brad,

I am in Chico CA doing a bike camp. My very best wishes to you and for you.

I won’t be able to reply much this summer as I am so busy.

Please have somebody take some digital pictures of you with your bike, you riding, with your daughter, etc. I want to post your story on the web site so it can help others. I will leave you name off unless you want it on. Again — I am very happy for you. What seemed to be an obstacle as big as a mountain is now gone.

Your friend,

Dick Klein

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Brad,

I want to comment about making turns. When you make a turn or come to a corner, like a corner between two streets, it isn’t like driving a car where one merely turns the steering wheel in the desired direction. Kids on training wheels get used to driving or turning as if in a car, and that is why they often have so much trouble once the training wheels are removed.

The trick to riding a bike and making a turn rests in the fact that you have to first cause or make the bike lean correctly. The best way to think of this is to steer the opposite way initially. I know this may sound confusing and even silly, but trust me that I know what I’m talking about. If you want to, for example, make a left hand turn, you essentially do a two-step process. You first steer “right” (actually the wrong way!) even but momentarily. This brief little turn to the right (when you want to go left) shifts the tires over to the right and hence you and the bike are now leaning to the left. Now that the lean is established or created, it is easy to turn the handlebars back to the left, and the bike can go to the left because it is leaning to the left.

In order to straighten out at the end of the turn, one does the same sequence except in the opposite direction. Thus, to stop turning to the left one steers a little extra to the left – just briefly. This causes the bike to straighten up, and then one can steer straight as you will once again be upright.

Fortunately, for most people they don’t have to go through these confusing mental gymnastics when learning to ride a bike – because most people ride a bike in a slightly weaving pattern (with gentle oscillations) anyway. As the bike weaves sort of on its own and we follow along, we quickly learn to exaggerate the weaving action at key times to cause the bike to make the desired turns. When we are able to make turns seemingly at will, then we have moved up to a level of proficiency on a bike called “navigation.” That is, we are able to not only balance or remain upright, but we can also cause the bike to go from what we would say in engineering – Point A to Point B.

It is actually quite amazing how quickly the human learns to make turns and thus navigate using what we call “counter-steering.” Even very skilled bike riders at times scratch their heads when being told this, as counter-steering is something that has become for them a subconscious or automatic action. When we work with children with disabilities, we find that well over half are able to learn to counter-steer, usually within a few minutes – and they don’t even realize that they are doing it.

The human who has learned to ride a bike then enters a world where – “It is as easy as riding a bike,” and to top it off, “Once you learn you never forget.”

Best regards,

DickB

Should I teach someone else to ride?

As we go through life, we inevitably are faced with a fairly common decision situation – should you call in an expert or professional to solve a problem, or should you do it yourself? The matter might range anywhere from:

•Replacing a dripping faucet washer
•Removing a tree limb that is hanging precariously over the house
•Tying a string onto an aching tooth, securing it to a door knob, and waiting for the next person to happen by and open the door
•Staying at home for the birth of your baby
•Writing your own will, as opposed to hiring an attorney

The list could go on, but we’ve made our point.
There are usually a number of factors which come into play when you make the choice to “do it yourself,” or to call in an “expert.” In this section we’ll use the words “expert” and “professional” somewhat interchangeably, but we acknowledge that not all professionals are experts. We also acknowledge that some experts are not professionals, but merely people good at doing things without making a living doing so. It is important to note the following about professionals, even inept professionals. If a professional is inept in your opinion, there still must be something good enough in what they do if they are able to continue to be in the business. If they were grossly inept, logic suggests that they would not be able to make a living, unless they fell into the category of con-artist and hustler. Even the worst professional, assuming honesty, must be sufficiently good if they are able to sustain a living doing what they do.

