The devils made them do it…

The devils made them do it…

Tribulus terrestris (Devil’s thorn, or Dubbeltjie) has a lot to answer for – among them, putting cyclists off the City of Cape Town’s new, segregated bicycle lanes (the West Coast MyCiti route toward Milnerton).
But it’s also responsible for the appearance of real, practical cycling-citizen action…

Rodney Beck is the chairman of the Outriders Cycling Club on the West Coast of Cape Town. And he’s also the latest er, sorry, thorn in the side of the City – on behalf of the 200 members of his social club, and the many others who’ve tired of lugging spare tubes by the dozen en-route to work or out on a leisure ride.

The new cycling paths are ‘fantastic, absolutely fantastic,’ he says, ‘but there has been a huge problem with thorns. It’s incredibly bad. Within a 5km range, riders were getting 5-6 punctures. That will put anyone without tubeless tyres off.’

Beck and his colleagues followed the letter-writing, radio-phoning and general antagonism toward the City about the thorns, and came up with a plan. ‘I sat back and listened to this lot,’ he says, ‘and thought, hold on, this is not going to get us anywhere.

‘The City has spend billions on these lanes, some of that is my money, so let’s see what we can do to help. We the cyclists, have been crying for these things for so many years, and now we have them, but we’re still crying!’

So Beck suggested to the City of Cape Town that a team of his workers and volunteers work to maintain the bike lanes, unless the official maintenance contracts come into force (which will be only once the bus service is operational).

‘I suggested that we take the gap. I’m a building contractor, I have the workforce…’

Unfortunately, however, although the City was happy that ‘we had come forward’, they were ‘concerned about contractual and liability issues’, says Beck. ‘What if someone had an accident because we, the volunteers, did something wrong, they said…’

The good news, though, is that the City appears to have taken the complaints seriously, and has been sending out its own ad hoc maintenance team.

Says Jaco Jordaan, landscape architect on the project: The battle against the duiweltjies can only be won with constant, constant control. Duiweltjies are full-on weeds, says Jordaan, an annual weed that will lie dormant for years until someone disturbs the soil. And of course the bicycle lane construction team had to disturb the soil. What’s it they say? Who have to break eggs to make an omelette…

‘It’s a tough pioneer that then thrives and goes crazy, it doesn’t care whether it gets water or not. So there was, of course a population explosion!’ Each thorn creates a new plant – each thorn alone can create a new thorn bush of four square metres… It never ends…

Now it looks as thought the battle has been won, says Jordaan. ‘The City appointed one of the landscape contractors to have two permanent guys sweeping the road, and an 5m edge on the side of the lane, to blitz this thing and get all the plants out…’

Of course all we need, though, is for one pedestrian to take a short cut on the bike lanes, with devils in the soles of their shoes…

By Gail Jennings
For details of the MyCiti bicycle lanes and bicycle route, visit



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  1. Anna Stoddard says:

    Thank you for publishing such a useful map! But tell me, why can’t we take bicycles on trains? It would open up many routes for commuter and leisure cyclists.

    • Hi Anna – absolutely. It’s something I’ve talked to Metrorail about, and written about, and written about again… It’s so strange that all the new cycling lanes radiate from Cape Town Station but, er, you can’t take your bike on the train. Most great cycling cities permit bikes on trains off-peak, some during peak hour as well (even if only folding bicycles). Metrorail did say they might consider off-peak usage as a pilot, but nothing came of it. I think it’s time to start a more consistent campaign, so I’ll mail you during this week with the plan…


  1. […] The devil is in the detail… Forgot that Lola is not tubeless… […]

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