Soweto cyclists bring new style to streets of Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG (AP) After dark the bars and clubs on 7th Street in Johannesburg’s hip Melville neighborhood are heaving with partiers and thumping dance music.

Outside one bar the scene is different: A small crowd of stylish 20-somethings are fastening bike helmets and attaching lights to an array of flashy fixed-gear and single-speed bikes.

They’re setting off on their weekly ”social cycle” around Johannesburg organized by a small band from Soweto who call themselves Fixin Diaries.

The group – 15-30 friends, regulars and newcomers – draws curious stares and friendly honks.

”Hey guys, what are you doing and how can we join?” a young woman shouts from a car window while the cycling group stopped for a red light.

The Melville shop, nicknamed the Fishbowl, opened in April as an outpost of Fixin Diaries’ original shop in Soweto. It’s a combination bar/workshop, with bikes in various states of repair hanging from the ceiling and leaning against walls. A fireplace wards off the southern hemisphere’s winter chill.

The name Fixin Diaries is meant to evoke both the group’s DIY spirit and the fixed-gear bikes they ride.

A DJ starts spinning in the late afternoon. Later, the bikes get pushed back to make space for local jazz and pop groups like Urban Village and Afro Twist.

Cycling has suffered from an image problem among black South Africans, said Hussain Roos, 27, a founder. Cycling was seen either as an elitist sport for whites or a humble conveyance for those who can’t afford cars, he said.

”It was never really a black thing,” agreed regular rider Ephraim Manana, 28. Now at Fixin Diaries ”you don’t need tights to cycle … Basically you can build your own bike that looks this beautiful and you can start riding in your jeans.”