SUNDAY TIMES - Saddle up to explore Joburg's coolest undiscovered spaces
Sunday Times Travel By Yolisa Mkele, 2017-05-17 13:57:29.0

Saddle up to explore Joburg's coolest undiscovered spaces

Tshepo Mokoena from Fixin Diaries rides through the streets of Braamfontein.
Image: Alaister Russell

Yolisa Mkele is thrilled to discover you don't need to don spandex to take a social street cycling tour of the city

Cyclists are a difficult bunch to love. They paddle around on bikes that cost the same as a Picanto, leaving a trail of sweaty smugness wherever they go. Often joining their ranks requires parting with your dignity and donning brightly coloured spandex that draws more attention to your crotch than decency allows.

Labouring up a hill on Jan Smuts I discovered that there is a way to be a cyclist without taking on all of the embarrassing cycling baggage that goes with it.

"We're about social street cycling. We don't cycle in spandex, or do the whole super expensive bike thing," said Hussain van Roos, co-founder of Fixin Diaries and leader of our band of cyclists.

Fixin Diaries specialises in creating custom-made bikes and taking people on bespoke tours in and around Johannesburg. They started when a friend of Van Roos's picked up an old bike frame and wanted to spruce it up.

"At the time we knew nothing about bikes. We just drove around town looking for parts. It was only after we sold our first bike that we thought we could make a business out of this," said Van Roos.

They make single-speed city bikes that look like Instagram models. As far as possible, the bikes are made from locally sourced parts, with the level of customisation entirely up to the customer.

"Each of our bikes is unique. If someone wants a leopard-print seat then we'll get it for them and if we can't find one then we'll make it," explained Van Roos.

With prices that start at about R3,500 they have the added benefit of not costing as much as Helen Zille's trip to Asia.

Hussain van Roos, co-founder of Fixin Diaries. Image: Alaister Russell

The cycle tour aspect of their business evolved from casual rides that Van Roos and his friends initiated, which involved a braai and always seemed to end up exciting people on Instagram.

"It became a communal thing - after a ride, we'd club in and buy food and drinks. I realised that we could tailor this event to become an element of the company," said Van Roos.

One of their most popular tours is the ladies Bruncheon ride, a female-focused tour through Soweto that includes lunch. Ours however took us through the hilly streets of Braamfontein where my general lack of fitness was sorely tested.

"We try not to do the normal touristy routes. We want to take you to undiscovered spaces that we think are cool, like the African market in town, said Van Roos.

What's particularly refreshing is that the tours aren't a race, nor are they particularly pretentious.

For Van Roos and co, the idea is just to get people cycling for the fun of it as opposed to trying to boost their cycling cred with shaved legs and chats about carbon-fibre frames.

Paddling through the city, hoping my heart wouldn't decide that it's too old for this, I came to understand the appeal of cycling.

It's a grin-inducing fun way to explore your surroundings and to keep fit, especially when you subtract all that carbon fibre and spandex malarkey.