A good news story featuring cycling. Very welcome this week, especially and a really good one to remind us just how enjoyable and positive an activity cycling can be. I met a group of cyclists that reminded me again of some of the many reasons I love cycling.
I was responding to an email request for volunteers to learn how to pilot tandems to enable people with visual impairments to cycle. The email came from Abigail Tripp, who works for Wheels for Wellbeing, a charity which aims to help anyone “share in the joy and many benefits of cycling regardless of any physical, health, mental or psychological barriers they may experience”.
So, on Monday morning I headed down to Herne Hill Velodrome. It was a dull, cold wet day, but several people still turned up to have a go on whichever of the charity’s great range of cycles suited them best. There are hand cycles, recumbents, tricycles, tandems, wheelchair bikes, plenty to choose from.
In this situation I was the one needing training. I needed to learn how to pilot a tandem so that people with visual impairments could join in the activity. My tandem experience is limited but the staff were great and soon overcame my fear about riding up front. I soon realised it’s a partnership, not one person being in charge and total control. Communication is the key and I surprised myself by how quickly I improved, largely because I realised I could rely on the person behind much more than I had anticipated. I realised that I had prejudices about people with disabilities that I wasn’t really aware of before. Just because someone is visually impaired doesn’t mean they need “babysitting” on a bicycle. They can take the same responsibility for themselves in learning how to physically handle themselves on a bike in the “stoker” position, as a sighted person.
Then it was my turn to have a go on the back and try and experience what that is like for someone with a visual impairment. I am afraid I cheated and didn’t shut my eyes. Some of the other trainees were much better at this than me. I found it really difficult so used as I am to riding solo for so many years.
I enjoyed myself immensely and didn’t really feel like a volunteer. Just someone, out for a couple of hours enjoying myself on a bike, chatting and laughing about the experience, like everyone else there that day .
If you have some time to spare, Wheels for Wellbeing need volunteers at several venues where they run sessions, including Ladywell and Croydon Arenas, as well as the velodrome. Jobs include greeting people when they arrive, helping them to register, make the tea, hand out the biscuits, introducing them to a cycling instructor who then helps find the right cycle for them and cycling on a tandem or side by side with people. Also to help get the cycles out and put them away in the container or van. I would definitely recommend it. Check them out http://www.wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk/