I hadn’t expected to do much riding when I arrived in Cape Town. Having planned a month of traveling prior to arriving in South Africa, it would’ve been a little hectic to haul a bicycle on my back across two continents, and with such little time in the semester it didn’t seem like purchasing a bike would make much sense either. Then, by a stroke of luck, I happened to find myself with a spot in the Cape Argus.
The Cape Argus, or The Cape Town Cycle Tour, is the largest timed cycle race in the world, and also a staple event in the cycling community in Cape Town. Over 35k riders take part in the event every year, bringing women and men from all corners of the world together to ride 109km (about 68mi) around the Cape Peninsula. The event is incredibly popular, and tickets are said to sell out online within minutes of opening. The proceeds for the ride all go to charitable organizations in South Africa, and many of the recipients are offered complimentary entries in to the event as well. Luckily, I was connected with one of these such organizations, and was able to purchase a ticket through them.
Getting myself ready for the tour became my mission for the next two weeks after getting my ticket. The first half of this time I spent in search of a bicycle to either borrow, rent, or purchase at an affordable price. I spent afternoons taking the train across the city to various bike shops—each referring me to another or suggesting I look online on South Africa’s version of Craigslist, a website by the name of GumTree. Well, I took them up on the latter, and by the end of the week I found a used road bike for a price well within my tight budget, and could focus my attention on my training.
For the next week I rode my bike pretty much everywhere I could. What I originally intended to be a series of training rides, turned in to an informal tour of the city that I’ve come to call home. From my saddle I could venture to corners of the Cape Town inaccessible from the railway lines or mini bus taxis. I made friends other people I’d come across in bike shops, or cyclists I’d meet on the road as they also prepared for the Argus. Mostly though, the folks my bike introduced me to had nothing to do with the race at all. They’d be the local Cape Town residents who were intrigued to see a Black American riding a deceptively flashy-looking road bike around, or the students who’d strike up conversation with me on campus after seeing me bike up the notorious hill to campus every morning.
In the end, all of the training certainly paid off, and the ride was absolutely incredible. Ironically though, when I think back on the experience of participating in the tour years from now I don’t actually think I’ll think much about the ride itself. Don’t get me wrong, the Argus was one of the most amazing rides I’ve ever done, but aside from the spectacular views of the Cape and the faces of children running along alongside us as we rode, the experience of riding in the race itself wasn’t much different than those back home. Instead, I imagine that I’ll think most about the people that came in to my life when preparing for the ride, the places around Cape Town my bike took me when training, the confidence I developed in navigating a new urban environment and the appreciation I came to have for those who occupy it. I’ll also be reminded of less positive feelings as well, such as the privilege I felt in having the funds to purchase a relatively nice used bike at a price that would still be unheard of to the average South African (as is the price of an Argus entry ticket), or the fear that by engaging in my favorite hobby I’d be ushering myself into cycling communities similar to those back home: predominately made of affluent white males and without much other social or economic diversity.
I still believe that there are even more memories to be made in this city though, and that I still have several other places and people to meet in Cape Town; both on the saddle and off of it. The Argus gave me an opportunity to see one example of cycling’s influence on a minority of individuals who ride here, but I’m hoping to take my interest and share it with others who might not engage with the bicycle in that same way. In the coming weeks I’m hoping to leave the comfortable Southern Suburbs that house the University of Cape Town, and travel with a local organization to schools in neighboring Townships to provide donated bicycles, as well as lessons in bicycle safety, maintenance, and repair to South African students. Perhaps one day I’ll find myself back in Cape Town and riding the Argus with them, or maybe we’ll just explore new streets around the city with even more new faces- I’d like that too.