How is it to begin commuter cycling in Johannesburg?

Earlier this year, the property management company, Southpoint, donated 10 bicycles to University students living in their residencies in Braamfontein. The students were given the bicycles on a long term loan basis. They are encouraged to use their bicycles to get to campus and run errands as they see fit in and around Braamfontein.

After the donation, JUCA and Cycle Wits offered the students some basic bicycle riding and maintenance tips and techniques.  Here we catch up with one of the students to find out how it is going. We will be profiling other students in the coming weeks. We are thrilled with the progress.

Why did you decide to participate in the South point initiative?

I have never owned a bicycle of my own, because my parents felt that it was not safe for a girl to be riding around in a bike in the township where I grew up. I love bicycles and it saddened me to only have a chance of riding it if my friends allowed me to. I wanted a bike to call my own and also because I love staying active. I spend most of my time in Joburg and move around using taxis. But I wanted to save money and keep fit while getting to nearby locations; I haven’t had time to hit the gym as much as I’d like to so a bike seemed like a good solution.

When was the last time you rode a bike? And where was this? Was it in Joburg? How did you learn to ride a bike?

The last time I rode a bike was sometime last year in September. I rode the bike from east to west campus on a TV shoot for a student friend of mine. That bike belongs to the school workshop. I learned how to ride a bike when I was 6 years old. My friend had just got a bicycle and I was learning with her simultaneously, on her bike because I didn’t have my own.

When was the first time you rode the bike? How did you feel about the experience?

I rode the bike as soon as they (Southpoint) gave it to me. I was so happy and looking forward to the experience of owning a bike. I immediately rode to campus to show my friends.

Nthabiseng and Zuri
Nthabiseng and Zuri

How do you use the bike nowadays? Where do you go? For what purposes? What is the longest distance you have gone?

I use my bike for going to campus and carrying my art things in it. I’m an art student. Sometimes I use it for grocery shopping at Newtown junction. However I mostly use it to get to Wits. I also like participating in Critical Mass and the social rides that we (with the other 9 students) have as a South Point team. The longest I have ridden the bike is about 20kms I think – and this was with others in a group.

What sort of reactions have you had from ordinary people on the street as you ride your bike? What do they say? How do you feel about what they say?

The faces I get from people are amazing. There are smiles and even bafflement on some people’s faces.

Cycling is a sport that is white people dominated and  I think it’s always a shock for people to see a black girl on a bike.

There was a day when I rode past a taxi and stopped by the traffic lights. The taxi caught up and the entire taxi was starring at me with faces full of questions. It’s a rare thing to happen, I even went on Facebook to write “they ain’t never seen a black girl ride around like this”.

People are always hooting and waving at me. I’m always being reminded to keep safe and not fall. Sometimes I get people asking me for a ride.

There’s is a lot of positive reactions and I love it because it shows ‘approval’ and envy from the people around.  And I also feel good to be part of the few black girls cycling. It is all about moving away from the stereotype of having just white people cycling.

How do you feel about your bicycle? Is it comfortable to ride? Are you able to run errands like carry books or shopping on it?

I love my bicycle. In the very short space of time that I’ve had it, I think it has formed part of my identity. I have even given it a name. It’s Zuri, meaning beautiful in Swahili. Even the people within my circle know that it’s Zuri,  when I walk to school I get asked, “why you walking, where’s Zuri?” That’s how much it’s become a part of me.

It’s a very comfortable bike, and the seat is also comfortable. The bike itself is really fresh and you instantly look cool when you’re on it.

I’m able to also run my errands on it and can carry stuff in it.


How do you feel nowadays about riding your bike around Joburg? Are you nervous? Have you had any scary moments? What is the best thing about riding your bike around town?

I’ve always been confident and cautious when riding my bike, I am not nervous. My scary moments are usually when there’s a car parked in the cycling lanes and then I have to share the road with the cars.The best thing about riding my bike is that I stand out. Also, I can get to places faster. While people are in a taxi stuck in traffic, I ride past.
What advice would you have for someone who is thinking about riding a bike in Johannesburg?

‘Do it!’ There is no dull moment, you cannot be on a bike and not smile! Also, they need to be constantly aware and careful of the cars.

Anything else you would like to share?

One thing I would like to say is that South Point should let us keep these bikes forever!