A scenic, battery-assisted spin along the Atlantic seaboard convinces Fiona McIntosh that electric bikes are the way to take on Chapman’s Peak. Photographer Shaen Adey joins Fiona on her journey.
“That’s cheating,” says a laughing, fit-looking cyclist as we cruise past. We are riding along Victoria Road, the scenic coastal route that hugs Cape Town’s Atlantic seaboard. Other bikers we encounter are sweating it out, but we have the benefit of pedal-assisted electric bicycles, and are leaving even the strongest riders in our wake.
Their reaction to us powering up hills or effortlessly overtaking them on the flats is amusing. Most wave in greeting, envy written all over their faces. The more competitive sorts put their heads down and try to match us. “E-biking gives you all of the thrills of both road and off-road cycling without the grind,” says our charismatic guide, Roland Pulinckx.
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Born and raised in Central Africa, Roland arrived in South Africa on holiday at the age of 29 and never left. “I was privileged to travel extensively throughout the world before arriving in Cape Town,” he tells me. “But after a week here, I found in the city surrounds a bit of every country I had visited. I decided this was where I wanted to stay. The scenery is breathtaking. Add the fantastic weather, active sports and vibey atmosphere of Cape Town, and the wonderful food and wine, and there’s no better place in the world.”
Roland has always been passionate about the outdoors, particularly activities like cycling, kitesurfing, and motocross. “My weekends were always busy, and included getting on my road bike and riding the 80 kilometres from Blouberg to Chapman’s Peak and back. It’s a beautiful route, though cycling with competitive mates didn’t always give me the time to fully appreciate the scenery.”
He launched Ebike Cape Town in September last year and now guides small groups along Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the world’s most iconic coastal routes, at a leisurely pace, which we are to have a go at. And after a quick safety briefing and introduction to the bikes at our meeting point in Camps Bay, we head out, resplendent in our bright, reflective jackets.
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Very easy riding
The Giant e-bikes have three settings – eco, normal and sport mode – the latter so powerful that we have to remember to sit firmly in the saddle before we start pedalling or we almost fly off. It is exhilarating and effortless. We do have to pedal to activate the motor, but very little power is needed to get up to speed on the flats or on the gentle inclines.
After spinning along the Camps Bay beachfront we stop in Bakoven to check out a new artwork by world-famous South African graffiti artist Falko One. The mural, painted large on the outer wall of Ocean View House, depicts a family of elephants, one of Falko One’s favourite subjects. The message is clear – we need to continue saving water.
The colourful and uplifting wall painting provokes discussion, which is great, as riding in single file means limited conversation until this point. We are a mixed group in terms of age, fitness and interests – Barry Washkansky was on his second Ebike Cape Town tour. The rest of us are e-bike novices.
It’s a scorching day and even with the full water bottles Roland has put on every bike, we are thirsty by the time we reach Hout Bay, and stop at The Vine, a popular trail-runner and cyclist pitstop. But we are in no rush, and checking out watering holes is part of the fun.
Take in the views
Refreshed, we detour to spin along the Hout Bay beachfront, then put our bikes back into sport mode and power up Chapman’s Peak, stopping briefly to regroup at the East Fort Battery. Built around 1782, it’s one of four coastal-defence fortifications constructed in Hout Bay at the end of the 18th century.
We wave (yes, a bit unkind) at the queuing cars as we speed through the tollbooth in the cycle lane, agreeing that the best way to travel this scenic route is on two wheels. And we are not alone. As regular signage indicates, scenic Chappies is a magnet for cyclists and there are plenty of lean, shaven, lycra-clad whippets on the winding road cut into the mountain-side, high above the crashing ocean.
Being on a bicycle allows us to appreciate the raw beauty of this section of Table Mountain National Park in a way that’s not possible from the confines of a car. Big stands of pink and purple watsonias and pelargoniums remind me that we are in the heart of the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site, the richest floral kingdom in the world.
Alighting at the top of the pass, we admire the views of picturesque Hout Bay with its dramatic mountain backdrop, busy harbour and bright-sailed yachts. Then the real fun begins as we coast down the sweeping bends on the southern side of the pass to the viewpoint overlooking Noordhoek Beach. From this high vantage we spot surfers and bodyboarders below – tiny, courageous specks in a swirling sea.
Once we turn around, the wind is in our face and I recall the strain when, on weary legs, I’d ridden up this monster of a hill on numerous Cape Town Cycle Tours. But despite the steep gradient, the ascent is a breeze. The turbo boost on the bikes is incredible. Breaking the climb at another viewpoint we gaze at the sheer cliffs below the road, spying seals and a whale blowing far out at sea. With so many distractions it’s hard to get back on the bikes.
Once over the top we stop a couple more times to take in the views, before the fast downhill to Hout Bay. “We should stop off at Ice Dream,” Anthony Watterson screams as he catches up with Roland. It’s an inspired suggestion, the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted outside Italy, and a welcome cool-down.
Now at one with my powerful steed, I decide to experiment with the power modes on the sustained climb up Suikerbossie, always the sting in the tail at the end of the Cape Town Cycle Tour. It’s a struggle in eco mode, a good workout in normal and a walk in the park in sport – I am loving my new-found power.
After stopping for a look at the beautiful bay of Llandudno, we zoom back along Victoria Road, the sunlight sparkling off the Atlantic Ocean and lighting up the magnificent buttresses of the Twelve Apostles. As we power past the big granite boulders of Oudekraal and Bakoven towards the distinctive peak of Lion’s Head, another Cape Town icon piercing the dark blue sky, we all agree that there isn’t a more exquisite place in the world to explore on two wheels than the Cape Peninsula.
But if you’re thinking of signing up for an e-bike tour, be warned. Once you’ve enjoyed a turbo boost, you’re never going to want to ride it on a ‘normal’ bike again.
Up to it?
The beauty of these pedal-assist electric bikes is that they take the schlep out of cycling, so this is a tour that any nature lover will enjoy. The top-of-the-range Giant bikes are stable and
super easy to master, so no experience or fitness is necessary. But for safety reasons, there’s a minimum age of 16 years.
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