Bicycle Portraits from South Africa

A man in red with his yellow bicycle in South Africa.

Three volumes of portraits are the final products of a two-year effort led by Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler.

“The great advantage of working on something so long is that you can really immerse yourself and your audience in the total experience of the project,” Engelbrecht said. “And you get a real feel for what you are working on through meeting so many of the people that you are interested in, hearing their stories and sharing their experiences.”

Both Engelbrecht and Grobler are residents of Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa, and are “totally obsessed with bicycles,” said Engelbrecht, who has been photographing and publishing his own books over the years. Grobler has a background in motion-graphics design.

Each Bicycle Portraits book contains photos and descriptions of 54 individuals living in South Africa, chosen out of a pool of 500 portraits that were photographed over the course of the project. Engelbrecht said the next stage will involve visiting each person who appears in the books to personally hand them a copy.

The impetus for the project was to be able to bike around South Africa and meet fascinating people, Engelbrecht said. Add to that was the hope that everyday South Africans would see “that it is in fact possible to use a bicycle.”

“We’re not saying that everyone has to ride a bicycle all the time, of course,” Engelbrecht added. “It’s not practical for everyone; but, we hope to encourage some people to try and commute by bicycle as often as they can. It’s fast, it’s free and it’s fun.”

The books also each contain two essays by local and international cycling figures, such as Gary Fisher – one of the forefathers of mountain biking – and South Africa’s Nobel Prize-winning author, J.M. Coetzee. The books were designed by Gabrielle Guy and feature hand-painted watercolor maps by acclaimed South African artist Gabrielle Raaff.

The two photographers/ authors/ publishers raised over $40,000 from 564 backers for their books using the online fundraising tool, Kickstarter. Said Engelbrecht: “I think the crowd-funding platform is an incredible way forward for creative, independent projects. Of course there are other ways to fund a project like ours, but having everyday individuals invest in your vision and believe in your idea is very rewarding on many levels.”

“We’ll never have to owe the bank money or look at big companies to make our dreams come true – if your concept is good enough, there are a lot of people that will push your dream into existence.”

Bicycle Portraits is available internationally from

Stay tuned, as Engelbrecht has hinted that a fourth Bicycle Portraits book might be in the works.

Originally published in the May/ June 2012 issue of Momentum Magazine and on

A Fresh Start

Momentum Magazine Editor Sarah Ripplinger.

This issue marks a major milestone and turning point for Momentum. We’ve come a long way since our beginnings back in 2001 (see timeline on p. 12). Now, with the publication of the 50th installment of Momentum Magazine, we are debuting a stylish and more mainstream look and feel.

It has been amazing, challenging and rewarding to be with Momentum as we reach this turning point. I am excited about our future and look forward to many more years of evolution and change as we continue to listen and react to what you want to see on our pages. By focusing on the bike lifestyle (see feature on p. 32) as a whole, we are in a better position to deliver the information and resources you need to live happier, saner lives on two wheels. Please share your thoughts about our new content: I look forward to reading your comments.

In this issue, we give you a peek at some of the hottest gear for spring 2011 (p. 46), share tips on preparing for a vacation-by-bike (p. 52), take you to the bike lanes of New York City (p. 39), give you a glimpse into the day of a folding biker (p. 28) and show you how to host your very own bike birthday party (p. 25).

Our new lineup of features and columnists will open up the dialogue on hot button issues, such as ticketing cyclists (p. 21), conservatism and cycling (p. 58) and riding with newborns (p. 26), to name a few.

There is so much to discuss. Our cities are growing and maturing in many different ways, which makes establishing better policies and practices around bike infrastructure and laws of imminent importance. Likewise, we should continue to celebrate the joy and functionality of cycling by showing just how fun and easy it is to ride a bike in your city. This is Momentum’s ongoing quest. I hope you will continue to join us for the ride.

Happy spring cycling,

Sarah Ripplinger

Editor, Momentum Magazine

Originally published in the March/ April 2011 issue of Momentum Magazine and on

Biking in a Rainforest City: Vancouver, BC

Cruising by Stanley Park.

