Thanks to tandem bikes, people who are blind or visually impaired can go cycling
Each Tuesday evening, for the past 10 years, from late March to early November Jean-Paul Dejaegher meets up with other cyclists for a sporty 40 km ride on tandem bicycles. ‘Each week, a pilot chooses the itinerary and we let them guide us.’
The pilots are the front riders on the eight tandem bikes owned by the association Cyclone A (the contraction of Cycle and Oeuvre Nationale des Aveugles). They are guides for the ‘stokers’ in the rear, Jean-Paul and other association members who are blind or sight impaired. ‘I joined the association because I love biker-riding but cannot do it all alone,’ explains the cyclist who is now the President of the ASBL founded in Schaerbeek.
The objective is to enable sight-disabled people to enjoy cyclotourism. In addition to the weekly rides mainly for the hardiest, the members get out of Brussels once a month for a long 60 km ride through the countryside.
‘The only advice I have for the sight impaired just starting out is simply to take up the challenge.’
Jean-Paul loves talking with his partner as they ride. ‘We have a lot to say to each other. You have to trust the pilot. He tells me what he is seeing.’ Jeanne-Françoise is one of the first to join the cycling team. ‘I always loved tandem bikes and started riding them when I was a child. The only advice I have for the sight impaired just starting out is simply to take up the challenge! You have to get over your fear. Our only constraint compared to a typical tandem is to anticipate. Since I don’t see the pilot’s feet, I always ask which foot to start on.’
Some volunteer cyclists who enjoy mechanics take care of maintenance for the tandems over the winter. Other volunteers bring the sight-disabled and blind cyclists to the meeting point. Michel was Jeanne-Françoise’s driver. ‘I really love tandems. Before joining Cyclone A, I rode tandems with my wife and daughter. When you manage get well synchronised, you can go just as fast as a typical one-person bike.’
Another pilot, Marc, joined Cyclone A after he saw the team pass by his house with fluo vests stamped with the association’s name. ‘I like the idea of riding with a sightless person and describing the landscape to them. These people can teach us so much.’
The association is always looking for new volunteers to pilot the tandems. Information can be found on their site: http://www.cyclone-a.be.
An article from Flavie Gauthier