Some factors opposing the idea of using an expert include
•I think I can do a better job than the so-called expert.
•I can’t find a qualified expert.
•I can’t find a qualified expert whom I can trust.
•I can’t afford what the expert will cost.
•I know how to change the oil in my car myself.
•I resent the idea that I can’t do anything as simple as …
•I believe that in order to be a whole person, one has to live life and do everything, including …
•This guy who claims to be an expert will track in dirt, leave ruts in my lawn, make a mess, and has barely been able to graduate from high school.

Conversely, some considerations make it reasonable to hire an expert, and these include
•It is hard to perform a root canal on yourself.
•I have ample money, and I’d rather spend my time doing something else such as …
•The expert has the tools, the know-how, and can get the job done right the first time.
•If I hire an expert I don’t look like a fool having to call him in the end after I’ve messed up the job.
•The expert is bonded and brings with him/her insurance in case that tree limb does fall through my roof when he’s working, or God forbid, he/she gets injured.
•The dentist uses Novocain® and I’d never even consider dental work without getting my Novocain® first.
•The job will be done quicker if I hire an expert.
•I don’t care to crawl under the car, and I certainly don’t want to get my hands dirty. Besides what am I going to do with the used drain oil?
•I don’t have the right tools.
•The job will be done right.
•I don’t have to deal with the prospect of what to do if I try and fail.

The decision to use or to not use an expert is entirely personal, and we make these decisions almost daily. We can all recall times when we tried to do it by ourselves, and really botched the job – even to the point of destroying something nice. We can also recall times when we called in an expert, and the expert tightened one screw and charged us an outrageous fee. Regarding bicycle instruction, most of us, and we say most, only have a countable number of children. Hence we don’t have to become bicycle instruction experts, except when our child faces the issue of getting rid of the training wheels.
An additional bicycle reality is that virtually millions of children make the transition annually from training wheels to riding conventional two-wheelers with only slight discomfort or inconvenience. In the face of all this we have the other side of the coin – some children can’t get past training wheels, and some get injured in the process of trying. Emergency rooms see injuries such as lacerations, broken limbs, broken teeth, and even eye injuries from bike related accidents, and with some due to accidents incurred while trying to learn.

Some warning signs:

If your child has excessive fears, has been injured, or has repeatedly failed on attempts on bikes without training wheels, then you are starting to ask, quite naturally –“Will my child ever learn to ride a bike?” “Is my child slated to be one of those who will never learn to ride a bike?” “Is there something wrong with my child?” If nothing else has given you any warning signs, one thing should – when your child’s younger siblings have learned to ride and yet the older child hasn’t. If your child doesn’t have younger siblings it is perhaps when the younger peers in the neighborhood start riding? When the taunts and ridicule from other kids come into play, that is when you know that you have a real problem.

We now make the assumption that you as a parent are concerned, and that you are making the decision to intervene in the teaching of your child to ride a bike. A very logical question to ask is – what options do I have at my disposal? “Should I hire a professional?” “What if it’s not possible for my child to get into one of Dr. Klein’s camps?” “Will having to run beside my child hurt my already bad knee?” After giving credence to the above issues, if you decide to still go ahead with the home remedy route, the next task is to seek some tips for things that can be done at home. The question then becomes, “What can I do to get my child to ride a bike?” “What do I have to do to bone up for the job?”

How do I identify a professional?

Back while I was teaching, my wife and I moved to a 42 acre farmhouse about 20 minutes from the university. My father-in-law was ecstatic; he had been a dairy farmer for the past 40 years, and he insisted that we get a few head of cattle. So I headed to the sale barn to pick up some young heifers, which are cows that have not yet given any milk.

Well, as it turns out, one of the heifers I bought was pregnant. Four months after I bought the heifer, on a Sunday morning, it started to calve…but there was a problem. The calf’s foot was turned sideways, not allowing it to exit the would-be cow. As a mathematician, I hadn’t a clue what to do, so I called my father-in-law, the dairy farmer. He was full of advice: “Oh, you just push the calf’s foot back in, reach into the heifer, grab both feet, and tug!” Well, I tried that, and I tried it again. And again. I asked for more advice. I tried some more.

