Said to be the biggest event of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Cape Town’s Argus Tour has grown to be a major event since its modest beginnings in 1978. In that year 550 riders gathered at the starting line and waited for an improvised cannon to signal the start of the 104-kilometre ride around the Cape Peninsula. The cannon exploded and blew to pieces, but the Tour was on, and it marked the lift-off of what was to become a major bicycle boom. By 1989 the number of riders gathered at the starting line had grown to over 12 000.
The first Argus Tour was arranged by the newly-formed Pedal Power Association to popularise cycling and to show traffic authorities and road planners that bikes were a realistic means of transport that deserved proper facilities. It is now the main event (but by no means the only one) by which the popularity of recreational cycling and amateur racing in South Africa are measured.
The Tour has all the ingredients for attracting thou-sands of people on bikes. Its route is through the breathtaking coast and mountain scenery of the Cape Peninsula. There are almost no entry requirements — anyone on a human-powered vehicle can enter. Finally, it successfully combines the competitive elements of a hotly contested race with the easy mood of an energetic but unhurried morning’s cycling; it all depends on how you choose to ride it.
In many ways the formula has worked. The Tour draws the country’s top riders, who. in a special category for racers, power their way from the start in a quietly whirring, brilliantly-coloured pack of energy. In their wake comes a vast assortment of cyclists: there are the young and athletic; there are yuppies on expensive machines Hashing with exotic labels, grannies with bells and baskets on their bikes, and more grannies in black lycra shorts, doing impressive justice to their lightweight racers. Children as young as six have ridden it, and a father has done the Tour on a tandem with his four-year old son as a stoker. A one-legged rider has reached the finish, and every year several blind cyclists ride it on the backs of tandems. In addition to attracting new people to the pleasures of cycling, the Tour has inspired retired riders to get back into the saddle: Ted Clayton, an Empire Games and Olympic medallist of the 1930s who had long since hung up his wheels returned to cycling with renewed zest in his seventies and ex-Scottish road racing champion, Andy Wilson, rode the Argus Tour in the incredible time of 3 hours 51 minutes when he was 80. The Tour has also been used by a designer of recumbent bicycles as a testing ground for his machines against conventional bikes; at the time of going to press, the course record is held by a streamlined recumbent.
The Tour has succeeded admirably in popularising the bicycle as sporting equipment. But, ironically, the campaign has, in a way, overshot its mark. For though the roads now teem with recreational and racing cyclists sleekly crouched over high quality bicycles, and cycling now has the status of an upmarket sport, this has only brought us a little closer to what was perhaps the main reason behind the Argus Tour— to win approval for, and get, better facilities for commuters and recreational riders. The vision was a utilitarian and aesthetic one: landscaped bikepaths in green cities where people could enjoy their sport all the way to work and back if they wanted to. Where building separate bikepaths was impractical. it was hoped that road design would be adapted in ways sympathetic to the needs of cyclists, making it safer and more convenient for them to share roads with motor traffic.