Over the years, I’ve received countless emails from parents asking about options for their kids with special needs. These range from physical disabilities to neurodivergence to illness and trauma.
While I’m not an expert, nor do I have a child with special needs, I’ve learned a lot as I’ve done my best to help them troubleshoot their challenges. Here are some of the solutions that we’ve found, as well as tips and resources that parents have shared with me.
(If you have experience, feedback, or resources that you’d like to share that aren’t included here, please reach out to me so that I can add them. I know that other parents will appreciate it!).
Adaptive Bikes And Trikes
Adaptive bicycles and tricycles are specifically designed for individuals with special needs. These bikes are highly customizable and can be tailored to fit the specific needs and abilities of the rider.
Handcycles operate by using the hands and arms rather than the legs and feet, making them suitable for kids with limited lower body mobility. Kids propel themselves forward by rotating a crank with their hands, which engages the upper body and improves arm and core strength.
Upright or Recumbent Trikes
Tricycles, or “trikes,” provide more stability than a traditional bicycle, making them a good choice for kids who struggle with balance or coordination. They can be upright or recumbent.
Recumbent trikes allow riders to sit in a laid-back reclining position, reducing the strain on the back and neck. They are also extra stable due to their low center of gravity.
Mom, Katie Chiaratti, shared: “My 8 year old has visual impairment and mild cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment. He has an adaptive trike by freedom concepts that we can help push and steer from behind with and it has more supportive seat.”
Tandem bikes for special needs children can be a beautiful bonding experience. They allow a caregiver or an experienced rider to control the steering and braking, while the child can enjoy the ride and contribute to the pedaling if they are able.
Chiaratti is now in the process of buying a Buddy Bike. “It’s made in Florida. It’s similar to a tandem with the smaller person/person with a disability in front which is different than most tandems. The handlebars are also between the rear riders handlebars so your arms go around them. It’s really cool!”
Once kids have outgrown bike seats and traditional trailers, a cargo bike is an excellent option. Most cargo bikes can haul a full sized adult as a passenger.
Depending on your child’s needs, either a longtail cargo bike or a bucket bike may be a good option. Many cargo bikes also have an electronic assist which is hugely helpful for hauling a passenger.
One of our favorites in the Bunch Bike.
Trailer bikes, also known as tagalongs, are similar to a tandem but they allow you to convert an existing bicycle to a tandem. Kids can pedal along, or the parent can do the hard work.
For young children, the Weehoo is a superior option! It is a recumbent style trailer cycle that allows the child to be strapped in. Kids can pedal if they choose, or take a nap!
When you think of a balance bike, you might think of a bike for toddlers and preschoolers. (And balance bikes certainly are great for kids in that age group).
But there are also options for bigger sized balance bikes. If your child isn’t ready or able to deal with the complexity of pedaling or shifting gears, the simplicity of a balance bike is fantastic.
You can also remove the pedal from a traditional bike to use it like a balance bike.
Tow Ropes And Tow Bars
If your child can ride their own bike, but needs a little extra assistance or guidance, tow ropes and tow bars are fantastic. Tow ropes allow the child to independently steer their bike, but gives a boost. Tow bars allow the child to pedal but keeps them tucked in safely behind mom or dad.
The FollowMeTandem is one excellent option. Kids can pedal (or not) and their bike stays stable behind the adult. When and if they want to ride solo, you can easily unhook them.
When kids are little, there are tons of bike trailer options! Once they get taller and heavier though, the options dwindle.
One company that does a good job of making larger trailers is Wike. Their largest trailer, the Wike Extra Large Special needs trailer, fits passengers up to 150 lbs.
If your child is capable of pedaling but struggles with eye-hand coordination, we highly recommend Guardian Bikes. These bikes have proprietary SureStop braking technology which uses one brake lever to control both the front and rear break and apply appropriate pressure. This helps avoid any over the bars accidents.
We’ve recommended these bikes to a ton of parents who’ve had great success. They come in 16 inch wheels to 26 inch wheel sizes.
Biking With Neurodivergent Kids
Shannon Brescher Shea, mom and author of Growing Sustainable Together: Practical Resources for Raising Kind, Engaged, Resilient Children*, provided some thoughts on biking with neurodivergent kids:
“Autistic kids often want to know the ‘why’ behind rules (although not always) so explaining the logic of the rules of the road is important. (Although I think it’s helpful with all kids!) Kids with attention challenges may have some difficulty paying enough attention when riding for transportation, so you may need extra reminders and calling out stops, etc.
“Biking can be immensely helpful for kids with emotional control and executive function challenges because it combines being outside and exercise. I also find it builds independence, which neurodivergent kids often don’t get to feel as much as neurotypical kids.”
Biking With A Young Child With Down Syndrome
Steve Leonard bikes with his young son, Ethan, who has down syndrome using the Kids Ride Shotgun seat.
“We’ve had our 2 year old on it for over a year and slightly after he started he gained the strength to stand and walk. Now he does over ten mile rides,” Steve says.
“Ethan has Down Syndrome and hearing loss, but he’s living his best life due to these great new advances in biking.”
Dealing With Illness
Justin Grenell is a dad with a child with serious medical complexities. Here are his words on how he helps his son get out regardless.
“I will carry a behind the seat bag for his inhaler and also keep some snacks in the bag to keep the morale up.”
“If we are driving an hour or so to the trail I will pack his feeding tube bag with water and electrolytes via Liquid IV or Pedialyte and run that on the way to the trail.”
Programs And Resources
About The Rascals
The Rascals are a family of three. Kristen (mom), Blair (dad), and Parker (kiddo). We started Rascal Rides when Parker was born and we didn’t want to give up our passion for biking. As we learned, we shared. Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of kids bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and more.
Kristen is a USA Cycling certified coach and loves to share her passion for biking with other families. Blair is a bike geek, mechanic, and mountain bike junkie. Parker is our resident tester and inspiration.
If you see us out on the trail, make sure to say hi!