After an hour, I finally admitted that I simply could not pull the calf out.

I called the local veterinarian. He showed up, a lean man of about 5′ 4″. He took his shirt off, soaped his arms, and in three minutes had gotten the calf out. As he was washing up, I asked him, “Doc, I am a big, strong man with expert advice. How on earth could you get that calf out when I couldn’t?”

“I’ve studied the Rule Book. I am familiar with the basic moves. I’ve played the game before, and I had the right equipment.”

I paid him, and he left me with a calf, a cow ready to milk, and a story.

Professionals: Yes, they make a living doing whatever it is, but in the process professionals inherently possess five attributes (I added one that I observed):
•They have studied the rule book. They are familiar with the game that they are playing, and every game has rules.
•They are familiar with the basic moves. We stress “basic moves,” as most professionals don’t even have to resort to fancy moves. They usually only have to execute a few basic moves, but execute them reasonably well. After all, professionals practice over and over again what they do, and practice tends to “make perfect.”
•The professional comes to the job with the right equipment.
•The professional has “played the game before.” This means that the professional has encoded a sense of reflexes and even experiences so that the professional’s reactions become automatic, skilled, and certainly not reactions of emotional despair.
•The professional comes to the task with the right attitude. They know if the problem can be solved. They have the where-with-all to solve the problem. If the problem can’t be solved they will recognize that up front and tell you so in a heartbeat. The silly notion, for example, of taxi drivers taking you around the block in order to run up the meter is just that – silly. Taxi drivers usually make money by having lots of short trips so that more people can pay the high cost of the first portion of the trip. You need to get out of your mind the notion that the professional is ripping you off, or milking the job, because that is very seldom the case.

In what follows we are going to share some, but not all, of our professional secrets. Our intent is to provide some form of framework to allow you as parent to (1) know if you should be trying to do the job yourself, and (2) if you decide to go ahead on your own, to have some idea as to how to emulate a professional. Let’s get started.
Study the rule book. If you are serious, the first thing you should do is to read up on the topic. We recommend the sections of this web site flagged for parents and the lay public.

Become familiar with the basic moves. This is hard for us to describe in word form, but the first move is to believe in the bike and believe in speed. If you are going to pussy-foot around and go slow with your child, you are only compounding the problem. We could write volumes on this topic of the basic moves, but we hope that in reading all the varied portions of this web site that you’ll gain some feel for the basic moves.

Bring the right equipment to the game. For starters, you need to be objective about the bike thatyou hope to use. This is sad to say but a large percentage of the reasons why kids can’t learn is that the bike used, most likely purchased originally in some discount or mass chain store, is an ill suited bike. The most common problem is that the bike is of a BMX or racing style, with wrong proportions. The crank set (also called bottom bracket) is too high, and the crank arms are too long. This combination forces the pedal to go way too high as it comes up and over the top, and your child will lose balance and feel uncomfortable because of the poor ergonomic aspects of your bargain or even shiny “BMX” bike. That precious department store bike was designed with only one purpose in mind – to get you to buy it and pay money at the check-out. Do you recall how it shined and how the child liked its “cool” look? It wasn’t designed to be a good bike for the child, especially a child experiencing difficulty in learning.

The next thing to do is to strongly consider the purchase of a bike training handle. A bike training handle is an after-market handle that you can purchase and fairly easily attach to your child’s bike. If you can’t get the handle attached, your neighbor’s 16 year-old kid can usually do the job. The handle is up and behind the rider so that you or another adult can run alongside seeing that the child is both guided and prevented from falling. The purpose of the handle isn’t for you to forever be holding onto, but to be there more as a safety feature. You need to be prepared to catch the child as if you are using “the back of eagle’s wings.” Please refer to our section on “Bicycle Theology.”

