Juliana Bicycles
 

Changing Lives One Pump Track At a Time

Octubre 25 — 2019 | Roma, Lesotho

#pumpforpeace

Words by: Anka Martin 

The first ever UCI rainbow Jerseys for “Pump Track” were handed out this past weekend in Switzerland, a milestone for this new discipline testing skill, technique, speed, agility and strength. Masked behind all the fanfare of the competition, there was another story playing out. One a lot closer to my heart, a fairy tale of sorts that begins in a tiny village in Lesotho. Let me take you there. 

The kids get to experience that sense of freedom, playfulness, and carelessness that a bicycle can bring to ones’ life.

My first introduction to the Kingdom country, otherwise known as Lesotho, was in 2018, when I went over there to race and help with the first edition of The Kingdom Enduro enduro race. Lesotho is a small country, nestled between the Drakensberg and Maloti mountain ranges, landlocked within South Africa. It is the country with the highest low point in the world (1500m above sea level) and it also boasts the highest pub in Africa at 2874m. Lots of big mountains, which translates to a lot of huffing and puffing when you’re racing your bike!

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Juliana Bicycles Image
Tom Grice & Craig Kolesky

The race headquarters are based at the Roma Trading Post located in a small, rural village. It is the heart of the community and a central hub where all the children congregate and play all day long. This is also where Claudio Caluori built one of the first Velosolutions pump tracks a few years ago as part of his ongoing project to give more kids in rural, underprivileged communities access to cycling. It was also the reason for my return visit to earlier this year. 

Velosolutions approached me to become one of their Pumpforpeace ambassadors alongside Danny MacAskill, Nino Schurter, Travis Pastrana, Gary Fisher and Kirt Voreis. Getting more kids, especially women out on bikes is where my true passion lies, so when Claudio asked me to head back to Roma, Lesotho to help him with the upcoming qualifying round for the Redbull Pumptrack World Championships, I couldn’t be more excited to jump at this opportunity to head back to this part of the world to reconnect and help the local kids who I had met the year before. 

 

Complimenting the “Pumpforpeace” initiative program here, Velosolutions have also formed the first all women’s African cycling Team called Team Izimbali. Four young girls, making up the team have been given the opportunity and support to race their bikes across various disciplines to help shape their future cycling careers. They were signed up to race at the pump track world championship qualifiers here, and I was super excited to meet and help these young ladies, to mentor them and also simply get out on some rides with them.

Why am I always going back to Africa to help with these kinds of projects? It will always be “home” to me. Being born and raised in South Africa with all our family still living there, I am deeply rooted and connected to Africa and its people. It is where I can see the most positive impact that a simple tool such as a bicycle can have on children, adults, teenagers, entire communities, hell, even countries. It empowers and provides independence, which in my opinion is the starting block to positive change. What Velosolutions have brought to these rural communities with pump tracks is a tool for the kiddies to escape their “not always so great” real lives, even if it is only for a few hours. The kids get to experience that sense of freedom, playfulness, and carelessness that a bicycle can bring to ones’ life.

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Juliana Bicycles Image
Tom Grice & Craig Kolesky

We met with some parents from the village whose kids spend every waking moment at the pump track, and they couldn’t stop thanking us for bringing this into their community and lives. They’re no longer bored and getting into trouble. The kids are staying active, learning new skills, having fun, helping and teaching each other, learning responsibility and all about bikes and how to service them. It’s not just about riding the bikes but what riding bikes teaches us, and how that translates to everyday life. My favourite part about the pump track was how it has drawn the girls to participate and the confidence that it has given them. The way the boys were teaching and helping the girls was amazing to see. How the boys were learning to interact and communicate with the girls and show respect and care towards them wanting to conquer something new warmed my heart.  This will carry through to how they treat their future partners and raise their daughters someday. Again, a simple tool to break through barriers of equality.

The competition was stiff with all the top riders from neighbouring South Africa making the trip up into the mountains. The winners at this round in Lesotho would head to Bern, Switzerland to race in the finals.

 

The week was all about preparing the local kids for the big race, the qualifiers for the World Championships. The competition was stiff with all the top riders from neighbouring South Africa making the trip up into the mountains. The winners at this round in Lesotho would head to Bern, Switzerland to race in the finals. What an opportunity. They were all so nervous. For them, this might be the only way that they will ever have the chance to leave the village of Roma, never mind Lesotho. The thought of going to Switzerland was almost incomprehensible. Some of the fastest local kids were practising in their flip flops as they don’t all own shoes. Some sleep in mud huts on the floor with no beds. It is very rural out here! Passports, “What’s that?”

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Juliana Bicycles Image
Tom Grice & Craig Kolesky

I witnessed so many crashes and bare feet and elbows scraped to bits as they fearlessly threw themselves around that pump track, again and again, and again. Tired? Not in their vocabulary. They kept going and going. Humbled as ever, I watched these boys and girls prepare for the race. We did timing runs every day so they could get used to racing, I brought a big bag full of helmets and gear for all the kids which they shared among themselves and rotated on a daily basis. They shared everything, the helmets, the clothing... even socks were shared. How amazing is that? Nobody took anything just for themselves, no greed, selfishness or desperation. Everyone had a turn to wear whatever I brought. Another reminder to myself of why I do what I do and how much more can still be done. 

All the kiddies took their turn to ride it, some were way too small for the bike, others way too big but it went around that pump track from sunrise to sunset and was always brought back to me cleaner than I’ve ever been able to get it.

Every morning the kids would come to my room, knocking on the door in search of my bike. At first I was hesitant for the kids to take my bike, trying to keep it in sight, but in the end, I had to learn to let it go. The fun they had on that Roubion was immeasurable. All the kiddies took their turn to ride it, some were way too small for the bike, others way too big but it went around that pump track from sunrise to sunset and was always brought back to me cleaner than I’ve ever been able to get it. Another reminder to me, that it’s just a bike and we shouldn’t be so precious about our possessions. The joy I felt sharing my bike, seeing those kids riding it felt so darn good. I, the teacher, was learning all of life's lessons from them. 

I can go on and on and there is so much more that I can talk about, but let’s get back to the Red Bull Pump Track World Championships qualifier here in Lesotho. It was a fairytale ending with the local kid winning. Beating out all the travelling professionals from across the border, yep, Mosito Mohapi of Roma, Lesotho was going to Switzerland. Now he may not have won the finals or taken the Rainbow Jersey in Bern this past weekend but Mosito’s life has changed forever thanks to a simple pump track built in the small underprivileged rural community of Roma where he lives. Bikes really can change lives. 

 

For more on the #pumpforpeace initiative, check out https://pumpforpeace.com

 

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