A young boy carefully places his feet on the platform pedals, tightens his grip on the handlebars and pushes off. The pedals go round and round. The boy grimaces in concentration. His assigned volunteer meanwhile prepares to loosen her grip on the pushing bar to let him go off on his own. For the very first time in his life, the boy is riding a bicycle by himself and without special gear. The surrounding volunteers clap and cheer.
The local camp welcomes 40 campers and teaches them to ride a conventional two-wheel bicycle and become lifelong independent riders in just five 75-minute sessions.
Nationally, the program organizes 80 camps per year and has a success rate of 85 percent.
“It’s phenomenal. It’s like watching a miracle,” said Konnie Drews, Director of Can Bike Seattle.
Drews, whose daughter has special needs, was introduced to Lose the Training Wheels three years ago.
“We are a cycling family, and I had this vision of family rides,” Drews, a Cascade member, recalled. She heard about the biking camps and travelled with her daughter to Portland, Oregon, for the nearest camp.
“She made more progress in one week than we had made in years,” Drews stated. “When we came back, I thought we needed one here because Seattle is such a biking community.”
The energy and the ‘can do’ attitude at the camp is contagious.
While the majority of the campers are children, there is no age limit on who qualifies for the camp as the skill they learn is life-changing at any age.“Parents are so excited about the difference it makes for their families,” Drews said. “They didn’t think it was possible.”
“Learning to ride a conventional bike builds their self-confidence and gives them a chance to be included as they can go on bike rides with their peers and family. It also gives them transportation as some of them may never drive a car,” explained Drews.
The camp’s astonishing success rate is in part due to the use of “rollerbikes”.
From the start of the camp’s first session, campers are put on two-wheel roller bikes, which have a tapered “roller” instead of a rear wheel. The rollers have a
“The bikes do a lot of the training,” Drews said. The rest of the training is in the hands of instructors and an incredible community of volunteers.wide middle surface for stabilization while the tapered edges teaches riders how to balance and lean into corner. The rollers get narrower as the student’s ability improves, and by end of the week, the student transitions to a regular bike.
It takes 60 volunteers a day to host the Can Bike Seattle camp at Magnuson Park’s Hangar 30. Drews said she was grateful for those who replied to a call for volunteers in the June and July Courier.
Among the volunteers were Rori and Andrea Hadley.
Andrea has autism and Tourette Syndrome, and prior to last summer’s camp, she had never ridden a normal bicycle before.
After successfully completed the camp, Andrea went on to compete in the Washington State Special Olympics this past June, winning silver medals in the 1k, 5k and 10k bike races. In July, she joined her family on a 26-mile bike ride.
“I really didn’t think she would have the attention to learn how to ride,” recalled mother Rori. “We are very proud.”
“This program has had such an impact on our family that we wanted to come and give back,” Rori continued.
The Hadleys are an active cycling family. Andrea’s brother Kyle and father Brent are both Cascade members and CTS ride leaders.
“Biking is a great family activity that we can now all do together despite her disabilities,” Rori said.