Joburg, more than mine dumps

Joburg, more than mine dumps

Johannesburg was already part of cycling in South Africa when this first became a world sport, and they founded the Amateur Cycling Union, around which cycling evolved in 1892. A year later, when the first World Championship took place, so too the first South African National Championship was also organised in Joburg, and some famous top-end racers have continued to emerge from this community. Even after he became the first South African to win a stage in the Tour de France, Robbie Hunter would still come back to see his family and train in Joburg, as does multiple Tour de France champ Chris Froome.

In 1886, the city of Johannesburg was established when mining prospectors found what they were looking for, and more than 100 000 gold rush fanatics arrived almost immediately. This is still the largest and wealthiest city in South Africa despite plenty of economic and political changes over the years. No less than 11 local municipalities already had to join forces to cope with the population density in Gauteng, but somehow nature still matters too in this city that is now called Joburg. Many zoos, parks and nature reserves exist, and a world record has noted that no less than 16 million trees have been planted and maintained since the city was first established because they are not indigenous to the grassland. It is also true that the weather on the Highveld is mild, and now one has to wonder whether living with industries, businesses and technologies in this surprisingly pleasant environment has helped to raise the appeal of enjoying competition and partnership because a truly astonishing number of locals pedal – most cycling industry surveys claim 45-47% of the cyclists in South Africa reside in Gauteng.

Currently the city and its greater environs host road racing of some description every weekend of the year along with mountain bike events. Over the years, population density and struggling with traffic and pedestrians has put some road cycling events around the city under pressure, but one event continues to entice professionals, experienced fanatics and thousands of newbies to show up every year. When it was first established 24 editions ago, the Discovery 947 Ride Joburg was already the biggest Joburg race, and only the Cycle Tour in Cape Town manages to attract more participants in South Africa. With road closure the route offers a safe ride over highways and adventures through parts of the city that are normally too old, famous, fancy, dangerous or private to experience, and a surprising range of wider communities now spectate, support or are involved. This has helped to bring previous participants back year after year to get faster or just finish. Raising funds for hundreds of charities or joining company teams has helped to attract people who might otherwise have been too nervous or lazy to try. When this first started to appeal to professionals and serious racers from other parts of the country and the world, it also revealed a curious benefit. There are not really long, steep climbs in Joburg, so these foreigners expected it to be easy, but then the Highveld altitude at an average elevation of 1 753m above sea level chewed their lungs. Daryl Impey grew up in Joburg and his dad still has a bike shop here. Despite already having worn UCI yellow jerseys in top races around the world a few times he had an interesting comment after winning the the professional men’s race last year: he thought he was going to get dropped off on those five short climbs to the finish line because they were tough. So maybe Joburgers do altitude training without being aware.

Discovery 947 Ride Joburg through the streets of Joburg

Mountain biking was only invented in the early 80’s, but the Johannesburg Mountain Bike Club (JMBC) already appeared in 1989. They had a plan to ride somewhere else every Sunday and without all the dedicated venues we enjoy now, riders didn’t often have to pay but there were a few other challenges. Every week group leaders would go out to explore new dirt roads and paths, and they would communicate with farmers and industries to ask for a pass through. Over time, trying out more technical options meant skills training for club members and newbies had to be offered, and this helped to expand the sport. Some JMBC club members became keen to involve a wider community and several years before Qhubeka was established in Joburg to assist even wider communities, they already donated bikes and skills to kids in Soweto. This crowd helped to rescue Northern Farm, near Diepsloot from becoming a burial site, and now some Diepsloot MTB Academy riders are already capable of participating in the Absa Cape Epic.

Gauteng XCO events hosted at Thaba Trails

Although risks on the dense roads have shrunk road cycling in Joburg over the years, this has fed mountain biking because not everybody is prepared to get off bikes. By now even long-time roadies have crossed over to competing in the mountain biking scene.
Actually there are so many dedicated venues to enjoy or get challenged by and events to enter night and day that club life has shrunk a bit,although there are not fewer riders. One of the most impressive developments in Joburg’s mountain biking community involves youngsters. The largest number of teams that participate in Spur Schools MTB League show up in Gauteng, and in the last couple of year no less than 950 high school mountain bikers participated in the local Gauteng qualifiers before the finals at Bekker.
Although the organisers don’t always like to admit this, many events in the rest of our country would not survive without all the Joburgers who show up. Now travelling away to ride might seem to be the favourite option, but that is not true either.

Northcliff is popular amongst road cyclists for hill training

Here are just some of the many MTB trail parks and road routes in Joburg:

Joburg MTB Trail Parks

Joburg Road Cycling routes


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