One day every March, for 35,000 people in Cape Town and their supporters and families, it is “all about the bike”, as the city hosts the world’s largest individually-timed bicycle race.
But, for everyone else within hearing distance of the race, it is all about the car – and how to get by without it. That’s because Cape Town – not a city particularly friendly toward cyclists on every other day – closes some 120km or so of freeway and suburban roads to vehicles.
This year, a collection of non-racing cyclists decided to cash in on Cape Town’s “accidental” annual carfree day and make it “official”, laying claim to a little strip of main road between the Kalk Bay harbour, the beach and the city’s most picturesque rail line on the one side, and the race-route on the other. Traffic police kept private cars out at the cycle tour end, and orange bollards and a security guard discouraged cars at the other. And so it happened that the bookshop, the baker and the pancake maker did a brisk trade for passers-by, dog walkers and race-watchers; children (and a few grown-ups) drew chalk patterns on the tar, and Sunday morning felt suitably slow-paced and carfree. Far more effective than a road sign-post saying, “slow down, children playing”, is, er, children playing.
“Where do you usually ride?”, I asked one small boy in a crash helmet. “Nowhere”, he said. “It’s my first time.” Then he laid down on his skateboard to recover…