Volunteers needed to tandem cycle with people with vision loss

Blind Sport Nova Scotia wants to see the number of volunteers for its tandem cycling club at least double.

People 'get hooked' once they join the bike club, Blind Sports Nova Scotia volunteer says

Blind Sports Nova Scotia is looking for volunteers to pilot tandem bikes so people with vision loss can have more opportunities to cycle in Halifax. (Jennie Bovard)

Stephanie Berry says she can only see the difference between light and dark.

So when she cycles, she soaks up the smells of flowers, trees and ocean, as well as the feel of the wind on her back and the curves of a trail.

Two years ago Berry, who is legally blind due to a degenerative eye condition, took her first bike ride in 20 years thanks to Blind Sports Nova Scotia's tandem bike club.

"We were moving so fast," she said. "That was one of the things that I remember that was so amazing about it, just being able to move so fast and feel so free."

Blind Sports Nova Scotia wants to give more people with vision loss a taste of that freedom. It's looking for new volunteers to pair up with people who have vision loss and pilot tandem bikes.

'Difficult' to find recreational activities 

Jennie Bovard, a volunteer with Blind Sports Nova Scotia, has co-ordinated the tandem bike club with her husband since 2012. 

She says the purpose of the club is to create opportunities for people with vision loss to be active outdoors. Bovard says though it's improving, it's still challenging for people with vision loss to find recreational opportunities in Halifax. 

"It's difficult to go and just play basketball with your buddies if you have vision loss. When it comes to biking though, it's something that's so easily adapted," said Bovard, who has a severe visual impairment. 

Volunteers 'get hooked'

Blind Sports Nova Scotia's tandem bike club has three tandem bikes for people to ride. 

It's 25 members includes five volunteer pilots who can be called upon for group rides. But Bovard says she'd like to see that number double, even triple. 

She says volunteer pilots should be competent, confident cyclists with strong verbal communication skills. 

"The more descriptive you are with your language, especially when biking, the better," she said, adding a volunteer should also be someone willing to learn and listen to the person with vision loss.

More volunteers, more opportunities

Bovard said a lot of people who love cycling have been apprehensive about volunteering and not always available when called upon.

"It's hard to get people on the weekends to come out and volunteer, but once they do it's just like the people with vision loss who ride on the back — they get hooked and they find that it's so much fun and its so rewarding."

Bovard said more volunteers would mean the tandem bike club could offer people with vision loss more opportunities to cycle on trails and around the city in Halifax.

How to sign up

Berry says co-ordinating starting and stopping with the person takes some getting used to, as do the turns and the size of the tandem bike.

"Once I did it a few times, I realized it's really not very hard. It's really quite easy," she said. "For the person who is doing the steering, the pilot, it's really no harder than them riding their bikes on their own."

Berry will be cycling Saturday, when Blind Sports Nova Scotia holds a group tandem bike ride at 10 a.m. at the Chain of Lakes Trail head off Joseph Howe Drive. 

Tandem bikes for group rides are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and this weekend the club's three tandem bikes are already booked. Family, friends, and people with their own tandem bikes are welcome to join in. 

To become a volunteer pilot or participate in recreational tandem biking, message the group on Facebook or email tandembikes@blindsportsnovascotia.ca.