Archive | May, 2013

Laurence’s thoughts on bicycle riding

1 May


As a cyclist I was allowed onto the streets of Johannesburg at the age of 14, imagine a city with traffic like Los Angeles, taxis like Bombay and zero bike lanes. Johannesburg was definitely a quick way to learn the rules and dangers of the road. If Go-Pro’s were around in the 90’s I think my family would have put me in a bubble and locked me in a velodrome. Fortunately my love for cycling, large amounts of youthful ignorance and a desire to explore completely overruled the dangers and allowed me to get to know the streets of Jozi. There simply was no greater freedom for a teenager. I could visit friends, ride through massive late-afternoon thunderstorms and skate across the smooth tar after the rains. The bicycle was my first real access to independence.

Cycling taught me an awareness on the road that I can confidently say has made me a better driver and far more road aware than friends who never “played” in the streets. When you are slightly podgy kid on a peugeot mountain-bike you are most definitely low on the road food chain in South Africa. As the years progressed I built up my bike and confidence of the better routes to and from friend’s houses. The worst intersection, the thinnest roads or pavements. Over my entire time riding I was fortunate to only be hit by cars twice, both minor accidents.

 My many other bicycle accidents tended to be related to attempts at riding up trees, into pavements without holding my bars or deciding that I was actually quite good at flying. Lets just say that icarus does exist in the cycling world and my four cracked helmets in my lifetime has taught me to wear them always! I recall a particularly bad accident in Cape Town, while crossing from side-walk to another, remember, very few bike lanes, I was riding in the evening and did not notice a  steel cable dividing the road and sidewalk. My last minute, side-ways sliding / being thrown into a gutter was another one of those …. well … terrible moments. Part of this could have been avoided by actually having a dedicated place to ride. Recently Cape Town has improved infrastructure and certainly has done more for cyclists than Johannesburg. The community in South Africa is growing, healthy and making the streets a better place to be. Since I have moved to the USA I have been particularly appreciative of the growing awareness of cyclists and installation of bike lanes in places I have lived.

Cycling still has a long way to come as an everyday occurrence in places like South Africa and the USA when compared to Europe. However, the last two years have arguably been some of the most exciting times for this transport’s history. Bike lanes and bicycle sharing programs are being pushed everywhere in the USA. I will go so far to say that cycling engages a community more, you recognize the nuances of your neighborhood, feel connected to places you visit and nothing quite brings a smile, well, at least in my opinion. It takes us out of our bubbles and puts our urban lives a little more in perspective. I commuted by car for 2 hours daily in Los Angeles last summer and can say that I developed a very advanced skill of being able to talk with myself. This my dear audience is not sanity.

Cycling, riding, taught me about the streets of Jozi, it showed me an appreciation for quiet parts of the city. Cycling was my first social network when I moved to the USA. I figured out how to ride from my Apartment in Riverside to the awesome trails of sycamore canyon and a group of friends that I made there. Each new place forced me to be a little lost for a while but eventually sniff out the better places to ride. It took me four bad bike routes to get into the Santa Monica Mountains from the beach but this is life as a cyclist it’s only those who ride regularly that get to know the city, and even then they end up sticking to routes they know well. While we have been bootstrapping in New Jersey I quickly discovered the value of asking a bike shop where to ride. However planning a route involved sleuthing from the given keywords of “Bear Mountain”, “9W” and some time on Google maps. It all really comes down to local insight and the ability to share it. 

I knew that Hammerhead was a service I could use and it would be valuable. We are all essentially tourists and explorers of our environment, I find a fresh take on an old route is often the best way of getting an appreciation for it. Very often that requires a friend to push you out of your habits. Our team hopes to work on bringing some insight into the average bicycle ride.


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