Bike2Work Day recently was quite an experience for me. The truth is, I had actually cycled into the Cape Town CBD several times before. But it was always in the afternoons and never during the morning peak hour traffic. I have also never cycled in a group before. I have had a bike since I was a young teenager and have continued cycling into adulthood. I do it almost exclusively for fun and have never really considered it a serious mode of transport before.
My view is starting to change though. This despite the numerous people who have since asked me whether I didn’t feel unsafe on my bike during peak-hour traffic. The short answer is no I didn’t. But I can understand why they ask. You do feel extremely vulnerable on a bicycle, with nothing but a flimsy, foam-filled helmet to keep you safe. But I think because I have cycled on the roads since I was a kid, the feeling is not as amplified for me. I also find most motorists are extremely cordial. I say “most,” because there will be the occasional absent-minded, careless or unconscious driver who shoots your heart-rate up. And while that is no more frequent than if you had been in a car, the absence of the relative safety of a roof and a seatbelt, makes it a little more hair-raising.
As a result, I’m a lot more attentive when I’m cycling. I simply assume every driver is going to do something daft, so I prepare in advance. In traffic I pedal relatively slowly and pretty much keep my hands on the brakes at all times. But Cape Town has so many dedicated cycle lanes these days, that you actually spend a very little time on the open road. For example, in the southern suburbs, there are not just cycle lanes, but actual cycle tunnels allowing you to forego busy roads and intersections entirely. You can also cycle all the way from Parklands along the West Coast on a dedicated cycle path, all the way into town. Part of the route has been built into the dedicated MyCiti bus lane, which is a very comfortable ride that ejects you underneath the Elevated Freeways, next the Civic Centre.
There are several reasons why the Bike2Work campaign has come at an ideal time. Top of the list is better health and beating the ongoing petrol price increases, which – due to its knock-on effect – is having a huge impact on most people’s disposable income. With ongoing reports of a global rise in obesity, there’s a renewed effort by government to reverse the effects of lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure. In fact, the City of Cape Town has launched its Healthy Lifestyle Programme, which is part of a global campaign by cities to address issues of lifestyle diseases, like Type-2 Diabetes. Last year, 15 locals participated in a three-month pilot study that took diabetic clients through a healthy lifestyle programme, and showing an overall improvement in their blood sugar control. As part of the City’s public awareness campaign, it is also reducing the advertisement and sale of sugary drinks from municipal buildings across Cape Town.
Mayor Patricia de Lille had a lunch with some of the programme participants last month, where she discouraged them from white bread and sugary drinks, while indulging in healthy snacks, such as raw vegetables with black bean dip, pesto, humus, low GI health bread, boiled eggs, chicken breast kebabs, sardines and fruit. This proves yet again that eating healthily doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise; bringing us to the issue of exercise, which is more of a complete lifestyle change, rather than focusing merely on nutrition. It requires more careful planning and can be a great challenge for most people with set routines. But here’s the thing; our health is really our main priority, as without it, our routines won’t matter anyway, because we will be forced to spend much of time addressing it, either with medication, hospital visits or being incapacitated by it. So making a few time-sacrifices to focus on your health, is as we all know, hugely beneficial to you and your family, thus making it THE most important thing in your life. And don’t fret over not having the right gear. That will come in time and as you start enjoying it more and more.
Nutrition is of course a critical part of this, but so is keeping fit, which doesn’t have to involve the additional expense of joining a gym. Gyms are great, because there’s a sense of collectively motivation towards the same goals. It does help get one in the right frame of mind, when you see dozens of other people struggling with the same fitness challenges. However, you can also get this on the road with fellow runners or cyclists. Without the costs! In fact, exercising outdoors is just a whole lot more exciting and motivating than being indoors. So considering the cost of food and petrol, your responsibility to be at work timely every day and the benefits of exercising … biking seems to be the most obvious and cost effective solution too all these challenges. Not to mention avoiding the frustration of sitting in peak-hour traffic every day and then still having to take out a second bond to pay for parking. In fact, there was a time when bicycles were considered part of the early cultural revolution that finally set women free from relying on men for their mobility. Women’s Rights movements embraced the new technology, which even led to a revolution in women’s fashion. To accommodate cycling, women finally ditched the restrictive modest attire of the Victorian age and ushered in the barbaric practice of exposed ankles. I wonder what those folks would think of the cycling gear of modern times? Be that as it may, I reckon it’s time we ditch our cars and reclaim the revolutionary symbol that is the humble bicycle. If this time only because of this favourite cyclist quote: “Cars run on cash and make your fat; bicycles run on fat and saves you cash.”