The Lone Cyclist tackles Cape Town’s new cycle lanes.

The Lone Cyclist

Part 1: The art of cycling to the office in Cape Town

By Adriaan Bester

I have to disclose my cycling credentials upfront. I have never done the Pick n Pay Argus, nor (dear heavens) the Absa Cape Epic. Though I have made a pinky-promise to my nephew that I’ll rise to the Suikerbos-challenge in 2013 in memory of my sister’s 40th birthday. With a career in spin doctoring, I am sure to get out of this too.

Still, I have a long history of owning one. My first pedal-to-freedom came compliments of my grandmother who, in 1985, was the holder of a lucky ticket from the raffle at Ficksburg’s Checkers store. In the pursuit of fairness, she had to cough-up and buy my cousin a bicycle to ensure ongoing peace.

And I have been to Copenhagen, where mothers, daughters, noblemen and construction workers hop freely from cycle to shuttle and bus to train in a seamless euphoria. Come rain or dim Scandinavian light, rain or snow, these fellow earthlings find their way back home, negotiating safely the less-than-them cars on the roads. (Granted, the earth is rather flat on that side.)

My attempts are therefore not aimed at collecting medals and sponsored t-shirts from corporate races or doing coffee with buddies on Sunday mornings in my lycras along Victoria Road.

I have taken up cycling at more or less the same time as leaving behind the comfort of corporate claws (after 15 years of free parking and subsidized traveling costs). Now, with a new office in trendy Woodstock, and living in Green Point, I treble when I pay R10 for a litre of petrol and R8 per hour when I park my car out in the sun, in the street. And who-knows how much under a roof…!?

And so my journey starts, with freshly oiled chain, sling bag with bare essentials, dressed in slack-yet-decent corporate wear I took on the newly constructed cycle promise of Cape Town (not ready to label it a route yet, as this route still has many stops in-between).

 The ghost town structures of what will become Cape Town’s Integrated Rapid Transport stations next to a spider web of new red concrete lanes pass me by as I whirl closer to town, holding my breath under the flyovers for the smell from the harbour and the urine in dark corners. But that is nothing compared to the challenge that awaits me a few hundred metres away at Cape Town station.

With no clear sign of where cyclists should steam forth once at the station, even though there are cycle lanes leading right up to it, I ventured right into the station (as previous attempts left me near-scarred and crashed by taxis and pedestrians outside).

 Comforted by the public warning signs outside (which does not rule out any form of bicycling) I gently (or bravely) entered the vibey and grand new building (I really love it, you can ask my friends). A short cycle it appeared to be as a very irate security guard jumped in front of me with a clipboard. Clearly annoyed with me.

 So I get the typical standard comments and questions we got when we were kids “Would you cycle in your mom’s lounge? I don’t think so. This is a private building.”

 He was completely right to react. In my view though, there was no room for modern conversation on the appropriate alternatives I face, given my objectives to contribute to sustainability, global warming reduction and congested roads.

 Then, more alarmingly, speaking into his walky-talky, “Control room, we have a code X situation. Send back-up” in response to my question: “Can you please point out the preferred route for cyclists if not through the station because I can’t find it.”

 Trusting my instinct to back-off while I still have all my teeth in tact, a lesson learnt in board rooms, not the streets, I chose my battle and pushed back against oncoming taxis, vendors and annoyed pedestrians who stare at me with the same look I gave the security chap earlier.

 My cycling chronicles continue as motorists learn not to park in newly constructed cycle lanes, pie-eating pedestrians become aware of the space around them in Waterkant street (with dedicated cycle lanes) and more forms of transport integrate in the beauty that is my beloved Cape Town.