It’s been a while since any of us have ridden our bicycles – Koos had his broken foot, we had extended vacations and everything cycling seemed to fall by the way side.
That’s why I was pretty excited when the Mukheli brothers had decided to take up cycling as well. Innocent and Justice Mukheli are 2 of 3 parts behind the incredible I See A Different You Collective and Justice had gotten into riding a bit more towards the end of last year. Since he had started riding we’d been threatening to go for a ride together but life kept on getting in the way.
As the new year came around Justice invited me to join him on one of his regular rides with friends through Soweto. It was the perfect excuse for me to grease up the chain on my Le Jeune single speed and get my legs back in action. I hadn’t been on a bike in about 3 months, if not more, but was keen to see what would go down. Initially the plan was to ride from Braamfontein to Soweto, but things changed and we ended up taking the car through – In retrospect it was a bit ambitious of me to think I could do the Soweto and back trip on my single speed in my fitness state so I’m quite glad we did end up putting the bikes on the rack.
If you don’t know Justice, both him and his brother are both consistently rated high in SA’s/JHB’s fashion circles, so when he gave me a funny eye in the lycra bib and cycling top I greeted him in I could see the look was a “It’s not that type of ride”. Relief washed over me as I put on my commuter gear – not suiting up meant my initial fears of a harder type of ride would be put away. Justice later explained that one of the reasons the guys who ride in Soweto “dress up” to some extent is to give kids something to aspire to – you can exercise and look good at the same time. I’m sure most fashion conscious cyclists would point to the Rapha gear available and say – “form and function”, but a kid in Soweto has no relation to swanky lycra or high end gear – they look at the guys cruising through the hood who are immaculately dressed and aspire to be that, the black skinsuit in lycra speeding past at 60km/h isn’t a reference point for them.
We joined up with a crew in Soweto at Prince’s house and waited for the rest of the team to arrive. Wandile from Thesis also pulled through and our numbers started growing quite nicely. After about 30 mins of chit chat everyone had arrived and those who need quick fixes were looked after. A total of 8 riders arrived and we were a mix of single speeds and geared bikes. No one on fixies just yet.
It was just shy of 7:30 that we started our ride, heading out towards the Orlando Towers. It quickly became clear that there were 2 distinct groups – the faster guys and those on their bikes for the first time. Prince has started some initiatives in Soweto to grow the cycling culture and has made a few bikes available to anyone who would like to try it out. There were a few riders who had just started out and were taking a few shots up the longer, steeper initial hills.
The groups separated as we dragged up some hills while Justice, Wandile and I started pulling further ahead from the guys behind. We made our way to another friend, Hussain, and waited for the rest of the guys to catch-up. From here on out we were pretty much everyone and we slowly peddled our way out. There were still some issues with one leaky tube and everyone was stopping and starting the whole time. The group started dragging again so Justice, Wandile and I decided to pick up our pace a bit. We broke away and started making our way through to the Thesis Shop in Mofolo which was one of our beacons for the day.
This was the first time in the ride that we managed to get that amazing free-flow feel of riding. Just you and your bike cruising along with some friends. The back neighbourhood roads around Soweto are incredible – long uninterrupted stretches of pretty good road surfaces and not that much traffic. My neighbourhood cycling has mainly happened around Gardens in Cape Town or Braamfontein/West Cliff/Greenside area in JHB. Both of these experiences are really hilly and you don’t get the sense of openness as you do in Soweto. We typically don’t really do neighbourhood rides as you end up cycling up too many hills – it doesn’t have that nice feel of just a cruise. This was definitely a cruise, but a fast one at that.
The vast, sprawling area connecting one neighbourhood to the next just keeps on going. We hit Vilikazi street and started our first major hill of the day. All three of us were panting our lungs out – luckily my muscle memory hasn’t lost me entirely and I managed to make it to the top first, but not without a near collapse. If it had been 200m longer I would have given up. As we got to the top you could suddenly see a bit further around you, with the Orlando towers as a beacon for where we started now quite far away.
It wasn’t long after this that we arrived at the Thesis Shop. I have no idea how we got there – we took a mix of zigs and zags, passing some murals that the I See A Different You crew had done with Freddy Sam. As we started getting closer to Thesis I could orientate myself with some of the shops and landmarks I had visited before during the famed Thesis Social Sessions. The route turned a short left and suddenly we were in front of the shop. We stopped for a quick water break and were then joined by some of the previous group who had taken a different route to get to Thesis. We decided to head back to Vilikazi street to meet-up with the rest of the guys who had stopped just outside Mandela’s house. I might have started rumours of having a beer at that stage – we had already been riding for 2 hours and it seemed like a good idea… In the end we decided to start heading back to our cars as everyone had to get the rest of the day started.
From here on back the group all stayed together as we roamed through the streets of Soweto, feeling like a typical old-skool biker gang. It’s a different feeling than the big, almost anonymous Critical Mass rides vs the madness of the Hustle’s. 8 riders just cruising with their bikes through the hood and having fun. What more can you want for an easy Sunday?
Big thanks go to Justice for taking me with on the ride and also to the rest of the guys who are building the cycling culture in Soweto. It’s really encouraging to see that so many people who live in the area are getting on bikes. One of the aims of the group is to get more people from the rest of Johannesburg to visit Soweto and see what it is about and to get to learn the neighbourhoods.
The crew is looking to get a more regular ride going so if you would like to join up with the next ride simply drop a comment in the box below and we’ll let you know when the next one is on.