James Clarke Masthead
August 6 2012 at 10:49

Here I am again, throwing myself into strict training. Two frenzied push-ups a day. I have to get fit for the 10th and last annual Tour de Farce in late September.

We were thinking of north-west France this time – because it’s flat. Or Holland, which is even flatter.

Our mission over the past nine years has been to explore Darkest Europe and bring back to Africa tales of the funny natives there.

But, undecided as to where to go on this last sortie, we met for a pasta lunch and a noisy fork-waving debate.

I forget who said it but his words cut into the discussion like a pistol shot. Our forks froze in midair.

“To hell with Darkest Europe,” he said. “How about Lightest Africa?”

Then they all looked at me for some sort of reaction.

As the famously modest L*E*A*D*E*R of the Tour de Farce I am often greatly moved when I realise just how dependent the lads are upon my leadership.

It’s understandable. Have I not led them over thousands of kilometres of Europe almost never getting lost and always returning them, more or less intact, to their loved ones? Did I not, in 2002, lead them 1 000km down the Danube; and in 2003 across France; and in 2004 across Italy; in 2005 around Ireland and then across Russia from Saint Polokwane to Vladivostok? (Answers: yes, yes, yes, yes, no.)

Some minutes later they were still staring at me expecting an answer. But I had forgotten the question. I just nodded.

And that’s how the decision was made: Tour de Farce X will explore Lightest Africa – the very bottom of it.

Some of us have had to face the fact that we are getting on a bit. One of us is knee-deep into his eighties.

It means there’ll be no need to spend thousands of rand on air tickets or bother with visas.

Instead we will be taken in luxury by minibus from Joburg to begin cycling from Knysna to Cape Town (well, Gordon’s Bay) hugging the coast using quiet roads.

The minibus – belonging to Escape Cycle Tours, the Joburg firm that is arranging our Tour de Farce X – has a trailer for 18 bikes and will follow us every day laden with sandwiches, cool drinks and bandages.

Having survived many summers and almost as many winters I worry about being able to cope with pedalling up to 80km a day.

My mind went back to Tour de Farce IX in Switzerland when three of us opted for electric “e-bikes”.

For the first time I was able to keep up with everybody.

“Cycling for cheats” it might have been but it enabled me to lead, personally, from the front instead of falling so far behind that sometimes I had to keep in touch by sending postcards.

For once we were able to maintain a tightly knit, chatty peloton whereas, on previous tours, our six-man pelotons stretched across whole time zones.

E-bikes behave like ordinary bikes but have press-button boosters for going up hills. Marvellous!

But just try to hire one in SA.

An e-bike costs R17 000 upwards. Yet, if the rental is reasonable, they will popularise cycle touring across SA for the not-so athletic.

A Cape Town agency for electric bikes wants R700 a day to hire one. That’s three times the cost of hiring a car.

That way the hire firm gets its money back in less than a month – but it kills |e-biking for everybody but the rich.

Thus ends our hope of pioneering |e-bike tourism in SA.

It’s back to puffenpantenpuschenbeiks.

Hence the push-ups.

Contact Stoep: E-mail: jcl@onwe.co.za; Website: www.jamesclarke.co.za;

Blog: http://stoeptalk.wordpress.com



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