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28 Apr 2022
Friday Lunchtime City Centre Cycle

Cape Town’s cycling culture is alive and well and thriving in town. In the aftermath of the first successful Cape Town Cycle Tour since Covid-19, we discover that cycling enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are back in the saddle.

With its sweeping views of the Atlantic seaboard, Chapman’s Peak and Table Mountain, Cape Town is one of the most breath-taking places in the world to cycle. What’s more, with South Africa producing around 33% of the continent’s carbon emissions and petrol prices continually on the up, cycling is a great way to combat climate change and keep fit while saving money.

Home to the famed Cape Town Cycle Tour, the world’s largest timed cycle race, the city is geared to ensure that cycling – for leisure, pleasure, sport or fitness – is a cinch in the Mother City.

In the Central City, too, cyclists are back in the saddle. According to Kirsten Wilkins, avid cyclist and managing director of Open Streets, group rides are on the increase with people keen to capitalise on the last days of summer and reconnect with friends.

Wilkins, who was a motivating force behind downtown Cape Town’s pre-pandemic Friday lunchtime rides through the inner city, says cycling in the CBD has gone through several ebbs and flows over the last 24 months.

RETURN OF SOCIAL RIDES

During the lockdowns, Wilkins saw more people cycling in a traffic-free city centre. Now, she’s seeing the return of social group rides. Remote work has helped reduce traffic, which has also been positive across the inner-city precincts when it comes to cycling.

With more than one iconic bike shop, the CBD is home to impressive gear heads. East City Cycles is one of the trendy bike shops in the heart of the CBD that specialises in a range of services and sells an impressive array of bikes.

Co-owner Jarryd Haley says that, of late, he has also noticed the cycle culture seems to be gaining momentum once again.

 “We are seeing more and more people getting gravel bikes, which are essentially road bikes with wider tyres. We think that this may have to do with the fact that these types of tyres make it easier to get up and down pavements and deal with uneven road surfaces,” says Haley.

SALT Market bike rack
The bright yellow bike rack at SALT Food Market at The Box in Riebeek St.

CYCLING TO WORK

With the price of petrol becoming a huge concern, cycling to work has become an enticing option for many commuters who are looking to cut costs.

In the past, one of the problems commuters faced was the lack of options when it came to storing their bikes. Fortunately, there are enterprising bands of CBD commercial landlords and entrepreneurs who are addressing the problem.

At The Box, the flagship skyscraper of Boxwood Property Fund in Riebeek St in the CBD, tenants who like to cycle to work can now lock up their bike in an indoor “bike park” and make use of shower pods and lockers.

The bike park forms part of a R70 million renovation and Boxwood’s bid to "go green" as well as make the office environment warmer and more conducive to the needs of workers to encourage them to come back to the office. 

LANDLORDS REINVENT BULIDINGS

Says Rob Kane, Boxwood Property Fund CEO, “Covid-19 demanded that we reinvent our approach to our buildings, to our neighbours, to the streetscape and to our tenants. The result is that our redeveloped buildings are more people-focused and more adventurous.”

The bike parking bays, lockers and showers at The Box can be rented for R300 per month. Cyclists can make use of a special limited offer of free rental for the first three months, plus a free coffee every month at Seattle Coffee Co at Boxwood’s ground floor SALT Food Market.

CBD CYCLING CULTURE

Kane says since the end of hard lockdown, there has “definitely” been an increase in the number of tenants cycling to work. “We want to make the experience more pleasurable and convenient.”

CEO of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) Tasso Evangelinos adds, “The Cape Town CBD has long had a strong bike and cycling culture with iconic bike shops, knowledgeable retailers and enthusiastic and committed bikers.

"Cycling in the CBD was gaining momentum before the pandemic struck, and it is heartening to see it re-emerging as business owners, landlords and workers embrace the trend once again. This buys into the greater Mother City biking culture and bodes well for our downtown.”

Stephen Willenburg cycling
CCID Business manager Stephen Willenburg cycles to work several days a week.

SOCIAL BENEFITS OF PEDAL POWER

Cycling culture has gained steam because of its social and physical benefits.

CCID Business manager Stephen Willenburg, who cycles 20 km to the CCID’s city centre offices from West Beach about three times a week, says, “You can’t put a price on the healthy exercise and fresh air you receive, not to mention the stress release. It’s also always a bonus when you can cycle with others as it takes your mind off pedalling and, after chatting for a bit, you realise you’ve arrived at your destination. It is a great way to form friendships.”

Willenburg sticks to a dedicated cycle lane for most of his route, exchanging it for the pavement next to the N1 when necessary, as the dedicated cycle lane between Paarden Eiland and the CBD “is unsafe if one is cycling alone”.

He used to belong to a cycle group until lockdown disrupted working hours and patterns. “Our group dissipated as people started working from home or coming into work at different times … I now cycle alone to work.“

SOCIAL RIDES

Social riding, in particular, has grown, with a number of popular group rides and events now available for cyclists of all skill levels to get involved in.

On the first and third Thursday of every month, weather permitting, Rook Cycles, based in the East City, hosts the Thursday Night Ride Club, where enthusiasts of any fitness level can cycle en masse around the inner city.

Similarly, Fixie Fit SA host regular Wednesday afternoon rides that start between 17h30pm and 18h00. There’s also the Moonlight Critical Mass, which happens on full-moon evenings, starting at the Greenpoint Circle. Everyone is welcome to join and explore the city by bike, at night.

Stirling "Senior" Kotze, co-owner of Revolution Cycles, also in the CBD, says, “Of late we have seen a lot more cyclists on the road, especially with old classic bikes. Now that the pandemic has eased, there are a lot more night rides or people just getting together for post-work rides. It is really encouraging to see. The major problem we now have is to get more cycling lanes and reduce the number of taxis and delivery vehicles that block existing cycle lanes.”

Wilkins believes that more must be done to make the inner city welcoming for cyclists, “Lots of people are now thinking of cycling to save money, but the lack of safe and separate-from-traffic infrastructure keeps many from doing so.

“Sadly, there’s not enough of an enabling environment for people to make this choice. We are a ‘ride despite of’ culture.” She suggests cyclists speak up and advocate for infrastructure that’s considerate and welcoming to people not in cars.

East City Cycles
East City Cycles, a destination bike shop in the Cape Town CBD.

REFUEL, REFRESH

A big part of encouraging – and capitalising on – the upsurge in cycling culture is ensuring there are multiple “pit stops” for thirsty cyclists. Willenburg and his co-cyclists used to have a pre-work coffee at Villa 47 in Bree St before going their separate ways. Haley suggests these hangouts as special spots to try:

IMAGES: CCID, East City Cycles