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The Braille Monitor – November, 2000 Edition

Ron Burzese
Ron Burzese

Biking Behind Bars Blind Cyclist Keeps Pedaling, Thanks to Tandem Bike

From the Editor: Ron Burzese is a travel instructor at BLIND, Inc., the NF adult training center in Minneapolis. Last spring a number of people around the country followed by e-mail his tandem-bike adventure across the entire United States. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported the trip in its July 20 edition. Since that time Ron has been working hard to purchase several tandems for use by BLIND, Inc., students and staff members. The program is growing nicely, and already students are getting onto the road for their own tandem adventures. This is how it all began:


Ron Burzese biked from Los Angeles to Boston this spring, but he didn't see very much along the way. Burzese, of Minneapolis, is almost completelyblind. He rode all 3,390 miles of the trip on the back of a Cannondale tandem piloted by Mike Beadles, a Twin Cities Bicycling Club and tandem stalwart. It was afeat by any measure, but even more so for Burzese, who thought his cycling days were over as he lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disorder.

Burzese, thirty-two, rose to what he calls cycling's "ultimate challenge." It's a journey of a lot more than miles, as Burzese tells it.

As a kid growing up in Pennsylvania and Florida, he'd been able to see well enough to play whiffle ball and learn to ride a bike: normal kid stuff, but his vision deteriorated as he grew older. By the time he got a ten-speed in seventh grade, he had had to adapt, and he rode around with other cyclists.

"I had to have other riders tell me when to turn," Burzese says, "because I couldn't read the street signs. At the rest stops, I used to follow other riders to the restroom or to the snack shelf in the store."

Even with his tunnel vision--and a few spills here and there --he managed to pedal thousands of miles a year. "It was my escape from reality," he remembers, "and not being able to see a chalkboard."

By 1995, after he'd graduated from college and started looking for a career, Burzese says he started to realize he was more blind than sighted. He went to a training program to learn how to use a white cane and get around without seeing; he wore a blindfold forty hours a week to sharpen his skills.

That didn't keep him off his bike. He still took his Giordana road bike out for an occasional spin, although it was a challenge. "I wished I had my white cane along, so I could find the side of the road," he says.

At one point he sold his bike "while it and I were still in one piece."

But he found cycling a hard habit to break. After he moved to Minneapolis in 1996 and got a job at Blind, Inc., a training center for the visually impaired, the road still called to Burzese. He occasionally went out for a ride on a rented recumbent. "I was still working through that process of accepting my blindness," Burzese says.

Eventually he discovered a way to keep riding: a tandem. The bicycle for two kept him on the road. Tandems eventually led him to Beadles, who pitched the cross country trip to him last year. They finished, in thirty-two days, on May 26.

Now Burzese has the bug. He has raised some money and hopes to buy a pair of tandems for BLIND, Inc., where he trains people how to get around on their own. Bikes, he thinks, might be a great supplement to white canes.

"Cycling is such a social thing; it's a great way to get out and meet people," he says, "no matter who you are."

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