City youth get off the street and onto their bikes

The streets of the eastern fringes of inner city Johannesburg ooze with temptation for teenagers to slip into the downward spiral: smoking weed, other drugs, street gambling and committing theft.

“They’re easy things to do,” says Noku Lesiba (16). “You can always be influenced by your friends.”
But he and three friends with other members of the team have turned their backs on those temptations.

Every Sunday morning they pedal themselves away from the lure to vice as they participate in a cycling programme that’s part of the School of Practical Philosophy’s Jeppe Phakamisa Ubuntu (JPU) community initiative.

The aim of the project is to broaden the options of youth in the area by expanding their worlds. This has led to them competing in a number of events, including this year’s Argus Cycle Tour, the Crater Cruise Cycle Festival in Parys, Free State, the recent Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge and a number of 100 km marathons, organised by Audax Randonneurs.

Muzi Ncube (17) who has been cycling the longest among the quartet has completed two Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tours. “If it wasn’t for cycling, I’d probably be gambling and smoking,” Lesiba confesses.

Now Thabane Ntuli (16), who attends Jules High, dreams of becoming a disk jockey as well as an accountant.

“Being in this cycling programme, you see lots of places, you meet different people and your body is always healthy.”

His school mate Romeo Ntshangase sees himself as a future Lance Armstrong. He had a bumpy introduction to cycling and has a nasty scar on his knee to remember it. “On one of my first rides I wanted to reach 40km an hour. Eish! The speed counter was going so fast. I looked at it and next minute I was down on the floor.”

He jokes: “They say having a crash makes a good start. I’ve had no more since then.”

Richard Brayshaw, one of the facilitators of the youth riding programme, says that getting teenage boys to do physical exercise on a regular basis sends them home happy, and too tired to do things that could get them into trouble.

“Between the ages of 13 and 18, boys have so much energy. Cycling also acts as a vehicle through which they can achieve personal discipline and learn team work.”

While the teenagers revel in physical fitness they find that cycling also helps them with focusing on school work.

JPU also pulls younger children from the eastern inner city into cycling. Any Saturday sees between 30 and 50 of them on small bicycles, doing laps around the car park of the historic St James Preparatory School building, an icon of inner city rejuvenation, which also falls under the School of Practical Philosophy.

“Any number of them could come into the (senior) cycling programmes. At the moment our potential to expand is limited by not having a warehouse. Our long-term plan is to have access to a workshop and have somewhere to store our 26-bike trailer,” he says.

While the facilitators brainstorm ways to achieve their warehouse dream, Lesiba thinks back to how he felt after completing the particularly hard event at Parys. “I thought I could face any challenge after that,” he glows.  

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