The “equipment” must also include a proper riding surface. Avoid sidewalks. Avoid even streets. The best surface is a paved vacant parking lot. Saturday mornings often mean that some commercial business parking lots are available. Another option for a riding surface is often a church parking lot so long as you don’t arrive when a wedding, funeral, or other event is scheduled. In selecting a parking lot, look for one that is level, and free of obstacles and serious hazards like pot holes, storm grates, concrete light pole bases, and steep inclines.

Avoid the spotlight. Your child doesn’t need a cheering section, so leave as many unnecessary people and kibitzers at home. Grandpa, siblings, and neighbors can be surprised later. You don’t want them present unless deemed necessary and for a specific purpose.

Select a time of day when the child is rested, and preferably when it is cooler so that the child feels comfortable with longer length protective clothing. Riding gloves are a good idea as the child might fall and road rash will cause pain. If you don’t have riding gloves, consider garden gloves the type used when working on thorned plants. Pain, if it occurs, will normally shut the learning process down.

Come to the game with some experience.

If you are really serious, you should approach your special needs child with a few practice plays under your belt. Try going out onto a parking lot and running with a riderless bike, or getting a sibling who can ride to serve as a trial guinea pig. We note that the Wright Brothers had each flown hundreds of flights prior to the first powered flight on December 17, 1903 – because they had practiced extensively with gliders. Our recommendation is that you get your equipment ready and then offer services to neighbors with able-bodied children. Under your tutelage, your neighbors kids will learn quickly, you will gain in confidence (leaps and bounds), and your neighbors will love you for what you are doing.

Come to the game with the right attitude.

This is hard to convey, but we note that a frequent factor for children not learning is improper parental meddling and pressuring of the child. Yes, you are emotionally involved, but please do not allow your emotions and fears to get in the way of objectivity. Parents tend to do a number of things, some of them detrimental:
•They get the child all worked up and excited, often days in advance. The fearful child is sure that they will fail – and disappoint or let down the parent. In short, don’t build up the event, but rather treat it almost as a non event. We’d be happier if you didn’t even tell the child in advance that you are scheduling a bike learning experience. We must comment that one type of child requires advance notice – the child with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. They don’t do well with the idea of surprises.
•Keep your mouth shut. In pilot training flight instructors use a more polite phrase, “Minimize conversation.” A child intensely trying to ride a bike doesn’t need a parental megaphone blaring in their ears. All people learn based on three modes of learning – oral, visual, and kinesthetic. We want the bicycle to teach the child kinesthetically. If you’re going to bombard the child with oral commands or even encouragement while riding, the kinesthetic will freeze as they will try to comprehend what you are shouting about, and they become more prone to failure. Keep your mouth shut. Minimize conversation. Talk to them gently before and gently after, but keep your mouth zipped shut while they are riding.
•Be careful about your choice of words when working with learning children. Parents tend to throw out words like “turn right,” “steer,” and “turn.” These are adult abstractions that mean little to children, especially when under the pressure to ride a frightening bike for the first time. Even the concepts of right and left are often not in place by the time that children are trying to learn to ride. They don’t need your oral help, and they certainly don’t need you shouting out in words that only bewilder them. Save up your entire urge to shout out commands for the Little League Tournament where you will behave like all the other over-agitated parents.
•In conversations, the parent will at times bring up negative ideas and thoughts. “This bike is tipsy.” “This bike is fast.” “Do you think you might fall?” Forget all the negatives. Instead, think and talk positive. “This is fun.” “Your grandma will be so proud.” “Wow, we’ll have to get you a new bike.” Of course, do this before or after the ride – not during.
•Learn to let go. Please, please, learn to let go. By holding on, you totally change what the bike is doing, and thus, the child may learn incorrectly. Even on our adapted bikes, we are always telling people to let go of the handle.
•Be patient and never let the child know that they have not done well.
•Allow the bike to be a bike, allow the bike to move forward.
•Never promise what you can’t deliver. If you say “You won’t fall because I’ll be here to catch you,” you have dug a hole. A time will come when the child will fall and you won’t adequately react in time. The child will realize that you are a liar, and not trustworthy. Instead say, “I’ll be right beside you and I’ll do my best to see that you don’t fall.”
•Know when you are over your head and out of your league. If your child is going downhill and not progressing, know when to quit and to call the professional in. Quite frankly, we have skills, attitudes, experience, and equipment that you can’t touch or even dream of.

