Learning to Keep the Rubber Side Down with iCanBike

Christine Gill secures a helmet atop her son Nicholas’s head before he attempts his first outdoor ride on a two-wheel bike.

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“It was really fun having all the wind in my hair, getting all the sweat off, cooling down” said Nicholas Gill after dismounting from his first ride on a two-wheel bicycle. Before camp, Nicholas could only ride with training wheels.

“Three days later, and I feel like I got the hang of it. I just practiced a little more, and I was able to balance on the bike” he boasted.

Nicholas and 31 other children with intellectual disabilities are learning to ride bikes at the iCanBike summer camp at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center this week.

Organized locally by the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED) and supported nationally by the iCanShine, iCanBike Reno is a week-long camp in its sixth year.

Christine Gill, Nicholas’s mother, was in tears watching her son take his first laps on the two-wheeled bike.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing. It’s freedom for him, which will be so amazing,” she said. “To see him have so much confidence. He’s doing so well.”

A camper on his first laps on a two-wheel bike. Riders gain confidence on the indoor track before moving outside.

Success comes in different forms for different riders. Pete Bataillon, a bike mechanic with iCanShine, noted that “everyone is successful in some way. For some that may mean adapting to wearing a helmet for an entire session. For others, it’s riding independently outside.”

A special education teacher during the school year, Bataillon spends five weeks every summer wrenching at iCanBike camps across the country.

He and one other iCanShine staff member train volunteers in how to spot riders and coordinate rider promotions from various levels of assisted riding to independent rides on two-wheeled bikes.

Kids start the week riding bikes with specially designed rollers in place of the rear wheel. These rollers come in eight different sizes and provide progressive levels of assistance—or independence.

As a rider gains confidence with one size roller, camp staff will advance them to rollers that provide less and less assistance — until they’re ready to ride a two-wheeled bike.

Bataillon also listed several other adjustments he can make to bikes. At the end of camp, he can install spotting handles or special handlebars to help riders. He and other camp staff will advise on saddles, saddle height, and other bike setup issues that can help a rider continue to progress even after camp is over.

A camper mounts her two-wheeled bike for the first time.

Gill attributed part of her son Nicholas’s success to how camp staff set up his bike to better suit his abilities. “We had bought different bikes for him to try. But they’re not getting used because he couldn’t ride them. Finding the right style of bike with the right distance to the pedals was key,” she said.

She also credited the volunteers who had run along beside Nicholas all week, providing encouragement and course corrections. Milt Novak, a retired track coach, has volunteered with iCanBike Reno for 5 years.

“To me, it’s very important that kids, disabled or not, are active,” Novak explained.

“We need some more young legs,” Novak said of current volunteer needs, “because mine turned 70 a few months ago, and I just can’t keep up!”

The primary job of volunteers is to spot riders, which entails jogging alongside the bike and providing an occasional catch or directional nudge.

“I would love to see a high school sports team come out and volunteer,” Novak added.

Local organizers Diana Rovetti and Colette McKenzie encourage potential riders and volunteers interested in attending a 2020 camp to contact them now. Knowing in advance the level of interest helps them with planning, and it allows them to remind interested parties when it’s time to sign up.

The camp costs $149 per week, and scholarships are available. The minimum age is 8, and campers come for 75 minutes each day for a week. While most campers are children, the program is open to adults too.

The camp is sponsored by NCED, the City of Reno, and a number of private donations.

“We schedule 8 riders per session, and we can hold up to five sessions per day for a total of 40 riders,” Rovetti reported. Just over 30 campers registered for camps this year.

“80% of kids will ride a two-wheeled bike at the end of the week,” McKenzie said. But everyone is invited to return to camp in subsequent year.

“With some disabilities, the kids just don’t have the motor skills or the strength to ride independently after their first camp,” said McKenzie, but there’s always next year.

Information

If interested in being a camper or a volunteer in 2020, contact Diana Rovetti at [email protected], or call at 775-233-9547.

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Andrea Laue
About Andrea Laue 17 Articles
Andrea is a freelance photographer and mountain enthusiast. She discovered the Great Basin on her first trip to California 15 years ago and finally made the move to Reno in 2019. Her favorite stories investigate efforts to strike a balance between conservation and recreation. Andrea has made images for a variety of publications, websites, and conservation organizations. In her free time—and sometimes for work!—she enjoys rock climbing, backpacking, snowshoeing, and lazy days in camp with her husband.