The Specialized Foundation uses cycling as a tool for children to achieve academic, health and social success. Through investments in primary scientific medical research and school-based cycling programs, our mission is to increase accessibility to cycling to aid youth in personal development and education.
In 2012, Specialized partnered with RTSG Neuroscience Consultants to investigate how aerobic exercise, specifically cycling, could become an important part of a comprehensive therapy program for kids with ADHD. The initial study measured the effects of cycling on the attention capacity of 47 students, aged 11 to 14, from two Massachusetts middle schools.
Over a one-month period, all of the participants rode outdoors for 30 minutes, five days-per-week, before school. The project examined cognitive, emotional, and social changes, as well as balance and physical changes before, during, and after the program. The results were awesome. They showed that after kids with ADHD started riding, the experience positively altered brain activity towards more "normal" brain patterns, increased attention span, boosted mood, and of course, improved fitness and BMI. Even better, it only took one ride to start seeing results!
Inspired by the promising results from the pilot program, Mike Sinyard, Founder and CEO of Specialized Bicycle Components, created the Specialized Foundation in 2014. Today, the Specialized Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that promotes cycling as a tool for children to achieve academic, health, and social success.
The Specialized Foundation aims to increase accessibility to cycling through both fun and sustainable school cycling programs. And through these programs, along with primary scientific research, we hope to advance the understanding of how cycling can help improve the social, emotional, and physical wellbeing of children, with a particular focus on those with learning differences like ADHD.
Watch the video belown to hear directly from one of the program participants about how cycling helped him do better in school.
Specialized Founder and CEO, Mike Sinyard, has long dealt with the effects of ADHD in his own life. The inability to stay focused and being easily distracted were something he had grown to just accept as “normal.” Yet, he noticed that those symptoms seemed to dissipate after returning from a ride. Mike also saw the positive benefits that riding has had on his son, Anthony, who also suffered from ADHD. So when the Bicycling Magazine article “Riding Is my Ritalin” came across his desk, he decided that it was time to explore whether or not there really was science behind riding’s impact on the brain.
As a company of passionate riders, we intuitively recognize the benefits of exercise and cycling on our own abilities to focus, but we were astounded by the results of the RTSG study as a potential new symptom management tool for children and their families to consider. As someone who is personally affected by ADHD, and as a parent of a child diagnosed with ADHD, I hope this research provides new hope for children and their families managing attention deficit disorders, and that it serves as a catalyst for prioritizing physical education in our schools.
Why cycling and not other sports?
Bike riding is easy for any kid to pick up, regardless of their fitness level. This means that students are more able to be engaged, especially since there isn't any sitting on the sidelines. It's also one of the few forms of exercise that virtually any student can participate in, while also achieving the level of cardiovascular fitness that researchers believe is needed to positively influence brain function.
More so, cycling is relatively easy to learn, and it can quickly build up confidence in kids while giving them a sense of accomplishment. Taking care of the bike also instills a sense of responsibility, and being able to explore the neighborhood around school promotes both a sense of freedom and independence. Cycling also builds lasting relationships between riders. A group develops camaraderie between fellow classmates and teachers, and this improves the dynamic of student-to-student and student-to-teacher relationships. And of course, cycling is fun!
Why is The Foundation focused on ADHD? Wouldn’t all kids benefit from cycling, especially those with anxiety, depression, or obesity?
Yes, all kids would benefit from cycling! We believe it has positive benefits far beyond what we currently understand, and we hope that our primary scientific research will lend itself to a broader discussion around how activities, like cycling, can help with all types of health-related issues. We believe that cycling can positively affect student learning, health, and wellbeing—with a particular focus for those with learning differences such as ADHD.
At the moment, ADHD is at the heart of the Specialized Foundation, as it was inspired by Mike Sinyard's own struggle with ADHD and his passion to improve the lives of kids with ADHD.
What role do medications, like Ritalin, play in treating ADHD?
We're in favor of exploring all treatment options for kids struggling with ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms, and we believe the best approach to treating symptoms is to look at the whole child. Cycling may be part of a comprehensive treatment program, or may be prescribed as the sole therapy. Physicians and families have observed the benefits that physical activities can have for some children with ADHD, but the formal research to explain those benefits are lacking at the moment. Our hope is to one day understand how each individual is affected by genetics, the environment, and other factors, as well as how treatments like exercise make a difference from one person to the next.
What is the age range for the cycling program and why?
Our research and curriculum is primarily focused on middle school kids, ages 11 to 14. There are many reasons for why we chose this age range. Middle school is the period when academics start to become really important, and students are expected to keep focused more than they were required in primary school. Middle school age is also manageable for teachers to take kids riding off campus.
We hope that by making cycling a normal part of their day in school, it'll encourage more of them to maintain the habit. We expect that kids of all ages will benefit from cycling, but our research findings will only address kids in middle school.
How is the Foundation going to advance the research?
Right now, there's a gap in the scientific community around ADHD and treatment options. In 2012, we partnered with RTSG Neuroscientists to conduct a study at two schools in Natick, MA. The team hoped to understand what, if any, impact cycling had on students with ADHD, and the study indicated that cycling helped improve student attention, mood, and behavior. These results inspired us to take the study to look at how cycling during PE class might improve standardized test scores.
It was this study that inspired the Specialized Foundation to be formed, and through our partnership with Stanford Medical School, and other research institutes, we hope to narrow the gap in the scientific community and provide doctors and parents with insight into more treatment options for kids with ADHD.
To see the results of these studies, check out our infographic.
How can my school get involved?
Learn more about our school program, and how you can get involved: Riding for Focus School Program.