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Nonprofit pairs sighted riders with visually impaired riders on tandem bikes for free

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Jeff Lunden, who covers Broadway for NPR, is also an avid cyclist. A friend told him about a New York nonprofit that pairs sighted riders with blind and low-vision riders on tandem bikes for free, so Jeff decided to check it out.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Most weekends, when the weather is nice, I hop on my road bike and go for long rides - but lately, I've been riding around Central Park on tandem bikes with visually impaired people.

(SOUNDBITE OF RINGING BICYCLE BELL)

LUNDEN: We're going to go in three, two, one.

Some folks, like Maria Dimeglio, come as often as four times a week. Dimeglio has retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive disease which causes blindness. She had never ridden a bike when, about nine years ago, a friend suggested InTandem.

MARIA DIMEGLIO: I was scared, and I had someone talk to me, and I had someone give me some instruction. Did my loop. I was happy, and then I came back and I got the bug.

LUNDEN: Now she's a board member.

DIMEGLIO: It's more than just riding a bike. It's more than just exercise. It is socialization. It is good for your mental health. It's teamwork. It's working together.

LUNDEN: And it's not easy. You can't just pick up a tandem bike and start riding. You need to go through an extensive training process. A tandem bike is bigger and heavier than a regular bike, with a wider turning radius - kind of like the difference between driving a sports car versus a station wagon. Stopping and starting is especially difficult, and both riders really need to be in sync, which is not easy. For my training, I was paired up with Kate Perkins, another sighted rider.

Oh, jeez (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Inaudible).

LUNDEN: No, no, it was kind of a hard stop.

Perkins and I joked it was a little like learning to ride a bike again. When you're on the front of the bike, you realize the tremendous responsibility you have for the safety of the person on the back. Central Park can be like a slalom course. You have to be hyper vigilant, watching for people cutting across the road, other bikes, pedicabs, horse-drawn carriages, stop lights, and you need to communicate everything with the other rider.

We're hitting a red light again. You need to be careful. I'm hitting the brakes. We're coasting. There's a dog. I don't want to run into the dog.

We got through training without any mishaps, and a few weeks later, I did my first official ride with Wendy Blauman, a small, athletic woman who's got very limited vision. We had a great ride.

WENDY BLAUMAN: I love being in the park. I love being active. I get to meet lots of people doing this. I get some great friends and get to explore the city and some other places, too, on the bike.

LUNDEN: Blauman's ridden the Five Boro Bike Tour and done a couple of 100-mile rides. We returned our bike to Anjela Capanpangan, who's volunteered with InTandem since 2017.

ANJELA CAPANPANGAN: You know, initially, you come in hoping that you're helping people that has disabilities, but once you ride with them, you totally forget that somehow, they have disabilities, and they're just a friend you're riding with.

LUNDEN: And in just a short time, I feel like I've already made some new friends to go on rides with.

(SOUNDBITE OF RINGING BICYCLE BELL)

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND NOMADEN'S "MOMENTS (RADIO - EDIT)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.