Yes, other devices and methods are on the market as options for you. Bicycling magazine‘s editors published a fairly neat little pamphlet, circa 1991, about how to teach your child. Their method involves four steps. It amounted to the first step being initially taking the pedals off and coasting down a slight incline. The second step is coasting but with feet on the pedals (now reattached). The third step is to again go down inclines but to pedal gently. The fourth step is to proceed to start regular riding. Another bike instruction method was published, Richard’s Ultimate Bicycle Book, 1992, pp. 114-115. This method is similar to the previous, but with a slight variation. The first step is to remove the pedals and then to allow the child to shuffle along. Next, the child can coast and balance with feet up. The third step is to attempt riding by pedaling.

These types of published methods are actually great ideas if several things are true:
1.You are restricting yourself to able-bodied children
2.You use standard bike configurations
3.You aren’t dealing with deeply engrained training wheel learned behaviors
4.You aren’t dealing with ill-configured bikes notably BMX styled racing bikes

When we work with large numbers of special needs children, these cited methods are hardly up to the job. Our response was to develop a special line of adapted bikes; and we actually use an array or sequence of adapted bikes with most children. We have also developed our own pedagogical techniques or procedures.

Tips on teaching someone else to ride?

This may be a lot of material to remember, so we made it simple for you and summarized everything in “How We Train” right here. Simple and easy, just for you.

A Summary of Home Remedy Tips:
•It seems that the best place to start with home remedy is to get a bike that is user friendly. Avoid racing and BMX types.
•Have the seat sufficiently low so that the rider can comfortably reach the ground.
•You want a firm triangular seat, and not a banana seat.
•Either raise the handlebars to promote forward vision, or get an extender or a raised set of handlebars — see your friendly bike shop.
•Purchase an after-market bicycle training handle.
•Practice first with other people’s children.
•Read up as much as you can.
•Keep calm and cool.
•Find a level and open spacious parking lot or other flat surface.
•Be prepared to run, and consider recruiting a helper also capable of running.
•Schedule times when it is sufficiently cool so that the child can be wearing longer length trousers and long-sleeved shirt.
•Avoid floppy clothing, or at least tie up that right pants leg with elastic or a Velcro® strip.
•Zip your lip, as you shouldn’t be cheering all the time or barking commands.
•Forget trying to explain cognitive concepts like “right,” “left,” “steer,” and “turn.” These are abstractions and countless others are precisely that, abstractions that the learning child isn’t able to process while in the midst of balancing precariously on a two-wheeler.
•Remember to get the speed up, almost to the point that you are somewhere between a jog and a run. If you are walking, you are going too slow.

Learn to let go!
If your child hasn’t acquired the ability to ride by himself/herself after an hour or so, consider calling in the experts.

What is the cost of not learning to ride?

The real cost of not being able to ride a bike is in the lost opportunity – the opportunity to smile and to be like everybody else.
For a child with special needs, if bike riding isn’t mastered then other options are often considered. One option is often an adapted three or four-wheeler. These adapted bikes may be suitable last alternatives for some, but a significant percentage of children here-to-fore outfitted with awkward and cumbersome three-wheelers or large training wheel-equipped bikes can be taught to ride conventional bikes. Typical costs for special purpose bikes can run as high as several thousand dollars. Beyond the dollar cost of these special bikes and trikes, the real cost paid is in the lost opportunity – the opportunity to smile and to be like everybody else. Some children are placed on tandems and what are called “tag along” bike trailers, but these bicycling solutions have distinct limitations. Quite apart from the passive nature of these bike environments, the problem with tandems and tag along trailers is that as the child grows to adult size, their weight combined with uncoordinated and erratic body movements of the child soon cause the dual riding experience to become perilous. In short, riding in a stoker capacity with a responsible adult is destined to be a short-term solution, and a solution that essentially closes future windows of opportunity.

