Adaptive tricycles for children with physical and cognitive challenges can be hard to find and even harder to afford. The adaptive tricycle we built for our son helped us get his legs moving as he recovers from a stroke that exacerbated the physical difficulties caused by his genetic disorder.
We took an off-the-shelf tricycle (Ybike Evolve) and attached a seatbelt, heel cups (foot plates), and a handlebar, all for about $25 in parts (plus some things that were just lying around the house) and with no tools except a drill, a screwdriver, and a small wrench.
Step 1: Attaching Heel Cups (i.e. Foot Plates)
Foot plates are fiendishly expensive if you buy them online. Instead, we bought a pair of oversized Mary Janes (girl's shoes) that fit over our son's shoes and braces. Check the clearance rack at your local big box store. These were about $5.
We cut the toes off and attached (with staples) a little extra Velcro to the Velcro strap so that it would be long enough to still attach over his bulky shoes.
We then drilled holes in the shoes and the pedals, and used countersunk bolts and nuts to attach the shoes to the pedals (nuts go on the pedal side). The countersunk bolts lie flat in the Mary Jane, so they don't catch on his shoes. This (and the next step) is where you need the small wrench. The bolts we bought were a little too long (they would scrape on the ground), so we cut them, but you could get around this by getting the right length bolts at the start.
These keep the child's feet in place if they do not have the strength or muscle control to keep their feet on the pedals themselves.
NOTE: Your child will not be able to pull their feet out. Please consider if this is safe for your child.
Step 2: Seat With Seatbelt
The tricycle came with a flat bicycle seat (it's designed to convert to a balance bike), so we took two linoleum floor tiles and cut them to be about 6 inches high, wide enough to span the back of the tricycle seat, and rounded the top edges.
We then drilled three holes in the linoleum pieces and the back of the tricycle seat, and attached the linoleum, double thickness, to the back of the seat.
Next, we added foam pipe insulator around the top and front of the linoleum to make it a bit more cushy, and wrapped the whole foam/linoleum part with Coban(TM), which comes in many fun colors.
To add the seat belt, we used a 2 in x 30 in piece of stretchy Velcro strap (loop side), and added a 2 in x 4 in piece of adhesive Velcro (hook side) to one end of the strap.
We centered the Velcro strap on the back of the tricycle seat, and wrapped Coban(TM) vertically around the seat back to hold the seat belt in place. After months of daily use, the seat belt has not budged).
Step 3: Back-saver PVC Handle for Adult Control of Tricycle
To give an adult control of the steering and movement of the tricycle, we needed a handle that controlled the handlebars. A handle that attaches to the seat post is not good enough for a child that can not steer by himself.
Bring your tricycle in to the local hardware store (our local Home Depot has been fabulous), where the friendly store assistants will happily help you find PVC pipe pieces (90 degree elbows and straight pipes) that fit over the handlebars and wrap around to create a lawnmower-type handle. The handles that come on the Ybike Evolve have a series of flaring rubber disks on the outside (so kids hands don't slip off the handles). We found that a 2 1/4 inch 90 degree elbow with threading on the inside fits perfectly over our tricycle's handle ends, and the threading helps hold the PVC in place over the flaring rubber disks (the handle has never even come close to falling off).
Make sure the arms of the handle are long enough to be comfortable for the adult driving the tricycle. Our PVC handle is about 28 in long and 19 inches wide.
Our handle contains no glue, screws, or other fasteners. The PVC pieces just fit snugly together. If you plan to go off-roading or live in a hilly area, you may want to use some PVC cement to hold the PVC pieces together. However, we suggest that you do not permanently fasten the PVC to the tricycle handlebars, so that the PVC handle can be moved up and down (see video).
Step 4: Go for a Ride!
With your child safely secured into the tricycle, you can go for a walk/ride together. Because the child's feet are strapped in and the tricycle pedals are fixed, when the adult pushes the tricycle with the PVC handle, the child's legs and feet move with the motion of the pedal. Your child may or may not have the strength and coordination to pedal a tricycle alone, but this tricycle will pedal for them and give their legs the motion and the chance to develop their strength. Our son quickly worked up to going for an hour every day with no complaints.
This tricycle also helps the parents/caregivers to get outside and meet the neighbors. Having a physically disabled child can be isolating. In the past, people would be uncomfortable when they saw us out walking (visible physical challenges seem to make people avoid you). Now, when we are out with our child on this tricycle, we receive many, many comments, all of them positive.
We go for a tricycle ride every day. Since this tricycle serves as our son's mobility device, we bring it to the park, the mall, the farmer's market, the museum...wherever a stroller or wheelchair can go, this tricycle can go. It's also an easy way for grandparents and friends to get involved in our son's therapy and gives them a way to spend time with our son. Our son loves his tricycle and it seems to be helping him recover function in his weak side.
PLEASE NOTE: If your child has a physical therapist, It's always a good idea to have them evaluate the safety and appropriateness of any adaptive equipment that your child uses. Also, you are responsible for ensuring that your child is safe in any piece of equipment. If your child seems scared, unstable, or too floppy to ride the tricycle safely, don't push it. With the seat belt on and their feet strapped in, tipping over or letting the tricycle get out of control could be extremely dangerous for your child. You may want to have your child wear a helmet. Always consider your child's safety first! These instructions are provided for your information only and come with no warranties, express or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose.
Step 5: Bonus Step: Grandpa Basket
Grandpa added a basket to the back of the tricycle to carry miscellaneous items such as water bottles, snacks, wallets, garage door openers, keys, sunglasses, and emergency medications.
A simple wire basket (we found this one at the Container Store for $6) attached with three zip ties gave us a sturdy, versatile basket. It's high enough off the ground that we don't kick it when pushing the tricycle. Very handy. Thanks Grandpa!