Bike Camps

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We find group instruction to be preferable over one-on-one private instruction, especially as the children become more willing to try and put in an effort upon seeing peers engaged in similar activities and trying – and being successful.

In our camp format, we work with about 5 to 8 children at one time, and then switch to another group, and yet another group as the day goes on. Slightly more than one hour per day of riding instruction is adequate, typically 75 minutes, to permit the children to learn. We normally handle about four groups per day, say of about 6 children per group, for a total of about 24 children per week. Our largest enrolled camp to date has had five sessions with 8 children per session — thus with forty children enrolled. We take it as a given that the child, possibly your child, has been unsuccessful in the past in attempts to lose the training wheels, and that a variety of reasons may have been responsible for that lack of success.

Dr. Richard Klein with one of our adapted roller trainer bikes. The Lose The Training Wheels™ program uses a special design of bicycle, which we refer to as an adapted roller trainer bike. In reality, our therapy utilizes a progression of trainer bikes, so the children start riding on ultra-stable bikes and then progress towards what we can call normal bikes – a conventional bike without those dreaded training wheels. The adapted trainers are intended as stepping-stones to allow the child to graduate onto conventional bikes. By utilization of a clinic format, the adapted trainers, although somewhat expensive and intricate to custom build, are used by numerous children and thus the costs of the therapy per child are held within bounds.

Rainbow Trainers has devoted years of university level research to prepare us to work with children with reluctance and even fear, as well as physical and cognitive limitations. A core group of specialists, consisting of university professors as well as adapted physical education specialists has published preliminary results. The group continues to document and make our findings and techniques known so that more children might benefit. Our goal is that each child entering the program is afforded the opportunity to become an independent bicycle rider.

Incremental Bike Adaptations

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The program uses a series of adapted trainer bikes that permits the children to be successful. We create a series of small steps to allow children to get past previously insurmountable hurdles.

Researchers and experts in motor learning tell us that we are actually using a technique or process called “Proximal Zones.” The gist of all this is that a person learns a motor skill by being successful, possibly at an earlier level of challenge. We have devised a series of bikes that allows success because the bike’s dynamics have been initially tamed, making the bikes benign when the child first starts in our program. As the children enjoy some degree of success, their motor skills improve, as muscle learning is occurring. In a way it is similar to how skilled athletes develop the ability to swing at pitched balls and to hit golf balls without waiting for conscious thought processes.

Using a series of adapted trainer bikes, we move the children onto more challenging bikes as skills and confidence increase. In truth, we don’t actually teach children to ride, but rather we create an environment whereby children discover how to ride by themselves. As they discover, and improve in skills, we act so as to keep adjusting the environment and continue to challenge the children within limits that they can handle. The secret is that the children are able to be successful, and with success comes confidence and then this allows their motor skills and motor planning to improve, as well as causing fears to abate. In the process of learning to ride, the children soon execute motor reflexes that operate based on conscious thinking, thus somewhat clumsy cause and effect reactions. After a relatively brief exposure to some success in bike riding, these reflex reactions soon become subconscious, and thus bike riding enters the subconscious realm. This is why it is so easy to ride a bike once you know how, but so frightening and difficult before those reflexes and synapses are internally wired and encoded. This allows graduation onto conventional bikes without need for training wheels.

What is wrong with training wheels?

Distinct behaviors become predominant as the child “rides” his/her bike fitted with training wheels.

•Brake Slamming. The child will tend to slow down and routinely brake whenever the child perceives any danger of tipping or falling (I’ll call it “tippiness”).
•Upper Body Movements. The child will tend to use upper body movements and/or shoulder shifting as a pseudo-balancing mechanism.
•Erratic Steering. The child’s steering actions will tend to be erratic, abrupt, and even stiff at times, almost to the point that arms and elbows are frequently locked straight.
•Visual Preoccupation. Visual focus becomes fixated downward and on the handlebars in particular.

The above cause and effect relationships and fixations have been wired, by conditioning, into the child’s brain, muscular response and reflex systems. Moreover, all of these “learned” actions, or reactions, are a direct result of the child having had to deal with training wheels. In the final analysis, the training wheels have indeed been responsible for “training” or internal creation of motor reflexes. Such motor conditioning (or “training”) is harmful because (1) successful bike riding doesn’t happen by use of these conditioned motor responses, and (2) these conditioned responses impede the orderly transition to conventional bike riding. The normal transition to conventional two-wheelers can stagnate, as training wheels often become a crutch that isn’t readily given up.

Up to now, virtually no other alternative to training wheels has ever been available. Moreover, when the day comes that the child using training wheels needs to make the transition to a conventional bike, that transition is abrupt, exasperating, and often characterized by nasty falls.

For children with developmental delays and other physical and mental challenges, training wheels can be the equivalent of the end of advancement in bicycling skills. The challenged children that I have dealt with include those with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and other disorders. Considerable portions of these children are simply left behind as the peer group rides away down the street with apparent ease.

