Visually Impaired Begin to Get Feel for Cycling : Recreation: Eyecycle organization uses sighted volunteers to steer tandem bikes on a 14-mile ride and describe the scenery.


Terry and Kenny Johnson aren’t about to let visual impairment stop them from bicycling.

And they don’t have to, thanks to Eyecycle, a nonprofit organization in Santa Monica that provides visually impaired people the chance to ride on the back of a tandem bike with a sighted volunteer.

Twice a month, Terry Johnson, 36, and Kenny Johsnon, 38, join Eyecycle in a 14-mile round-trip excursion along the Santa Monica-Venice bike path.


“Eyecycle makes you feel alive,” said Kenny Johnson. “I feel a part of the world.”

“Eyecycle is a rare activity that allows a blind person to function as a ‘normal’ person,” said biking enthusiast Jerry Arakawa, 40, who is totally blind. He is also a counselor for the California Department of Rehabilitation.

The founder of the 2-year-old organization, Claudia Folska, 28, is legally blind and holds a master’s degree in business administration from USC. “There is a lack of group activities available to visually impaired people,” she said. “Eyecycle puts them on equal footing, and sight is no longer an issue.”

Folska said she regretted that she missed out on the usual experiences of childhood because she was not allowed to participate in group sports. When a friend took her out on a tandem bike, she realized that it was a great way for the visually impaired to take part in group activities.

The sighted volunteers, called captains, are the backbone of the program. Eyecycle trains the captains in guide techniques and how to behave appropriately with a visually impaired person. For example, they are trained to ask for the elbow of the visually impaired person rather than just taking it. They learn that many visually impaired people won’t want assistance.

Role-playing is also part of the training, with volunteers taking a ride on the back of a tandem while blindfolded. They also learn to talk about the environment. “We (captains) narrate their surroundings and tell them exactly what’s happening for their pleasure and safety,” said Victor Mammana, 63, while putting on a required riding helmet.

The rider, called the stoker, is a captive audience on the back of a tandem. It takes trust for the visually impaired person to ride with someone he or she doesn’t know. “You learn to trust and it’s a sense of freedom,” said Norma Mammana, 60, an outdoor lover who is partially sighted. “It’s mentally stimulating.”

Eyecycle, which is funded by donations from corporations and service organizations, has received the support of the Santa Monica Cultural and Recreational Services Department.

“The city is pleased to be associated with Eyecycle, which provides a much-needed therapeutic recreational program for the visually impaired,” said Richard Rollins, recreation supervisor for the department. “There has been a breakdown of stereotypes through this program.”

The department supplies Eyecycle with a facility to store their 13 tandems and has hired a person to check in the tandems, fill the tires and watch guide dogs while the bikers are riding.

In addition to providing exercise to the visually impaired, the program has promoted understanding, said Norma Mammana.

“Eyecycle has done wonders to educate people and increase their awareness of visual impairment,” she said. It teaches “the sighted population that there are individuals in this world who are visually impaired and not to be patronizing to them.”

Jim Parr Jr., 31, who has been a captain for Eyecycle for two years, agrees. “You realize there is no difference between you and the visually impaired person.”

Eyecycle meets twice a month, free of charge. For reservations, call (310) 207-4154.