Neil Maling

Haarlem, South Africa

2010 / 12 / 23 08:18

‘I have a small farm in the Bo-Cape area of Uniondale district. I’m very keen on cycling. It started as a boy when I was about I’d say nine or ten years old, when I got my first twenty-four inch bicycle. And I always had this terrible fascination of going for rides along little roads. My great dream was to go for a bicycle tour and I went for my first bicycle tour when I was in still in school, standard eight. And ever since then, I’ve… me and cycling have been inseparable. I’ve never really been competitive. I’ve ridden the Argus and that sort of thing but mainly on a non-competitive basis. The bike you see here is a bike I bought in 1985. What happened was... somebody said there was this organized bicycle tour from Land’s End to John ‘O Groats in England and would I be interested? It just happened that I went to the nursery this one Sunday morning and there was this lady who was going to do it. And I said, yes, I’d definitely be interested. The first thing was to buy a bicycle. So I went to a bicycle shop and I said, “I’m doing this. Can you give me any advice on what would be a good touring bike?” And they showed me a Peter Allan road bike with, I think it was, 700 by one inch wheels, and I went on that tour to England. All the roads are tarred there so you don’t need a mountain bike. And when I came back, I got very much into going on bicycle tours and taking my tent with and my cooking equipment and everything. And I decided I must get slightly heavier wheels so I got 27 by one and a quarter inch wheels that I use to ride very bad gravel roads… In fact, I was quite amazed that it stood up to it. And then a few years later I bought a mountain bike which I put drop handle bars on. And yes, I’ve been doing a lot of bicycle tours around. I work out a route. I look… I get the map and I prefer to go on the small, country roads and I take a tent with me. I take my cooking equipment with me and wherever I come, I just camp on the side of the road and move on the next day. I’m just sort of running out of roads around this area and George, Knysna and Oudtshoorn. I’m going to have to go a bit further afield. Let me tell you a story - we have always had very bad floods in the Bo-Cape area - all over the southern Cape. Once, all the bridges were washed away and nobody could get out by car. And there was a certain lady in my valley who desperately needed heart medicine. And I was the first one who could get out of the valley because I could just take my bike and simply walk across the place where you could walk across the river, and cycle further. So I could get back across the river. Coming here into Haarlem, the river was overflowing too, so I waded through first to see if it wasn’t too deep for me to walk across with my bike. And so I found it was okay. So I waded over the other side, I had taken my shoes off and I was about to put them on when a big lorry came through the river and made a big wave - and it took my cycling shoes and they went sailing down the river! And so I lost my cycling shoes. I had to ride the best of the trip barefoot! But I must say what I find most fantastic about cycling is that you have a machine here which gives you a feeling of such absolute freedom. You don’t have to have a driver’s license to drive it. It doesn’t have to be licensed; it doesn’t have to be roadworthy. And, you know, when I go on these bicycle tours, you have this feeling of… you’re so close to your environment. You hear the birds singing; you feel the hills you’re riding up. And you smell the air, the smells… different country smells. And, it’s just this feeling of absolute freedom - and if you come to a locked gate, with a car you can’t get over but with a bike you can just pick it up and push it over. And I’ve also found that cycling around, people seem to just have such a fantastic attitude towards you. They’re so friendly. You know, so often I’m cycling and they see this old bugger, going ahead on a bicycle that’s packed high and they stop and they say, “Where in the hell are you going to and what are you going to do?” And you know, you’re not actually allowed to just camp along the side of the road - it actually belongs to the farmers. Just the other day I was camping on the side of the road and this farmer came along and I thought, “Now I’m in trouble. I better think up a nice story.” And he said, no, why didn’t I just go and spend the night up at the house last night! So no, it’s just that fantastic feeling of freedom, being close to your environment. And you’re exercising all the time so you feel healthy too.’

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Stan Engelbrecht