In April 2008 Geoff Stratton had an Apollo tandem, an old beach cruiser tandem and was put in contact with Peter Meers, who had some experience captaining a blind person on a tandem. This is the seed that would become Exsight, but how did this pair grow into a group of over sixty members in Wollongong, with branches in Sydney and Armidale? Geoff tells the story.
We went out and met Tim Manton and his Stoker, Andrew Devenish-Meares, who rides on the back, with their bicycle. This was still no regular riding arrangement. The beach cruiser remained in the garage and needed a Captain and Stoker.
Joe Iglesias became interested to occupy the back seat but we needed a captain. Peter introduced Greg Merrick to front the bike and we now had two tandem teams with Tim and Andrew joining us on occasional rides.
Nicole Holmes was already going to the gym and keen to be active and agreed to join us. Another tandem was acquired and Peter brought along one or two more captains. Now we were becoming a cycling group getting out most weekends and frequently during the week too.
We were keen to expand the group, and offer more vision impaired people the option to get out and ride. The question was how to get the word out.
We approached ABC Illawarra, who were happy to get the word out, but they suggested that the group really needed a name. So, Exsight Tandems Illawarra was decided on, playing on the word “excite”.
After the interview on the ABC, we gradually expanded our membership and even had Nathan an Autistic guy came along to cycle on our tandems. Through other contacts, Katie Best, Kathrine Walshaw, Susie Breuer and Nicole Holmes new travels from Sutherland to cycle regularly with us.
Exsight rides happen several times a week, with rides going north from Wollongong, sometimes going to the Sea Cliff Bridge. Other rides include around Lake Illawarra or to Shellharbour.
The group also participates in large organised rides. One of the most exhilarating rides was our first Sydney to the Gong: five tandems and a couple of single bikes participated, and at that point it was the longest ride any of the stokers had ridden. Exsight has also participated in the Sydney Spring Cycle, over the Harbour Bridge. Members Tim Manton and Andrew Devenish-Meares have also ridden the Around the Bay in a Day ride in Melbourne twice.
Exsight now has 21 tandems, 4 of them in Sydney and 2 in Armidale, where we hope to offer the same opportunities for in those locations as in the Illawarra.