Cycling in Cape Town is a suitcase word. If you say it, people will fill the suitcase with a variety of meanings and ideas and experiences particular to them. On the outside we think we are talking about cycling, but our perceptions may be packed quite differently on the inside. Bicycle riding is both simple and complex. It gives focus and meaning to a wide variety of communities, and certainly does attract a variety of opinions.
This month, Open Streets Cape Town will be celebrating Heritage Day on Friday 24th September, cycling in the Deep South with a group called The Community Collective. It looks to be a meaningful and unique morning ride. We spoke to Tiffany Chalmers, one of the organisers of this ride to find out what is “in the suitcase” when it comes this unique cycling outing.
The Community Collective didn’t start with cycling in mind. “Our tagline is Integration through Passion,” says Tiffany “We are an emerging group of people wanting to connect our communities.” In the nitialplanning stages when her community started addressing issues of social cohesion and social fabric, Tiffany explains, they started with trying to address the problematic and systemic issues facing communities in the Deep South. They soon realized that they were getting stuck on the high level, big issues and took some inspiration from the Community Action Network (CAN) to do something immediate and meaningful. Connecting people and spaces.
Bicycles seemed a great way to do that.
The people of the southern peninsula of the Cape Town Metro (or “Deep South”) can be somewhat stereotyped as residents who are laid back and easy going. Appearing more connected to nature means by extension one assumes more connected as communities. “This assumption is really a challenge, “remarks Tiffany. A number of diverse and economically distinctive settlements make up this portion of the city. “We want to simply ride with people of these communities and intentionally connect them by bicycle. Bicycles connect you to your surroundings, to people you are with. You can leave your preconceived ideas behind and be in a space on its own terms. Not as an onlooker, but as a participant.”
Tiffany was instrumental in setting up the Friday City Cycle in collaboration with Open Streets in 2018. Her vision and ability to connect people through social cycling was successful in coaxing city officials out from behind desks and out of silos for this weekly Friday lunchtime CBD ride. Riding between communities is similar but also has some important additional factors to consider.
Much like one would find on an Open Streets Day, the Community Collective is already rooted in the communities they are riding through on the day. This is not a sightseeing tour, it’s an invitation to connect with friends and partners. Their outcomes are already embedded in their method and those that have already signed up are connected and crossing spatial and economic divides before the event even happens. When we spoke to Tiffany she was off to fetch her bicycle from being serviced by a new friend at a local Ocean View bike repair shop discovered in the planning of the ride.
Ride planning is well on its way with snack stops, points of interest and marshals (that’s us!) signed up to assist the ride group to be safe and encouraging those new to cycling. The outing connects Soetwater, Kommetjie, Masiphumelele, and Ocean View and ends with a team braai for Heritage Day. This 4hr "social ride pace" day out will adhere strictly to current level 3 Covid protocols, and while social distancing is the order of the day, connection between riders will be the ultimate outcome.
Bicycling certainly is a suitcase word. This ride is neither race nor competition, it’s physically distanced but achieving cohesion. It will most certainly have a positive legacy without the need to wear fancy leggings. But aren’t we just exercising, isn’t that what bicycles are for?
It is all these things.
What makes organizations like the Community Collective so special is that they didn’t get stuck in the complexity, they got started by strapping the “suitcase” and all the complexity to their bikes and got on with creating something special.
RSVP via text (see the flyer) to join this great day out to meet your neighbors.