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Empowering the visually impaired through tandem cycling in New York

Two people riding a tandem bicycle along a park-side road. The person in the front, smiling at the camera, is wearing a blue jacket with green sleeves, a helmet, and has a water bottle attached to the bike frame. The rider at the back, facing away from the camera, is in black attire with a green helmet and green backpack. The setting is urban, with trees in autumn colors, a black fence, and buildings in the background. There's a sense of motion and recreational activity in an urban environment.
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In the heart of New York City amidst the skyscrapers and bustling streets, lies a unique organization that is changing lives through the power of tandem cycling. InTandem Cycling, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, is dedicated to providing tandem cycling programs to individuals who are blind, have low vision, or face other disabilities that prevent them from riding independently.

Founded a decade ago by Artie Elefant who became blind as an adult,  InTandem has grown into an organization of empowerment and inclusivity. Artie sought a way to continue experiencing the thrill of biking, an exercise he loved. His son Matthew is proud of what the organization has accomplished thus far. “We’re celebrating our tenth year,’ he said, “and we’re thrilled about this. We have pedaled over 200,000 miles as a community!” Cyclists who are blind or vision impaired and their captains will often be seen in Central Park from which InTandem rides originate, but their reach extends far beyond Manhattan. Matthew elaborated, “Our cyclists pedal up over the George Washington Bridge out into all of the boroughs of New York City.” There is no fee associated with this. Cyclists are able to use the tandem bikes free of charge. 

The annual TD Five Boro Bike Tour is a highly anticipated fundraiser for InTandem. The event is organized by Bike New York and InTandem brings a sizable team of participants each year.  Stokers and captains will pedal 40 miles through the five New York boroughs showcasing the power of collaboration and communication, while highlighting the ‘can-do’ spirit of individuals with vision impairment. This incredible annual event brings the sport of tandem cycling to a larger audience and helps to transform the way people think of individuals with disabilities. Executive Director, Michael Anderson explained how their tandem cycling works, “A stoker is a person who has a visual impairment. They are the cyclist who rides in the back doing a lot of the pedaling and the sighted captain is upfront, providing safe and descriptive navigation.” 

In addition to their signature bike tour, InTandem hosts programs, including one for youths that promotes empathy, teamwork and communication among teenagers with and without visual impairments. High school and pre-college students learn about tandem biking while supported by their peers. “It breaks down barriers,” Michael said. “The individuals who are blind form friendships outside of their comfort zone and the sighted individuals learn to think differently about a person who is blind or has a disability.”

Another program is the annual InTandem Day of Service held in November through which the organization actively engages in community service. Michael explained, “It’s an opportunity for both our stokers and captains to address food insecurity in New York City. Everyone shows up with a bag of donated goods. We put them into our InTandem backpacks, get onto our bikes and ride to shelters together to make the donation. It’s a really wonderful, moving event and a way for our stokers to contribute to the community. We’re hoping to expand this initiative.”

Although there is no cost to use InTandem’s bicycles, there is a process to go through before one can leave their facility. With safety being InTandem’s number one priority, an intake form must be filled out then persons will be invited to a training session before being allowed to go out on the bikes. Sound, clear communication between the captain and stoker is one of the most important factors. Matthew explained, “Starting and stopping in unison is crucial. The captain will have to ask if the stoker is ready then will count down 3, 2, 1 and start pedaling. Stopping must also be carefully orchestrated as they have to safely and gradually break to a stop.”

Anderson highlighted the safety measures used in their tandem cycling programs. “We service the bikes every week to make sure they are ready to roll out of our trailer” he explained. The organization’s commitment to safety and quality ensures that cyclists have a rewarding and enjoyable experience on every ride.

InTandem is justifiably proud that their impact extends beyond cycling. They challenge societal perceptions of disabilities and promote a culture of inclusivity and ability. Elefant reiterated, “Our programs really helps to raise awareness and adjust society’s thinking from what individuals with disabilities can’t do to what they can do.”

As a non-profit organization, InTandem relies on donations and sponsorships to sustain their impactful work. Michael said, “We’re always looking for people to support us through donations. And for those who are local to New York, we want more stokers and captains to sign up.” 

Elefant encourages people to support their mission, saying, “We take pride in empowering our stokers, not only to ride a bike but we also provide opportunities for them to take on leadership roles such as the planning of our events.” He continued, “For people like my father who lose their vision later in life, so often the emphasis is on slowing down. But things like adaptive sports and tandem cycling allows them to not slow down, but to do something where there’s motion and speed. They can regain the enjoyment of doing an activity they thought they might not have been able to do again.”

If you’re inspired by InTandem’s mission and want to learn more or contribute, visit their website at intandembike.org

Join the movement and pedal together towards a more inclusive future.

Vision-impaired and others with disabiities visiting New York are invited to ride.

 
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