This weekend, 14th and 15th May, blind cyclist Mark Dickinson is riding the London Revolution- a 180 mile bike ride around London- on a tandem with work colleague Graeme Chilvers.
Mark was diagnosed with a rare genetic eye condition in 2007, which caused him to loose his eye sight. Graeme has been cycling serious since 2012 and was looking for a new cycling challenge, so the pair decided to sign themselves up for the challenge.
Totally Active spoke to them both to find out more…
How did you both start cycling?
GC: I started cycling in September 2012 when I agreed to join the Dulux Trade team for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain. I had never owned a bike until then, so I had to quickly find one on E-Bay and learn how to ride. I have since completed the Deloitte Ride Across Britain twice – going both ways – as part of the Dulux Trade team.
MD: In January 2007 I was sent for a company eye test and prescribed glasses, which I hardly ever wore. In June that year, I couldn’t read a number plate, and the glasses made no difference. I went back for another eye test and was diagnosed with Stargardt Macular Dystrophy. Eighteen months later I was legally blind. The condition has stabilised and I have some vision, but it is very blurred. In the same year, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and I was inspired to take up cycling.
How did you meet?
MD: We met in 2013 at the start of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain. Recently our teams at work have merged so we have started working together and we began discussing the possibility of riding a tandem. It’s not safe for me to ride by myself now and Graeme was looking for a challenge so it made sense.
Why have you decided to ride Dulux Trade London Revolution?
GC: This will be my third time and I have enjoyed it previously. This time I wanted to be part of the Dulux Trade team, and because I’ve done it twice before and I am also doing the Ride London later this year, I wanted a new challenge. Mark has been doing a great deal of indoor cycling since 2013 including a “turbo” Ride Across Britain while we completed the “real” Deloitte RAB in 2014. So what better challenge than a tandem ride with Mark giving him the opportunity to experience the great couple of days of riding as part of a team around some of the iconic landmarks of London and the surrounding area.
Are you fundraising?
GC: Yes, for the amazing Outward Bound Trust. This is quite significant this year because they were hit badly by the storms last year and great deal of re-building work is needed to enable them to continue the fantastic work they do.
What’s it like riding a tandem?
GC: It’s very different in that I am not responsible just for myself now and have to plan everything in advance and then remember to communicate my plans to Mark. Even the simple actions like changing gear and slowing down. Riding solo, there are times when decisions are very spur of the moment, but with the tandem this is not possible.
The early weeks were a bit disastrous as we encountered many mechanicals including the bike turning one way and Mark’s saddle going the opposite direction. Mark is very tall and the rear seat of a tandem is not designed for somebody of his height. But we are getting there.
Fortunately we seem to have built up a good rapport quite quickly. It is certainly a lot more fun than riding alone. The only problem we do have is sometimes we do crack up laughing too much and the tears mean neither of us can see where we are going.
MD: I have to trust Graeme completely. I can’t steer, break or change gear, so riding a tandem successfully is all about good communication – and balance. We spent two or three days riding around the car park before we went out on the road.
Graeme is very sensible and level headed whereas I am more of a practical joker, so the balance of our personalities works well. He’s very articulate and good at telling me what he’s about to do or what’s going on around us which is vital to me – if we’re going to fall, he will see it coming, whereas it will just happen to me.
How did you design the bike?
MD: We approached a few tandem specialists but none of them were interested in making the adaptations that I need. Then we went to Dolan Bikes in Ormskirk. Terry Dolan was a professional cyclist and is passionate about bikes. He’s built bikes for Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France winner, the bike that won Chris Hoy his Gold medal in the velodrome and Chris Boardman’s bike, they were all in his workshop which was pretty inspirational.
Terry is building a bespoke tandem for us and his advice and help has been amazing. For example, finding your water bottle is difficult when you can see. For me, it’s impossible for me without falling, so they are designing a special water bottle holder on my handle bars. No detail is too much for them. I left feeling like an Olympic athlete.
GC: We are a bit of an odd-fit for a tandem as normally the shorter person sits at the back whereas in our case Mark, who is very tall, is on the back. It’s almost a reverse tandem. Nothing is too much trouble for these guys. So a huge ‘thank you’ to them. We are very excited and cannot wait to see the finished bike. We’ve called her Daisy as she’s a bicycle made for two and Mark’s daughter is designing a name label for her.
What training are you doing?
GC: It’s quite restricted on the tandem to be honest. Mark and I live at opposite sides of the country, so only meet up in Slough a couple of days a week. We then go out for a couple of hours on each of these nights on a borrowed tandem. I ride my own bike at home and I’ve taken part in a few sportives over the winter.
MD: I stay in a hotel a few nights a week and I have a turbo trainer there as well as at home. I probably do 60% of my training on the turbo.
What are your plans after Dulux Trade London Revolution?
MD: Hopefully we will continue to ride together. We’re doing London to Paris and the Mark Cavendish Sportive. And if all goes well, it would be fantastic to be able to do Deloitte Ride Across Britain in 2017.
Cycling makes me feel alive, like a normal person again. If I can inspire one person struggling with a disability then it will all have been worthwhile.