Letting exhilarated howls in the light of the full moon, young cyclists hurtle down a steep hill on their “fixie” bikes, soundbars playing music, in Soweto Township in South Africa.
These are the Biking Bandits, a group that emerged in March, about a year after national restrictions on coronaviruses began.
When they learned that the difficult sidewalks were far from over, automotive technician Tebogo Galagala and his friend Tiyiselane Mashele began pedaling together in the evening, just for fun.
They formed the Biking Bandits, whose nighttime escapades have since infiltrated hip urban culture, attracting dozens of young black horsemen across the township famous as the birthplace of the anti-apartheid movement.
“Urban cycling in Soweto and also in Johannesburg is growing quite numerous,” said Galagala, 26, enthusiastically preparing his vintage single-speed bicycle for the nighttime urban ride with his “crew”.
“There are more and more of us. The culture is growing,” enthuses Galagala.
Under apartheid, the bicycle was purely utilitarian, a means of getting to work – the journey from Soweto to central Johannesburg was 25 kilometers (15 miles).
But today, for 34-year-old Mashele and his team, it’s for “recreation, for fun, to build community and engage with other like-minded people.”
They meet twice a month for the 12 kilometer (seven mile) Homies Night Ride – using the slang word “homies” to suggest that all skill levels in cycling are welcome.
Suburban minibus drivers, known for their reckless driving habits, sympathetically honk cyclists with their mouths agape at their multicolored bikes.
Galagala hopes for dedicated cycle paths.
– ‘The joy of the black boy’ –
But bicycles are not cheap for many young people, many of whom are unemployed.
Yet, according to artisan builder Kutlwano Malefane, the demand for fixie bikes – vintage, gearless road bikes, a boon to urban cycling – has increased.
It charges up to $ 400 for a base model and says demand has doubled since before the pandemic.
The high price doesn’t deter night cyclists, many of whom are saving for months to be able to buy one.
“Just having young black kids on bikes in Soweto … (is) a black boy’s joy,” Mashele said, donning a helmet and mask.
The riders relish the chance to “claim the space (and) change the mindsets of the people around us, black people who cycle,” said Mashele, who works for a government roads agency.
“It’s not something you see every day,” he said, suggesting that cycling has long been seen as a sport for the rich – read white.
“For me it’s the lifestyle, the fashion,” said Tshepo Moyo, 27, wearing skinny jeans, a comfy jersey and a beanie while proudly showing off her bike with ribbon. custom zebra print on the bars.
Mashele added, “We don’t wear spandex or anything, we wear our jeans and our sneakers.”
For 22-year-old club member Thapelo Makama, who grew up in the township, cycling has been the ambition of a lifetime.
“As a kid you always wanted a bike,” he laughed, describing how passers-by often cheer cyclists on on their night out rides.
mgu-sn / gd / yad