Learn to Ride a Bike!

By: Leah Ketcheson, Ph.D., Hollis Wyatt, Amy Nasamran, M.A., Jeff Snyder, MSW. & Suzi Naguib, Psy.D.

The rush of riding a bicycle can be invigorating. The feeling of pedaling hard, balancing on two wheels, feeling the ground being pushed behind as you ride with friends and family is one of a kind.  Even just leisurely cruising and gazing around at the happenings around a trail while taking in what nature has to offer can be fun. Learning to ride a bike is such an important developmental milestone that allows kids to experience more independence, confidence and the ability to be more physically active with peers. Achieving this milestone can be more challenging for individuals with special needs, who may require more intensive and specialized instruction. Giving a child with special needs the opportunity to learn to ride a bicycle can open the door to increased social opportunities with peers, community involvement, a sense of accomplishment and pride, and overall increased health and quality of life.

In addition to being a fun activity, riding a bicycle is also a great form of exercise. We all know that exercise is an important part of daily life and that it plays a crucial role in preventing and treating health-related issues (Ulrich, Burghardt, Lloyd, Tiernan, & Hornyak, 2011). The lack of physical activity, on the other hand, can pose significant health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008) recommends that children and adolescents between 6-17 years of age get a minimum of 1 hour of physical activity every day. Unfortunately, many children and adolescents are not getting enough exercise, and in particular, children with disabilities are exercising even less than their typically developing peers (Tucker, 2008).

Recently, researchers have begun to examine the effects of a bicycle training intervention for children with disabilities (MacDonald, Esposito, Hauck, Jeong, Hornyak, Argento, & Ulrich, 2012; Ulrich et al., 2011). After five days of training, in which physical bike riding activities were adapted, individualized, and taught to children diagnosed with Autism (ASD) and Down Syndrome, over 73% of children with Down Syndrome and over 85% of those with ASD successfully learned how to ride a two-wheel bike (MacDonald et al., 2012). Not only did so many children learn to ride a bike, but the researchers also found that these children increased their overall level of physical activity one year following the intervention (Ulrich et al., 2011). These results are exciting because they suggest that individuals with disabilities can engage in more health-enhancing activities with the appropriate equipment modifications and individualized instruction.

This summer, LightUp (our affiliated non-profit organization), in collaboration with the Ann Arbor Public School Department of Recreation & Education (AAPS Rec & Ed), is thrilled to announce that we are bringing the bicycle training intervention mentioned above, to Ann Arbor. This intervention is being offered as a week long Adapted Bike Camp for individuals with special needs.

Twenty children and adolescents ages 8-18, who cannot yet independently ride a two-wheeled bicycle will be taught to do so with the use of adapted equipment. Put simply, children and adolescents begin to learn how to pedal and balance on a bike whose back wheel is replaced with a tapered roller to increase stability while still teaching balance. As the rider’s skills improve, they progress through a series of narrower rollers until the rider is confident with a two-wheeled bicycle. This is achieved with the help of well-trained, positive and encouraging volunteers who run behind the riders and spot them as they learn to ride. Follow this link to watch a video about this adapted bike intervention.

To Register to LightUp’s Adapted Bike Camp:

Who is this camp for: Children and adolescents with developmental disabilities ages 8-18 years

Camp Date: June 27-July 1, 2017

Location: Ann Arbor

Camp Application: Completed the online application with AAPS Rec. & Ed.

Financial Assistance: LightUp will be providing financial scholarships for families who qualify. Go to Lightupnow.org to apply for a scholarship after registering with AAPS Rec. & Ed.

 LightUp is dedicated to providing evidence-based programming supported by current research to improve the quality of life for individuals with special needs. 


CDC National Center for Health Statistics. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 2011; http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/nhanes_questionnaires.htm. Accessed January 6, 2014.
MacDonald, M., Esposito, P., Hauck, J., Jeong, I., Hornyak, J., Argento, A., Ulrich, D.A. (2012). Bicycle training for youth with down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 27(1), 12-21. doi: 10.1177/1088357611428333.

MacDonald, M., Esposito, P., & Ulrich, D. (2011). The physical activity patterns of children with autism. BioMed Central Research Notes, 1-5.

Tucker, P. (2008). The physical activity levels of preschool-aged children: A systematic review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(4), 547-558.

Ulrich, D. A., Burghardt, A. R., Lloyd, M., Tiernan, C., & Hornyak, J. E. (2011). Physical activity benefits of learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle for children with Down syndrome: A randomized trial. Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association, 21(10), 1463-1477.

United States Department of Health & Human Services: Healthy People 2010. 2000, Washington, DC.