Learning to Ride with Downs Syndrome

When you shop with us online, you can donate to Special Olympics Great Britain who have created a cycling programme for children with learning disabilities. So far we’ve received almost 30,000 donations from our customers.

We visited Crawley BMX track, where the first pilot sessions are taking place, to check out how they’re getting on, and meet the budding athletes and their parents.

The session was attended by Finley, Grace and Alice, who all have Downs Syndrome which affects cognitive development and often motor skills. Coordination is affected which makes riding a bike difficult, but studies have shown that participation in a programme of physical education can promote development.

l-r: Coach, Alan, Grace, Alice and Finley

The aim of the sessions is to get the children riding non-adapted bikes. As Michelle, Finley’s mum explained, “It makes a massive difference to ride a non-adapted bike for the children, it teaches them to steer and brake – which they can’t do on a tag-a-long – and to balance, which they don’t get on a trike or adapted bike.”

Also taking part and demonstrating skills was Callum, who has a visual impairment. He’s already done two sessions, and has already been able to pedal along on a non-adapted bike. His dad Phil was really impressed and noted that he’s gone “from pupil to coach in two weeks!” He said: “It’s been great for his confidence, learning to do something he couldn’t do before.”

The session began with the children on adapted bikes to warm them up (though it was quite a sunny day!) and get them used to steering and braking.

Finlay warming up before the push and glide tuition began

After that, they continued on from what they had learnt the previous week, using the ‘push and glide’ technique which Alice told me was her favourite part of the session. Taking the pedals off the bikes, and keeping the saddle low enough for the children to comfortably put their feet on the ground, coach Alan encouraged them to push off and then roll, taking both feet off the ground and concentrating on balancing during the glide.

Coach Alan demonstrating how to balance on the bike

All three children told me they enjoyed the non-adapted bikes over the adapted bikes, and their parents were excited to see their progress as they were confidently gliding and braking simultaneously after only two sessions.

The children practicing push and glide

Mum Sharon has two other boys, and told me she was excited to see Alice riding a bike. She said: “I just want her to enjoy the freedom you get from riding a bike. My two sons and myself and my husband like to ride, and it would be amazing if we could all go out together.”

Heather, mum to Alice, added: “She’s been practicing in the garden during the week and is really improving.”

All three mums had travelled almost an hour to get to the session in Crawley but all confirmed it was well and truly worth it for the confidence and joy their children got from it. In time, there will be more sessions, and coach Alan says that building up a group of volunteers was really important. The programme will progress to coach the riders to ride at organised events, and potentially to compete in the Special Olympics Great Britain National Cycling Competition if they wish.

Finley really enjoyed the bikes

Volunteer Bill helped at this session, and he’s received training to do so. Alan said: “Ideally people would have a background in cycling, or experience working with children with learning disabilities.” If you’re interested, you can get in touch by emailing Alan at Alan.Heaton@crawley.gov.uk. For more information on these sessions, check the Crawley Wheels for Wellbeing website.

We’ll be keeping you updated with the children as they progress. If you want to donate, just hit the ‘round up’ button when you get to the online checkout when shopping at EvansCycles.com, and you can find out more about how we support the programme here.



George Matthew 24/07/2017

I am currently working with children with Downs Syndrome to help them ride a conventional bike. I have tried the scooting and gliding without pedals to improve their balance, which also helps them to concentrate on steering and braking. A lot of the children have limited long range eye sight and poor core strength so they tend to look down when cycling. My aim is to help them ride a conventional bike with their siblings. Any tips would be very useful.Thanks George

    Shelagh Twomey-Moriarty 20/01/2018

    Hi George. I know a girl with down syndrome (aged17) who wants to learn how to ride a bike. Are you based in Belfast?

Laura 5/06/2018

Are you still active? My son is 11 and has Downs Syndrome, he currently has a balance bike, a Strider but he is quite slow with it and hasn’t got to the stage of push and glide. I would love to find a course or somewhere we could go where he could learn with an expert. Cornwall or Crawley? anywhere!


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