Good Guys: Mark Carhart's InTandem Helps Vision-Impaired Cyclists

September 03, 2014   Danielle Beurteaux

The Kepos Capital founder and cycling enthusiast co-founded an charity that helps disabled cyclists experience the thrill of the ride.

   Mark Carhart
Many New Yorkers enjoy a weekend cycle through Central Park, but there are others for whom biking isn’t possible. Not, at least, without a little help and a tandem bicycle. On Saturday mornings and some evenings, InTandem’s volunteers help the visually impaired and disabled enjoy the exhilaration of biking in the city.

The nonprofit InTandem was co-founded by Mark Carhart, CIO of $1.6 billion hedge fund firm Kepos Capital and former head of the quantitative and investment strategies unit at Goldman Sachs Asset Management. "I’m a huge cycling fan," he says. "I always look for opportunities to get on a bike."

Now he helps create that opportunity for those who wouldn’t normally be able to ride. Carhart first encountered tandem bike riding with the visually impaired 20 years ago, when he lived in Los Angeles and volunteered with a group that organized rides. When he moved to New York, he created a one-day project for the Goldman Sachs Community TeamWorks program (which has organized six tandem-ride days), along with fellow tandem enthusiast Artie Elefant, who had lost his sight because of retinitis pigmentosa. They created InTandem in 2013.

Elefant died last year as a result of complications from treatment for lymphocytic leukemia. "Riding with him was so uplifting," Carhart says. "He got me to focus on my family and friends, and spending time with the people I really love. We’ve continued in the vision he had."

In tandem cycling the sighted rider, called the captain, rides on the front, and the visually impaired partner — the stoker — rides on the back, without the ability to brake, steer or shift gears. A tandem ride is a different experience from riding solo, says Carhart, 48. "Usually, cycling is very solitary," he says. "With tandeming it doesn’t matter if one person is slower, faster, stronger or weaker; you’re really a team. It’s a very exhilarating experience."

InTandem has partnered with organizations like Lighthouse International, but most of its riders come through word-of-mouth. The rides are so popular that InTandem always needs captains. "One of our biggest problems is that volunteers have limited times to get people out," Carhart says. "We could use more captains to help ride during the day."

InTandem took part in this year’s TD Five Boro Bike Tour. The group of 50, on tandem and solo bikes, rode the 40-mile route with 32,000 other cyclists. "It’s a little hairy in the beginning with so many cyclists," says Carhart. "But once you’re out on the road, it’s amazing."

One of those riders was Crista Earl, 56, who’s been riding with InTandem since its start. Earl has been visually impaired since she was eight years old, but she cycled regularly until her vision deteriorated. She praises InTandem for providing an experience many visually impaired people wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. "There are lots of places in New York City I’ve never been and would never go without a bike," she says. "Plus, InTandem does all these fun activities, like the Five Boro ride. When do you get to do that?"
Carhart says tandem cycling with the visually impaired has been some of the most rewarding riding he’s done: "They’re so appreciative of somebody taking the time to bike with them."

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