There is a certain joy that many of us have in riding a bike, but for parents of special needs children riding a bike can often be difficult at best and at other times impossible. The Buddy Bike offers an interesting solution that allows parents to share the joy of cycling with their children.
Shelly Patterson, director of Marketing and Business Development at Buddy Bike tells about the company’s alternative tandem.
KineticShift: The Buddy Bike has been called the alternate tandem, but what did you find was typically wrong with the traditional tandem when it came to providing a way for parents to ride with children with special needs?
Shelley Patterson: We call the Buddy Bike the alternative tandem bicycle because we place the stoker in the front seat while the captain steers, shifts and brakes from the back seat. There isn’t anything “wrong” with a traditional tandem and a typical set up of a captain in the front seat and a stoker in the back seat; but for families with smaller kids or kids with special needs, having them ride in the back can be risky. Parents often risk crashing while turning around to check on their children and some special needs children may randomly jump off the bike in mid-ride. Special needs kids can benefit from receiving sensory input but they receive very little of that on a typical tandem when they only see the back of the front rider and have a limited view of their surroundings. On the Buddy Bike, parents feel more secure while their child is in front where they can see them and easily communicate with them. The kids feel more secure with their parents arms around them while they ride out in front where they can feel in control and they can observe their surroundings, receiving of sensory input visually and in the form of the wind on their faces.
KS: Does the Buddy Bike make it easier for parents to communicate with their children then, since they (the parent) doesn’t have to turn? And does this make is easier for the child to have a greater sense of freedom and control since their view isn’t blocked?
SP: Absolutely! The seats are closer together on the Buddy Bike, making communication very easy. Rather than turning to shout at their kids in the wind (which seems rather dysfunctional to me!), parents can calmly talk in the ear of their kids on the front seat. Parents can calmly give cycling instructions and help keep their child on task or they can practice verbal skills using terms such as “right turn” “left turn” “stop” etc or discussing what they see during their ride. The lower front seat allows both riders to safely enjoy the view (although the rear rider should always be able to see over the head of the front rider for safety) and it allows the front rider to feel a sense of control. I’ve seen many children ride the Buddy Bike and have observed the sense of freedom they experience along with the tears of joy in their parents’ eyes. Many of the kids aren’t able to express themselves with words but their smiles say it all!
KS: What models do you offer? Do you have bikes with a variety of gearing options based on the level of cycling that the users might enjoy?
SP:With the arrival of our new inventory in December 2012 (in time for the holidays), we will offer 4 bike models all with aluminum frames and based on the patented Buddy Bike design. Buddy Bike Sport with a Shimano Deore 27-speed hub is our most popular model. Sport is best suited for taller riders and avid cyclists who prefer more gear options. Other features include a suspension fork and disc brakes. Buddy Bike Sport Deluxe is a new model based on the same features of Buddy Bike Sport but will include the NuVinci N360 continuously variable planetary drivetrain. The NuVinci drivetrain is approximately equal to a 9-speed hub. It uses automotive technology and a ratio system that makes change changing “gears” as simple as changing the volume on a radio. This no-maintenance hub removes the concern of missing gears, cadence changes and lost chains, allowing parents to enjoy the ride with their child rather than worrying about technical distractions. We believe taller riders and riders who prefer simple technology will enjoy Buddy Bike Sport Deluxe. Buddy Bike Family is our basic bike model which includes a Shimano Inter 8-speed hub. This bike model is geared toward novice-riders with a smaller frame size than Buddy Bike Sport and an easy-to-use internal hub which can be shifted while standing still, pedaling or coasting. Our plan is to use this model to encourage more families to ride bikes, especially those families who may feel it isn’t a possibility. And finally, new for 2013, we will offer a limited number of Buddy Bike Adventure. This single-speed bike model will be available exclusively to bike rental shops and adaptive cycling programs. With this bike model we hope to be able to offer more locations where families can try and enjoy the Buddy Bike.
KS: Have you seen any cases where individuals – those children with special needs – have been able to advance to their own bikes after spending time on a Buddy Bike?
Yes, several families have told me that their child learned to ride a standard bicycle due to the time that they spent on the Buddy Bike and that it was beyond their wildest dreams. On the Buddy Bike, the front rider doesn’t need to have cycling skills to be able to ride; but the skills, such as coordination, balance and steering, can be learned on the Buddy Bike. It makes an excellent tool for teaching cycling skills, even to adults as the bike is safety-rated to support up to 380 pounds. Due to its benefits, many families have managed to obtain medical funds or other support to purchase the Buddy Bike as therapeutic equipment.
KS: And what is next for Buddy Bike? What might you have in store for riders?
SP: Future plans for Buddy Bike include offering transportation and storage solutions and accessories for the bike. We are testing a bike rack that will be the first suitable rack that we know of for the Buddy Bike. We may offer it to our customers before the year ends. We have discussed adding folding bike features for easier transportation and storage. We are seeking an electric bike conversion kit which could give parents a pedaling boost especially if the child is unable to provide assistance. Really long term plans include, being able to organize and promote more adaptive cycling events around the nation.
Thank you to Shelley for talking to us.