Vancouver isn’t your typical metropolitan center. Known for having a densely populated downtown core where many health and ecology conscious citizens walk or cycle to work, its lush mountains and glittering glass condos attract soul seekers, explorers and hedonists alike from around the world. Vancouver is a place where extremes often meet.

Within the extreme transportation demands of a bustling port city and tourist destination, lives a thriving commuter cycling movement which is seeing the fruits of about 30 years of effort. The city of Vancouver has extended an olive branch to cyclists in an effort to improve the transportation system and meet the mounting calls for safer and more sustainable roads.

“Several cycling projects that people have been working on for years have been completed or happened this summer, including the Central Valley Greenway, the bike path on the Canada Line Bridge and, of course, the Burrard Bridge [bike lane trial],” said Richard Campbell, commuter cycling advocate and co-founder of Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST) and the British Columbia Cycling Coalition. “All of these point the way to the future.”

The Burrard Street Bridge bike lane trial, in particular, has been a defining moment in Vancouver’s cycling history. After a disastrous first attempt in 1996, the separated bike lane trial that launched on July 13, 2009 has been praised as a success story for the city. Statistics indicate an estimated 26 percent increase in ridership over the bridge since it began and no significant change in the number of motor vehicles heading over the bridge. In turn, pre- and mid-trial polls of 300 residents – conducted for the city – found that 45 percent supported a continuation of the trial, with 31 percent opposed.

“I think this bodes well for other protected bike lanes in the city in the future,” said Campbell, who added that he sees more children and women on the bridge now that there are protective barriers separating the bikes-only sidewalk heading north and the bikes-only street lane heading south over the bridge. “We’re having a bicycle baby boom these days… There seems to be children on bikes everywhere.”

Vancouver’s bike cultural scene has been building since people first rode bicycles here in the late 1800s, but the contemporary cycling movement began taking shape in 1968, when protesters headed off the construction of the inner-city Chinatown Freeway, which later became part of the Adanac Bikeway. Transportation cycling discussions took off after 1980, when city hall established a bicycle committee with a mandate to examine infrastructure for cyclists. The first bike stencils hit the ground in the early 1990s for what is now an extensive bikeways system, which utilizes side roads rather than arterials. A moderately well-connected network of on- and off-road bike paths link the downtown core to the many satellite communities within the City of Vancouver proper and the 22 municipalities that compose Metro Vancouver, including Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster and North Vancouver.

Still, the commuter cycling push at city hall has had some growing pains. Streets generally continue to be dominated by the personal automobile. However, much has changed since the late 1980s when advocates for bike paths and safer roads for cyclists were labeled radicals.

In the early 1980s, just as mountain biking was finding a fertile home on the slopes of the North Shore, The Bicycle People – one of the first groups to tackle transportation cycling in Vancouver – was formed. An ensemble of between 50 to 100 advocates, The Bicycle People staged rides and protests to draw attention to their cause.

“Vancouver really wasn’t a great place to cycle around then,” said Campbell, “certainly, things needed improving.”

The advocacy group BEST was founded in 1991 by dedicated cyclists to marry sustainable urban design and transportation needs with cycling.

Critical Mass (CM) began in 1996 and was attended by a core group of about half a dozen people. Soon after, The Bicycle People disbanded, many directing their efforts towards the galvanizing spirit of Critical Mass. Between 1996 and 2009, participation in CM grew from half a dozen individuals to several thousand in the summertime.

The rides, which for a few years concluded with a “Velofusion” Party at the Australia/New Zealand (ANZA) Club, have become a powerful venue for utility riders to physically demonstrate what roads dominated by bikes might look like.

By the late 1990s and 2000s, Vancouver bike culture blossomed with theatrical responses to auto addiction: the community-spirited bike rides of Dinosaurs Against Fossil Fuels; Wholesome Undy; World Naked Bike Ride; Musical Lantern Ride etc.; art shows; Uberkrank and the Margaret Charles Chopper Collective chopper gangs, and the B.C.Clettes – an all-woman bike-inspired performance collective!

