David Moseley

Cycling’s South African revolution

2013-11-28 08:21

David Moseley

Between Cape Town and Knysna there's a small town called Swellendam. Many of you have probably heard of it or been there. For me it's always been the kind of place I pass on the way to somewhere else. Most of my adult life driving a car that’s exactly what I did, pass it.

That all changed three years ago when I was invited to take part in a cycle race that's held every year in the town, the Coronation Double Century. As the name suggests, it's a 202km ride that starts and ends in Swellendam. Along the way you cycle over the awe-inspiring Tradouw Pass, up Op de Tradouw pass and whizz (not always, in my case) through towns like Montague, Ashton and Robertson.

If you're cycling at a pace that allows you to take in the scenery (always, in my case) then this has to be one of the most stunning routes in the country, with mountains and pastoral idyll your constant companions.

As a media team we ride for the sake of riding, the intention to get everyone over the finish line. We start first and generally finish somewhere near last.

This is okay, because in our privileged posse we also ride with two cyclists from Railton, the nearby farming township, and a group of cyclists from the Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy (LCA) in Khayelithsha. The LCA runs two programmes - a road and a BMX cycling programme - and use these to involve township youth in a positive, after-school activity and to supplement their formal education by teaching them important life skills such as discipline, determination, dedication, teamwork and how to win and lose. At the DC they were definitely winning.

Positive influences

Two years ago the Railton lads were in agony before the quarter-way point. And last year they battled their way to a near 10-hour finish in gales and downpours that would have given Captain Ahab pause for thought. Last Saturday, here they were again, this time comfortably cruising around the course with huge grins, visibly enjoying their time on the bike.

The Star’s Kevin McCallum tried to sell them the dream of indoor cycling as a way of maintaining fitness, but they simply laughed off his suggestion, pointing at the beautiful surroundings McCallum could only dream while cycling on the spot in his spare bedroom.

Although cycling seems to get the blood boiling like no other activity in South Africa, away from the posh bikes, sweaty Lycra and admittedly bad manners from some who cycle (I almost came to blows with some tool during the race, who insisted on chucking his empty energy sachets into the road) the sport is attempting to, and doing, a tremendous amount of good.

In the days leading up to the Double Century the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust (CTCTT) and the Pedal Power Association (PPA), the event organisers of DC and that little ride known as the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, delivered 15 mountain bikes to the Railton community. They also put on a coaching clinic for the kids, highlighting the basics of the sport.

It’s not much, I hear you cynics grumbling, but it’s something.

It also helps that the CTCTT and PPA are not alone in their efforts to change peoples’ lives through cycling.

Another Western Cape event, the FNB Wines2Whales, took in previously disadvantaged men from the Somerset West community and incorporated them into their trail building scheme. These guys have now formed their own trail building company and spend their time building trails - and riding on them - for the pleasure of others and themselves. They’ve been given flash mountain bikes to get to and from work - which is generally high up in the mountains – and to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

Even a glamorous and gritty mountain bike event like the Absa Cape Epic strives to put back into the community. Through their Exxaro Academy historically disadvantaged South African development riders are given the chance to participate in the event. This year just under 30 Exxaro riders completed what’s become the world’s toughest mountain biking race.

In the Stellenbosch township of Kayamandi, a man called Songo Fipaza through his songo.info social development programme, is providing sport and recreational activities to children, offering a safe place to play and grow, establishing values of accountability and responsibility, teaching goal setting and instilling in children the ability to dream and go out and achieve their goals. Through cycling they aim to raise healthy, happy and educated children in Kayamandi, opening doors that might have remained closed should drugs and alcohol take hold. The world’s best mountain bikers are on board with Fipaza, some of them men who don’t even hold a South African passport.

These are just a few examples, but if you look beneath the surface of nearly every glossy cycling event in South Africa there is good work being done. Long may it last.

That’s me. I’m out for the year. Hope this ends 2013 on a somewhat positive note.

See you in 2014

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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