Tandem cycling is the perfect sport for blind/vision impaired people. It’s a two to tango team sport where you get out and about, pedal as hard or as slow as you agree with your pilot, then you’re off to see the country, the world.
If you think it’s a matter of donning the high viz, the helmet and then saddle up, well there’s a little more to be aware of. Here’s our guide to what you must know. Instead of crawl, walk, run think about borrow, hire and buy. Think also of storage, maintenance and ….possibly the hardest of all: think about finding your compatible pilot.
Saddle up then, read on and enjoy the ride ….
Vision impaired people have been associated with tandem cycling in Ireland for more than 60 years. In 1950’s groups of tandem pilots/stokers cycled out from the National League of the Blind in Dublin’s Gardiner Place for leisure cycling. History repeated itself 30 years later and led to some cyclists competing in a prologue to the prologue Grand Finale of the Tour de France. By the late 1980’s the Blazing Saddles fundraising group was formed at the National Council for the Blind with significant publicity
Up to then just a handful of vision impaired people purchased their own tandems; most used loaned tandems. Since the mid-90s personal and group ownership has significantly increased but no stats are kept on who owns what, where. By 2004 competition tandem cycling entered the Paralympics culminating with gold medals for Katie George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal at Rio 2016.
Tandem Cycling is now one of the most popular activities for vision impaired people in Ireland.
If you’re vision impaired and wish to pursue tandem cycling as a leisure or competition activity, as rear seat stoker, you must be aware of the following:
- Tandems require a high level of mechanical maintenance. Just because they may look like a large bike with two wheels etc. doesn’t mean they are a bike. The mechanics differ significantly from standard bicycles. Maintenance is quite complicated.
- Tandems require significant storage space.
- Tandems are difficult to transport.
- Finding a compatible pilot is not easy. Piloting requires different skillsets to cycling a standard bike. Pilots are the eyes and must issue instructions relating to traffic, bumps, hills, turns as well at manoeuvre through such traffic and taking bends out wide.
- Ideally, stokers should try and source a tandem on a loan/hire basis with terms and conditions relating to ongoing repairs and maintenance. Ideally the stoker should join an established tandem group. If no such group exists in locality the stoker should try to engage with a cycling group or club.
- Hiring tandems should be short term (up to 1 year). At a certain point along the way the stoker may need to purchase a tandem (notwithstanding the challenges mentioned above). The tandem community in Ireland is relatively small so it should be possible to purchase second hand. If purchasing new there are a few established suppliers who will build according to requirements. You could pay as little as €1000 for a road worthy tandem for leisure to €4000 for a new beginner racer. Moving up the range and further down the line ParaCycling tandems at the top level are valued between €10,000 and €12,000.
- Many well- meaning individuals and organisations purchase tandems to encourage cycling among vision impaired people. History clearly shows that such purchases work if the above guidelines are strictly adhered to. Sadly, many stories circulate among the tandem community in Ireland where such individuals/group fails to adhere to the above pointers and the equipment ends up gathering rust.
- Vision Sports Ireland has a policy of not purchasing tandems. However, we are more than willing to support individuals and groups who positively approach this sport with the required knowledge and respect.
A tandem spin through lush countryside is one of the great experiences of life. Go enjoy but be aware.