B.C.Clettes collective member and artist Sara Ross, a.k.a. RedSara, said the guiding principles of that group are similar to those of a lot of bike/art happenings in Vancouver since the late 1990s.

“In the community, we’re celebrating bikes and people who ride bikes,” she said. “I think we’re affirming people’s values, those who have chosen bicycles as a mode of transportation – because frankly we’re marginalized – so we affirm their values through celebration and performance and we inspire people to ride.”

As of 2009, a Museum of Vancouver exhibit entitled Velo-City: Vancouver and the Bicycle Revolution listed 42 cycling subcultures in Vancouver, including commuter cyclists, unicyclists (, cruisers (, BMXers, electric bikers (“Kilowatt Hour” meet-up), bicycle couriers and fixie (, monster, tall, and chopper-bike riders. The exhibit zeroed in on the emergence of a vibrant and very active cycling community that had previously received little notice from the mainstream culture.

Rumors of a month-long “Velopalooza” festival for summer 2010 (modeled after Portland’s PedalPalooza) are spreading. In many ways, Ross pointed out, what’s taking place right now is pure evolution.

“I think it’s changing from fringy advocacy to mainstream,” she said.

Within the steady stream of cyclists heading to work, play, school, daycare, etc. there is a growing need to recognize, not only the enjoyment and creative possibilities attached to cycling, but the daily practicality of the bike as an alternative transportation mode.

In less than 20 years, cycling groups in Vancouver have gone from a fringe and radical effort carried out by a select few, to an overwhelmingly pervasive cultural phenomenon.

Behind this movement is a conglomerate of advocacy organizations. The Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC), in particular, has followed a mandate to improve city streets and infrastructure for transportation cyclists and the broader cycling culture. The VACC runs two Bike to Work Week events each year; one in the spring and the other in the fall. The rides, as well as other VACC initiatives are oriented towards getting people onto their bikes and out on the streets.

“We encourage municipalities, TransLink and the province to improve cycling throughout Metro Vancouver,” said VACC president Arno Schortinghuis. The volunteer-run non-profit society, established in 1998, works with the local police department to make roads safer for cyclists and also organizes Streetwise Cycling courses that “help cycling commuters to be more confident and safe while riding in traffic,” Schortinghuis said.

As a result of the advocacy work conducted by these groups over the past several years, Vancouver has become a much safer and more accessible place for commuter cyclists. Bikeways meander along the ocean from the peak of Stanley Park at the city’s northern border, around the University of British Columbia peninsula and down along the north arm of the Fraser River.

Tree-lined streets are a staple of Vancouver’s urban roadways. In spring, cyclists of all stripe gather for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, often taking bicycle tours to a variety of local hot spots, including the VanDusen Botanical Garden and the city’s Commercial Drive area – known for its artistic and cosmopolitan atmosphere and as a gathering point for car-free cultural events. During the summer, part of ‘The Drive’ – along with other streets throughout Vancouver – is periodically closed off to car traffic for Car Free Vancouver Day and Summer Spaces.

“The big advantage that Vancouver now has is a grid of completely interconnected routes,” said Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. “So you can think about getting anywhere in Vancouver on a bikeway.” Plus, he added, Vancouver’s bike paths are “really well signed – that’s key, you just have to look at every street sign to make sure you’re on a bikeway.”

A former City of Vancouver councilor, Price played an integral role in developing Vancouver’s bikeways network, starting in the late 1980s – particularly the seawall that borders the coastline. That seaside loop “will connect you up with almost all the tourist-oriented facilities that you may want to go to, from Stanley Park to Science World, Granville Island to Chinatown and the beaches,” Price said, making it an ideal causeway for visitors and residents. “You can make your way to the Museum of Anthropology (on the UBC campus grounds), practically, on separated bikeways; that’s the number one flashiest thing we’ve got,” Price added. Plus, the mild climate means that people can travel on the city’s integrated system of bike paths year-round.

