Tandem cycling has given me a new lease of life

Odette first started cycling when she was a young girl, living in the south of France. She remembers her first cycle fondly: a Peugeot-blue bicycle, a hand-me-down from her older brother, which she used to cycle to and from school. When she became visually impaired, however, Odette thought she was unlikely to ever cycle again – until, that is, she discovered tandem cycling.

After moving to and settling in London some years later, Odette rediscovered cycling when she attended an inclusive cycling session run by Wheels for Wellbeing, at Herne Hill Velodrome, in 2016. The session provided her with an opportunity to use a tandem for the first time and, following a spell of coaching with her husband at Merton Sports and Social Club, Odette was fully back cycling again. “The hardest part of tandem cycling for the first time was ‘letting go’”, she recalls, “but I soon realised that good communication is the key”. From this Odette was confident enough to go on her first tandem ride and, only a year later in 2017, took part in the Prudential RideLondon for the first time. Today she owns her own folding tandem, which she obtained courtesy of a ‘try before you buy’ scheme through Peddle My Wheels.

For Odette, who is now an experienced tandem cyclist, rediscovering cycling has benefited her in a number of ways. “One of the first things I noticed”, she reflects, “is that I realised I’d missed the sensation of speed. As soon as I started tandem cycling I got that rush back again”. As well as providing a regular means of exercise, Odette says that using a tandem has now meant she is able to travel more freely and independently. One consequence of this is that she has started to play tennis, as she is now easily able to cycle with her husband to the local tennis club. “Tandem cycling is also about being part of a team”, she says, “and it’s made me feel more a part of my family again – more included”.

Odette’s rediscovery of cycling has not been without its challenges however. Perhaps the biggest barrier to cycling she has faced (and an experience shared with other tandem cyclists) is in accessing the rail network. For Odette, like many who use a larger or wider cycle, attempting to board a train can be problematic. “It’s always a struggle getting the tandem on a train”, she says, “because train companies don’t accommodate anything that isn’t a standard two-wheeled bike”. Odette encountered particular problems when attempting to use the Eurostar recently: “I wasn’t allowed to take the tandem with me”, she says regretfully, “and instead had to source a tandem when we got over to France. It seems so unnecessary and perfectly avoidable; if only train companies had a policy permitting the storage of all cycle types”.

As well as improving rail accessibility for Disabled cyclists, Odette says she would like to see the Government do more to improve conditions for non-standard cycle users on country cycle tracks, and for local authorities to develop their own cycle network maps showing inclusive cycling routes.

Asked what advice she would give to other visually impaired people considering cycling, Odette says: “Firstly, keep with it – don’t give up. And second, it’s especially important in tandem riding that you do it with someone you trust – a partner or a friend – and who you can learn with at the same time”.

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