Until now, few alternatives have been available to permit challenged-children to progress into the realm of conventional bicycling riding. Training wheels and patents for training wheels go back at least fifty years. Moreover, an early attempt to use barrel-shaped rollers as a training aid in lieu of conventional tires was patented by Cudmore [U.S. Patent 3,794,351, April 24, 1974]. Nonetheless, training wheels have become institutionalized to the point that bicycle dealerships and the mass-marketing stores routinely sell them, and families routinely end up buying juvenile bicycles fitted with training wheels. Others have addressed the search for a better way to get children to learn to ride two-wheelers. The editors of Bicycling magazine, for example, distribute a pamphlet describing methods such as removing the pedals to practice coasting and balancing, and then eventually progressing on to pedaling. One marketer has even introduced a pre-riding conditioning exercise that he calls “pedal magic.” [See ].

Erica

Erica is 6 years old and is diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Her parents never taught her how to ride a bike because they though she couldn’t. She has low muscle tone, but is very active and likes to move. Erica progressed through the bikes and is now riding the most challenging adapted roller bike before the “traditional” bike. I expect her to be able to ride the conventional bike before too long. Her parents were so amazed they came and took pictures. In tears her mother said “She looks so normal, she is doing something so normal…”

Stephen

Stephen is 8 years old with mild mental retardation. He is 4’3” tall and weighs about 200 pounds. He has extremely poor balance, and low muscle tone. He was scared to ride a bicycle. Stephen started out on the least challenging bike with no challenge to his balance and learned how to pedal and move. He was tired after 5 minutes and had to rest. He was extremely happy he could ride the bike and practiced on this bike until he was red faced and sweating. After six weeks he can ride for ten minutes straight and has moved on to a more challenging bicycle.

Josh

Joshua is 9 years old is visually impaired and has mild autism. He loves to move and is an active athletic boy. He is self-conscious about not being able to ride a bike. In six weeks of an in-school bike program with only 20-30 minutes each week, Josh progressed from a very easy bike with little challenge to balance to a bike with a traditional front tire and a fat back tire. He has the biggest smile and tells all his friends he is an “awesome” bike rider.

The Case of the Missing Cyclist

Kevin, age ten, appears to be a typical child in almost every way. He lives with his family including a younger brother Mark, age seven, in a suburb to a larger city. Kevin has a shiny bicycle in his garage, and even occasionally leaves it out in front of his house, but is never seen riding it. On many Saturday mornings, Kevin and his parents get into the family car and ride to a different part of town. There they unload a bicycle, a different bicycle, and Kevin starts his ritual of riding. This takes place in a school parking lot some distance from his neighborhood and the prying eyes of his classmates and friends. The well-kept secret is that Kevin can’t yet ride without training wheels, so the bike at home in the garage, without training wheels, is strictly for show. Kevin is embarrassed about his inability to ride a conventional bike, and especially as his younger brother, Mark, is able to ride.

As a sleuth detective, I was concerned with the matter of teaching children how to ride, and have come up with some revolutionary techniques. My experiences showed me that the near legendary ritual of a child being pushed off on a conventional bike and left to the capricious whims of falling is completely unnecessary and avoidable. Such approaches should be left behind just as the Spartan notion of throwing children into deep water to force them to learn-to-swim has been relegated to history. Of course, millions of children have made the transition to bicycle riding without these newly developed specialized techniques; but the fact that whole generations have endured this torturous rite of passage doesn’t make it right or optimal. Moreover, the mystery of the missing bicyclist, like Kevin, can have its roots traced, in large, to the lack of an effective alternate instructional methodology. The old-fashioned ways, both with training wheels and without, unnecessarily complicate the transition, making the transition needlessly abrupt and accompanied by unnecessary anxiety. Using the old ways, it is not uncommon to suffer spills, mishaps, and even injuries such as lacerations, broken teeth, and broken bones. Moreover, even if these extreme injuries are averted, a bad case of pavement rash is not uncommon, and pavement rash isn’t much fun. In short, children like Kevin needn’t be subjected to injury, falls, embarrassment, and even, worst of all, failure – not when safe, scientific, and university-tested alternative methods are available.

THE MYSTERY UNFOLDS

The Benefits of Cycling. The constellation of benefits that come from cycling is large indeed. Because Kevin can’t ride a conventional two-wheeler, he is denied aspects of peer inclusion. Kevin gets less exercise than most of his peers. Kevin tries hard but he has difficulty being “one of the gang.” In fact, Kevin is prone to fantasies and exaggerated story telling, as he recounts to his friends his imaginary “exploits” in terms of bicycling when talking with friends. In short, Kevin is trying to perpetuate a hoax on his friends. His friends can obviously tell that something is awry as Kevin’s stories get to be so self-serving and laden with impossible fantasies. Not being able to ride a bicycle has taken on severe ramifications in Kevin’s case, to the point of altering Kevin’s self-image and endangering his peer acceptance.
Kevin isn’t alone. Significant numbers of children, and even adults, can’t ride conventional bikes. The typical result is that they stop trying to learn when their inability to ride becomes a social embarrassment. Denial, fantasy, and disinterest in bicycling become central behavior mechanisms for children like Kevin. Of course, I routinely hear of stories and questions coming from, or concerning, the missing bicyclists.

