Tandem cycling offers cyclists freedom on two wheels

USA Cycling

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – “It’s as easy as riding a bike”, as the saying goes, referring to the ease learning how to ride on two wheels. For many, the phrase may not be given much thought.

However, for visually impaired or blind cyclists, the phrase is an integral part to getting back on a bike.

That’s according to Jacoby Yarbro, a blind cyclist who never believed he would get back on a bike when he lost his sight.

“When you lose your sight, you tend to want to focus on the things that you can’t do instead of the things that you can do,” said Yarbro, “Having these pilots, the folks that are up front, just teaches me that there are so many things out there than…” 

Yarbro was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 7-years-old. Through complications with diabetes, he developed glaucoma and kidney failure.

“After losing my sight, it never occurred to me that it [cycling] was possible…”  said Yarbro.

In 2016, Yarbro was introduced to Club Vibes. A Knoxville group focused on assisting visually impaired and blind young people.

Yarbro calls the group his “gateway” and credits the group for educating him on tandem cycling, which allows two cyclists to ride the same bike. The “pilot”, is a sight-seeing rider and sits in the front. The “stoker” is the visually impaired or blind rider and sits in the back.

Together the pilot and stoker communicate and navigate the bicycle, the stoker responsible for the horsepower and the pilot responsible for navigation.

“Tandem biking just opens up the world for someone who is visually impaired, because you don’t get to do the things that someone is sighted gets to do. Having a volunteer pilot to help you… it’s the world,” said Yarbro.

He’s been riding tandem bikes for three years but says there are still some aspects that make him more nervous than others, like going downhill.

Through Club Vibes, pilots volunteer for monthly rides so cyclists, like Yarbro, have the opportunity and the freedom to ride.

“Just giving back to these people. Club Vibes was very good to our son, though he wasn’t able to take part in this very long… he had a 6-month window… it’s a great organization to help people figure out there’s things out there they can be doing,” said John Switow, a pilot.

Switow’s son, Blake, was diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy, ALD, when he was 14-years-old. ALD is deadly genetic disease with symptoms that include blindness and deafness, seizures, loss of muscle control, and progressive dementia, according to The Stop ALD Foundation.

“He loved to ride bikes. He rode bikes and mountain bikes. He was really happy to get on a bike,” said Switow.

Since his son’s death, Switow still volunteers to be a pilot with Club Vibes, knowing the freedom tandem cycling offers visually impaired and blind riders.

His volunteerism, and others, allow riders like Yarbro to ride a bicycle freely again. Yarbro says he remembers what it’s like to ride a bike. He remembers what he learned as a child and says continuing to do so now, blind, is truly “as easy as riding a bike.”

“Even though you might have a disability that doesn’t keep you down. It just, you may have to do it a little differently, it opens up the whole world to possibilities. New possibilities,” said Yarbro.

What is Para-Cycling?

Paralympic cycling has nearly the same rules as the Olympic counterpart, but Paralympic cyclists can compete on different kinds of based depending on their classification. They include: bicycle, tricycle, hand cycle or tandem.

There are multiple classifications for male and female athletes based on two impairment groups: physical and visual. Using letters and numbers, athletes are classified based on the type of bicycle they use as well as their impairment.

Paralympic athletes are also required to complete a thorough doctor examination ahead of races, as part of the classification process.


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