Christopher Kleiber was clearly pleased with himself as he rode a bike around a Fairfax County school basketball court. He was being trailed by a pair of middle-school helpers who were having a hard time keeping up.
“It was easy,” Christopher, 9, said with a grin after riding a two-wheeler for the first time.
But his accomplishment was a surprise for his mom, Christine Kleiber, who watched from the bleachers. Christopher, who lives in Franconia, has a condition that makes hand-eye coordination difficult. He also has problems focusing on tasks. He had been riding a bike with training wheels for two years but hadn’t made the leap to a two-wheeler.
Christopher’s success was thanks to a program called Lose the Training Wheels, which teaches bike-riding skills to kids with disabilities. The Fairfax County Public Schools system is offering the free, five-day after-school program, which pairs 8- to 12-year-old riders with teams of middle-school helpers.
“Sometimes the kids go way too fast. [Teaching them] takes a lot of time and patience,” said Ryan Thompson, a sixth-grader at Glasgow Middle School, which hosted the program recently. Ryan had been chasing Christopher, who told his helpers he wanted to see sparks fly out from behind his bike.
By Day 4 of the program, he was one of three riders who had graduated to a two-wheeler.
The secret to the kids’ progress, organizers say, is special bikes, one of which is designed with a roller instead of a back wheel. John Reyes of Lose the Training Wheels was there to change the rollers as the kids progressed.
“Each roller decreases the amount of surface contact it has with the ground,” said Reyes. The rollers help to make the riders feel as though they are on a two-wheel bike, he said.
The riders then move to a real two-wheeler with a handle on the back, which the helpers can use to keep riders from tipping over.
But accident prevention wasn’t the only thing the 21 Glasgow volunteers had to learn.
“We want them to gain a better awareness of disabilities,” said Lose the Training Wheels’ Kevin Crenshaw, who worked with the middle-schoolers each day before the riders arrived. “We try to educate them on the power of words. It’s not autistic kids; it’s kids with autism.”
The helpers also had to encourage some kids to keep going for the 75-minute sessions.
“We had to think outside the box . . . use stickers,” said Tristen Dock, a Glasgow sixth-grader. “We had to motivate him as we were going.”
Christopher was one kid who didn’t seem to need any encouragement to keep riding. When asked where he would ride his bike after the program ended, he didn’t hesitate: “All across Virginia.”
For more information, go to www.losethetrainingwheels.org.