THE CHALLENGE

I was concerned with the matter of “the missing bicyclists.” Significant numbers of children, and even adults, are somehow excluded or barred from learning how to master riding two-wheelers. Their stories, just as Kevin’s, are well-kept secrets by and large. There are literally tens of thousands of children and adults in this country who have been barred from learning to ride two-wheelers, and hence they are indeed bicyclists missing from the picture. Of course, there are the usual suspects, those ever-notorious training wheels. Could it be that training wheels are the culprits, or at least the co-conspirators? Or, could it be that the children themselves, like Kevin, are to blame? On the other hand, does the guilt rest with inept instructors and dark-age teaching methodologies?

The shortcomings of training wheels, as well as present-day teaching methods, are suspect. I experimented, in university research programs, with a variety of methods as potential ways to teach children, especially challenged children, and have shockingly found all presently used methods and methodologies to have serious shortcomings. The evident lack of a suitable teaching method led to a systematic university-based research project at the University of Illinois starting in the 1980’s. The goal was to uncover a better way to teach beginning riders, and children in particular. The emphasis of that research soon focused on coming up with a better training alternative, in terms of hardware, to the conventional two-wheeler. I will highlight the findings of that research, as well as the clinical confirmation of results at several university-based institutions.

The missing bicyclists, along with the solution to this mystery, were the focal points. I will review the origins of the problem, with an emphasis on examining training wheels and the previously held notion that beginning instruction should be done using a conventional two-wheeler. I will then present an alternative that is based on a dynamically adapted bicycle, a bicycle-trainer fitted with scientifically designed rollers in place of conventional bicycle tires, as well as specialized instructional techniques. On the trainer-bicycles, the rollers can be progressively adapted to gradually cause the bicycle-trainer to progress from first being a very stable and near impossible-to-tip trainer, to that of a conventional bicycle. A collaborative team of Adapted Physical Educators clinically tested the innovative technique for teaching difficult-to-teach children how to master riding a conventional two-wheeler.

Who is iCanShine?

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iCan Shine is a national charitable nonprofit organization that collaborates with local organizations and individuals, referred to as iCan Shine program ‘hosts’, to conduct over 100 five-day iCan Bike programs throughout North America serving nearly 3,000 people with disabilities each year.  iCan Shine began in 2007 and, since then, has successfully taught approximately 20,000 people with disabilities to ride a conventional two-wheel bicycle.  Please visit the iCan Shine website for more information or to make a donation at www.icanshine.org

How did your company start?

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The origin of the adapted bicycling program had its genesis in the research of Dr. Richard E. Klein at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Richard retired from his academic career at the University of Illinois in 1998. In 1999, Richard and his wife Marjorie have formed what is called an S-Corporation under United States and Illinois law. Rainbow Trainers, Inc., the name of the corporation — is an Illinois for-profit corporation. The name “Rainbow” was selected because of Richard’s belief that if one had a handful of bikes of varying geometries in a play area, ranging from benign and gradually up to being conventional in form – and colored according to rainbow colors to indicate level of dynamics, that the children exposed to these bikes, in the colors of the rainbow, would initiate through exploration and discovery how to ride bikes. In truth, nobody is really taught how to ride a bike, but rather most discover how to ride a bike. It is an “Ahha” experience. Our role is in creating and adjusting that environment to permit children to discover on their own how to ride a bike.

Why are you called Rainbow Trainers?

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People often are puzzled over the meaning and origin of the name Rainbow Trainers, Inc. As a point of explanation, the corporation’s roots stem from the research of Dr. Richard E. Klein, President and Founder. Klein is an emeritus faculty member of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign IL. In his three decades of teaching and research (1968-1998), Klein became interested in bicycle dynamics — meaning the study using mathematics as to what causes a bicycle to be stable and how a bicycle essentially “works.” This activity then lead Klein into the area of studying how children learn to ride a bike.

Klein’s research soon uncovered the fact that when children attempt to learn or master bike riding, many children go through a set of predictable steps or phases. Klein, upon applying engineering principles, sought to improve and shorten the process by creating adapted or special benign bikes — bikes suitable to aid the learning process. The name or concept of the “Rainbow” came about because Klein realized that kids aren’t taught how to ride, but rather they discover how to ride. Klein hypothesized that if one had an array of different bikes, then thought of as representing the colors of the rainbow, that children in the process of play would indeed master bike riding, as each level of the rainbow represented a challenge level. Moreover, once the children master one level, their mastery then facilitates their success at the next level of challenge. In a nut shell, that is the origin of the name, “Rainbow Trainers.”

At Rainbow Trainers we believe that children can discover how to ride a bike if the proper environment is made available. As the child is successful, this success will bring about improvement in motor skills as well as confidence to try yet another bike, another bike in the progression of colors. This was and still is our ultimate dream, and we feel that we have made gigantic strides towards the achievement of that dream.