Around The Block, Around The World

An ode: to why ev­ery­one should ride a bike – ev­ery­where, all the time – and never stop, no mat­ter where you go…

Bicycling (South Africa) - - INSIDE - BY TELFORD VICE

Why bikes can change the world; why you have no ex­cuse not to ride; and the best cities around the world (bar­ring Amsterdam) for cycling.


M y bi­cy­cle saves my life ev­ery day. It’s my only bike, and my only ve­hi­cle.

Gears? They’re for peo­ple who want too much to think about. Hills? Bring it; I know them well.

Hip­ster? I am hip (at least, I like to think so) and I have hips – that will need re­plac­ing from too much run­ning and rid­ing, if I don’t do more yoga – but I’m too bloody old by half to fake hip­ster­hood. My bi­cy­cle is a road­ster the colour of freshly oxy­genated blood. A thing of bril­liance called a VanMoof Bam­booman car­rier is fixed to its North Road han­dle­bars, by the hack job of two bits of a leather belt, plus nuts, bolts and ca­ble ties. A Brooks – which cost me more than the bike – is where my bum goes.

I love my bi­cy­cle. If some me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal mad­ness were to hit my home, it would be the only thing I would save on my way out. And save it I would.

What brand is my bike? Haven’t a clue. Once, some­one who knows about these things took a look at the braz­ing and said it might be an old Raleigh. I think of it as an old bas­tard, like me: my fa­ther was a drug dealer, my mother a for­tune teller. They were too busy try­ing (and fail­ing) to stay out of trou­ble to get hitched.

My bike was res­cued from a fate worse than rust by Emile Kotze – then of Star­ling & Hero in Wood­stock, now of Whip­pet in Joburg – and res­ur­rected and trucked to Jozi, where I used to live. Three- and- a- half years ago I moved to Cape Town. My bike was happy to go home. It told me so.

My bike has never felt the lurid­ness of ly­cra. At least, never in

our re­la­tion­ship. Cleats? I’ve had a pair since I was a kid. But they’re the kind you wear to play the gods’ own game: base­ball.

My bike and I are on the road ev­ery day we’re to­gether. But I travel a lot for work; and after about a week away, I start pin­ing. I try to re­sist; but some­times the mo­ments of weak­ness add up, and I cheat on my bike and grab a cheap, empty thrill on the sad­dle of a rental. I go home and whim­per apolo­gies as ab­ject as they are pa­thetic. My bike says #*@& you.

Be­fore my bike and I got to­gether, I was just an­other frus­trated driver, ‘ stuck in traf­fic’. Bull­shit. Like ev­ery other – also frus­trated – driver around me, I wasn’t ‘ stuck in traf­fic’ – we were the traf­fic. Now, traf­fic is just some­thing that I used to know.

If you read this magazine reg­u­larly, and you’ve read this story this far, you know where this is go­ing. I could get on with it, and throw all the stats and facts at you: why cycling beats driving on ev­ery score­card you can think of; why hu­mankind’s fu­ture will hap­pen on a bike, if hu­mankind is to have a fu­ture at all; why we’re all go­ing to die hor­ri­ble, smoggy deaths – our ar­ter­ies clogged by cap­i­tal­ism, our joints con­gealed with mod­ern life, our minds mushed by mind­less­ness de­liv­ered on screens – if we don’t get the hell out there and pedal.

And if I did that, if I were you I would turn the page.

Be­cause you know all that al­ready. Be­cause you be­lieve all that al­ready, which is dif­fer­ent from know­ing it.

Be­cause you’re prob­a­bly not car- free; you haven’t sold the cursed hunk, and with it all those petrol, park­ing, main­te­nance and li­cence bills, and the daily drudgery of be­ing a mo­torised ham­ster on a macadamised wheel go­ing nowhere slowly.

Be­cause even if you want to free your­self from your car, thanks to South Africa’s all­but- bar­ren pub­lic trans­port land­scape, you can’t. Be­cause un­less you have the money, Uber isn’t the an­swer.


So why do I think this ar­ti­cle is worth your trou­ble?

Be­cause I want to share how stoked I am. Be­cause, like any zealot, I want to spread the good news. Be­cause noth­ing would make me hap­pier than the ex­is­tence of more stoked zealots spread­ing the good news. Be­cause just a few years ago, I didn’t pay bi­cy­cles much heed. Be­cause now, I couldn’t imag­ine my life with­out one. Be­cause to­gether, we can change the world. Yes, re­ally. I re­alise I’m preach­ing to the con­verted, or at least to the quasi- con­verted. After all, you do ride a bike – ei­ther on a road or off it, in races against other rid­ers or against your own sag­ging fit­ness; and maybe, some­times, if the weather’s won­der­ful and the dis­tance is de­cent, even to go from A to B to C and back to A.

Sorry if I’ve left any sub- sub- cul­ture of the sub- cul­ture off that list, and sorry also

to those who wor­ship their bikes like I do. Thing is, my own con­ver­sion has been so com­plete, I find it dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why ev­ery­one doesn’t ride a bike ev­ery­where, all the time. So I run out of ideas quickly when I try and think of rea­sons not to ride.

