Cycling club introduces visually impaired youth to joys of two wheels


Cycling is a quintessential Vancouver activity that a new club wants to make more accessible for visually impaired youth. 

The “Buddy Up” weekly cycling club — an initiative of non-profit group Blind Beginnings — meets every Sunday morning for group tandem bike rides. 

Seerat Khurana is one of the cyclists and part of the youth leadership team at Blind Beginnings that helped secure funding for the program.

“Not being able to see very clearly, I think it really helps when you can feel a lot of the things, the sense of smell and the sense of hearing, you can really utilize all of those really well on a bike as opposed to a car,” she said.

Jessica Bilmer (left) and Seerat Khurana (right) pair up on a tandem bike. Khurana says she’d like to see perceptions change about the sports that visually impaired people can do. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Khurana is studying kinesiology and says the ride itself is not the biggest challenge for her and her friends when it comes to physical activities.

“I think that there’s this preconceived notion that we are not active enough just because we don’t see as well and that is something that I, and a lot of us, wanted to fight off,” she told CBC’s Margaret Gallagher.

Khurana paired up on a recent ride with Jessica Bilmer — Khurana on the back of the tandem bike as the “stoker” and Bilmer in the front as the “pilot.”

The group rode about seven kilometres to an ice cream shop and then back. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

“Riding a bike in Vancouver is a very popular activity and it’s something that when you are blind or partially sighted, it’s not safe to do really on your own so you really need a sighted person to ride in the front,”  said Shawn Marsolais, executive director and founder of Blind Beginnings.

Marsolais is also a former paralympian who used to compete in tandem cycling.

“I think it’s just an awesome sport to introduce kids to and hopefully this is something they are going to do for a really long time,” she said.

The group encountered a few mechanical issues along the way, like loose chains, sticky gears and noisy brakes. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

The group set off for a seven-kilometre ride to a gelato shop on the tandem bikes, which are on loan from B.C. Blind Sports.

Clement Chou says the best parts of the rides are the friendships that emerge out of coordinating and balancing the bike, pushing up hills and dealing with broken chains and squeaky brakes together.    

Clement Chou (left) and Justine Clift (right) at the gelato shop. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

“It’s fun because everybody kind of knows each other and, if you don’t, you bond really fast,” he said.

The rides set off every Sunday morning throughout the summer from Burnaby. The program is still looking for more volunteer pilots.

With files from Margaret Gallagher and The Early Edition.

Bicycling is a quintessential Vancouver activity and a new cycling club wants to make it more accessible for youth who are visually impaired. 7:19

Read more from CBC British Columbia





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