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Kids learn confidence to ride bicycles on 2 wheels
Twisting the handlebars like an imaginary throttle, David Scott made puttering motorcycle noises as he careened like a speed racer on Tuesday on a modified bicycle.
The 11-year-old Gridley boy has Down syndrome, is nonverbal and eats with the aid of a feeding tube, but as he learns to ride a bike this week through the Lose the Training Wheels program, he is really in his own element, said his mother, Cindy Scott.
"It's amazing how they have this down to a science," she said. "This works because it's learning by doing."
The five-day camp held at River Valley High School aims to teach individuals with disabilities how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle. Forty people ages 8 to 21 are participating, with disability levels ranging from mild to severe.
The workshop starts riders on bicycles that have rubber rollers instead of back tires. The first roller is like a thick rolling pin, equal in diameter from end to end, but riders gradually upgrade to increasingly tapered tips that send them swerving and wobbling as they try to conquer the speed-balance combo.
Sarah Ranns said her daughter Piper, 9, is on the autism spectrum and is afraid of anything that can pose a threat, whether a knife on a kitchen table, a fire in a pit or the presence of a bicycle.
"Any amount of turning and potentially falling, that just freaked her out," she said.
But the family is moving from Plumas Lake to bicycle-loving Davis at the summer's end, and Ranns really wanted her daughter to be able to join in rides to town or cycling to school.
"It's pretty much just a capstone of growing up. It's a badge on your sash of childhood," Ranns said.
She eagerly awaits the moment this week when Piper rides on two wheels, knowing already the excitement it will bring.
"It's a lottery moment. It's like Christmas morning all over again," Ranns said.
On the second day, riders were already making noticeable progress. Volunteers ran to keep up, urging their riders to slow down, turn or look ahead.
Steering was Heidi Cheim's biggest obstacle, but she said she found balancing relatively easy. The 11-year-old Yuba City girl really wants to master two wheels.
"I like riding bikes and going real fast," she said. "I want to go on a ride with my family."
Her mother, Bettina Cheim, said Heidi is borderline autistic with balance issues, so it was rewarding to watch the girl's grin grow Tuesday as she celebrated her 20th continuous lap.
"Our whole goal is to be able to get her to ride a bike," Cheim said. "Just to see that smile on her face is awesome."
It was local businessman and longtime cyclist Brian Berg who brought the national Lose the Training Wheels program to Yuba City for the first time last year.
This area of Northern California had no programs for children with disabilities to learn how to ride a bicycle, and because his 10-year-old son Tommy has Down syndrome, he knew there was a need.
He solicited sponsorships and community volunteers and received overwhelming support.
Now in its second year, the program includes 16 participants from Yuba-Sutter and other parents make the daily drive from as far away as Sacramento, Grass Valley and Oakland for this opportunity to see their children free-wheeling for the first time.
Litiana Beaman watched as her daughter Taiti, 8, circled the gym, flanked by two jogging spotters. Taiti's autism creates a challenge with coordination and finding the right combination of momentum and balance, but her mother wanted her to ride, not just for family outings but her own independence.
"As much as you can be like the other kids, the better," she said.
Before they could ride two wheels solo, the youth take the handlebars of a modified tandem bicycle, with floor supervisor Kevin Crenshaw sitting in back to make steering and speed adjustments as needed. It's an easy way for volunteers to gauge the rider's ability, he said, and it often spurs extra confidence — and speed — when they return to the roller bikes.
"This gives them that wind in their face feeling," he said.
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at email@example.com or 749-4783.Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.