But I’ll have a go.


Don’t be stupid when you’re out there, but be as­sertive – it’s a fine balance.

I’ve been doored a few times, with spec­tac­u­lar re­sults, at least partly be­cause I was rid­ing too close to the line of parked cars. Hap­pily, all I have to show for my trou­bles are a slightly dinged Bam­booman, a brake lever that looks like it might have been de­signed by Sal­vador Dali and re­designed by Uri Geller, and what I sus­pect was a bro­ken fin­ger.

Now I ride a touch fur­ther into the lane, keep a vig­i­lant eye out for oc­cu­pied drivers’ seats, and ig­nore the oc­ca­sional idiot hoot­ing be­hind me.

If only our drivers were taught the ‘ Dutch reach’. In the Nether­lands, you fail your driver’s test if you don’t reach for the latch to open your door us­ing the hand fur­thest from the door. That way, you nat­u­rally turn your head and look down the road be­fore com­plet­ing the move­ment.

Be­ing as­sertive rests on the bul­let­proof truth that you, the cy­clist, be­long on the road as much as any­one and any­thing else. Those who don’t want to share the road should stay off it, or go to hell.

You won’t get many chances to de­bate these Ne­an­derthals; but when you do, here’s your killer blow – this road was here a long time be­fore cars ar­rived, buddy, so learn to share.

A keen sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion is cru­cial. If you ride be­hind a minibus taxi, know that it will stop fre­quently – and of­ten not law­fully where it should. Know that it will lurch into traf­fic with­out warn­ing. Know that you can do noth­ing to change that.

But above all, know that with­out minibus taxis, there would be a lot more mo­torised mo­rons on our roads. And that minibus taxi drivers tend to be more skilled – and once you get to know those on your routes, re­spect­ful of you and your bike, and down­right chatty at the ro­bots – than the av­er­age en­ti­tled oaf be­hind the wheel of an obese 4x4.

Some­thing else that sets Dutch drivers apart is that al­most all of them grew up on a bike. That means they have an in­nate sense of what the cy­clist in front of them is go­ing to do. An­tic­i­pa­tion works both ways.

“i don’t want to wear a hel­met.”

I won’t wear a hel­met un­til ev­ery driver, pas­sen­ger, skate­boarder, rollerblader and pedes­trian does also. There is no logic in re­quir­ing peo­ple on bikes to be hel­meted when peo­ple in ve­hi­cles that travel ex­po­nen­tially faster are not. And since when are the heads of skate­board­ers, rollerbladers and pedes­tri­ans harder than those of cy­clists?

“there aren’t enough bike lanes.”

Bike lanes are nice to have, but they’re not must- haves. And they’re dan­ger­ous; be­cause to sep­a­rate cy­clists from drivers is to al­low drivers to re­gard as truth the non­sense that they own the road.

Be­sides; de­press­ingly of­ten, bike lanes are hi­jacked by cars for park­ing.

“it’s rain­ing.” (or “too cold”, “too hot” or “too windy”.)

You’ve heard of rain gear. And jack­ets. Heat? Wind? You’re a cy­clist, for fixie’s sake. I could go on. And on and on. But I’m never go­ing to con­vince my­self that bikes are not the an­swer, and the fu­ture, and all things won­der­ful. So go, you good thing – get out on your road. All of them. All the time.


All that is only the prac­ti­cal­i­ties. The broader point is that my well- be­ing is closely tied to my re­la­tion­ship with my bi­cy­cle.

A while ago, my wife and I had to drive some­where, for the first time in six months. For an hour. Then, after sev­eral hours of work, we would have to drive back. I was keen on tak­ing a train; but my wife – also a cy­clist, but less gung- ho – wasn’t. So we drove.

Less than five min­utes in, I felt a hol­low, crush­ing numb­ness be­hind my eyes. Our con­ver­sa­tion dried up as I con­strained my fo­cus to the road. I ar­rived with a headache, sore knees and a bad at­ti­tude. Our drive back was crip­pled by traf­fic, and our evening ended in a stupid ar­gu­ment. I hoped I would never have to drive again. Fat chance. We live in a world colonised by cars. So much of our pub­lic space has


been swal­lowed by them that we walk what amounts to a tightrope just to cross the road.

And we keep adding to the prob­lem: plan­ners think they can solve traf­fic chal­lenges by widen­ing roads. That’s like think­ing you can lose weight by loos­en­ing your belt.

My bike agrees with all of the above. We’ve had con­ver­sa­tions like this so of­ten, some­times I think we’re in dan­ger of bor­ing each other.

But some­how, that never hap­pens. There’s al­ways a hill to get up, or a head­wind to tackle, or some oke in ly­cra try­ing to walk in cleats to laugh at, or an­other poor bike bolted to a cof­fee shop wall – the not- sose­cret hand­shake of the hip­ster han­gout – to pity.

There’s al­ways life, and we’re liv­ing it real. Ev­ery day.


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