The only thing hotter than the temperature reading on my car was my temper. Honestly, who breaks down late on a Sunday afternoon? Repair shops and parts dealers were all closed and left me with very few options for transport. I am not on any of the Gautrain or Rea Vaya bus routes and would probably have to catch multiple Metro busses to get to my office in Houghton Estate. Commuting by bicycle seemed to be the best option.
My route took me from Randpark Ridge through Linden, Greenside, Westcliff and Parktown before finally reaching Houghton. This is quite possibly not the most direct way to travel but for the most part the roads are well lit, have enough passerbys so that I was not isolated but not so busy that I would have to cope with excessive traffic, and also passed a number of service stations should there be some form of emergency (such as needing a cup of hot coffee).
Biting cold aside, the trip into the office was mostly pleasant. While by car, one might admire areas like Westcliff and Parktown as the streets are lined by majestic trees and the properties on the ridge were built by Randlords as early as 1892, they are rather hilly suburbs and tend to cut the average speed of the cyclists quite considerably. It is not always to easy to appreciate the architecture, which was described by Lord Milner as “displaying the taste of a London stock-broker,” while engaging in a leg-breaking climb through the hills of Johannesburg’s oldest suburbs.
I made it to the health club near our office where I managed to change. This is something that would be a major stumbling block for most as not everyone holds membership of a gym, not many companies have shower facilities for employees or there may be no health clubs nearby (and strangers don’t like it when you knock on their door and ask to use their shower).
Would I commute to work by bicycle again? Absolutely. It is a step towards a healthier, greener lifestyle that helps beat inflation by reducing travel costs. It would be fantastic to see more cities follow the examples of London and Cape Town by implementing dedicated cycle lanes. Though the routes in these cities are still in their infancy and don’t extend to outlying areas, they are growing in number of users who feel that commuting by bicycle is a safe alternative.
If you do plan to travel by bicycle remember the following:
• Wear reflective gear but more importantly fit lights to the front and back of your bike. Ones that flash work well as they capture the attention of motorists (and they can be used as strobe lights if you ever plan to host a disco at home). Where possible, use well-lit routes even if it means cycling a bit further.
• Be prepared for the weather – dress warmly and make sure you have a waterproof windbreaker.
• A mountain bike is probably best for commuting as it allows you to hop onto pavements or ride through parks to avoid traffic.
• Plot your course in advance and always let someone know which route you use for your daily commute.
• When your co-workers mock you for wearing lycra cycling gear, send them on a guilt trip by reminding them that you are at least trying to help the planet.
A good website to visit if you are keen to learn more about cycle safety is www.thinkbike.co.za. The site is geared towards motorcyclists but much of the content applies to those whose cycles are powered by their own two legs.