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Learning to cycle is one of the milestones of childhood. Children
of all ages love to ride a bike, and children with hemiplegia are
no different. Cycling helps develop self-confidence and can
increase independence. It can also have a therapeutic role,
strengthening muscles and improving balance. And it is great
Ask your child's therapist for advice about when and how best to
start. They may even be able to lend you a special trike.
Generally, of course, children prefer to learn to ride a bike than
a trike. There is no reason why your child should not start with a
bike, provided their hemiplegia is not too severe and not
complicated by other medical conditions that might affect ability
to balance, steer etc.
For safety your child must always wear a helmet, since they are
much more likely than other children to bump their heads if they
fall, and the slightest bump to the head can be dangerous. Long
trousers, long sleeved tops and gloves help cut down on grazes, as
do knee and elbow pads.
Most young children start with stabilisers, but children with
hemiplegia will probably need them for much longer. You may need to
buy adjustable stabilisers, which will grow with your child and
which you can raise slightly as they gain confidence.
For children who have particular problems with balance (or lack
the confidence to try without stabilisers), a father designed
special adjustable stabilisers that can be moved inwards gradually
so that the child hardly realises that they are managing more and
more on their own. These stabilisers are available from www.gooddesigns.eu.
Balance bikes are another option. These do not have pedals or
stabilisers. Instead, the child puts both feet on the ground from
the saddle. Balance bikes allow children to gradually build up
their balance before moving straight onto a bike without
Some parents have found that it helps to have a bike that is
exactly the right size or even slightly small, so that the child
can have their feet firmly on the ground whilst sitting on the
saddle. It may be better to buy a series of second-hand bikes than
to spend a lot of money on a new one that is too big.
The crossbar on boys' bikes should not be too high -
fortunately, fashionable BMX and mountain bikes have lower
crossbars than traditionally framed models.
Practice areas should be as flat and even as possible. You could
try a sandy beach, which is firm enough for the wheels to turn but
soft enough to cushion falls.
Some children need to learn in stages. They may, for example,
find it difficult to think about balancing and pedalling at the
same time. It can be useful to remove the bike's pedals and let
your child try 'scooting' along, getting a feel for balancing,
before attempting pedalling.
If your child does not get the hang of pedalling immediately,
you may need to push their feet round in the pedalling motion until
they get used to it.
If your child has a left hemiplegia, the back brake will be on
the side of their weaker hand. Any good cycle shop will swap the
brakes over, as it is more important to have the back brake
functioning. This may be enough when your child is learning, but
once they are riding properly we strongly recommend that you have
the bike adapted so that both brakes are operated by the stronger
If the bike has gears, the gear lever/changer should also be
moved to your child's stronger side. Alternatively, you could buy a
bike with back pedalling brakes.
Children with hemiplegia vary enormously in the extent to which
they can grip with their weaker hand and stretch their arm.
Some may need adaptations to their handlebars to help with
holding. This can be as simple as sticky Dycem to improve grip, or
you can fit an additional steering socket or knob (similar to those
used for driving a car one-handed). Some children find an
old-fashioned 'sit up and beg' type of bike, where the handlebars
curve towards the body, easier to ride than a mountain bike or
Some children have trouble keeping their foot or feet on the
pedals. Here are some ideas tried by families (note that some of
them should be used only with bikes with stabilisers or trikes. On
an unstabilised bike you need to be able to remove your foot from
the pedal if falling sideways):
Children with hemiplegia usually take longer to learn to ride a
two-wheeler, but with persistence many of them make it in the end.
And if not, there are plenty of alternatives in the shape of
interesting trikes, recumbents and tandems. These are usually
expensive, but many families have had help with buying them from
local Rotary Clubs etc. or from Whizz-Kidz).
Trikes come in all shapes and sizes (and some have loads of
street cred as well)! Some have double wheels at the front, which
can help children with perceptual problems to judge width more
One model, designed for older teenagers, has a small engine to
help in hilly areas. Some trikes have fixed wheels i.e. the pedals
move with the wheels. The benefit of this is that the child does
not have to get off to get out of an awkward position but can just
reverse. For a child with more complex needs, a side-by-side or
tandem may be the answer.
A good way to prepare your child for riding a two-wheeler is to
use a 'trailer bike'. These are attached to an adult bike by a
tow-bar and the child can do as much or as little pedalling as they
like whilst getting a feel for balance. It also helps teach the
child road skills.
Another similar idea is a device which allows you to attach the
child's bike, minus front wheel, to the back of an adult bike. The
extra wheel can be carried on a special bracket, so the child can
start riding alone but hitch a lift when they get tired. Tandems
are also a good way of building up a child's strength and balance,
but are more expensive and less flexible than trailer
The best way to ensure that your child is safe on a bicycle is
for them to take part in a cycling training scheme.
The old Cycle Proficiency Scheme has been replaced by a set of
National Standards, and the main provider for training is
Bikeability www.bikeability.org.uk, which
has developed a three stage programme. Your child's school may
already be taking part in this, otherwise contact your local
authority. The Bikeability website states that the scheme is
suitable for children with additional needs, who will be given
extra training to reach the required level if necessary.
One safety concern is the ability to signal, which, depending on
which way they are turning, involves either steering with their
affected hand while indicating with their stronger hand, or using
the affected hand to indicate. If turning right at a busy junction
it may be better to dismount and walk across. If your child is
taking part in a training scheme, this is something to discuss with
You can also visit the Disabled Living Foundation at www.dlf.org.uk. They have a list of
suppliers of specialised bikes/trikes and also of accessories such
as back supports, footplates, special handlebars etc.
Charlotte's Tandems - www.charlottestandems.co.uk
- is a charity that lends tandems to disabled people or people with
additional needs for free.
CTC - www.ctc.org.uk - is the UK's national
cyclists' organization. Go to: Go Cycling> Cycling hints and
tips> All ability cycling for information and links.
GetKidsGoing - www.getkidsgoing.com - is a
charity that promotes sports for disabled children and young people
by providing them with mobility equipment, mostly wheelchairs but
also trikes. It also supports their training, travel etc.
London Cycling Campaign - www.lcc.org.uk - has an excellent
downloadable 'All Ability Cycling for Greater London' with
information on the various types of bike suitable for riders with
disabilities, and a useful names and addresses list which covers
the whole country, not just London.
Reach - www.reach.org.uk
- is a national charity providing support and advice for children
with hand or arm deficiencies, and their parents. The website has a
downloadable guide to cycling, which is out of date in some details
but generally useful.
Tandem Club - www.tandem-club.org.uk, 01908
282485 - organises rides, pairing sighted and visually impaired
riders. Also useful if you are anxious about someone with epilepsy
Whizz Kids - www.whizz-kidz.org.uk - is a
charity which provides mobility equipment, including trikes.
Cycling as a disabled sport
British Cycling - https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/disability,
0161 274 2021, firstname.lastname@example.org