I recently noticed a request on the CTC forum for a volunteer to cycle on a tandem with a visually impaired cyclist. I put my details forward and was contacted and arranged to meet him.
A few weeks ago I made my way out to meet him and we went for a walk with his guide dog to the Lickey Hills. I got to see for the first time a blind dog playing up his owner which was fairly funny, it was a nice walk and a good day for a breakfast!
We arranged to meet a few weeks later, unfortunately I have been suffering a very nasty bout of Manflu which being quite deadly required antibiotics and a lay of cycling as my chest was full of it.
Today was the first day I really felt up to cycling and my chest was sufficiently clear, so we met up at about 9:30. I took his tandem for a quick tootle, the steering felt very alien and the gears were the bar end type non indexed so it was a real learning experience. A quick set up of the bike for me adjusting the seat height etc.. it is a beautiful looking bike 531 tubing and maintained to perfection!
I came back and picked my host up and we set off, we had agreed to travel to Kings Heath to meet a friend of mine for a quick coffee and then travel back. The first road out from his house turns right into a very steep hill, it was a cold morning wet and there was a lot of mud on the road.
No sooner had I turned but the bike began to go, I couldn't recover and the handlebars felt like I was holding onto two unruly snakes. We had slipped on the mud and caught a bump, we fell sideways and I came down with a fair old thud, my host seemed unhurt. I on the otherhand had given both my knee and elbow a good whack, I have learned from experience unless you have actually damaged something internal, getting back on and cycling is often the best way to ease things up.
I was half expecting my host to call a halt to the experience as it must take an immense amount of trust, he could not have been very impressed with my cycling prowess. To my surprise we were back on quickly my host before me (I should note he is 70+). We set off towards my friends and a free coffee!
It was let's say an experience, at first it felt like I was totally out of tune with the bike and it seemed my host and I were totally out of tune in terms of setting up a sympathetic vibration which felt like a permanent wobble from behind which left me fighting the steering.
The bike felt like I had a hugely overloaded set of rear panniers on the back and I was acutely aware of the lack of response compared to my own trusty steed. Not one to give in I persevered and by one way or another we arrived in one piece.
When we stopped we had agreed to count 123 and push off together the starts were extreemely wobbly however they began to improved when I realised the source of the problem was me, as I pushed off I was immediately hesitating as I waited for my host to kick in, this was a mistake and sent us into a wobbly start each time. Once I figured this out our starts became more smooth.
Braking was interesting I have become used to disc brakes and rim brakes take more energy and that coupled with the drop handlebars which I hadn't used in a long time meant my hands tired quickly and i had some numbness issues which were more from my death grip than uncomfort.
We stopped at my friend Martins where we had a free coffee but he was in a hurry, it was boomerang weather and he was itching to get out, he makes and flies his own boomerangs in competition. My host was amazingly calm as Martin whizzed very light boomerangs around the room and behind him whilst we talked... an experience in itself. My host asked what the clapping was and Martin explained that was him catching the boomerang he was whizzing round the room... my host never even raised an eyebrow!!! Martin explained they were very light almost paper thin and would not be able to hurt, he calls them Roomerangs.
The journey back improved slightly and there were moments when the bike felt smooth and my confidence increased. I asked my host if he wanted to go out again, I was listening to his voice for hesitance but there was none and we have agreed to go out together next week on a longer run.
This is going to be a work in progress I am learning again and it is an entirely new skill set, I will have to become more intune with my host and vica versa. I am hoping this will be the start of a new friendship and a different aspect to my cycling.
My overall feeling was one of admiration for my host and a feeling of privelage that he had trusted me and given me an opportunity to experience something quite different!