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Biking enthusiasts give us the spin on World Bicycle Day

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“No matter how your morning starts off, when you get on a bike, you get a real sense of freedom and it certainly makes me feel like a kid again,” says Dylan Solomon, a social rider who has completed the Cape Argus and the KAP sani2c.

“Cycling is a great form of exercise, and besides buying or renting a bicycle, it doesn’t cost you much,” says avid cyclist Ariel Katzen. “It’s also a great way to explore your city and grab a coffee on the way.”

The SA Jewish Report spoke to South African cycling enthusiasts for World Bicycle Day on 3 June. The day draws attention to the benefits of using a bicycle – a simple, affordable, clean, environmentally fit, and sustainable means of transportation.

The day is the brainchild of Polish-American Professor Leszek Sibilski, whose academic project exploring the role of bicycles in development led to a massive advocacy effort to have the United Nations designate a day to celebrate and promote bicycle use across the globe. He succeeded. On 12 April 2018, all 193 United Nations member states adopted a General Assembly resolution which declared 3 June World Bicycle Day.

Just before the arrival of COVID-19, Katzen attempted the Cape Town Cycle Tour with a friend. “We didn’t train for it besides my normal cycling routine,” he says. “It was tough, the hills were hard, it poured with rain, and a baboon tried to stop us, but we never gave up. We stopped after about 55km as we ran out of time and were forced onto a bus.”

While growing up, Katzen was always into anything with wheels and his favourite was his bicycle. “Living in Cape Town, I was blessed to grow up in Sea Point and be able to cycle on the promenade and pavement, even when it was banned!”

Katzen remembers seeing his brother cycling, “so when I was old enough, probably about four or five, I got my first bicycle from Baby City. My brother taught me how to ride into our house by riding around in circles, knocking into the walls on the way.”

Neil Vardi and Ben Diner took up cycling later in life. They each contacted Johannesburg cycling club Capri Wheelers. Diner did so to add some variety to his training regime and Vardi did so to improve his fitness levels.

“I was really into gym,” the latter says. “I was one of those ‘put-on-muscle’ guys and had a huge upper body. One day, I ran up a flight of steps, felt like I was out of breath, and said, ‘I think I’m so fit, but actually I’m not.’ At that time, my brother was told to get a bicycle to help his knee. I took that bike and rode it. I was shocking, but I liked the feeling in my legs afterwards, so I got my own bike, and here we are 36 years later.”

Diner also struggled initially. “During the first time I cycled with Capri Wheelers, we cycled to the airport, which is about only a 55km cycle. I came home and I was starving, exhausted, and basically hooked.”

Herschel Jawitz, who has completed two KAP sani2c races, a few 94.7s, and a few 180km rides as part of Ironman, says, “I’ve always been a runner but decided to take up riding to take some of the stress and pounding off my legs that you get from running.”

Shaun Matisonn has been an avid cyclist since his school years. “My father has been cycling for more than 70 years and remains an avid cyclist to this day. He got me into cycling,” he says.

Matisonn has cycled around the world. “The memorable events are riding the mountains of the Tour de France, participating in the annual Hatzolah Cycle Tour, and the Ironman triathlon course in Port Elizabeth.”

Vardi has cycled in Europe, most of the races in Gauteng, and multi-stage races. “I have won my age group a couple of times,” he says. “My biggest accomplishment is meeting my wife at Capri Wheelers. We were the first couple that met at Capri Wheelers and married.”

Solomon, looking forward to riding Wines2Whales in the Western Cape this year, has cycled on and off throughout his life. “I started riding BMX when I was about six, and progressed to road riding when I was 14 with my dad,” he says.

Usually, Solomon rides once a week on a Sunday. “The main aim is to get a coffee with friends,” he says. “If there’s an event coming up, then training needs to be stepped up. I’m nervous about riding on the road with all the bad driving we have in Joburg, so I ride my mountain bike only off-road or train indoors.”

During the week, Vardi tends to ride indoors. “On the weekends, weather permitting, I go with a group or sometimes by myself up Chapman’s Peak or down to Noordhoek. I have six bicycles – one machine, a mountain bike, and four road bikes.”

Katzen tries to cycle whenever he has time. “Sometimes daily, sometimes a few times a week,” he says. “My favourite route is from Sea Point to Bakoven or Sea Point to the Waterfront.”

Matisonn and Jawitz cycle five and four times a week respectively. “During the week, I cycle indoors on the Zwift platform, enthusiastically racing other cyclists from around the world,” says Matisonn. “Then I enjoy a long ride outdoors on a Sunday.”

Jawitz rides indoors and outdoors. “Sometimes on the road and sometimes mountain biking, so I keep it varied.”

A member of Capri Wheelers for about 10 years, Diner participates in a few spinning classes, and cycles by himself and with the club. “Every year, we do the Argus and the 94.7,” he says.

If people want to take up cycling, they should first join a spinning class at their local gym, says Diner. “It’s an amazing way of getting your endorphins going, and a great workout. If you find you start enjoying that, then cycling could be for you. It’s a lot less intense than the spinning work, but you get a longer endurance workout.”

Matisonn says cycling is a real pleasure with extraordinary health benefits. “I would encourage anyone to get on their bike indoors or on the road and enjoy this wonderful sport.”

“Cycling is for everyone, and you can do as much or little as you like,” says Solomon. “If you have never ridden, any bike shop will have someone who will teach you. If you are unfit, get an E-bike and then you can beat all your friends up the hills.”

Vardi advises people to start slowly. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew because if you do that, you’re going to associate it with pain. It should be about enjoyment.”

“Riding is a great non-impact way to stay fit and spend time outdoors, especially in summer,” says Jawitz. “Our country offers some of the best riding in the world. Key advice: be safe on the roads, ride single file, and take it as if the car hasn’t seen you. Happy riding!”

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