The present direction of Vancouver city council bodes well for developing even safer and more interconnected bike routes for cyclists. Mayor Gregor Robertson is a commuter cyclist and about half of council members ride to work, according to Councillor Geoff Meggs. “There are probably more active cyclists on council now than ever before,” he noted.

Starting in 2010, the City of Vancouver is looking at establishing more segregated bike lanes, according to Meggs and Mike Anderson, a civil engineer with the City of Vancouver’s greenways and neighbor-hood transportation department. Anderson said there is also going to be a bigger push for safer downtown bike routes and much-needed bike parking facilities including on-street bike parking corrals.

“I would say that cycling permeates throughout a lot of the city now. It’s a pretty high priority,” said Anderson. “Things have changed culturally; we’re much further along.”


Vancouver can be intimidating for visiting cyclists because of its hilly terrain, tall buildings and trees, and its numerous bodies of water and bridges. Once you discover the bike routes and Seawall, the city is your oyster and biking is the best way to explore it. A free, pocket-sized bicycle route map is available at most bike stores and as a free download from A note to visitors: it’s the law in Metro Vancouver for all cyclists to wear a helmet. You also need a bell and lights for night riding. In Vancouver, it’s possible to avoid busy streets and enjoy the quiet and lovingly-gardened neighborhoods by traveling along bike routes.

Vancouver’s interconnected transit system can help you travel further. By hitching your bike to the front of Metro Vancouver buses, using their bike racks that can hold up to two bikes at a time, you can get to just about anywhere. There’s also the Sea Bus that will take you and your bike over the Burrard Inlet and over to the North Shore where you can visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Lynn Canyon Park. You can also take your bike on the Canada Line, a light rail system, that opened August 17, 2009 and that connects Vancouver International Airport to downtown Vancouver.

The UBC Bikeability Map is a great way to plan your trips. The map allows you to pick the route with the least traffic pollution, least elevation gain, most vegetation and shortest path. Designed by a team of University of British Columbia researchers, the map also provides information about nearby light rail (SkyTrain) stations, alternative bike routes, community centers and more.

The VACC offers online resources and bike maps on its website:

Tourism Vancouver ( has a host of information about local sights and sounds, as well as information to help you enjoy your stay.

Originally published in the Jan/ Feb 2010 issue of Momentum Magazine and on

Public Spaces Make a Difference in NYC

Bryant ParkPhoto by Ed YourdonBryant Park, late April 2009.

Navigating through the busy streets of any major city is a harrowing undertaking. Taxis race through intersections; there is a general melee of honking horns, screeching brakes; and pell-mell sounds from stores and people. It’s little wonder that, for many urbanites, the focus is getting to their final destinations as fast as possible, not lingering on city streets to take in the view.

That’s where Fred Kent and Project for Public Spaces (PPS) step in. For Kent, president of PPS, city streets are an untamed wilderness rife with opportunities for a new and pioneering form of public engagement.

“In the US, there seems to still be a lid on openness and creativity [in the public realm],” said Kent, who headquarters in NYC. “In this country we are defined more by disciplines than by community actions.”

Fred Kent - ThumbPhoto courtesy of PPSFred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces.

Kent and PPS are working to redefine the idea of a city as an organic whole – and not only a commercial Mecca – by uncovering the civic centers lying dormant below looming buildings and crowded roads. A tall order, Kent said, for projects that don’t follow the typical rules of the road in city planning.

“The biggest obstacles are designers, traffic engineers and managers that insist that you have to do it by-the-book. The book is always defined by a narrowly focused discipline that wants to control outcomes and limit public engagement and use.”

PPS does the exact opposite: it pushes the limits and dispels common perceptions of how city infrastructure: streets, sidewalks, squares and buildings, should look and function.

Farmers markets form part of PPS’s vision for the establishment of more inclusive public spaces. They are one example of groups and individuals reclaiming the streetscape and transforming it into an open-air commercial and community space.

Bryant Park at Lunch - ThumbPhoto by Ed YourdonBryant Park, Lunchtime, August 2009.

