Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage for a child. The freedom felt rushing down the sidewalks, as though you’re about to take flight – nothing can replace it. For parents, it’s the ultimate sign of letting go – that twinge of fear as you hope they don’t fall, coupled with the sense of pride as you watch your child finally cross over into ‘big kid’ territory.
For children with physical disabilities, though, learning to ride a bike doesn’t always come easily. In many cases a standard, off-the-shelf bike just won’t work. As the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, I’ll never forget the experience of watching our son learn to ride, or the ingenuity of a local businessman who, with the help of his team, made it all possible.
Our search for a modified bike began when our son Kyle was 5 years old. I remember him standing by the window watching his friends ride up and down the block on their bikes. We knew that he dreamt of being out there riding with them. There are always challenges when raising a child with special needs, but my husband and I made a promise many years ago that nothing would ever stand in the way of our son reaching the goals he set for himself. If he wanted to ride a bike, we would help him find a way.
Our search led us to several bike shops around the Chicago area that advertised bikes designed for special needs. Regardless of where we looked, however, we never could find just the right bike for our son. Determined not to give up, we placed a call to Oswego Cyclery, and spoke with Art. After assessing our son’s disabilities and his responses while attempting to ride, Art and his team put together a plan to build a bike based on a traditional frame. It would be lightweight and feature a fixed gear to allow our son to peddle on momentum. Special foot braces would prevent his feet from slipping off the pedals. “Fat wheels” extenders would provide stability, and a couple of other extras would help keep him on the straight and narrow. Because most of the solutions were right off the shelves of the store, the team was able to build the bike right on site.
Soon the bike was ready for a test run, so on a beautiful spring day, we loaded the family in the car and headed over to the shop. Kyle was so excited he could barely sit through the fitting session. Once the bike was ready to ride we headed out to the parking lot, ready to give it a try.
Camera in hand, I backed up as my husband stepped in to guide Kyle. We never anticipated that this was going to be the day he would learn how to ride. Kyle had never even peddled a tricycle or balanced himself on a bike before – this entire experience was new for him. We tried to help steady the bike, but Kyle would have none of that. This was his day and he was going to show us exactly what that meant. Feeling stable, he pushed daddy’s hands away, pumped his feet, and the world around me went silent for a moment. There was my child, riding on his own. His feet weren’t slipping, he wasn’t falling off the bike, he was just riding!
As he rode circles in the parking lot, experiencing his newfound freedom, two older boys came over to ride with him, and I felt the tears roll down on my cheeks. I looked at my son, and the happiness on his face could have lit the darkest room.
Recently, at a Village meeting, I shared with Art what an incredible impact his help had made on our family. I thought back when we first moved to Oswego – I bought my bike from him, and my husband and I service our bikes there. But as a parent to a special needs child, I regretted all the time we spent looking outside of our own community, only to find such a valuable resource right here at home.
Hopefully sharing this story will give a little hope to other families in our community faced with similar circumstances. Sometimes when you need help the best place to look is close to home.