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bicycle portraits in south africa

September 2, 2010

Have you heard of the photo project Bicycle Portraits South Africa? Friends and cyclists Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler are traveling South Africa by bike to interview and photograph everyday South Africans about their bicycle commute. When Nic emailed me about this project, he noted that “cycling needs much attention in South Africa as its commuting culture is very underdeveloped”. Their hope is to promote cycling as transportation in a country that lacks good public transport and to inform cyclists about bike maintenance and safety. Ultimately, they would like to see this book trigger a larger awareness of and appreciation for the health, fitness, economic, and ecological benefits that cycling presents.

“I must say there are not very many women on bicycles here in South Africa but the few we have found have been very special” said Nic in his email. And he was right. As I followed the links he provided, my eye caught the photograph of a petite yet elegantly dressed lady posing next to her vintage blue Raleigh. And it wasn’t just my bias to her riding a Raleigh that won me over, it was this gentle look in her eyes paired with this firm grip on her bike.

Stephanie Baker is 82 years old and looks a little bit like my grandmother. She rides her bike everywhere and praises it for keeping her connected to the world around her: “Cycling is awfully good for public relations”, she says. “Going along to you sort of get to know people, often you see someone really looking quite gloomy and you sort of give a smile and say dumelang and get a smile back”.

Baker’s cycling philosophy rings true; I like to wave and smile at fellow cyclists and pedastrians when I’m on my bike. The crossing guard by my house sees me coming and pushes the button for me every morning to change the light in my favor, timing it perfectly to my arrival. Every morning we have this routine and exchange a few words before I ride on. Baker is right, cycling is awfully good for public relations.

I like Baker’s portrait because she inspires me to keep riding and to keep waving at others and smiling their way. She makes me believe that I can be 82 and still wearing my dresses and riding my Raleigh and enjoying the little everyday pleasures of life.

I’ve found Bicycle Portraits of South Africa to be inspiring and beautiful and I hope to inspire some of you by sharing these links with you. And, in turn, Nic and Stan ask that you help inspire these South Africans to keep riding by supporting this photo project and helping their pro-cycling initiatives take off. They are in their second fundraising phase and have set a goal of $7,500 by September 16th. If you would like to make a pledge or pre-order a copy of their book, please visit their site here. And enjoy getting to know this project.

{all images in this post courtesy of Bicycle Portraits South Africa}

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Morgen permalink
    September 2, 2010 23:45

    I just love this post—and this project! I’ve never been much of a bike rider, but I really think you are starting to change my mind. As for Ms. Baker, there ought to be more people like her in the world. :)

    Also…her style with the little peep-toe sandals and adorable dress reminds me a lot of you(r style). I think that you will be very much like her, riding your bike around making people smile in 60+ years.

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