“Markets, starting with farmers markets, have increased exponentially in the last 10 years,” said Kent. “But that kind of special market is just the tip of the iceberg. There are all kinds of markets happening everywhere… The other area we see a resurgence is in town/ community squares. Watching a community regenerate itself around the community gathering space is off-the-charts exciting. That is also happening world-wide.”

PPS is a key player in the global movement that’s transforming urban landscapes from lonely places of concrete and congestion, to places where people can gather, commute, exchange goods and ideas and celebrate. A not-for-profit organization established in 1975 and based in NYC, PPS works to influence policy and policymakers to support community-friendly planning and development. So far, the organization has worked on projects in over 2,500 communities in 40 countries.

Thirty-five years ago, NYC was plagued by economic problems and high crime rates. In Bryant Park, the problem was obvious. Drugs and gangs had taken over the area located near Times Square – between 42nd and 40th streets – to such an extent that, by 1979, local authorities had pretty well given up any hope of reclaiming the park as a public amenity.

In a 1981 report, William H. Whyte, a mentor of PPS, raised the alarm about the severity of the drug-trafficking problem in the park and the need for changes to the park’s design. As a result, PPS did a master plan and several improvements to the park infrastructure were made, including clearing away hedges to make the park a more open and well-lit space, and introducing commercial uses, such a food and beverage stands.

“Back then, Bryant Park was really in a bad situation,” said Kent. “Today, it’s probably the most successful public square in the world.”

The Rockefeller Brothers Foundation saw potential economic and social opportunities in the park, which sits between Avenue of the Americas and the New York public library main branch, and created the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation to manage its public and commercial aspects. Since the re-development, a slew of public events have taken place in Bryant Park, including free concerts and a summer movie festival. Roving security guards have also been instated to deter criminal activity.

There have been downsides to introducing commercial activity to the park. PPS has argued that hosting large-scale and ongoing events, such as the Barnum and Bailey Circus and bi-annual Seventh on Sixth fashion shows, clash with the design and objectives of the small public space.

Still, the introduction of commercialism to the grassy park has breathed new life into a spot once controlled by drug dealers. Coffee stands, bocce ball courts, library reading rooms and other amenities all give “people reasons to be there [in a public space] beyond the drug dealing,” said Kent, “and that’s a real paradigm shift.”

Forging ahead in NYC, PPS partnered with Transportation Alternatives and the Open Planning Project in 2005 to co-found the New York City Streets Renaissance campaign. The campaign created a new vision for more pedestrian- and cycling-friendly areas within the city. Many of the community visions have since been built, including that for the Meatpacking District redevelopment – the first plaza to be completed within the NYC Department of Transportation’s public plaza program. Similar to many other PPS initiatives, this project is all about creating a place for people, aka “Placemaking.”

Placemaking involves creating more livable roads and nodes within cities: places where people can cycle, walk, soak up some sun and socialize in a safe and inviting environment. It’s a concept that’s driving the future of PPS, according to Kent.

“Placemaking means taking the idea of creating places to a community/ city/ region-wide agenda. We have the simple idea of working through communities to create something we call “The Power of 10.” If a city or community has 10 good to great places, then they are very unusual; but, ask the community what are their 10 best places, 10 worst places and 10 places with the biggest opportunity, and you will get a groundswell of input, and the potential for real action.”

In the Big Apple, the Placemaking experiment is catching on. The Streets Renaissance Campaign spurred two other public space advocacy initiatives: Streetsblog and Streetfilms, which have taken on the task of documenting the successes and failures of NYC’s transportation system. The Livable Streets Network takes this one step further by bringing the core concepts of the Streets Renaissance Campaign to other cities using the Internet as a portal for information exchange.

But NYC is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I think there has been a massive shift in attitude in the past few years,” said Kent. “People in communities are deeply wise about their own social community needs, but they are seldom asked.”

Using The Power of 10, Kent said that he and PPS will continue to work with communities around the world to develop inclusive public spaces, uncovering the oases hidden below urban badlands.

Originally published in the Nov/ Dec 2009 issue of Momentum Magazine and on