ABOUT 27 years ago, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I quit work, sold everything we had (not a lot), hopped on our bicycles (rudimentary, first-generation mountain bikes) and rode north from Cape Town.

He, with his Dutch papers, was destined for Holland. At the time, my South African passport would only get me as far as Malawi. Not to be cowed, I tucked a Republic of Hout Bay passport (yes, of course it’s a pretend document) into my pannier bags with the hare-brained intention of presenting it at those border posts unreceptive to South Africans in the hope of getting further. (Ja, boet … young and stupid.) I didn’t, however, get the chance to test its efficacy.

We’d been slogging up the N7 for less than a week when, approaching the SA-Namibia border at Vioolsdrif, I fell off my bike head first. Helmets weren’t widely worn back then and my skull (and brain) didn’t fare well. When I regained consciousness more than a month later, I couldn’t walk across a road safely, let alone ride a bicycle. We put the adventure on hold and went back to work.

Although my husband never stopped dreaming we’d resume our ride again one day, I’ve lowered my derrière onto a bicycle seat only a handful of times since then. Cycling lost its appeal and, as the years went by, pedalling for several hours a day, day after day, seemed less and less doable.

But, recently, with electric bicycles growing in popularity and availability, I’ve begun imagining myself quietly cruising the long, dusty roads of Africa on a bike again.

After 27 years of finding reasons not to resume our cycling trip through Africa, I think I may have run out of excuses. Assisted pedalling and light/power at night? No fake passport required and, this time, a helmet on my head?

The picture became clearer last week when I discovered it might soon be possible to purchase an inexpensive, self-charging retrofit kit and turn a standard bike into an electric bike that doesn’t rely on electricity or complicated solar-powered recharging systems to keep it going. What’s more, if you pedal enough while cycling to charge the battery, you can use the power for other applications when you get off your bike. In other words, I could cycle during the day and read a book in my tent at night during my travels.

I heard about the technology from Johannesburg entrepreneur and green mobility activist Vincent Truter, who knows all about electric bikes. Not only is he CEO of Cycology, which imports electric bikes and organises cycling tours of Sandton’s green buildings for "corporate influencers and decision makers", he’s also the mastermind behind the #Decongest movement.

With the aim of raising awareness of alternatives to help reduce traffic problems in South African cities (starting with Sandton), #Decongest includes research that involves putting "100 Sandton corporates" on electric bikes and measuring the health and economic benefits of cycling, and its impact on congestion. Truter also plans to establish bicycle lock-and-charge stations across the suburb.

But electric bikes are pricey and, for green mobility to take off and really make a difference, he knows it’s important to make cycling more affordable, so he is looking for ways of retrofitting standard bicycles with electric kits that don’t rely on electricity to charge. He’s currently testing the self-charging retrofit kit I mention above. It will enable users to commute on their bikes, recharging as they pedal and using battery power when required. When they get home, they can remove the battery and use excess stored power for other purposes, such as charging devices or operating lights.

After 27 years of finding reasons not to resume our cycling trip through Africa, I think I may have run out of excuses. Assisted pedalling and light/power at night? No fake passport required and, this time, a helmet on my head?

Yes, indeed, I think I’ll be on my bike then.

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Sun Dec 04 18:09:52 SAST 2016