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Envision Unlimited is bringing its adaptive cycling program to Sunday’s Bike the Drive

Tricycles, tandems and duet bikes will be ridden by people with special needs, meeting at Butler Field at Monroe Street and DLSD.

Team Envision voluteer Alan Yuen and member Parchia T. at the West Town Training Center. Photo: James Porter

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

The 21st annual Bike the Drive, the Active Transportation Alliance's main fundraiser, sponsored by Fifth Third Bank, takes this Sunday, September 3 from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. on DuSable Lake Shore Drive. The post-ride festival will run from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Envision Unlimited, an organization that provides "services that promote choice, independence, and inclusion" for people with disabilities. will bring its Summer of Cycling 2023 adaptive biking program to the event. On Sunday morning, tricycles, tandems and duet bikes will be ridden by people with special needs who have previously registered, meeting at Butler Field at Monroe Street and DLSD.

A member and volunteer Jenny Achuthan with a duet bike. Photo: James Porter

Team Envision has been practicing their “Buddy Biking” program every Tuesday morning at the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, the elevated greenway on the Near Northwest Side. “When we started [the adaptive cycling program] in 2017, we thought we were so good, right?" said Envision staffer Marty Kenahan. "So, we thought we could probably ride at Bike The Drive. That was in 2018, the first time that all of us rode.”

Early on, there were several participants who hadn’t ridden a bike since childhood, but they’ve come a long way in six years. “Now we have such strong cyclists, we even have a couple who can do the full thirty-mile loop at Bike the Drive," Kenahan said. "Little by little, we’ve gotten better bikes, but we’ve got a system of what we call escort bikes that go with our tandem bikes.”

There have been challenges associated with running the adaptive cycling program on the Bloomingdale and Bike the Drive, but Team Envision has found solutions. "We’ve been building our fleet of bikes for a long time," said volunteer Jenny Achuthan. "We had some pretty nice older donated bikes but they were very heavy.”

Part of Team Envision's fleet of adaptive bikes. Photo: James Porter

Also, the riders had to learn “how to adjust the seats, pairing the tandem riders by height and weight, [and] ability levels," Achuthan said. "It’s a learning curve. We try to have each member do the best with their ability. Riding a tandem is a skill and you really have to communicate well."

"But some people are just not ready for the tandems, so they’d like to have the experience of being outside” while pedaling other vehicles, said Achuthan. She said engagement with other riders is an important element: listening for instructions, watching out for pedestrians with strollers, and generally being aware of other people, both within the group and outside of it.

Team Envision member Derrick C. poses with his artwork at the West Side Training Center. Photo: James Porter

Part of the inspiration for Team Envision was annual "friendship visits" by cross-country cyclists from the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity with Envision Unlimited members that sparked an interest in biking, according to Kenahan. "But also [Envision Unlimited's] West Town Training Center [1801 N. Spaulding Ave.] is located adjacent to the beautiful 606 bike trail. We even have a ramp that goes up the trail right by our front door. So, five years ago, when we got our first tandem bikes donated, we started going up there to ride together. It’s a way to bring in community members as well to participate and get to know our program and our members, to care about our mission.”

Over time, Kenahan said, “We became stronger and stronger cyclists. We were able to go throughout the winter and take spin cycle classes, thanks to a community member named David Pufundt who donated a spin class once a week. David loved the program so much that he is actually among the staff here at Envision Unlimited.”

Achuthan has volunteered with Team Envision from its inception. "I’ve gotten to know the members,” she said. “I really understand who they are, what they find funny, what they like, what they feel comfortable with. It takes that ability to really do things together.”

Member Anthony B. and volunteer Jenny Achuthan. Photo: James Porter

"What we like about the Buddy Biking program, besides the fun that it brings our members and our volunteers, is that it also brings physical activity," said Envision Unlimited's Karen Kring. “You need to exercise at least two to three hours a week to keep up to standards and this helps everybody keep better fit. It's all about encouraging our members to be out in the community. It's very much about inclusion, so that our members can do the same things anybody else can."

"We’re thrilled that Envision Unlimited is wrapping up its summer cycling program with Fifth Third Bike the Drive," said Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Ted Villaire. "Going for a bike ride can create a sense of freedom – an experience that is especially important for people who are often told by society that their life is about limitations. We need more adaptive cycling opportunities throughout the region; Envision Unlimited is doing important work by offering people with disabilities a range of cycling options."

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