Cycling in trouble

Cycling in trouble

Maseru– Despite its vast potential, cycling in Lesotho faces many challenges that hinder the sport’s growth.
The potential is certainly there for all to see.
Lesotho is ranked 29th in the world in the men’s cross-country discipline by the International Cycling Union (UCI) ahead of nations such as Greece, Denmark and Great Britain and second in Africa, only behind South Africa.

Top-rated Lesotho rider Phetetso Monese, meanwhile, is ranked 98th out of 1600 international riders – making him the world’s highest ranked black African rider – and, most recently, the country won silver and bronze at the African Continental MTB Cross-Country Championships in May.
Yet, even with these admirable feats, meagre funding means Lesotho’s riders remain hamstrung by a lack of equipment which hampers them come competition time.
These challenges make it unsurprising that many aspiring riders give up on their cycling dreams, simply because they cannot afford a bike.
One person determined to change this is Tumisang Taabe whose story is an inspiring tale of someone who started from nothing to make a name for themselves in the game.

Taabe is a former Lesotho mountain bike champion and today is the owner of a successful bike shop named Tumi’s Bikes which has become a hub for many wannabe riders in the country.
Tumi’s Bikes was formed in 2007 and, from the humble beginnings of a few donated bikes, now has over 300 bicycles sold to customers all over the country.
Tumi’s Bikes is situated in Ha Mabote next to the main road and specialises in selling and repairing bikes. The shop is always buzzing, filled with people who come either to buy or repair their bikes, or just to feed their eyes on the wide range of bikes available.

Taabe says the main purpose of Tumi’s Bikes is to teach kids who have a love for cycling, to create jobs and to help orphans and vulnerable children.
Tumi’s Bikes has grown rapidly and today has several clubs under its wing including a ladies club and a boys team where Taabe teaches kids how to ride bicycles.
Like his shop, Taabe has also thrived despite difficult beginnings.

“I started riding bicycles in 1999; at that time I couldn’t afford a bicycle,” he recalls.
“I would always hire a bike from kids who owned one and pay them to ride their bicycle. I was raised by a single parent and I didn’t grow up in luxury. Things like bicycles and soccer balls we never owned such because we couldn’t afford them.”

Yet, Taabe refused to let his circumstances deter him from his goal of becoming a professional rider.
“My dream was to become one of the best cyclists in the country,” he says.
“I also wanted to be a coach and help those that are coming after me with skills and knowledge of riding a bicycle. I think that bike riding was a calling to me,” he smiles.
His persistence helped Taabe to indeed reach the mountaintop of the Mountain Kingdom’s cycling scene.

He represented Lesotho at several major international competitions including the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia. Taabe was also a national cross-country champion three times – most recently in 2012 – and in 2013 was part of the first-ever Lesotho team at the Mountain Bike World Championships.
His foremost passion now that he has hung his bike is helping young cyclists change their lives through the sport.

In 2012, Taabe’s fervour led to his election as president of the Lesotho Cycling Association (LCA) though he stepped down in 2014 just before the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
His tenure as LCA president saw several reforms which helped lay the foundations for cycling’s current growth in Lesotho.
“We changed the constitution of the association and reduced the term for the executives from fives to only two years in order to cut executives’ prolonged stay in the office,” Taabe says.
“The two-year term was meant to ensure that the members do not have to wait for a long time to outvote executives if they are no longer happy with them.”
Although executive term limits were increased to four years after Taabe stepped down, other innovations from his time remain guidelines today.
“I made sure that we had competitions every month to help our cyclists keep fit and be active,” Taabe explains.

“It also helps keep children away from things that may not be good for them. We had financial challenges at that time and at some point I had to fund the association’s events with my own money,” he adds. Considering his humble beginnings, the 35-year-old father of three looks back on his journey with pride. Taabe is especially pleased with the contributions Tumi’s Bikes has made in the past 10 years. Since its launch, Tumi’s Bikes has distributed over 3 000 bikes across the country to vulnerable kids. And, if there is a shortage, Taabe can always build a bicycle from scratch using car parts – an impressive skill he acquired while young.

“I have formed different clubs under Tumi’s Bikes, I now use experience to ride because I cannot compete anymore, as one gets older even your form goes down,” Taabe says.
“We have also introduced bicycles as the mode of transport in Lesotho. Now all the containers (of new bicycles) from abroad come here first and we distribute the bikes across the country.”
While Taabe is clearly enjoying the success of his business, he does point out that he faces many challenges on a daily basis.

These include customers who come to the store hoping to get bicycles at cheap prices. Another challenge is people hoping to get donations even when they can afford bikes.
“The purpose is to donate to the needy and vulnerable, but we have people who can actually afford to buy a bike come here and ask for donations or want free bicycles,” Taabe laments. “Sometimes a customer will come here and expect to get a bicycle for a cheaper price or even put a price tag themselves.”

Luciah Phahla

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