Blind bik­ers brave Negev

Dis­abil­ity fails to de­ter cy­clists from three-day trek

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - FROM JOE CHAR­LAFF, JERUSALEM

AT 7AM ON a chill Jan­uary morn­ing, 40 Jerusalem cy­clists gather to em­bark on an three-day ad­ven­ture, bik­ing over the moun­tain­ous ter­rain through the Negev desert in south­ern Is­rael. In high spir­its, the ea­ger rid­ers load their bikes into a truck and pile into the bus tak­ing them to Kib­butz Yotvata, near Ei­lat.

This, how­ever, is a cy­cling club with a dif­fer­ence. It just so hap­pens that 20 of the in­trepid cy­clists are blind, and the bi­cy­cles loaded into a truck bound for the Negev are all built for two.

That means each blind per­son can be paired with a sighted part­ner, or pilot, rid­ing in front, in what has proved to be a highly suc­cess­ful com­bi­na­tion. The Negev out­ing is to cel­e­brate 10 years since the es­tab­lish­ment of Tan­dem Is­rael, a group of Jerusalem-based blind cy­clists, who ride once a month.

The driv­ing force be­hind the group is Orli Tal, a 45-year-old com­puter programmer whose blind­ness has not af­fected her en­thu­si­asm for cy­cling. At first, Et­garim (“Chal­lenges”) — a non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion help­ing dis­abled peo­ple to prac­tise out­door sport — pro­vided the group with bi­cy­cles.

Now, thanks to her tal­ents of per­sua­sion, many mem­bers have their own tan­dem bi­cy­cles, which cost up to NIS 25,000 shekels (£3,125), and she has also man­aged to re­cruit truck own­ers to vol­un­teer their ve­hi­cles to trans­port bi­cy­cles.

“I feel that th­ese rides en­able me to ex­pe­ri­ence a feel­ing of free­dom where I can feel na­ture around me,” says In­bal Dror, a com­puter programmer who lost her eye­sight in a road ac­ci­dent 15 years ago. Since join­ing Tan­dem she has not only made lots of friends but also met the man who is now her hus­band.

The three-day event is no easy ride. Each day, the paired cy­clists cover hours of rough moun­tain tracks on a variety of routes, be­fore re­turn­ing to the kib­butz for nightly bar­be­cues and much mer­ri­ment.

“It’s an amaz­ing group,” says Shachar So­lar, 35, an en­vi­ron­men­tal plan­ner and vet­eran Tan­dem pilot. “They lost their most im­por­tant sense and de­spite their hand­i­cap they are full of life and more ac­tive than many peo­ple I know. It has given me enor­mous per­spec­tive for life’s chal­lenges.”

Orli Tal (left) set up Tan­dem Is­rael to share her hobby with other en­thu­si­asts

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