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Cycling for All
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Cycling for All

No cyclist dropped by the ‘Pedal Power Association’ of South Africa

A safe cycling course presented by PPA to development cyclists in the Grabouw region
A safe cycling course presented by PPA to development cyclists in the Grabouw region

With MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung making history as the first African team to participate in the Tour de France, 2015 will be a year to remember for cycling on the continent. Reinforced by new international recruits (notably Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tyler Farrar and Matthew Goss) the Pro-Continental South-African team is getting ready for its second Grand Tour after last year’s Vuelta a España.

Last summer we told the story behind the team’s association with Qhubeka, a local charity committed to mobilizing people in rural Africa by donating bikes (designed, tested and assembled in Africa, specifically for rural usage) and training the recipients to maintain them. Success off the field of play is as important to MTN-Qhubeka as victories on the road. Last month the team joined the elite group of sporting ambassadors of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, a global charity that employs the positive power of sport to tackle society's most pressing challenges.

Cycling development and development through cycling go hand in hand in South Africa. Growing cycle sport and building a base of riders to pick talents from, needs to pass through improving people’s lives and empowering youth. An organisation in South Africa that perfectly embodies this multi-faceted nature of bicycles is the Pedal Power Association (PPA).

The PPA is a Public Benefit Organisation committed to promoting cycling and the interests of cyclists. It is the largest association of its kind in the country’s Western Cape, with 18,000 paid-up members and counting. Its mission includes the following objectives, which together provide a vivid picture of the holistic cycling-for-all culture of the PPA:

-       promoting cycling as a recreational activity, a sport and/or as a means of transportation;

-       improving conditions for cyclists, with particular regard to their safety;

-       arranging and organising cycle tours, fun rides and outings.

Recreational cycling, development through cycling and advocacy are among the PPA’s priorities.

Recreational Cycling

The PPA subsidises a number of recreational cycling events in an effort to ensure a high standard of operations and to help organisers keep costs down. This in turn means that entry fees can be reduced, which benefits the whole cycling community as well as the charities supported by the organisers.

The PPA’s annual “Fun-ride Calendar” encompasses 40-50 mass participation events: 20 road, 20 off-road, plus some overnight tours and special events. Participation figures range from 100 for the most niche MTB rides to 3000 for some of the road events.

Of the handful of events that the association organises, it is specifically proud of its two women’s events, launched to boost women’s cycling.

“Three years ago we decided to organise both a road event and an off-road event for only women,” says PPA chairman Steve Hayward. “The routes were specifically chosen to cater to the mass market and to female cyclists who own a bicycle but who are often too scared to perhaps ride in bunches, or who don’t feel fit enough to tackle long distances. We even put lots of marshals on the route to assist women who may need mechanical help or just a few words of encouragement.”

Equally importantly, the PPA is one of the forces behind the “Cape Town Cycle Tour”, the world’s largest timed cycling event. Staging this massive event is of particular interest to the PPA as 50% of the profits go back to the association. Proceeds from the cycle tour and members’ annual fees make up the PPA’s revenue. As much as 80% of this revenue is reinjected into cycling through the funding of different cycling projects.

Development through cycling

The Pedal Power Association has, for the past 15 years, run a very active cycling development programme, funding some150 projects. Notable athletes to have benefitted from it include MTN-Qhubeka’s climber Songezo Jim, nurtured by the PPA-supported Velokhaya Life Academy.

We took a closer look at one of the initiatives currently being funded, the “Hout Bay Cycling Club” (picture provided below).

Hout Bay Cycling Club

This is a recreational and development team for the underprivileged youth of Hout Bay, a city on the outskirts of Cape Town. The PPA helps them with an annual budget as well as granting discounted entries to its fun rides. The club was created to offer a healthy alternative for young teenagers from a particularly deprived community in Hout Bay. The 18 or so members of the HBCC all live in shacks instead of brick houses. Some only have one parent; others have none and are cared for by relatives. The settlement suffers from high unemployment, with only 20% of adult males having a regular job and no more than 60% able to get casual employment once or twice a week. Often the boys arrive for rides without having eaten, so the club has set up a feeding programme. By participating in the cycling programmes, riders learn important life skills such as teamwork, discipline, dedication, and determination. They also receive counselling about their life choices. The club was launched in 2010 and, interestingly but not surprisingly, is co-funded by the Laureus Foundation.

Other cycling-related projects funded by the PPA include safe cycling workshops in schools (picture below), Bike-To-Work days, handouts of helmets (which are mandatory for cyclists in SA), cycling skills development and the maintenance of a recreational cycling infrastructure.

Teaching safe cycling principles to enthusiastic young cyclists at the Goedgedacht Trust in the Western Cape

Of the 18,000 members of PPA, 1000 come from previously disadvantaged communities. Several of these cyclists cannot afford to buy a bicycle or cycling kit, and rely on donations. For this reason, the PPA has also started a programme where kits, old bikes and spare parts and tyres are collected and redistributed to those in need.

PPA also has a network of benefactors who sponsor the development of cyclists and assist – with food and pro-bono mechanical work – during outings.

More than half a million ZAR (USD 44,000) is allocated to development projects each year, after a call for applications. Projects must be in line with the association’s mission. An overview of the initiatives supported by the PPA can be found  here.

Cycling Advocacy

The PPA lobbies for the rights of cyclists, keeps a watchful eye on new roads and provides input wherever possible to make sure cyclists are catered for.

A major advocacy milestone was the success they had getting a law passed in the Western Cape in 2013: motorists must now leave a distance of at least 1 metre when overtaking a cyclist.

Helmet hand-out and 1 metre passing campaign

In 2011, the PPA launched a national safe cycling campaign, focusing on raising car drivers’ awareness of the vulnerability of cyclists. As part of the campaign, they organised a national tour from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Several major mass-activities were organised along the way, and at the end of the Tour they handed a petition to the Deputy Minister of Transport.

“We were thrilled when the minimum passing distance law was passed in the Cape,” Hayward says. “We are now working on making this a national initiative and on expanding our safe cycling efforts.”

The PPA is also assisting the City of Cape Town put together a Bicycle Masterplan.

Invited to comment on the current events, Hayward noted: “The inclusion of Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung as a wild card entry into the Tour de France is a wonderful opportunity. We really hope that this will inspire people to take up cycling and show cyclists that anything is possible.”

Qhubeka’s famous hashtag reads, #BicyclesChangeLives… the PPA is certainly committed to making such changes happen.

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