It is not often one spots a black Namibian women cycling in Windhoek. But now there is a chocolate chip in the predominantly white cycling batter who not only wants to solve the mystery but also become the ambassador for young black women cyclists and establish an exclusive cycling academy for black girls.
Oozing passion, dedication and determination, the 18-year Grade 12 student from Concordia College, Sofia Simon – current Namibian junior cycling champion – says black girls must get off their hind sides and change their perception about biking. “Most back girls won’t feel comfortable being the only black person in a group of white cyclists. I don’t mind being the only chocolate chip in the batter; it’s typical for me since I was a teen,” she says.
“I know black folks get no pride out of riding bikes – and they get no props from other black folk for it, either. A bike is seen as a step down from a car by many of us black people, not something to have in addition to a car or as a respectable alternative. A bike is what children ride or broke ass people ride, or people whose cars got repossessed.
That’s the perception. That perception has to change fast, and I am going to do that,” she says with determination.
She cites the high cost of bicycles, Windhoek’s congested traffic and the dangers involved for women cycling as contributing factors, but adds that there are really no valid excuses. That is why she wants to start the cycling academy to teach young girls the thrills of safe cycling.
Sofia started her sporting career at the age of 14 and was originally attracted by triathlons, something she exceled in. But then she discovered the beauty of cycling and since then you will not find her commuting in any other way. She has also competed on various road cycling levels, and she is determined to become more competitive after receiving sponsorship from Namibian Cleaning Chemical Solutions (NCCS).
“Next year I will focus on my studies on sports science, get fitter and stronger, compete a lot and fulfil my dream by establishing the cycling academy for black women,” states the bubbly girl, who is already inspiring young girls with her discipline and tenacity. And she is hoping that a Good Samaritan would be willing to render assistance towards her envisaged cycling academy for black girls.
She says the most wonderful thing about cycling is that it stimulates body, mind and soul and is the absolute best stress reliever. “Riding with a breeze going through your hair and feeling connected to Mother Nature – I recommend it for anybody, from six-year-olds to 60-something-year-olds.”
Sofia says most black women still have a mind-set of why ride a bicycle when you can sit down comfortably without risk to one’s hair, or nether parts, turn on the air conditioning and drive down the street? To some, cycling sounds a lot like a return to simpler times and for most black folks simpler times usually means bad memories.
Perceived danger remains the number one reason not to bike. Distances also play a role and Windhoek’s traffic congestion is off-putting.
Add to that uncomfortable streets, a sprawling city, scorching summers, and a national culture that sees bike transportation as odd.
Sofia says black women must see biking as an advantage for getting around downtown, or an economic advantage, or an advantage for health. She says decent bicycles have become insanely expensive but it should still be seen as an investment because of all the joy it brings.
“The norm now for black girls is to own a car, but there are still many Namibian households without cars,” she says.
Ermin van Wyk, a professional bike mechanic and co-owner of Das Bike Shop in Windhoek, has accompanied the Namibian cycling team to two Olympic Games, including the recent one in Rio de Janeiro. He noted that once again there were no black – males or females – cyclists from Namibia at this year’s Olympics. “When people see the Namibian cycling team, they want to know where the black participants are. You are from Namibia after all; it’s in Africa after all, they comment,” he says.
Van Wyk strongly supports the idea of a cycling academy just for black women. He already offers expert training and skills courses and he is more than willing to also get involved at such an academy. “It is high time, black Namibian girls deserve a spot on the cycling podium. I know we have the talent. We lack the will and spirit,” he laments.
One of the top reasons given to New Era Weekend by black women of all income levels involves style and hair care. While many black men have joined cycling clubs and participate actively in racing with very good results, you still will not see a black women among the 300-plus entries at the line-up of any cycling race.
Sofia says Windhoek’s cycling clubs are not racist clubs, all are welcoming. “The problem is the mind set of young black girls. Yes, bikes are expensive but you can also buy second hand and bikes cost very little to maintain. It is an exercise everyone can afford.
“Besides exercise, biking is just plain fun and traveling on a bike is one of the world’s greatest joys. My advice to blacks is quit trying to do everything in black-only groups. Join the rest of the world. A bike is the most affordable and energy efficient means of transportation. Get on one today. You will love it,” Sofia says.