COLUMBIA — Cheerful Kidz Bop music mingled with the sound of gears turning and shouts of laughter at Gentry Middle School gym this week. There, 13 people with disabilities worked to learn how to ride conventional two-wheelers at Lose the Training Wheels camp.
Until this program, 8-year-old Alex Harvey had sat on a bike only with training wheels. His mother, Kathy Harvey, signed him up for the camp so he could become more mobile.
“I want him to be able to ride bikes with the rest of the family; be as typical as possible,” she said.
Alex spent his first day of camp pedaling around the gym on a bike specially designed for the program.
“He’s very excited now," Harvey said. "He’s decided he’s learning how to ride a bike this week.”
The national program, Lose the Training Wheels, partnered with the local PedNet Coalition to bring the bicycle riding camp to Columbia. With encouragement and help from volunteers, the children pedaled for one hour and 15 minutes a day to learn how to ride a bike. This was the first time the program has come to Columbia.
“The goal is that these kids come in, and by the end of the week they’ll be riding a regular two-wheel bicycle,” said camp director Michelle Windmoeller.
The children started out on roller bikes, which are designed by engineer Richard Klein. Instead of a regular wheel on the back, the bikes have a roller pin.
The roller pins come in eight levels. The children start out on a level three and progress through to a level eight.
“Each one gets more tapered on the outside, the opposite of a training wheel,” said bike technician Mark Kimzey. “The bike teaches the nervous system how to ride.”
On Tuesday, the children got a chance to ride on tandem bikes. This helped them get used to going fast, and they ride in front, so it’s like they are on a two-wheeler by themselves. This got them used to objects coming toward them, and Kimzey coached from behind and helped them learn when it’s time to turn.
On Wednesday, the camp "launched" its first new cyclist, 18-year-old Nick Llorens. He graduated from a roller bike to a conventional two-wheeler and rode outside in the parking lot. As of Thursday, five of the 13 participants were outside on two-wheelers. Windmoeller said they expect at least six more to be ready on Friday.
Lose the Training Wheels held its first camp in 1999. This year, they are holding more than 60 camps. There are also in-school and after-school programs where seventh- and eighth-graders volunteer to be spotters for the special needs children, Kimzey said. How much the Columbia camp cost varied by family.
Kimzey recommended that parents of special needs children look for cruiser-style bikes on which their children can sit comfortably on the seat with their feet flat on the ground. This, as well as lower pedals, helps the children balance better. He recommended pedals that measure 15 to 17 inches from the ground for children who ride 20-inch bikes, which are measured by the diameter of the front wheel.