When you think about navigating and exploring Joburg, cycling may not be the first mode of transportation that springs to mind. Traffic congestion (or at least a local habit to constantly complain about it) reveals Joburg to be a car-obsessed metropolis.
An initiative by the former city administration to encourage commuter cycling by building dedicated bike lanes collapsed shortly after it was set up, with the lanes becoming more popular with impatient taxi drivers, recyclers' trolleys, and street hawkers. Yet despite this, a growing number of passionate Joburgers are reframing the narrative around cycling in the city, forming groups that cycle en masse and launching cycling tours of the city that showcase the accessibility and unique vantage point of life on a bike.
Cycling fans visiting Joburg would be remiss not to hop on two wheels and join one of the many dynamic group rides or hire a bike and take a spin through Joburg’s parks and surrounding nature reserves. Township tourism pioneers Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers have established daily bicycle tours through Soweto, weaving between sites of historical importance and offering opportunities to interact with locals in a way that helps bring visitors into the community that is authentic and mutually beneficial.
Meanwhile, in the heart of the City Centre, cycling is one of the most fun ways to see the city’s most buzzed-about neighbourhoods up close. This is especially true if you opt to join Kennedy Tembo’s Microadventure Tours for a themed ride through town, sipping your way through Joburg’s best independent coffee shops along the way.
Joburg and its surrounds also offer plenty of open spaces for road and mountain biking, from the well-maintained tar roads that meander through the rolling grasslands of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Cradle of Humankind to the tree-lined Braamfontein Spruit that passes through Joburg’s older suburbs and sprawling park areas.
Exploring Joburg on two wheels is immersive, social, and a unique way to experience the city – just make sure to wear comfy shoes and a helmet, slather on sunscreen, keep your cellphone and other valuables out of sight, and bring plenty of water along.
JOBURG BIKE TOURSEBIKER GRAFFITI SAFARI
If you’re looking to experience the cultural side of Joburg outside of the usual gallery circuit, look no further than the eBiker's graffiti tour. Led by Eelco Meyjes, these tours take you through the streets of graffiti suburbs such as Braamfontein, Westdene, and Newtown, and focus on some of the 800-plus murals spread across the city. You’ll be sure to come out of it feeling refreshed and having learnt about this dynamic art scene bringing colour to Joburg’s city streets. And if your legs are feeling a bit tired, they offer a safari-vehicle tour too.
Tours cost between R365 – R650 p.p.; bring your own bike and booking is essential.
As one of Joburg’s coolest and most innovative backpacker hostels, Curiocity runs an immersive and fun social bike ride through the Maboneng precinct and surrounding areas. On Sat and Sun from 15:00 – 17:00, the East City Cycle Tour leaves from outside the backpackers at 302 Fox Street, Maboneng, rolling past the incredible collection of graffiti and street art that the neighbourhood is famous for, and continues through the historic suburbs of Jeppestown, Doornfontein, and Troyeville. There's a stop at Victoria Yards too; a former industrial space that's now a thriving hub for artists. Led by knowledgeable local guides, the tours are infused with both historical and cultural insights.
The cycle tours cost R580 p.p., including bike and helmet hire. Participants must be paying guests and be 18 years and older. Booking is essential.
JOZI TOURS AND TALES
Veteran South African journalist Lucille Davie offers a variety of engaging tour experiences that are richly imbued with her intimate knowledge of the history of Joburg and its most famous residents. For an especially interactive history lesson, join Davie on her four-hour mountain bike tour along 25km of the Braamfontein Spruit. The route covers some of Joburg’s most interesting older suburbs, following a path from Blairgowrie in the north through the beautiful Delta Park and the pretty suburb of Linden, onwards through Albert’s Farm and Sophiatown with a rest on the return journey, stopping at Westpark Cemetery. Along the way, Davie shares her vast knowledge of the places that hold Joburg’s most colourful stories and the people who have walked its streets. Davie’s tours are held monthly depending on demand and you will need to bring your own mountain bike with you (see our rental suggestions below).
Kennedy Tembo is the self-proclaimed 'ambassador of adventure' in Joburg. He founded Microadventure Tours in 2017 to connect Joburgers with energetic experiences outside their comfort zone that are right in their backyard. Kennedy leads half-day and full-day guided rides around the historical sites of the Joburg City Centre and a 16km cycling tour of the scenic Cradle of Humankind which includes a visit to the museums at Maropeng. He also runs regular speciality rides, such as the Jozi Coffee Cycle Tour – a coffee-themed bike ride through the Joburg City Centre that pit-stops at five independent coffee shops and several architectural marvels. Bikes and helmets are provided at an additional cost.
Cycle tours are from R450 p.p. with own bike and helmet; to book call +27 83 772 4678 or email email@example.com
TOWNSHIP BICYCLE TOURSLEBO'S SOWETO BACKPACKERS BICYCLE TOUR
This lively backpackers in Orlando West, Soweto, offers an ever-expanding choice of excellent tours of South Africa's largest township by foot, tuk-tuk, or bicycle. The idea of touring townships by bike has taken off across the country, but it was the late Lebo Malepa who pioneered the township cycling experience when he began borrowing bikes from locals to take foreign visitors out to see the sights of Soweto. Fast-forward more than a decade and Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers now owns more than 100 bicycles and employs dozens of staff. There’s a choice of different rides ranging from two-hour experiences to a full-day tour (bear in mind you need to be moderately fit to tackle the latter). Lebo's bicycle tours go far beyond the usual Mandela-themed sites and include stops to try local street food, before ending back in the park in front of the backpackers for drinks and a delicious home-cooked lunch at Lebo’s Open Air Restaurant.
