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Cycling When You Are Blind or Visually Impaired

By Bonnie Friend

When it comes to cycling with any kind of disability, there are a number of options that have been developed, and continue to be refined, to help everybody experience at least some of the joy and freedom that comes with being on a bike.

Vision loss has its own unique set of challenges, however, when it comes to cycling, and as a result there isn’t a perfect solution – the main issue being that the total independence of cycling alone remains somewhat elusive. Nonetheless, there are options that allow individuals with vision impairments to get out and experience all the other benefits of cycling – the fresh air, the exercise, the speed, and often the peace and quiet of some exceptional parts of the world.

Manasvi Baheti, 15, pictured with her father Kailash Baheti, 52, while riding a tandem cycle during cycling expedition from Manali to Khardung-La mountain pass in Jammu and Kashmir, India. Manasvi Baheti, 15, blind by birth rode a tandem with her father from Manali, a small town in Himachal Pradesh to the Khardung-La mountain pass in Jammu and Kashmir. The father-daughter duo completed their mission of covering the tough 500-km stretch in only nine days. She believes is the youngest visually impaired teenager to have gone on the Himalayas through tandem feels the expedition was a great learning experience for her. © Profimedia, Cover Asia Press

By far the most effective option is tandem cycling, and in the UK, for example, the National Cycle Network provides many routes that are ideal for tandem bikes, and provide a sociable and enjoyable opportunity to exercise and boost confidence, especially for those who have suffered vision loss and are returning to cycling. Particular routes that are recommended in the UK include National Route 1 through Fife in Scotland, National Route 33 through North Somerset, and National Route 62 in South Yorkshire.

The benefits of tandem cycling

The benefits of a tandem are obvious in that someone else can be the ‘pilot’, responsible for communicating what’s ahead and taking charge of the steering, while the cyclist with vision loss can take charge of much of the pedalling. It can take some getting used to, but with a little practice (and riding with someone you trust), you will quickly find a rhythm. Once used to it, you can exercise at an intense or steady pace, just like anyone else, and as with all exercise, it has a positive effect on weight and strength management, confidence, independence, and reduction in anxiety and stress.

Great Britain’s Steve Bate and Adam Duggleby win Bronze in the Men’s B Road Race.
2016 Rio Paralympic Games – 17 Sep 2016 © Profimedia, TEMP Rex Features

The gold standard of cycling

Tandem cycling is also the preferred method of cycling for anyone who is blind or vision-impaired when competing in the Paralympics. Steve Bate, for example, is the British cycling Paralympian who competed in the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016 and won two gold medals and a bronze alongside his pilot Adam Duggleby.

Getting started

Whether you are entirely new to cycling, or you are looking for a way to get back to cycling after vision loss, there are a number of groups and organisations who offer guided routes, support and a chance to meet some really lovely people as well.

© Wheels for Wellbeing

For example, British Cycling has Disability Hubs across the country to help anyone with any ability level to take part and improve their cycling abilities. Wheels for Wellbeing in London are a charitable organisation who help anyone with a disability, as well as their families, to get into cycling, and as the practice is fairly wide-reaching, our good friend Google will provide information on similar local support organisations as well.