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Question: My son has muscular dystrophy and desperately wants to ride a bike but hasn’t got the strength to push the pedals all the way round, we have discovered he is better with a back rest and foot straps and has been on a special needs trike that was easier to pedal. Is this something that could be adapted into a standard bike or should we go down the trike route?

Answer: There are a number of factors that make a tricycle easier to pedal than a conventional bike with stabilizers, the key reasons are as follows:

  • A bike fitted with training wheels still wobbles when ridden, they are designed only for short term usage and this movement is intended to allow the rider to gain confidence before removal. The rider needs to be able to move on the saddle to counterbalance the movement of the bike and then gain the ability to balance when cycling. Balance can only be achieved when the bike reaches a jogging pace, any slower and the bike becomes unstable. A tricycle feels more stable and allows the rider to concentrate on pedaling and steering without having to balance, this makes it easier to get going on a trike.
  • Training wheels are fairly narrow and only provide modest enhancement to the stability of the bike, if a backrest is fitted this can become a leverage point meaning that the bike can be more easily capsized. A tricycle has a broader footprint and can therefore be fitted with supports without interfering with its stability.
  • A rider normally needs to be able to place their feet on the ground easily when riding a bike, this is important in gaining confidence. When the rider's feet are strapped to pedals this becomes impossible and the rider may become nervous when the bike wobbles. A tricycle is more stable and will not wobble when ridden meaning a rider will be more confident with their feet held in place on pedals.
  • The gearing on a conventional bike is normally higher than an adapted tricycle, this means the rider will have to use more power to turn the pedals, particularly when starting or climbing hills. Theraplay trikes are designed with a low gear ratio to make pedaling easier and smoother. If the gear ratio needs to be changed this can be done easily by switching the chain wheel on the trike; a higher gear ratio makes the trike go faster, a lower one means it will move more slowly, similar to gears on a car.
  • Fixed gearing is normally fitted to adapted tricycles, this means the rider can pedal forwards and backwards and can put power through the pedals all the way through the pedaling arc. Conventional bikes are normally fitted with a freewheel gear which can be more difficult to master.