What exactly is visually impaired cycling?
For people with a visual impairment or who are blind, cycling is an opportunity to continue exercising in an extremely fun environment. By using a tandem (a two person bicycle), a front rider known as the pilot can take control in steering for those that can not see.
I first heard about visually impaired cycling when seeing the Gloucestershire visually impaired cycling club, Tandemonium!. I spoke with Megan from the club who described it as:
a recently formed group to provide visually impaired people in Gloucestershire with the opportunity to get out on tandems. Sighted pilots will ride on the front of the tandems and in this way we hope to create new friendships and freedom for those without enough sight to ride a standard bike.
What is a tandem and how does it work for visually impaired cyclists?
A tandem is a bike that is designed for more than one person. This makes it ideal for visually impaired cyclists.
The tandem goes back to the late 1800s and are used today by all sorts of cyclists including elite competitors at the Paralympics.
Take a look below to see what a tandem bike looks like in action on a velodrome:
In tandem riding you have a pilot on the front that steers and guides, whilst the stoker (on the back) assists with the pedalling.
It requires some synchronisation and good communication to begin with, but Megan from Tandemonium told us:
It’s amazing how quickly you get used to the feel of tandem riding and it’s great fun, we promise you.
What are the benefits of visually impaired cycling?
The benefits for cyclists who are blind or have a visual impairment are very similar to every cyclist.
Exercise on a tandem can be intense or steady, making it appropriate for beginners or advanced cyclists.
And with exercise comes a big list of benefits including:
- the effects it has on strength and weight management. One of the main reasons people exercise is to burn off the excess cake and as every cyclist knows; eating lots of cake is completely fine if you cycle…
- improvement of confidence and independence. Vision Aware makes reference to the concern that as you lose sight, you lose confidence and perceived independence. Visually impaired cycling can help bring that back.
- increased positivity and a reduction in anxiety and stress. A study by van der Aa et al in 2015 showed that anxiety in visually impaired adults was higher than their normally sighted peers. Tandem cycling can help anxiety and social phobias.
Getting started as a visually impaired or blind cyclist
To begin tandem cycling you’ll want to find your nearest club or group. This will make it easier to get into.
There are a number of organisations and groups for you to check out, and of course if you are Gloucestershire based then go say hi to Tandemonium!.
Check out these guys as starting points:
- British Cycling
- Wheels for Wellbeing (London based)
- Charlotte’s Tandems
- Google your nearest visually impaired cycling club.
Nervous about starting? When asked about complete visually impaired cycling beginners, Megan said:
there’s no pressure to do anything. We will ensure that all our sighted pilots have training to ride with a visually impaired person and that they feel comfortable with this before having a go. We want to make sure that no-one’s thrown in at the deep end.
By finding your nearest club or even a pilot to rent a tandem with, you can get started and give it a go.
With a lot of benefits and overwhelmingly positive testimonials, visually impaired cycling is a sport you should get started with as soon as possible!
If you’re local to Gloucestershire, you can support Tandemonium’s fundraising efforts and get in touch with them by visiting their homepage.
Extra tips for visually impaired or blind cyclists
There are a few extra things I’d like to cover if you’re looking to start. These may not be essential if you go direct to a club, but might be worth noting.
Firstly, choosing a bike size.
It’s important to choose a tandem that fits both the pilot and stoker to improve comfortability and safety on your ride. Community groups or bike shops can help you with this.
Good communication makes a difference. Having a pilot that knows how to communicate effectively will increase safety and enjoyment. They should be communicating gear and terrain changes. Furthermore discuss a system of communication before you set off!
Lastly, find someone with similar goals.
Finding a pilot that has similar fitness levels and aims in their tandem cycling can help make it a long term hobby and build a strong connection for effective tandem cycling.
Have I missed anything?
If you have something to add to this guide please comment below or get in touch.
We are happy to add to Cyced guides if we feel there is something that can benefit readers.