CYCLING, WILL IT BE CHANGING? Dr Dawn Gould

Electric bicycles were on view recently when a small group of cyclists tried them out on the hills of the Cape Peninsula.

The first bicycle was  made in 1839 by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a blacksmith in Dumfries, Scotland It had pedals attached to rods that turned the back wheel. Pierre and Ernest Michaux built another bicycle which was driven by pedals attached to the front wheel.  The penny farthing appeared in the 1870s and the ancestor of the modern bicycle was built in 1885 in Coventry, England.  The years after 1888 saw pneumatic tyres as part of the newer designs. In 1897 a Cape Town firm, Donald Menzies & Co, began manufacturing a bicycle called the Springbuck.

As time passed and the design improved bicycles began to be used for leisure and for sport.   Both men and women were photographed from around 1887 wearing clothing from the late Victorian period.  It covered the wearers from head to toe and looks hot and uncomfortable.  Imagine women today wearing dresses fastened to the throat, sleeves to the wrist, skirts down to the ankle and what looks like straw boaters perched on top of the head.  Men wore jackets, knickerbocker type trousers and caps.  

Cycling, locally as an organised sport, goes back to 1881 when the Port Elizabeth Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club was formed.  In Cape Town, in the late 1870s, an Athletic Club was started and in 1880 a Cycling Club. In 1891 they amalgamated and formed the City Cycling and Athletic Club with D P de Villiers Graaff, as the first president.  By 1897 the Municipality of Cape Town had built the Green Point Cycling track.  It was demolished 1927.  In the 1940s another track was built at the Green Point stadium.

Competitive success came as early as 1893 when L S Meintjies took part in the Worlds Road Championship held in Chicago, USA. In 1908 South Africa was represented by four cyclists, P T Freylinck, T H E Passmore, F Shore, F T Venter, at the Olympic Games held in London. 

As cycling became more popular as a leisure activity in the late 1890s, the numbers of cyclists increased .  The route being from Cape Town to Hout Bay ,either by way of the coastal road or along the Main Road as far as Wynberg turning up the Constantia Road towards Constantia Nek and on to Hout Bay.  It must have taken a lot of enthusiasm using either road. The road from Camps Bay to Hout Bay was narrow and of gravel – this section was only macadamised in 1904.  The road from Constantia Nek to Hout Bay was also potholed and gravelled.    The result of this interest helped boost the economy when meeting places at small tearooms began to cater for refreshments.