Blind bikers brave Negev
Disability fails to deter cyclists from three-day trek
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