This stood me in good stead, since although I had not cycled since my late teens, I was able to take cycling up again on my retirement - it was as if I had never stopped. I restarted cycling through a Lake District ride with the grandchildren. I enjoyed it so much, that on returning home, I bought a hybrid bike that took me on many excellent rides on and off road.
These eventually led me to the Tandem Trekkers, an independent cycling club formed to provide tandem riding for blind and visually impaired cyclists. Out of interest I went along to one of their training sessions on the Leeds Road Track in Huddersfield. I was greeted with: ‘We could do with another tandem from our lock-up down the road, can you get one?’ This I did despite never having ridden a tandem before. After arriving back at the track unscathed, I met up with the Stokers (the visually impaired riders) and the Pilots (the sighted volunteers.) I was very impressed by what I saw and heard and have been cycling with them ever since.
Tandem riding is completely different from solo riding because on the latter, the two riders must operate as a team. The background of the riders in experience and ability is very mixed, so tandem riding is a very good way of getting to know people and making friends. I am always very conscious of the way that all the riders care for and help each other. It is a very inclusive group.
Great care is taken for the health and safety of all participants and all activities are risk assessed. This is particularly necessary since the activity of aiding people to cycle who would otherwise not be able do to so, is a worthwhile risk in itself. I have found piloting extremely rewarding, seeing people who may never have ridden before, graduate from the safety of the enclosed track onto cycleways and then onto roads. People gain a great sense of achievement as they progress. For instance, one person managed to cycle just 100 yards on the track, next session 200 yards and the one after that she travelled all round the track and more. It is common for riders to express their delight at feeling the wind on their faces and in their hair. Their degree of enthusiasm is high.
The atmosphere is very friendly with a strong sense of comradery. Interestingly enough this has not declined during the Covid-19 lockdown. In some ways it has been strengthened through many varied Zoom activities including: cycle spin sessions, Pilates, baking, quizzes, book and poetry reading. Everyone is looking forward to cycling again together. Hopefully this will not be too long with the promised availability of vaccines.
It is quite clear that the provision of bicycles can engender much more than the ability to travel from A to B. Through owning a bicycle people can accomplish much more than without. Lives can be beneficially changed through life-enriching experiences and friendships. This too will lead to a greater feeling of accomplishment and increased fitness. Change Begins with a Bicycle is therefore is a very worthwhile project.
David Joyce Nov 2020