GetOutside Champion Jude loves riding tandems and regularly takes out visually impaired riders. Discover her top tips for getting started.
I was initially introduced to the world of tandem cycling when I was planning a birthday ride from London to Brighton with my friends. My sister wanted to come, but as she wasn’t a very confident cyclist I bought the cheapest available tandem with a view to sell it on afterwards. We enjoyed training and riding it so much; I just couldn’t part with it and used it as much as I could. I’d give people lifts and my sister and I even picked up our mum’s Christmas tree on it. Word spread that I owned a tandem and I was introduced to a visually impaired cyclist who needed a pilot (the front rider). Since then I have taken part in many charity rides and have trained with lots of different blind and visually impaired stokers (the person on the back).
Here are some tips if you are thinking of trying tandem cycling.
Get a feel for it first
Regardless of who you have on the back, always ride the bike on your own for a bit to get a feel for it. The weight and length will be different to a standard bike so you might have to adjust your style slightly. Do the usual checks. Try turning corners, practise breaking and changing gears.
Understand the bike
Make sure the stoker understands the bike and knows how everything works. If you are piloting with a visually impaired stoker, let them feel the bike, and tell them what and where everything is so they get to know and understand the bike.
The maiden voyage
The first time you cycle together should be somewhere quiet and traffic free like a park that allows cycling or an empty car-park so you can hear each other and not have to negotiate traffic. Listen out for each other; if it’s windy or noisy it can be hard to hear.
The hardest part is starting so take some time to practise that. I always say “Ready? 1.2.3 ” Some prefer the stoker to be all ready with their feet on the pedals before they start off, other prefer to start off together. Let the pilot lead, don’t try and pedal if they are not.
Some stokers like to be warned about gear changes so make sure you have that discussion. Every partnership is different. It’s a partnership of trust that you build on the more you ride together.
The uphill struggle
When going up hills, I’m really glad of the extra power from my stoker. If your stoker is visually impaired, tell them when hills are coming and what kind of hill it is so they can prepare. Try and get into a rhythm and If you have enough breath to speak, it’s good to say when they are coming to an end.
Be seen and heard
Sometimes visually impaired stokers wear a high vis vest that says ‘Blind Cyclist’. I find people tend to give us more space and we get lots of people asking us questions saying they know someone who is blind that would like to try cycling which is always nice to hear. We would love to have more people in our squad. Always be ready with a comeback for the ‘THEY’RE NOT PEDDLING ON THE BACK’ heckle that people hilariously like to shout. We had 16 people say it on recent London to Brighton ride.
Have a go
Places that hire bikes often have tandems that you can rent on an hourly basis. There are lots of tandem clubs and charities that offer trials so it’s worth finding out if there are any in your area.
Here are a few charities:
Charlotte’s Tandems lends tandems free of charge to people with disabilities or additional needs
If you are London based there is Wheels for Wellbeing who hold inclusive drop in cycling sessions for disabled people and their families where you can try out their bikes.
Metro Blind Sports arrange a number of different activities for visually impaired people including cycling.
As a side note, if anyone comes up with a solution for storing a tandem in London that doesn’t turn your corridor into an obstacle course and make you the least popular housemate, please let me know.