Bike Review: Rifton Adaptive Trikes for Kids

When we arrived at the RIC (Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago) earlier this week for a physical therapy session for Little Ding, we noticed a new trike in the hallway. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about a couple of Freedom Concepts adaptive trikes they use at RIC. While the Rifton is a similar kind of trike, there are a few elements that make it stand out from the Freedom Concepts trikes, and it is a little less expensive as well.

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike

As part of his warm-up for his therapy session, Little Ding graciously assisted me in testing out the trike. He has his own bike, much different than these trikes, that he rides around the city with us, and he’s getting used to my fascination with all sorts of bikes.  Lucky for me he doesn’t seem to mind that he has become my go-to test rider for adaptive kids bikes.

This bike can be customized with a variety of accessories depending on the physical needs of the rider. Besides the straps you see here, there are a lot of options available for these trikes. There are a variety of seat-backs and saddles, as well as simple rear handles like this one for a companion to walk behind and push, or a full rear steering bar that allows someone to steer the wheels while walking behind for riders who can’t quite steer themselves.

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike -seat back

A common option is the ‘loop-style’ handlebars like the ones on this lime green bike. They are fully height and angle adjustable and the shape and padding make steering easier for kids with Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida or other disorders that make it difficult to grip standard bike handlebars.

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike with loop handlebars

One big difference between this trike and the Freedom Concept trikes is the low step-over. On the other trikes, there is no way that Little Ding could get on the bike without assistance – he could not lift his leg over the center bar.  On this trike however, it has a very low step-through platform. Low enough for a child like him to get his own leg over independently, and solid and flat enough to allow him to step onto it if need be.

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike - low stepover

Oddly enough, while the step-over makes this bike one that a child like Little Ding can climb on and ride independently, the foot-straps on the pedal , as well as the parking brake require the assistance of another person, meaning that he could not just get out and ride on this bike.

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike pedal stabilizer and foot-straps

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike pedal stabilizer and foot-straps

Along with the velcro foot-straps in this picture -which someone else had to adjust over his feet, note the cords on the pulleys – those are pedal stabilizers to keep the pedals flat. I do wonder about the thinking here. The straps require the assistance of another person, and to me, the stabilizer concept does not look very durable. The Rifton comes with a front-pulley system as well for children with extreme muscle tone issues that force their feet forward.  I understand the general idea – it’s more than just keeping the pedals flat, it’s a correction method for riders who have difficult controlling their muscles. However, the pulleys look like they would not hold up to the force I know kids exert on equipment – and special needs kids are just as hard on bikes, toys and furniture as any other kid, believe me!

Contrast this to the weighted exercise-bike-type pedals we have on Little Ding’s own bike. He can set the parking brake on his bike himself, then step up on the rear brackets and climb onto his bike without assistance, and slide his feet into the foot-straps all on his own. He takes off the parking brake and rides off.

Exercise-bike pedals weighted to stay flat

This particular Rifton trike does not have a hand brake – one comes standard on the larger version of the bike if you have the standard handlebars. It can also be ordered as an add on.  All the bikes come with a standard parking brake on the rear wheels – though it cannot be engaged by the rider.

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike parking brake

Rifton R120 Adaptive Trike parking brake

Overall,  I prefer the look and shape of the Rifton trike to that of the Freedom Concepts trikes.  However there is one big downside to the Rifton though:   it sports what they call “BMX-style, puncture-proof’ tires meaning the tires are tubeless and filled with polyurethane foam – no inflation. The Freedom Concepts trikes have standard inflatable tires.  Think about standard non-inflatable stroller tires versus those on running strollers or bike trailers.  For us, we always preferred pneumatic tires for the uneven pavement we encounter on city sidewalks and parkways.   These solid tires may hold up better to riders who may ride over sharp objects, but these tires also require a more even riding surface.  The turning radius on the Rifton wasn’t bad, and seemed a little more agile than the other bikes.  Little Ding rode this bike up and down the hallway and executed some lovely sharp turns w/o assistance or tipping.  The low gear-ratio helps to make pedaling easy and keeps the speed down too.

Rifton R120 Adaptive trike in motion

Rifton R120 Adaptive trike in motion

Obviously, trikes such as the Rifton R120, or the Freedom concept trikes are made for children with balance problems or those with more involved cases of cerebral palsy, spina bifida, downs syndrome, head injury, muscular dystrophy, and autism. While Little Ding does have more than a moderate case of Cerebral Palsy, and cannot ride a standard bike without some adaptations, these trikes have more adaptations that he needs at this point in his life. There are so many different kinds of adaptive bikes out there that you really need to do your research to find the bike that works best for your child. Test rides are even better if you can find a bike to try out. You can find out more information about this Rifton trike here on their products page. These bikes, like many adaptive bikes are not cheap and start around $1000 and can cost as much as $2000.

For a list of and links to other types of adaptive bikes, please take a look at the Adaptive Bikes page on my site. If you’re an adaptive bike manufacturer or retailer and you’re not on my list, please drop me a note and let me know about your bikes.  If you’re interested in sponsoring or attending a family bike ride/event this summer let me know that as well. I’m hoping to pull together some folks to host a family bike riding event that would include a short ride for kids of all abilities as well as offer test rides on a variety of adaptive bikes.

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  • Biking Bis

    Good review on this Rifton. My daughter used one similar to this for years at school and enjoyed the heck out of it.

    You called it right on the pedal stabilizer. Those cables break (actually it looks like this one uses a string, maybe it has already been replaced). It doesn’t pose a problem when the user is strapped into the pedals. The problem arises when pushing the trike around without a rider as the pedals slap the floor because they’re fixed to the revolution of the rear wheels.

    Those solid tires really didn’t cause an issue for my daughter, considering the speed she’d ride. They were even OK on packed gravel.

    • Samantha

      Thanks for the info. Yep, I can see where the pedal stabilizers would be problematic w/o a rider. That’s good to hear that you didn’t have a problem with those solid tires. It probably does come down to the rider, the speed the rider can generate and where they go. The fact that your daughter was able to ride over packed gravel is great! That can be a real challenge for any young rider.

  • ladybug

    ooh great post. I love both the test trike and Little Ding’s cool brake and pedal set up. Is it easy to adapt a bike like Little Ding’s with the brake and pedals?? Where do you get the parts? Keep us posted on the family ride- we want to come too! J.

    • Samantha

      It’s not too hard to adapt a bike in the way we did, though we got help from the folks out at The Bike Rack in St. Charles. Along with a full selection of Trek and Gary Fisher bikes for about anyone in the family, they also specialize in and sell many of the adaptive bikes listed on my adaptive bikes page through their store, or via the Creative Mobility organization. The pedals on Little Ding’s bike are weighted, flat exercise-bike pedals. They just switched out the regular pedals, so I’m sure that anyone with the right tools could do so as well. We added a slightly larger seat too. The bracket for the extra wheels on the back was custom made however, by a fabricator that is located next door to The Bike Rack – obviously they’ve done it before. We will definitely keep you in the loop for the family bike ride. We still need to try to meet up for our own little ride too!