The Perfect Rider

Over my years of working with children and their start into biking, I have always adhered to certain protocols. Because children with whom I come into contact are not sure of this big, lurking stranger, I have developed what I call my bedside manner. When I meet and engage a young child for the first time, I need to cause that child to relax and to become comfortable in my presence. As such I have developed a series of routines that I follow. I start by asking the child’s age, often suggesting an exaggerated age, such as 13 when I sense that the child is perhaps about ten. I make a modest deal of being wrong, asking again with a surprised look if they aren’t really older. Once I get corrected by the child and properly humbled, I will proceed by making a few inquiries of the child. My technique is to ask children questions for which the child is able to answer without too much difficulty. I ask if they have brothers and sisters. I ask what is their favorite color. If I am dealing with a typical child, when I suspect that the child is a bike rider, I ask if the child is able to ride a bike. Once they say “Yes,” I ask the next question — “Are you any good (at riding a bike)?”

The amazing thing is that in virtually every case the child smiles and replies with a strong affirmative, “Yes.” I have no recollection of any child who is a bike rider ever telling me that they aren’t good.

When we think about it, is there any child who can ride a bike who also feels that he/she isn’t good? If so, I’ve never encountered one.

In contrast, in the process of instructing children, especially children with disabilities, the parents at times have a different view. This is especially true if the parent is big into biking. I have noted that parents who are into biking tend to be critical of other riders, especially beginning and struggling riders. The usual points made by these self-styled experts focus on things related to the questionable fit of the child on the bike, and possibly foot position on the pedals. In our adapted bike program, we strive to keep the seats sufficiently low so that the child is able to place their feet flat on the floor or riding surface – while still seated on the saddle. Of course, this causes the leg to not achieve proper extension. Because of this obvious lack of proper leg extension, the self-styled experts don’t miss the opportunity to point this out. A second commonly voiced concern, especially for children with cerebral palsy related issues, is that the child’s feet don’t maintain proper placement on the pedals. In many cases the feet will be pointed outward, and at times the foot is placed so that the pedal is under the heel, as opposed to the arch or the ball of the foot.

My response to these parents is to politely acknowledge but then dismiss the concerns. I thank them for their concern, but remark that the child is in the process of learning to ride a bike – and that learning to ride a bike is enhanced if the child is still able to place their feet on the ground. I reassure the concerned parents that proper leg extension will come but only after the child has mastered other critical aspects notably balancing while pedaling. Improper fit on a bike, if there is such a thing, has never been a reason to cause a child to not achieve becoming a bike rider. A classic illustration of this is the child diagnosed with mild hemi-pelagic conditions. My observation is that a person with a strong and properly functioning side, usually described as hemi-pelagic, isn’t prohibited from becoming a remarkably capable bike rider.

The bicycle and rider, once in motion, have an incredible capacity to achieve perfection. Perfection comes as the bike and rider just seem to glide along and in a sense, have the attributes of a bird in flight. The rider seems to just pedal along with amazing ease. The rider experiences the joy that we call the “wind in the face.” Being able to ride a bike, as compared to the days prior to bike riding, were once described by a boy in our program with the few succinct words, “It’s not the same.”

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

My observation is that when a person accepts the grace offered by Christ, that we aren’t told that the rider lacks proper leg extension or improper foot placement. Salvation through acceptance of God’s grace represents a holistic step. There is no graduation or degree of salvation, just as there is no such thing as an imperfect bike rider.

2 thoughts on “The Perfect Rider”

  1. My son who has Down Syndrome and Autism just completed a week at the I Can Bike camp. He made great progress, but due to his low muscle tone, he needs to build up his stamina so he will be able to go fast enough to balance on a two wheeler. The tandem bike used at the camp was extremely beneficial- I would like to know who manufactures them, the special tandem gave my son the feeling of riding independently while developing the skills needed to do so. Thanks for your help- we loved the camp!

    1. Joan,

      We really like the tandem as well. The tandems that are use in the iCanShine program are custom built by Rainbow Trainers. Rainbow Trainers mission is not to sell bikes and as a result we cannot make our tandem trainer available for sale. However, there are several other companies that do sell kid-in-front tandems.

      1. Onderwater: This a company based in Amsterdam. They make a collection of unique tandems. Here is a link to a site that has some photos and should serve as a starting point for further searches:

      2. Kidz Tandem: This company is based in Grand Junction, CO.

      Either of these companies focus on selling bicycles and should be able to provide a bike for you to purchase.


      Rainbow Trainers

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