Choosing a Bike

And of course, the bike! The bike is clearly a vital component of the learning to ride journey. Ensuring the bike is appropriate for the rider is one of the most significant steps to biking success. Whether you purchase your bike new, or second-hand there are a number of things to consider, particularly for children with additional needs. What size bike does your child need? Do your child’s needs mean they need a special bike? Training wheel versus balance bike? How much to spend?

Bike Size

Size is important! For both safety and comfort. Your child should be able to get on and off the bicycle easily. Their feet should be flat on the ground when they are seated. They should be able to comfortably reach the handle bars without having to stretch. Their knees should not touch the handle bars and there should be between two to five centimetres between the child’s crotch area and the bike’s top bar.

Unlike adult bicycles, children’s bicycles are labelled according to wheel diameter, not frame size. The following is a general guide, but bear in mind that it depends on the height of your child, not their age:

Child’s Height Rough Age Bike Size*
65cm – 85cm 2 – 4 years 30cm (12 inches)
85cm– 105cm 4 – 6 years 40cm (16 inches)
105cm – 120cm 6 – 8 years 45cm (18 inches)
120cm – 135cm 8 – 10 years 50cm (20 inches)
135cm – 155cm 10+ years 60cm (24 inches)

*Based on tyre diameter                          

When choosing a bike, it is essential to also consider your child’s range of motion. They should be able to move the pedals in full rotation without moving from the seat. Handlebars should also be able to be moved to a full turn.

Kids grow. Fast. This of course means your child is likely to outgrow their bike within a year or so, and will need a new bike. It may be tempting to purchase a bike that is larger than required in order to extend the time between purchases. The problem then is that the child may have trouble controlling and balancing a bicycle that is too large or heavy, possibly resulting in frustration and/or injury. If you want this to work, start with the right equipment!

Training Wheels versus Balance Bikes

So, when learning to ride there are two main options to get your child get started. The first is Training wheels: small wheels fitted either side of the rear wheel of a standard bike. The rider’s uses the pedals to propel the bike and balance is maintained by the training wheels. The alternative option is a balance bike: a bike that, either by design or modification, has no pedals or drive train. The bike is propelled by the rider’s feet on the ground. Balance is maintained by the rider.

The use of training wheels has been hotly debated, and whether you decide to use them for your child is entirely up to you. The benefits of training wheels are that they can help the child to gain confidence faster and help them to concentrate more on learning other skills such as pedalling. On the other hand, a rider cannot learn the skills of balance and steering if using training wheels. Once the training wheels are removed, the rider has to un-learn what the training wheels taught them, which can make the transition difficult.

At Cyclabilities, in most cases, we are strong advocates for the balance bike option. In our experience, particularly for kids that may struggle with change or face some existing challenges with co-ordination, balance is a fundamental skill. To achieve riding success, our team feel it is important to develop this early on. The good news is, if you choose the balance bike option, it doesn’t necessarily have to cost you any more. The pedals can easily be removed from most traditional bikes so they act as a balance bike. Alternatively, there are many specialised balance bikes available to purchase.

However, if you do decide to use training wheels, make sure that they can be adjusted higher off the ground as your child improves. Another option is to lower your child’s seat which will help lower the medium height for balance and allow your child to easily touch the ground, helping them to feel more secure. Never push a child to remove their training wheels – it is much better to do once they are feeling confident.

Modified and Modifying Bikes

Many kids with additional needs find trying to coordinate steering, pedalling and balance together extremely difficult. In some cases, some extra assistance from an occupational therapist or an exercise physiologist, as well as lots of practice can help overcome these issues but for others a modified bike may be a better option. Depending on your child’s needs this could be a long-term solution or it may be a short terms step to provide some extra scaffolding and support for skill development.

There is a range of modified bike options including hand cycles, three and four-wheeled cycles, tandems, and the DUET (a combined wheelchair and cycle). Cost can vary considerably based on the complexity of the bike. If this may be an option for your child, it’s worth looking at funding options, NDIS coverage and any grants available.

Alternatively, some modifications can be made to existing traditional bikes, include utilising different handlebars or seats. We have found loop handlebars can be useful for children who have limited range of motion in their arms. Comfi-grip or half loop handlebars are often suitable for children who have a different range of movement in each arm. Looking at the shape of the seat may also be useful, as larger broader seats may offer more comfort and stability. Small changes may help your child considerably.

Other things to consider

As with so many things, there are often extra considerations for kids with additional needs. Depending on the specific physical and sensory needs of your child there are some other things you may want to think about when choosing a bike.

Braking method

As mentioned above, brakes can either be on to the handle bars or pedals. Depending on the skills and needs of your child the type of brakes you choose may be important. For example, for those that struggle with coordination hand brakes can prove difficult, and pedal brakes may be more appropriate.

Purpose of the bicycle

The type pf bike you chose will be influenced by how you expect your child to use it. Will your child be riding on footpaths, the road or bike paths? Will they eventually be looking to ride off-road, in grass and gravel? The type of terrain the bike will be used, combined with the needs of your child will influence the type of tyres on the bike, whether or not the bike has gears and numerous other bits and pieces. When making these decisions, talk to your occupational therapist or the staff in your local bike shop.

Price

Bikes can range hugely in price so it is important to consider what the most important aspects of the bike are for you and your child and to shop around. The price will be affected by the size of the bike, the quality of the materials used to make it and whether it needs to be modified. Keep an eye out for second hand bikes either being sold cheaply or given away for free but make sure that you check all the features such as brakes and the bike frame to ensure that the bike is safe.

Look and Feel

As we have mentioned before, one of the most important aspects of supporting you child to learn to ride is getting them involved. Where possible, get your child on board in choosing the best bike for them. Discuss the things you think are important and find out what is important to them. Often, this will include the look and feel of the bike. The colour, the theme, characters depicted on the body of the bike, a particular type of helmet, extra accessories like a bell or lights, beads for the bike spokes, streamers on the handlebars. While this may seem unimportant to us as the adult, these can be the most important things to our children, and can be key to getting them on board.

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