Out of Africa – cycling in the Rainbow Nation

I know this is supposed to be a blog about cycling in Wellington, but sometimes it’s nice to look further afield. A recent trip to South Africa gave me the chance to look at how cycling fares on the continent where all our DNA comes from.

Shared path near Green Point stadium
Shared path near Green Point stadium

Cycle central is definitely Cape Town – as part of the Soccer World Cup, an excellent set of bike lanes and shared paths extends from the centre out to the Green Point Stadium

Although Cape Town doesn’t run to a public bike scheme, there are a number of outfits that will deliver a bike to your accomodation, and it’s an excellent way to explore the city.

What is curious though is the absence of local cyclists – I had the bike paths almost to myself. There are quite a few recreational cyclists on the coastal route, but very little sign of everyday cycling around the city.

My impression is that despite the excellent bike facilities, white South Africans perceive cycling as too dangerous, while blacks find the cheap  mini-van taxi services an efficient way to get around.

Coast road south of Cape Town
Coast road south of Cape Town

Although I didn’t do any long distance cycle touring, the main roads weren’t too daunting. In general the roads have generous shoulders, although these tend to be used by slow vehicles when they are being overtaken, so you’d want to make sure you’re visible.

In contrast to the inner city, the coast road that extends south from Cape Town towards the Cape Peninsula has a lot of recreational cyclists, and you can always take a break and watch whales and dolphins migrating between the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Rickshaw, Durban waterfront
Rickshaw, Durban waterfront

In other centres, Durban had a great shared path extending along its waterfront – if you can’t be bothered hiring a bike, you could always take one of the colourful rickshaws – now purely a tourist attraction rather than a means of transport. This example might inspire a bicycle trailer design?

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Knysna cycle trail

Knysna, on the Garden Route on South Africa’s south eastern coast, had a nice bike path around the lagoon, though the ever present concern about security meant that a full time guard was posted on the route, and it was closed at night.

Cycling in Soweto
Cycling in Soweto

Perhaps my most interesting cycling was a day trip around Soweto, organised by Soweto Bicycle Tours – it was a great way to see the township, where housing varies from shacks with no running water or toilets, to residential areas that could easily be in Whitby. However again, there wasn’t a lot of sign of locals using bikes for transport.

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