Qudsiya Naqui is legally blind, but most Thursday evenings, she hops on a bike in either D.C. or Maryland and rides the trails.
“I love the rush and the speed,” said Naqui, 34, who lost most of her vision in her mid-20s.
Naqui is a stoker, or the person who pedals in the back of a two-seater bike, as part of Metro Washington Association of Blind Athletes, a group that organizes athletic activities such as running and judo for people with vision loss.
The person on the front seat of the tandem, called a captain, has full vision and steers the bike.
For Naqui, that person is often Shira Gordon, 32. The two met last year through the organization’s tandem cycle rides and have become riding buddies as well as friends.
The duo are one of up to six pairs that partake in weekly rides from April through October. The group leaves from either Bethesda or Eastern Market and rides along the Capital Crescent and Anacostia Riverwalk trails.
Naqui and Gordon figured out they have a lot in common — they both attended Barnard College and graduated two years apart. Both women enjoyed riding bikes as kids.
But Naqui, who lives in Logan Circle and describes herself as “more of a runner,” hadn’t been on a bike since she was a girl.
“I didn’t particularly miss it or feel like I was missing out,” she said, calling herself an “athletically-inclined person. Any kind of challenge, challenging physical activity is something I enjoy.”
But she decided to give it a try one day, and surprisingly, getting back into biking was natural.
“Turns out, it was just like riding a bike,” she quipped.
Naqui was born with leber congenital amaurosis, a degenerative condition that affects the retina and worsens with age. She has never driven a car, and she now walks with a cane.
But her declining vision doesn’t keep her from weekly rides and enjoying what scenery she can on a beautiful day. She appreciates that Gordon is a great narrator.
“If she sees something interesting or funny, she’ll describe it to me,” Naqui said. “I’ve gotten to really understand the city."
Naqui says that during the rides, good communication between the captain and the stoker is key. From the back, Naqui can’t control the handle bars, but what she can control — speed, where to put her weight and when to pedal — are crucial.
In the past year, Naqui and Gordon have become friends off the trails, too. Like those who enjoy other social sports in D.C., group members often go out for a drink or a bite together after a ride. Naqui said Gordon jokingly calls single-rider bikes “half bikes” when they see them out and about.
The pair has participated in multiple long rides together, one of which was the Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s annual cider ride, which is about 50 miles.
“I think the experience of losing one’s vision over time is that you learn how to enjoy things you loved in a different way, but you also discover new things that you come to love,” Naqui said.
Naqui first heard about the weekly rides from MWABA co-founder Karla Gilbride — they’re both public interest attorneys in D.C. Gilbride, 38, co-founded MWABA in 2015.
Gilbride said she helped create the organization to help people with vision loss feel empowered.
“It feels great, and it carries over confidence into all other facets of your life,” said Gilbride, who was born blind.
“Here, there are no barriers or limits. You can do as much as you want to do and challenge yourself,” she said, adding that there’s a sensory feeling of freedom and liberation on a bike.
And that’s exactly what keeps Naqui coming back week after week.
“I don’t think I would’ve ever been a biker if it hadn’t been for this,” Naqui said.