Tandem Bicycling: Tips for Cyclists Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
According to many enthusiastic participants, tandem cycling can be highly social, immense fun, good exercise—and very fast! In addition to providing a great workout, the teamwork required by tandem cycling can strengthen friendship bonds and rapport between riders.
- In tandem cycling, better known as a “bicycle built for two,” a sighted rider (the “pilot”) sits at the front of the bike and communicates what’s ahead to the person with vision loss in the back seat (the “stoker”).
- You won’t have to steer, but your tandem partner would probably appreciate help with pedaling!
- Your tandem partner can also give you information about surface changes, obstacles, turns, upcoming hills (both uphill and downhill), and when to brake. You can also ask your cycling partner to describe the changing scenery.
- When first learning to use a tandem, it’s a good idea to practice on quiet, straight roads with minimal inclines.
- Always wear protective eyewear, a sturdy helmet, gloves, and appropriate knee and elbow protection.
- Many towns are now forming car-free bike trails. Check with your local municipality for locations and resources.
- Tandem cycling has become so popular that there are now professional sports groups and even touring companies devoted to the sport.
Scott Anderson, an avid legally blind skier and tandem rider, explains the camaraderie and sense of teamwork that tandem cycling provides:
“As my eyesight diminished, I switched over from piloting my own bike three years ago. On a recent bike ride, our group was made up of nine volunteers from Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation and we had a blast!
We started in Rangeley, Maine, and completed an 81-mile loop. My wife, Kristine, and two others volunteered to be the riders’ support crew. They used our van to set up water stops along the route for us, which turned out to be very much appreciated.
It was a very pleasant ride until mile 61 and then it turned into something comparable to Navy SEAL training: We rode almost completely uphill for the last 20 miles! Those last 20 miles made it a major accomplishment for everyone, I think.
I ride with my wife in the evenings and on my trainer set up in our living room on days when the weather is not so good. I also have a friend, Alissa Towle (pictured here with Scott), who is one of my blind ski guides during the winter months and an avid road biker.
It was an easy transition for Alissa to become the “Captain of the tandem” with her adaptive sports background. We have completed several rides together over the past three summers, including a two-day ride that covered 150 miles.
Along with Alissa’s husband Mike, who prefers drafting behind the tandem on his bike, we enjoy training and perfecting our abilities on the bicycle made for two. We’re hoping to complete a 100-mile ride (called a “century”) this summer.”
Tips for Effective Tandem Biking
- Selecting a bike frame that fits both the “pilot” and the “stoker” improves comfort and safety. Sales staff in bike shops can help you find the correct size frame.
- When selecting a bike, it is important to choose one that allows you to adjust seat height and handle bar positions. Many non-custom-made tandems have a smaller frame size for the stoker, since manufacturers traditionally presumed a woman would ride in back. However, some bike brands and models do provide more space in the back for taller riders.
- Having the gear shift levers mounted on the rear handle bars makes the stoker a more active participant in the ride. If you ride with more than one captain/pilot, you’ll be familiar with how changing the gears works on your bike, making for a smoother and more trouble-free ride.
- Also, most captains/pilots make decisions about which gear to be in without consulting the rider in the back seat. If the stoker controls the gears, it forces the team to communicate.
Finding a Captain
- It’s important to ride with someone who shares your endurance level and objectives for riding, in addition to someone who employs safe riding habits and has good communication skills.
- Consider joining a tandem biking club, or finding a tandem biking partner through an ad in newsletters of agencies for people with vision loss.
- The US Blind Tandem Cycling Connection is a free resource dedicated to matching interested blind participants with sighted tandem captains.
- It’s important to communicate about riding style. For example, how do you prefer to mount the bike, or start rolling? How do you know when to speed up? Or how do you know when to stop peddling and just coast?
- When you’re riding in tandem, you should work out an agreeable system with your partner. It usually takes a little while when riding with a new captain, but once you get used to each other, it’s easy and looks very graceful.
- If you’re a new rider, consider talking with other blind or low vision tandem riders to get tips, suggestions, and and maybe even some practice!
See Sports Groups and Recreation, Sports, & Leisure Products for tips, answers to frequently asked questions, and resources for sports and leisure equipment and activities.