Easy Like Sunday Morning - Group Rides from Mangrove Restaurant, Braamfontein
Something very interesting happens on Sunday mornings at the corner of Smit and De Beer at the Mangrove Restaurant in downtown Johannesburg. As the hip, party area of Braamfontein wakes up groggily from the previous night’s revelry; the cool kids start showing up for a morning cycling outing.
Mangrove Restaurant, which bills itself as a “community, a meeting and events space” with “soul and a place of consciousness, where conversations are sparked and new collaborations can be forged” is the perfect place for a cycling movement.
Bicycles of all varieties lean up against the burnt orange wall in the courtyard of Mangrove in preparation for the Sunday ride. Fashion conscious hipsters in mostly sensible shoes greet each other with broad smiles and lots of laughter.
It takes a little while for the eclectic group to arrive. No one keeps a roster and there’s no need to pre-register, unless hiring one of the single speed bicycles from Mangrove for the ride, in which case it makes good sense to reserve one ahead of time given the increasing popularity of the group rides.
I’m on a first name basis with a few of the riders. There’s Tebogo. I consider him “the Ambassador.” He is charismatic and welcoming. Tebogo commutes to his job in Sandton from Soweto daily on a single-speed, fixed-gear bicycle with no brakes. The commute is 31 hilly kilometers and takes him just over an hour each way. Tebogo and his co-conspirator, Titi are the founders of Biking Bandits, a cycling club/hub and workshop in Soweto. I met Tebogo and Titi on the Critical Mass Ride at night through Johannesburg’s CBD. They won my trust and my respect with their skill, leadership, and enthusiasm.
Then there’s James. James is an engineering student from Kenya who studies at the University of Witwaterstrand. He rides a road bike and knows the inner city and suburban roads like a pro. One day, driving in the leafy suburb of Rosebank, I looked up to see a guy on a bike. As I looked closer, my smile broadened. As a newcomer in a city of a gazillion people, I knew that cyclist. That was James!
Dale is one of my favorite regulars. So far, Dale has shown up on a different vintage road bike at each ride. First a classic, mid 80’s Alan and on the last ride, a vintage, original Look frame. Dale regales me with stories of growing up in the city and all the good-natured shenanigans that adolescents got into back in the day. Dale has a lot of stories that make the city come alive. I have a feeling that Dale continues to get up to some shenanigans. He has a great zest for life. Dale admits he’s a “little bi-atch” when it comes to shoes. He likes them fancy. And, as far as I can tell, he matches his shoes to his frame, the way a woman might match shoes to a handbag. Not that I would know. Handbags have never been my thing!
Zinhle is a copywriter for work and a talented author in her own right. Words matter to Zinhle. Engaging, articulate, and with razor-sharp intellect, Zinhle also deserves the spotlight when it comes to cycling fashion. Zinhle emanates confidence and mixes it up in the pack with her lovely, sassy energy.
Folks start gathering around 09:15. There’s laughter and greeting amongst the regulars and slighter more shy introductions with the newcomers. One week a group of lycra clad, middle-aged white cyclists from a shop in the suburbs arrived with the support of two motorcycles and an SUV. I looked a lot more like that crowd and wondered if we were joining up for the ride. Sounds like there was a collaboration in the past, but no longer. I stayed with the fashionistas, in spite of being underdressed myself.
At some point, around 10:00 or later, the ride leaders give a holler and set the wheels in motion. The group leaving the Mangrove on bikes looks like a parade on wheels. Braids, sunglasses, flashy outfits, and a lot of smiles flow out of the parking lot.
It’s not entirely clear to me how the routes get decided, but the pack rides on masse through town. Last weekend we cycled through the leafy suburbs past Zoo Lake and the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens with a stop along the banks of Emmerentia Dam to distract motorists and fix a puncture. The previous week, we did a tour of Constitution Hill, Yeoville, and Hillbrow.
The Mangrove Sunday rides are inclusive and all are welcome. There’s a core tribe of dedicated cyclists who give structure so that the magic can flow. The leaders have radios and marshal cyclists so no one is left behind.
As the cyclists return to Mangrove, tables are set in the courtyard and the party continues with quality food, drinks and conversation. Mangrove’s mission accomplished – community, conversation and collaboration. From my experience, Mangrove meets its mission as a meeting place for collaboration and consciousness. I thoroughly enjoy becoming part of the Mangrove community.