Cape Town - ’”It’s just like riding a bicycle” is what people always say, the implication being that once you can do it, you never forget.
That’s great. Except my whole life I have stubbornly clung to the inability to ride a bicycle. It’s become a matter of some pride, tinged with a bit of rebellion. This admission is usually met with anything ranging from disbelief to outright shock.
“You can’t ride a bike?” they shriek, the abundance of exclamation points clearly heard if not seen. “How can you not be able to ride a bike?”
Oh, sue me. I’ve neither had the need nor the urge. I can’t ride a motorbike either. Or a skateboard (tried, failed dismally and painfully). There are lots of people who can’t swim, or ride a horse, but no one gives them grief about that.
But then someone pointed out to me, with faultless logic, that I have done many adventurous things for stories, from jumping out of perfectly good aircraft, to hanging off the side of Table Mountain on a rope, so why not learn to ride a bicycle?
And so it came to pass one sunny morning that I met Sally Peterson of AWOL Tours. The company is based at the information office at the V&A Waterfront (just next door to Ferryman’s).
Cycling lessons are not usually among the services offered, but Sally, who is teaching her small children to ride as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, probably saw me as some kind of interesting challenge.
In the interests of safety – mine and that of the general public – we wheeled a bike down to the quay in front of the Table Bay Hotel, which was relatively quiet at that time of day. Not only fewer people to witness my humiliation, but fewer to mow down.
Things did not start well. First of all, what sadist designed the seat? Saddle? Whatever the heck you call it, it’s the most devilishly uncomfortable shape and entirely unnecessary. What’s wrong with a nice little bucket seat to cup one’s bottom? I will never think of all you Argus cyclists the same way again, that’s for sure.
It also soon became obvious that whatever other skills I have, perfect balance is not one of them. Keeping the bicycle in a straight line was much more challenging than expected.
After some thought, Sally had me cruise up and down without pedals, propelling myself with my feet, until I could stay upright.
The security guard at the end of our little circuit was very encouraging about my progress each time we passed him.
A former bicycle racing champion of my acquaintance had anticipated it would take about an hour for me to learn. I can’t say he was entirely right, but within that time I was pedalling along, albeit with Sally’s hand still on my back. “Can I let go?” she yelled as she ran alongside me. “No, don’t you dare!” I screamed. Although I suppose she could have, really.
Once I got going, it was quite fun, but I am never going to be a cyclist. At best, I can now say I can “almost” ride a bike. Certainly not well enough to go on one of AWOL’s tours, which include city, winelands, and township rides, so I asked our photographer, Adrian de Kock, to do it for me.
This is what he said: “AWOL’s community-based bicycle tours which operate in the Masiphumelele township, between Kommetjie, Capri Village and Noordhoek, are the ideal way to explore and get involved in a community.
“Cyclists head out through the narrow streets of the bustling township, greeted by locals and informed by a tour guide on the history of the township, before making their way to the local crèche, with about 100 children. There your job is to help the care workers look after the children.
“After that you make your way to the community hall and watch how the locals make beads and dresses. Then a quick visit to the traditional healer/sangoma to see how she prepares her medicine.
“Lunch is prepared at a local small business, Nongoloza, over an open fire.” - Weekend Argus
If You Go...
AWOL Tours strives to ensure responsible tourism practices, and integrates a responsible tourism policy into its itineraries, which brings significant benefits to local communities by providing income and positive cultural exchanges, as well as protecting the natural environment. For its efforts it won a First Choice Responsible Tourism Award in 2006, was a finalist in the 2008 and 2011 Imvelo Awards, and has a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for 2013. AWOL Tours is an accredited member of Fair Trade and Tourism in South Africa. Contact them at 021 418 3803.