Parents want their kids to be active. They want them to develop healthily. They want them to socialize and be safe at all times. Parents wish for their children to build confidence and achieve, but parents of cyclists and even parents who cycle themselves often find themselves confused in the face of a sport with a myriad of disciplines and a confusing spectrum of bicycle product. Cycling in South Africa is not the most structured and regulated sport. It is not completely unstructured, but fairly confusing at times. This Parent’s Guide to Cycling in South Africa will offer parents a framework to make better choices when choosing the correct bicycle, a program, a coach and to be prepared when they arrive at an event. This guide consists out of seven parts.
PART 1: Why cycling?
PART 2: So let’s play cycling
PART 3: The battle of the disciplines - you are here!
PART 4: Rather safe than sorry
PART 5: The bicycle, the set-up and important equipment
PART 6 A: Riding, training and competing – Primary School Children
PART 6 B: Riding, training and competing – High School Children
PART 7: Cycling in South Africa
PART 3 Parent’s Guide to Cycling in South Africa
The battle of the disciplines
Any one of the cycling disciplines can be valuable for cycling talent development. Some riders with a provincial mind-set will always push passionately for one or the other cycling format with little regard for the others. In the end, cycling is cycling and we want to get more kids to fall passionately in love with our wonderful sport. Each cycling discipline and format has its advantages and disadvantages for development among children.
- road riding is free and can generally start from your doorstep
- road cycling can also be enjoyed as a recreational sport
- maintenance for road bikes are generally more affordable than for mountain bikes
- road racing is a team sport where team tactics are important
- road cycling caters for a wide variety of cycling talent; the speedster, the slightly built climber, the big and strong workhorse and the disciplined time trial rider
- competitive road cycling events can be held on short, completely closed to traffic, lap courses and can therefore be spectator friendly
- road cycling is quite social
- mixing children on bicycles with motor vehicle traffic is dangerous
- road cycling can be a bit monotonous for younger children
- road cycling events with full road-closure (bicycles-only events with no motor vehicle traffic) are limited
- road bicycles for younger children are hard to come by on the South African market
- the track offers a safe and controlled environment – perfect for coaching and development
- track bikes are relatively cheap and the maintenance low and therefore track racing offers a more level playing field for development
- track racing boasts an infinite number of fun formats involving tactics
- track cycling is ideal for developing group/bunch riding skills
- track cycling caters for a wide variety of cycling talent: the powerful sprinter, the endurance expert and the bunch specialist
- track cycling is spectator friendly
- cycling tracks (also known as velodromes) and track programmes are limited or non-existing in many areas in South Africa - the country only has a handful of tracks
- track cycling is unforgiving to the beginner and amateur cyclist and offers little place to hide
- track cycling is not commonly known to be a recreational sport
- a BMX track offers a safe and controlled environment – ideal for coaching and development
- BMX bikes are relatively cheap and the maintenance low and therefore BMX racing offers a more level playing field for development
- BMX racing promotes superior bike control and skills that stimulate the interest of many children
- BMX racing is exhilarating and spectator friendly
- BMX bikes are not only for racing - many BMX bicycle models are designed for fun riding, allowing kids to master the essential balancing and control skills
- BMX tracks and BMX programmes in South Africa are limited
- BMX racing is a difficult sport to attempt without proper guidance. It is considered an extreme sport and requires expert supervision and proper medical back-up at all times
- BMX racing is a sprint effort and strongly favours the fast and brave and leaves little space for the not-so-fast
- mountain bike riding recognises the adventurous nature of younger riders and it can also be enjoyed as a recreational sport
- although expensive on the sharp end of the sport, the larger participation numbers in the sport makes quality, affordable mountain bikes in all sizes, readily available
- mountain biking offers a fuller body workout for kids than road cycling offers
- mountain bike riding promotes excellent bike handling skills
- mountain biking offers a number of formats that cater for different riders. Cross-country racing for the showman, Marathon for the adventurer, Enduro and Downhill racing for the adrenaline junkie
- there are ample mountain bike events on the calendar
- there is an established (since 2009) national schools mountain bike league in South Africa. It is sponsored by the Spur Steak Ranches restaurant group. More about this league in Part 7 of this Parent’s Guide
- In urban areas, the secure mountain bike trail parks are limited and access comes at a cost
- Maintenance on mountain bikes can be quite expensive
- Mountain biking is considered an extreme sport and requires adequate medical and recovery back-up. Some mountain bike trails are very remote with no easy access
- The price and quality of the mountain bike has quite a noticeable effect on performance, leaving the playing field quite uneven
I prefer not to play judge or act as promoter of any specific cycling discipline. In the past two decades, cycling, and specifically men’s cycling has seen an increasing number of cross-discipline riders rising to the very top of the sport:
- Cadel Evans (Australia) and Peter Sagan (Slovakia), were both world class mountainbikers before entering the centre stage of road cycling. Cadel, a former Mountainbike World Cup winner, won the prestigious Tour de France in 2011. Peter Sagan is a 3 times World Champion on the road bike and a former Junior World Champion on the mountainbike.
