Bury Tandem Club for the Visually Impaired is gearing up for a big year.
Members of the sports club are planning to cycle from Manchester Velodrome to Glasgow Velodrome prior to the start of the Commonwealth Games in July, and are also looking to organise a celebration event to mark its 30th anniversary in October.
The club, which is based on Queen Street, has previously taken part in similar riding challenges, including cycling from Manchester to London in 2012, and from Lands End in Cornwall to John O’Groats in Scotland in 2010.
President and founder of the club, Derek Pritchard said: “When the Olympic Games were on in 2012 we cycled from the Manchester Velodrome to the Olympic Velodrome in London. It was a highly successful event and we raised £12,000 for the club. We hope to raise as much as we can again this year.”
The club, which became a registered charity in 1993, is constantly raising funds to add to their collection of 15 tandems, and have benefited from donations from Comic Relief, Children in Need and the National Lottery.
Derek, aged 75, said: “It costs between £7,000 to £8,000 a year to run the tandem club with mechanics wages, cleaning, cost of repairs and insurance. Everything else at the club is voluntary so we have to think of fundraising events to generate cash to keep the club going.”
This year’s 230-mile cycle challenge will set off from Manchester on July 18 and arrive in Glasgow on July 19.
“We’ve got 23 riders taking part in the velodrome ride,” said Derek.
“We are taking 10 tandem bikes on the run and will be doubling up on sighted people on a couple of them.
“There will also be eight visually impaired members taking part and three solo riders.”
A dedicated cyclist since the 1950s, Derek founded the tandem club in 1984 due to his own sight deteriorating.
He thought it would be a good to regularly meet with others who share the same enthusiasm for cycling, and also give others with visual impairment the chance to get out and ride.
The former engineer said: “I was born with a hereditary eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, and over time the eyesight deteriorates as the retina disintegrates.
“I was a solo cyclist for about 20 years but then my eyes deteriorated making it impossible to carry on, and that’s when I switched over to tandem in 1979.
“I thought it would be a good idea to set up a tandem club to get other visually-impaired people to get out and enjoy the sport.”
With eight visually-impaired riders (stokers) and 18 front riders (pilots) currently at the club, Derek is keen to encourage more people with vision problems to join them.
He said: “We try to ride every Sunday, completing various distances and routes. “We leave the workshop at about 9.30am and then, depending on the weather, we’ll do anything between 40 and 60 miles.
“We have a break half way to have a cup of tea a sandwich, and get back for about 2pm. Unfortunately, the weather has beaten us recently.
“I do a rota every five weeks. The visually impaired members like to go out every week but the front riders, with family commitments, can’t commit every week so they may only do two out of the five.
The club is always on the look-out for new voluntary front riders to help ensure that rear riders have the chance to participate in their favourite sport.
Derek said: “We have a bit of a training programme where we assess people for their suitability as front riders.
“To be honest, 99 per cent of people who come along are good and can handle it.
“We send them out with a sighted person on the back first – usually membership secretary, James Whitham, and then they go out with me next, as I’m the most experienced of the blind riders.”
Newly-elected committee member and rider, Richard Warburton said: “We have had some superb local financial support in the last 12 months with both Prestwich Athletic Club and Tottington Rotary Club donating money to our charity.
“We continue to seek new riders and although we currently have sufficient sighted riders (known as Pilots), we have a shortfall of visually impaired riders (stokers) and would like more.
“We would also welcome former club members to get in touch and join us for our 30th anniversary celebrations later this year.”
l Anyone who would like to join the tandem club or help with donations can call 0161 764 1239 or email JamesWhitham@aol.com.