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Cycling with the blind: Off the clock with Jim Phillips

Jim Phillips and Christine Davidson on their tandem bike

Professor Jim Phillips, Faculty of Law


Jim has been with the University of Toronto (U of T) for 24 years.


What do you do off the clock?

A few years ago I learned to sing in a choir. Now I sing in a local choir, the Vocal Mosaic. But I also do a lot of cycling, including volunteer cycling with the blind on a tandem bike.

How did you first become interested in cycling? How often and how far do you go?

I took a serious interest in cycling about 12 years ago. My knees couldn’t take the impact from running anymore, so like lots of others, I turned to cycling — no impact.

I am in a cycling club and we do group rides of about 120 km on weekend days in the spring, summer and fall. During those times I also ride most evenings for two hours, usually about 50 km. On some of these evening rides I take my road bike but, for quite a few them, I ride my tandem bike.

When did you start cycling with people who are blind or visually impaired?

Jim Phillips and partner at Cycle for Sight 2012I started riding with the blind seven years ago. There is a tandem cycling club in Toronto called Trailblazers. The club provides people with limited or no vision the opportunity to cycle with sighted volunteers on the club’s tandem bikes.

Volunteers meet the blind person at the shed where the tandems are kept and ride from there. The club is always looking for more sighted riders.

My longest tandem rides have been the Cycle for Sight fundraising ride, which takes place every June from Toronto to Collingwood, a 145 km ride. l have done it the last two years with Vivian Chong, a U of T grad who lost her sight in her late 20s.

We are in the same choir as well, so we sing as we go along (though not while going uphill).

Jim Phillips and partner at Cycle for Sight 2011Two years ago, I bought my own tandem. I now ride it with the blind and with my partner Christine Davidson. She really likes it.

We go out to Oakville or Burlington on Sundays in the summer and fall about an 80 or 100 km ride, and we ride after work too.

What reactions do you get when you first take off on your tandem bikes with a blind person? How do you think they enjoy cycling?

They love it. Blind people can work out, but they cannot otherwise easily get the sense of movement, such as the wind in their hair, that they can get on a tandem. Also, their experience is not that different from a sighted person on the back of a tandem. A sighted person can’t see a lot either.

Submitted by Lucianna Ciccocioppo, director of external relations and executive editor of Nexus, Faculty of Law / From top, photos: Jim and Christine Davidson, Jim and partner at Cycle for Sight 2012, and Cycle for Sight 2011