- Mathieu van der Poel (Holland) stormed onto the mountainbike and road cycling scene in 2018 and 2019. Mathieu honed his skills in the Cyclo-Cross discipline. He is a 3-time world champion in this discipline.
- Bradley Wiggins (Britain), a former Olympic gold medallist on the track went on to win the Tour de France in 2012.
- Chris Hoy (Britain) started racing BMX at age 7 and raced with the best till he was 14. Hoy turned to track cycling. Hoy has won eleven world champion titles together with six gold medals at the Olympics
- Another racer who started on the BMX-track, is the Australian sprinter and sports commentator, Robbie McEwen. Robbie was a national BMX champion who had an illustrious career as a sprinter on the road, he is a three-time winner of the Green Points Jersey in the Tour de France
Call it another discipline of cycling, but touring is the real highlight of the sport. By touring I do not refer to the Tour de France road cycle race. I refer to traveling, to journeying, sightseeing, and adventuring. Whether you tour on road bike or a mountainbike, very few experiences can rival the experience to see the land from the saddle of a bicycle. The world seems different from a bicycle; the sounds, smells and colours are more intense and pleasing. South Africa and our neighbouring countries boast a network of tar and gravel roads that are perfectly suited for touring. You can literally take your toothbrush and plastic money card and set off on a journey. Touring is so much more fun when you are fit and yet another reason to stay fit; you should always be ready for the invite to join some friends on a tour.
There comes a point in time when loading your bicycle into your car to go for a ride, all seems a little silly. How often do we scan our week to look for the appropriate time to go and ride our bikes? All along we had all the time and purpose standing right in front of us. What is to some just a sport, is to millions a means of transport. Don’t wait for the bus to arrive. Beat the bus to the finish line. Open your eyes for the endless opportunities a bicycle has to offer.
Wherever you start you cycling career, on whichever bike – just get pedalling!
Bicycle terms that every parent should know
Drop handles – the type of curved handle bars you find on road bicycles
Suspension fork – the front fork on a mountainbike with integrated shock absorbers. If there is no shock absorbers the fork is called rigid
Dual suspension/Hard tail – if the mountainbike has shock absorbers on the front fork AND mounted to the back wheel, it is called a dual-suspension bike. If it only has a shock absorber on the front fork it is called a hard tail
Fixed cog/Freewheel – if you cannot stop your legs rotating while riding, you are riding a fixed cog bike (track bicycles have fixed cogs). If you are able to stop peddling while riding you are “freewheeling”
Single Speed – a single-speed bicycle refers to a bicycle without any gears (BMX and track bicycles do not have a choice of gears)
Tubeless – bicycle wheels with no tubes inside the tyres are referred to a tubeless tyres. Generally a slimy fluid is inserted into the tyre to help with the sealing and to prevent punctures
Rim Brakes/Disk brakes – if the brake mechanism are along the outside of the wheel’s rim, it is called rim brakes. If the brake mechanism is mounted towards the inside/centre of the wheel featuring a rotor-blade/disk mounted to the wheel, it is called disc brakes
Hydraulic brakes/Mechanical brakes (cable brakes) - the brake levers on the handle bar transfer its action to the brake mechanism via mechanical cables pulling and releasing a cable OR via hydraulic pipes connected to the brake mechanism filled with hydraulic fluid.
Mechanical gear shifting/Electronic gear shifting - the gear levers/shifters on the handle bar transfer its action to the gear mechanisms by the chain via mechanical cables pulling and releasing a cable OR via an electronic signal controlling the electric powered gear mechanisms by the chain