Tips for blind cyclists

Just because I’m partially sighted doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy dangerous activities. And there’s a benefit, because even fairly ordinary activities such as road cycling and mountain biking can easily become challenging and even death-defying activities when you can’t really see where you’re going.

On a recent holiday in Mallorca, I decided to hire a mountain bike for the day and set off to explore the local nature reserve a few miles away. While I go mountain biking at home, I try to avoid busy roads as it’s tricky for me to deal with traffic, especially when I can’t see indicator and brake lights, for example.

cycling along the beach at Puerto Pollensa

cycling along the beach at Puerto Pollensa

Things I learnt while cycling in Mallorca:

  • Cycle lanes are deliberately built to confuse cyclists. One side of the road will have an obvious beautiful cycle lane, in a nice red colour, and clearly marked with little bicycle pictures. But the other side just has a very narrow lane in the same colour as the main road, and with no pictures of bicyles. Is this a cycle lane or not? I’d have said not, and so I used the obvious cycle lane, although it was on the opposite side of the road to the direction I was travelling in. Seemed fairly obvious until hordes of lycra-clad men proceeded to hurtle round a bend at full speed towards me, 5 abreast, shouting abuse as I continued along my chosen path. My options at this point were to veer to the left and throw myself into the sea, veer to the right and straight into the path of the oncoming traffic in the road, or to keep going. None of which I’d recommend, but I did think I was going to die. To be fair, my compatriots who were following a couple of miles behind me also chose the same option, so it wasn’t really a facet of my sight that I had this problem.
  • No matter how much your tour guide insists that it’s really easy to find the way and you just follow the signs, having at least some idea of the route you need to take, and preferably a map, is a good idea. Although in the torrential rain that arrived later, a map would have turned to a soggy mess in about 3 seconds. And I wouldn’t have bothered to stop and look at it anyway. Luckily I was able to get directions in Spanish from a couple of locals, although pointing to the left and telling me simultaneously to “gire a la derecha” was a little confusing.
  • I stupidly thought that, even with my lack of sight, following an 11.5k marked route around the nature reserve where there were big red signs every few hundred yards would be easy. But somehow, I must have missed a turning, and before long I found myself passing through a small village. I considered asking someone for directions, but at that moment a small dog shot out of the gate and ran up to me barking furiously and launching itself at my ankles. I decided not to hang around and shot off down the road with said dog in full pursuit, while its owner didn’t even look up from his gardening. I was up to date with my tetanus jabs but I still didn’t really fancy waiting to find out whether its bark was worse than its bite.
  • I never got the hang of the roundabouts with multiple confusing no entry signs across the exits. So I just took my life in my hands and brazenly ignored them all.
  • One of the problems of not being able to see more than a few feet in front of you is road signs. On a roundabout or across the other side of a junction, they’re too far away for me to read. So I end up circling the entire roundabout or even having to cross the road to go and read the sign to find out if I’m going the right way. In the middle of a torrential thunderstorm, I just hope I’m going the right way.
  • On the other hand, the benefit of being on a small island like Mallorca is that you can’t go too far without either coming to a town or hitting the sea or a mountain. I did quite a few extra miles, visited a couple of towns I hadn’t planned to, but eventually found my way back to where I started. I think I had a much more exciting time than the others who just followed the correct route there and back.
beach break after a very wet cycle ride

beach break after a very wet cycle ride

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