How Griffin Pinkow Fell In Love with Tandem Cycling

photo of griffin and his trainers standing at a track

Once Foreseeable Future’s founder discovered a passion for tandem cycling, he has never looked back.

There’s something about the thrill of being on a tandem bike that can only be described through experience.

Tandem cyclist Griffin Pinkow lives for that thrill every day. A self-described adrenaline junkie with a passion for the outdoors for as long as he can remember, Pinkow was first introduced to cycling nearly four years ago. He was seeking the advice of a Paralympic triathlete about finding a sport he could compete in at an elite level. She suggested he attend an introductory tandem cycling camp through the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA).

Pinkow was a bit hesitant at first. He had competed in baseball, football, marathon running and other sports even while losing his vision as a result of retinitis pigmentosa. He wasn’t into bike riding as a kid, so tandem cycling didn’t sound particularly appealing as a competitive sport.

“I was kind of against it,” recalled Pinkow, a native of New Jersey who moved to Laguna Beach, California during the coronavirus pandemic. “I didn’t know what tandem cycling was. Last time I was on a bike is when I was 16 and I had more vision. I just did it to say I could ride a bike.”

But his friend spoke so highly of the USABA camp that Pinkow decided to give it a try. He was surprised when his application was accepted several weeks later on one condition: he had to ride a tandem bike before attending.

Pinkow traveled to San Diego for a couple of tandem rides before heading to the camp. It was an intense, week-long event with two-a-day sessions at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The camp gives beginners and experienced riders the opportunity to develop skills for road and track racing. It didn’t take long for Pinkow to realize his friend was right. He became acquainted with other racers who had competed at a high level, and realized he had found his new passion.

“I really loved it and took to it pretty fast. It went from just being happy to be there to (believing) I could really excel at this if I want to.”

Baseball was Pinkow’s favorite sport as a kid. He was playing for a travel team when he began having trouble seeing the ball. After trying glasses and undergoing several eye exams, doctors diagnosed him with RP at age 11.

Pinkow switched to football and played all four years at two different high schools in California and New York. The ball was bigger, but he switched positions several times as his vision continued to deteriorate. He ended up on the defensive line where the ball was easier to track.

Another sport Pinkow picked up in high school was wrestling. He found it easy to transition into.

“We had to lock wrists with the other individual. My coach in wrestling said, ‘if you’re having trouble seeing, that’s no problem. We will make it work’. That re-enthused my interest in wrestling.”

Pinkow attended Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania where he studied business marketing and speech communication. A friend challenged him to run a marathon, and Pinkow ran the New York City Marathon in November of his senior year. He has run in several other marathons since including Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.

Over the past five years, Pinkow has competed in several national tandem cycling championships. This past July, he won the USA Paralympic Track National Championships near Allentown, Pennsylvania. He and his pilot Charles finished the 4K race in 5 minutes, 12 seconds on an outdoor concrete track that was different from the indoor track he had trained on before the competition.

“We had a solid start. There’s always room for improvement, but we went out and did what we needed to.”

One of Pinkow’s favorite accomplishments was climbing Pike’s Peak on a tandem bike. He and his pilot completed the climb in 1 hour, 59 minutes, beating the previous record of 2 hours, 35 minutes.

“I don’t know if anyone’s broken our record, but we had at the time the fastest recorded time for a tandem going up Pike’s Peak.”

Winning a national championship was exhilarating. However, Pinkow has even bigger aspirations. His ultimate goal is to compete in the Paralympics, either at the Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 Games.

“It was a huge accomplishment. It’s something I’ve been working toward for years. But it all adds up to the end goal. Now, it’s whatever I have to do to keep taking steps toward the Paralympics.”

Pinkow also recently picked up snowboarding, a sport he loves but admits he still needs to master.

“It’s a fun challenge, a different activity. It’s working different muscles in the body, which I like. It takes time and patience to get better at.”

There will always be something new to reach for, a challenge to be met. It’s what motivates Pinkow to live each day. He encourages others who may be losing their vision to do the same.

“Try everything, if you can. When I started to lose my vision, I tried a bunch of different things and got set on running and then tandem cycling and other fun things. Have an open mind and do everything even if you’re not great at all those things.”