I found high moral uses in the bicycle and can commend it as a teacher without pulpit or creed. She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.’Frances E. Willard; How I Learned To Ride The Bicycle (1895)
For those of us of a certain age, 1978 doesn’t feel that long ago. It’s only when you look back at events that may have changed your life since then that all the jigsaw pieces start falling into place, and you realise that this is, actually, a rather large jigsaw, and a lot of pieces appear to be missing too, for reasons that escape most of us. In the words of some forgotten sage: “Of all the things I’ve ever lost, I miss my mind the most…” (What I really miss, mind you, is buying a superb steak, eggs and chips luncheon at the Metropole Hotel, costing all of R1.25.)
These preliminary remarks are generated by the fact that Sunday the 10th October sees Cape Town hosting the 41st Cape Town Cycle Tour, still fondly remembered (and referred to) by the older pedallers as ‘The Argus’, after its initial long time headline sponsor. It has become a significant event in the Cape Town calendar, and with good reason. Hosting (under normal circumstances) up to 35 000 cyclists, ranging in ability from Tour de France rider to those who start pushing their bikes up Edinburgh Drive after a mere 11 km, it is not only a huge generator of tourism income for the city, its primary financial function is as a charitable institution, collecting millions for the underprivileged each year.
This, the 2021 edition, has a few things in common with that ground-breaking first ride in 1978 of 500 or so avid cyclists. Due to Covid restrictions (and we don’t have to go into too much detail on those issues), this year, like 1978, the ride is in October, not March as is usual. Just in time for the southeaster to put its mark on our training. And, like the first event, there is little fanfare this year: the first race kicked off near the City Hall, took much the same route as the current event, ending at a table opposite the Rotunda Hotel in Camp’s Bay. As the race grew, so did the need for spot-on organisation. Each year saw more and more riders joining the ranks, and the Argus Cycle Tour took on a life of its own. We won’t go into all the amazing details here, but we highly recommend that you click on Cape Town Cycle Tour History for the background info, and as a salute to the individuals who took on recalcitrant local and national government to get the tour established.
The initial reason for getting cyclists together was to try and force that local government to recognise that bicycles had an ever-growing place in society. Long before global warming and pollution had garnered the attention that they have today, the pioneers wanted the authorities to set up cycle paths to obviate the crush on the increasingly crowded roads. Sadly, four decades later, there is still a paucity of cycle paths, and any person who is obliged to commute to the city centre will know that rush hour, as we knew it then, is now ‘rush morning’, followed by ‘rush afternoon and evening’. The traffic is non-stop – how different it could have been. (The question that boggles me as I sometimes watch the never-ending lines of traffic heading into the city from north, south, east and west, is ‘Where on earth does everyone park?’ It seems like an impossible conundrum; like a conjurer’s illusion.)
Part of the magic of the Cape Town Cycle Tour was the fact that it became so much more than just a cycle tour. The build-up to the day – originally a Saturday, then changed to Sunday in the mid-80’s – was part of the magic of ‘The Argus.’ Registration for the ride grew into an Expo, and by the 21st Century and beyond, attending this pulsating combination of all things cycling, fun and camaraderie, was worth the entrance fee alone. And the post-ride gathering – the first years at the Camp’s Bay sport’s fields, then later at the extended ride end in Green Point – was a gathering of thousands of individuals who all had that one thing in common: they’d finished a gruelling but spectacular tour of the Peninsula under their own steam. Whether you’d circumnavigated under two and a half hours (unusual) or taken longer than five hours (not unusual), you were equally proud, and the advent of the issuing of shiny medals in the later years added to the pride.
This year, as we referred to above, sees some similarities to 1978; the most obvious being the lack of pre-and post-ride gatherings. It’s a great pity, we know, but sensibility rules the day until we have seen the last of the virus that has restricted us and affected so much of our normal lives. But all is not lost! The V&A Waterfront is still there; Waterfront Charters are still at the V&A, and this means that those pre-race moments as well as the post-race celebrations don’t have to be foregone entirely. Set yourself up, or cool yourself down, with an ocean cruise: we have so many to offer that you will certainly find one that suits your mood. And they all have chilled drinks aboard so rehydration is as easy as raising a glass and saying “Cheers!”
To all the 2021 Cape Town Cycle Tour riders Waterfront Charters wishes you a safe, enjoyable, tour. Don’t overdo it: it’s a beautiful ride and whether you are looking for a ‘Personal Best’ time or just want to get to the finish in one happy piece, remember that it’s not a race – it’s a tour, and you are there for the sheer pleasure of riding your bike with thousands of like-minded friends. We’ll be there among you too, and will join you later aboard one of our boats!