South African cycling heavyweights have come out in force against the state of cycling safety in South Africa. Cyclists across the spectrum are increasingly under attack from road users and criminals. From the well-publicised recent muggings and bike-jacking’s caught on go-pro camera in the Cape, to the much-maligned 1.5m cyclist leeway battle with vehicles on SA’s infamous roads, something needs to be done.
According to Arrive Alive, the death list reads: Pedestrians, Passengers, Drivers, and Cyclists – in that order. Although cycling fatalities statistics lag by a long way, in a country with a shocking road safety record, the reference point is a dubious one.
Furthermore, according to the South African Insurance Crime Bureau, crime syndicates are targeting cyclists that operate with surprising sophistication. Stolen or hijacked bicycles are dismantled, packed into 44 gallon drums, and moved across the border into neighbouring countries.
We spoke to cyclists from around the country to get a sense of how this community feels about the situation and the results were not surprising.
SA cycling legend and leading supplier to the industry, Chris Willemse, points out that, as the economic situation in SA worsens, crime increases and criminals see cyclists as ‘soft targets’. “It’s almost impossible for a cyclist to defend himself against a criminal or a group of them,” he says.
As Morne Myburgh, an amateur enthusiast from Gauteng puts it, “We are simply not safe anymore.”
Stephen Saunders, an ex-pro road cyclist and experienced mountain biker with a couple of Cape Epic’s under his belt, echoes the sentiment, calling road cyclists “sitting ducks”. “I try to never ride the same route twice,” he says. Surely, when cyclists have to start thinking like military personnel, there is something very wrong?
One solution is to create safe cycling spaces, an area with kilometres of natural terrain, a choice of trails and which has 24-hour security with medics on standby. While this is difficult to set up for the road user, off-road environments can be earmarked and converted into safe zones. Two Gauteng parks, Modderfontein RideFree Bike Park and Avianto RideFree Bike Park, currently operate in this way and are completely safe and accessible for all levels of cycling enthusiasts.
The company behind the safe cycling parks is Tracker. Chief Marketing Officer, Bronwynn Tippett, explains that the company is committed to enabling driving and cycling freedom. “The very essence of cycling is to embrace freedom of movement, but when movement is limited because it’s unsafe, that right soon erodes. Whether it’s cyclists or drivers, Tracker firmly believes in those freedoms and is committed to initiatives which embody those values.”
Willemse backs the call for the creation of safe cycling zones and Tracker’s role in the process. “A bike park allows cyclists to actually be safe rather than to just feel safe. That’s an important distinction as perceptions are not necessarily reality. I know of riders who thought they were safe on the road only to return one day without their mobile phone and bruised-up after being mugged on their bike.”
In a society that is as passionate about the outdoors as South Africans are, initiatives that protect our right to freedom of movement are critical. Similarly, nobody should be deprived of the right to cycle due to rampant crime or security concerns. Young cyclists need to be able to learn about the sport in a safe environment – and what better environment than a secure bike park with various levels of trails, bike safety clinics and even a bike wash facility?
“We view safe cycling zones, through the creation of world-class, safe and fun RideFree bike parks as a sustainable solution to the challenges all cyclists face on SA’s roads,” says Tippett. “As Tracker mobilises to expand these facilities across the country we hope, too, that we can bring back the freedom to ride in safety.”