Cycling in the spotlight

Cape Town Bicycle Mayor, Lebogang Mokwena, enjoys cycling through the streets of Khayelitsha.

Plans to encourage more people to use bicycles as a mode of transport shifted into a higher gear over the weekend when different organisations jointly hosted an inaugural World Bicycle Day event, at Isivivana Centre, in Khayelitsha.

Representatives from Open Streets, Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN), Pedal Power Association and Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy gathered at the centre on Sunday June 3 to share their experiences and to motivate more people to use bicycles instead of cars and other transport modes.

Known as Cape Town’s Bicycle Mayor, Lebogang Mokwena, joined the discussion. The Woodstock resident has made a name for herself by using a bicycle as her preferred transport mode.

She started cycling when she moved to study in New York, in 2014.

Last year, she was elected “Bicycle Mayor of Cape Town”. And through her Learn2Cycle initiative, she also conducts cycling lessons, largely for women, and advocating for more people to use bicycles not just for leisure, but as a mode of transport.

She was instrumental in putting together the event.

World Bicycle Day was approved by the United Nations in April this year to highlight the multiple societal and environmental benefits of using the bicycle for transport, leisure and social development.

Ms Mokwena said the idea was to diversify the cycling community in Cape Town. She said cycling was viewed as being a masculine thing with few parents interested in teaching their girls to ride bicycles.

She labelled the bicycle as an “amazing utility instrument” for the transportation of friends, for recreation, to do daily admin and for exercising.

With high levels of unemployment, she said projects like Learn2Cycle could go a long way in increasing mobility among women and save them money and time. “This is not to say that we should accept this gendered division of labour and its imbalances, but that even as we change it, we make sure that in the meantime women have access to a range of opportunities and technologies, which can lessen part of their load,” said Ms Mokwena.

Co-founder and managing director of Open Streets, Marcela Guerrero Casas, described the event as symbolic and as another way to promote cycling in Cape Town.

She said the organisation hosted “lots of small initiatives” around Cape Town to promote cycling. Through the events they were “linking the dots” to get everyone on bicycles.

She said cycling was a great way to experience the city. “We are really trying to maximise the potential bicycles have as a mode of transport,” she said, calling for a behavioural change in society.

“We are trying to galvanise support at grassroots. We know it is not going to happen overnight,” said Ms Guerrero Casas.

BEN general manager, Tim Mosdell, said they were ready to distribute up to 1 000 bicycles in Khayelitsha in the coming months.

Working with Qhubeka, he said they distributed a lot of bicycles in Mitchell’s Plain and Masiphumelele. “We have not done much work in Khayelitsha, that is why we are making it our priority this year,” he said.

He said 600 bicycles were ready for distribution, but they were working out distribution logistics, primarily focusing on schools around Velokhaya.

“We are not only focusing on schools, but on community sports projects,” he said.

Mr Mosdell said the plan was to get more people to cycle. “We would have loved to have more local people, but it is a good start,” he said.

Sipho Mona from Velokhaya said as an organisation they worked tirelessly to get young people on bikes.

He said the challenge remained getting women and girls to cycle.

Although Khayelitsha has a dedicated cycling infrastructure, he said there were still a lot of challenges they have to deal with including discrimination against female cyclists. “People mock you because of a bicycle,” he said, adding that through their programmes they strived to build a better community.