Feature: The Pedal Club Lunch May

Chris Lovibond with the help of Pedal Club Lunch guest speaker Jeremy Ford, casts a light on the rise of cycling in Africa, both in terms of bikes being used and pro riders making their mark

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Feature: The Pedal Club Lunch May
by Chris Lovibond.

The Pedal Club Lunch (May) guest speaker, Jeremy Ford, casts a light into a corner of the cycling world which, until very recently, has been a dark and mysterious area for most of us – the rise of cycling in Africa.

Jeremy is deeply involved in this on two different fronts: firstly as a volunteer director/trustee for the Qhubeka* Charity – a social mobility charity headquartered in South Africa, using bicycles to change lives of schoolchildren, women and key-workers; and secondly, as the European communications lead for Team Africa Rising, a non-profit organisation focused on growing professional cycling across Africa.

Beginning with the Qhubeka Charity, in the field of transport, it is not possible to exhort African children to ‘get on their bikes’ – most of them would love to do so, but they just haven’t got the machines to ride, and even if they have a bike, they need basic instruction in how to use it, since in many places there is no real cycling infrastructure.

In South Africa alone, 12 million children walk to school every day, and in some cases this can take two hours each way; almost none of these children have ridden a bike. So far, Qhubeka has distributed over 106,000 bikes, and provided instruction in how to use them safely. Aside from anything else, cycling to school has been shown to cause a marked improvement in the children’s academic achievement and attendance levels. A 2022 recent in-depth report by a senior Masters student at the University of Cape Town has also shown that schoolchildren who have now been using Qhubeka bicycles during their adolescence, are seeing significant benefits to their physiology and muscle development.

The charity is active in a handful other African countries, and celebrates being an official Tour de France charity again for 2022. The Tour de France donates a Qhubeka bicycle for every rider in this most iconic of races, getting nearly 200 children on bikes every year. Alongside this key relationship, Qhubeka’s funding is generated by a significant group of corporate donors, alongside grassroots donations from fundraisers across the world. A collection from members after the talk produced £320 which, by a happy coincidence, is exactly the price of a Qhubeka bike.

Turning now to the sport of cycling in Africa, Team Africa Rising (TAR) was born in 2017, after the founders had spent a decade building up the Rwandan national cycling team which had gone from nothing to racing at multiple World Championships, the Olympics, and its most famous cyclist – Adrien Niyonshuti – racing in the World Tour for multiple years.

In 2017, when the Rwandan national team was duly handed over to the Rwandans to continue its journey, the TAR management team decided to apply what they had learnt, the good and the bad, to many other countries across Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, and most recently Benin and Togo, to improve their talent detection, coaching ability and in many cases upgrading the equipment riders and clubs in these countries are using.

TAR is also currently working on the most transformation project in the history of African cycling, working closely with Wahoo and Zwift, by the end of 2022 they will have put 100 Wahoo smart trainers into several countries, enabling hundreds of African athletes to train, race and create globally recognised data packs to give them the best opportunity to be selected by World Tour and Continental teams to have ever existed.

From both the physical and virtual side, a pipeline of top-level racing men and women are almost bound to emerge. The UCI have awarded the 2025 World Championships to Rwanda, the first time this prestigious event will be held on African soil; South Africa continues to produce strong talent; in the North, we are seeing a lot of emerging talent in the former French colonies of Algeria and Morocco; and most notably Eritrea (an Italian colony prior to World War II) – where cycling is the nation’s leading sport – we are seeing several strong talents emerge.

In March this year Eritrean Birniam Girmay won Ghent – Wevelgem and so became the first African to win a major European classic, and, at the time of writing, has already had several top five finishes in the 2022 Giro d’Italia as well as that historic stage win, with two other Eritreans also racing. Until Birniam’s stage win, no black African had ever won a Grand Tour stage, but all indicators pointed to history being made and so it was. As the Giro commentator Anthony McCrossan said in an interview with TAR at the Giro, “Africa is truly rising!”

The Pedal Club Lunch meeting was again held at The Parcel Yard pub, Kings Cross and was attended by 38 members and guests.

*Qhubeka: a Nguni (Bantu) word meaning ‘to go forward’.

Jeremy is leading a group of 16 participants raising funds for Qhubeka in the Ride London 100 miler on 29 May, an event with which members are involved in organising. If you’re interested in supporting this worthwhile cause, please have a look at this link:



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