What is the benefit of learing to ride?

tim-with-dual-tandem

Being able to ride a two-wheeler is a societal rite of passage and an age appropriate activity. In spite of the fact that a large majority of children get past training wheels, the reality exists that training wheels represent the end of the bicycling trail for a percentage of children. As children get to be age 8, age 10, or even beyond, they become aware that peers are riding two-wheelers, and that they can’t. Instead of suffering embarrassment and even ridicule, the usual result is that the non-riding child soon opts to become passive, to resist riding, and to resign themselves to the “I can’t” ride a bike. Soon this becomes an “I don’t like bikes,” and “I don’t want to ride a bike.”

At times, parents become enablers as they will concur or conclude that the child can’t ride a bike, and the child is not afforded the opportunity to even try, as the parent becomes motivated to protect the child from failure. A child who can’t or won’t ride a bike is apt to suffer in a number of ways, as peers ride off leaving the non-rider behind.

Benefits of riding a two-wheeler include an infectious smile, peer inclusion, building of self-esteem, family lifestyle enhancement, increased activity and mobility, increased cognitive stimulation, and better physical fitness.

Without question, significant numbers of children and adults are presently unable to master bike riding, and this causes degradation in lifestyle, self-esteem, and well-being.

Michael

michael

Michael is from Utica NY. Michael is diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. Michael worked hard and wanted to be a bike rider like everybody else. In the photo in the upper left, Michael is being spotted by Dr. Tim Davis of SUNY at Cortland NY. As with all of our children, we try to work on one skill at a time and as required. We also have a floor assistant working one-on-one with every child. It requires lots of help to put on one of our programs, but the rewards are out of this world! On the upper right you can see Michael practicing his pedaling and braking on what we call a “braking box.” Michael is being coached by our founder, Dr. Richard Klein (wearing blue shirt). When Michael finally achieved riding a two-wheeler, he exclaimed, “I’m getting a blue bike today. Definitely blue!!!” Please note the lower left picture with Michael riding a two-wheeler. Several modifications are helping Michael, or making the bike more user friendly. The handlebars are raised by use of what is called an “extender.” Also, the bike itself is a “youth” or “juvenile” style of frame. The pedals are low to the ground, and the pedal crank lengths are not excessively long. Children like Michael need to be fitted with a bike that is ergonomically correct for them. If we would have put Michael, in contrast, on some run of the mill bargain BMX bike so typically sold — his attempts would have ended in utter failure. Getting and sizing the right bike are critical requirements if you want your child with special needs to be able to ride successfully.

As a sequel, we traveled back to Utica NY to check on Michael. At age 15, a year or so following his learning to ride, Michael had adapted to bike riding like a fish in water. His parents purchased a cool mountain all-terrain bike — a bike that even had hand brakes. Michael now rides in the neighborhood and has a great time, even going over bumps and up and down hills.

Amber

Amber is from near Fond du Lac WI, and is diagnosed with a combination of disabilities — autism and Down syndrome. It took us about three days to convince Amber to even wear a helmet, much less get near or on a bike. With our children we like to discover what magic will turn them on. In Amber’s case she loves having her picture taken, so our volunteer helper has camera ready to take Amber’s picture. To the right, Amber is on one of our trainer bikes. She can’t yet pedal while riding, but we were able to get her to pedal while stationary (on the stand to the left). On a bike that moves, we removed the pedals so that Amber could propel herself along using her feet. We have noticed Amber starting to get the feel for balance by making steering corrections, and getting used to the feel of a bike that moves. In working with so many children with so many challenges we have learned to be flexible. We will improvise and strategize as challenges pop up. Please don’t think that our program consists of a few bikes — instead it consists of bikes mixed with a caring and devoted staff, and with lots of engineering as well as therapy experience and creativity thrown in.