Tours start at R520 p.p. for overnight guests (non-guests can join from R650 p.p.) and children aged five to 12 pay half price. Younger kids can be catered for in a child seat/carrier; book here.
BIKE RENTALSA handful of bike repair shops around Joburg have bicycles and helmets available for daily or hourly hire and are also generally good places to get advice on easily navigable routes and safe areas to cycle through. Some even offer lessons for the novice cyclist. Bike rental is still a fairly new phenomenon in Joburg and most places do not have a huge number of bikes on offer, so it pays to call ahead to book to ensure a bike is available.
THE BICYCLE AT BREEZEBLOCK CAFÉ
This small bicycle servicing shop in Brixton based out of Breezeblock Café believes in the power of cycling to boost self-confidence and offers lessons to absolute beginners. The Bicycle also hires out bikes for short and long-term use, plus helmets and locks, and supplies cycle route maps.
In addition to its popular weekend cycle tour, Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng has a selection of road bikes available for hourly rental.
SPROCKET AND JACK
A bespoke cycle build and repair shop that has a limited selection of mountain bikes available for hire. Sprocket and Jack's location on the Braamfontein Spruit is especially convenient for exploring the nearby MTB trails.
Located on the corner of Fox and Kruger Streets, Uncle Merv’s offers a variety of vintage bikes to rent and is the perfect launching point for exploring Maboneng and its surrounds. Enjoy an excellent coffee or smoothie at their hole-in-the-wall when you’re done.
RIDING OUTSIDE THE CITY
CRADLE OF HUMANKIND
Just beyond the Joburg city limits, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Cradle of Humankind has become a top destination for cycling aficionados and on any given weekend you’ll find herds of cyclists criss-crossing the area’s scenic cycling routes. With access to a mountain bike, you can take yourself for a self-guided road bike tour. The 30km Cradle Route loop which follows specially designated 2m-wide bike lanes along tarred country roads is a good place to start. Note that some sections of the Cradle Route are remote, so it is recommended not to bike alone. Alternatively, join Microadventure Tours' guided 16km group road bike ride with a visit to the Maropeng Visitor's Centre and a stop at Kromdraai, which includes mountain bike rental.
RIETVLEI ZOO FARM
The Rietvlei Zoo Farm in the South of Joburg offers mountain bike trails of varying difficulties. Hop on the 5km trail for some light exercise or take on the 22km trail for those feeling like more of a challenge. Afterwards stop by the beautiful Rietvlei gardens to picnic, kick back, and enjoy the sunshine.
COFFEE CULTUREWhat better way to end a ride or meet some new cycling buddies than stopping for a delicious cup of coffee? Here are a few of the rider-friendly coffee shops (bike racks included) we think you might enjoy.
CROFT & CO
Good service, fresh bottled juices delivered daily (these go quickly), strong coffee, and possibly the best scrambled eggs in town have made Croft & Co a go-to hangout for Joburg's early risers.
Adjoining the beautiful Delta Park, itself popular with cyclists thanks to its extensive biking trails, Delta Café is a superb pit stop. Catch your breath and refuel with a strong cup of coffee in their large, shaded outdoor seating area.
THE GRIND COFFEE COMPANY
Located in Arch Cycles in Melrose Arch, The Grind Coffee Company offers delicious coffees and healthy eating options for when your ride has left you a little low on energy. Downstairs the space is largely devoted to all things bikes while upstairs there are larger tables and booths if you want to sit for a while.
SOCIAL RIDESJoining one of the city’s many social bike riding clubs can be a great way to meet like-minded fans of life on two wheels.
BANDITZ BICYCLE CLUB
A dynamic urban cycling club founded in Soweto, Banditz Bicycle Club is dedicated to spreading the love of biking in black communities. Whether you're a seasoned cyclist or just starting, head over to the Biking Banditz store in Braamfontein to join them on one of their rides through Joburg, or to get your bike in tip-top shape. We are huge fans of this crew who host a variety of themed rides, including Girls on Bikes and the Homies Night Rides. Follow @banditzbicycleclub for more details.
CRITICAL MASS JOZI
There's power in numbers. Join Critical Mass Jozi for mass cycles around Joburg (routes often begin on the corner of Juta and De Beer Streets in Braamfontein). Cyclists of all ages and backgrounds show up in their brightest gear – we've seen fairy lights and superhero costumes – to reclaim the city's streets for two-wheelers. Follow them on Instagram for details on their next ride at @criticalmassjozi
ILLOVO CYCLING GROUP
The Illovo Cycling Group organises weekly social group rides starting at the Engen McDonalds in Rosebank. Join the group for an early morning ride at 05:00 every Tue – Fri and at 05:00 or 05:30 on Sat. All ages and genders are welcome to join the group. Follow them on Instagram for more @illovocyclegroup
JOHANNESBURG MOUNTAIN BIKE CLUB
For social rides further afield, Johannesburg Mountain Bike Club (JMBC) has been going strong since 1989. Annual memberships are available, but you need not be a member to join – there's a visitor's fee of R30. JMBC is a welcoming community for all cycling enthusiasts. Rides take place on Sun mornings, with riders divided into groups who each tackle different routes based on their skill level. Visit jmbc.org.za for details.