This iconic Joburg event is the second largest mass participation timed cycling event in the world. It allows over 30 000 cyclists the opportunity to take over the streets and explore the city with the peace of mind of full road closure.
In 1997, 947 (then called 94.7 Highveld Stereo) together with Midrand Country Cyclists, decided to organise a cycle race for Gauteng. The idea was to create a world-class mass participation sporting event that would touch the heart of Joburg and capture the city’s competitive temperament.
It started with 4 500 cyclists that year making it the biggest cycling event in Gauteng at the time. Great fun was had by all, but it was clear that the 947 had quite a way to go before it could claim the status of Gauteng’s biggest sporting event.
In two years, the race figures nearly doubled and by 1999 the event was beginning to take shape as a prominent feature on the sporting calendar, in that year, some 12 000 cyclists joined this annual ritual and took to the streets of Joburg.
The Kiddies Ride Is Born
1999 also saw the introduction of the Children’s Cycle Challenge (now known as the Kiddies Ride) – designed to give under 14’s a chance to have fun on their bikes in a series of age-group based events. The Kiddies Ride is not about winning but rather about participating.
The Children’s Cycle Challenge grew to accommodate some 4 000 kids and following the success of that, organisers chose to move it to the weekend before the main race, so that they could dedicate all their attention to this successful stand-alone event.
Following the massive growth in race figures for the 947, the organising committee approached Johannesburg Disaster Management with the view of instituting safety standards – a collaboration that led to the race attaining partial road closure in 2001.
As Joburgers’ pride in their city grew, so too did the number of participants. Through the years, they came in all shapes and sizes and claimed this race as their own. Never before had a sporting event so clearly defined this city, its competitiveness, its strength, as well as the 947 did. It was becoming clear that this was a race for the City of Joburg, through the streets of Joburg, by the people of Joburg.
The growth rate was phenomenal. The theme “Joburg’s Toughest Race for the World’s Toughest People” had obviously touched a nerve. Here were people who thrived not only on meeting the challenge but overcoming it.
In addition to being one of the City of Joburg’s flagship events, there is also no doubt that the race has had a positive impact on the local cycling, health and related industries.
The Cycle Challenge Gets Recognised Internationally
The 947 has received recognition from the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the International Governing Body of Cycling, as a model to the cycling world. It is these achievements that have led world-famous cycling commentator Phil Liggett and respected journalist Jeff Quenet to remark that the race is the best-organised event in Africa, and that leading cycling nations could learn from what is achieved in Johannesburg.
Evolving from the theme of “Joburg’s Toughest Race for the World’s Toughest People”, the collaboration between the City and the organisers, combined with full road closure, led to the tagline “Joburg’s safest race” which encompassed every aspect of the event organisation as well as cycling on the day.
Off Roaders Get Their Own Challenge
The race then grew to incorporate those who still preferred to take their bikes off-road, by introducing a Mountain Bike Challenge in 2006. This was an instant hit with the public.
Following the success of the Mountain Bike Challenge, organisers capped entries at 4 000 riders to ensure their safety. Organisers referred to it as an “urban trail”. Thereafter a new 10km route was added in 2008 as a race for families and novices to take part in. All the events have strong family appeal and aim to be accessible to everyone.
In 2010 the race changed focus once again – and while it will always strive to be Joburg’s safest race, it was decided to change the pay-off line to “everyone’s race”. This highlighted the inclusiveness of the race – not only for cyclists of all abilities and backgrounds, but also the supporters who line the streets and the residents of Joburg who make this event what it is.
Cyclists Ride for a Purpose:
That same year, race organisers introduced the “Ride for a Purpose” initiative, which encourages cyclists to ride for a purpose to support a cause or charity that may be meaningful to them other than the physical challenge.
For years the event has served as a platform for various charities to raise funds and awareness and this initiative aims to take this to the next level, eventually making the race the most charitable event in South Africa.
Over R50 million has been raised for charity since the Ride for a Purpose initiative was launched five years ago (as at 2015).
Women’s race gets UCI 1.1 status
Also in 2015, the 947 women’s race was granted UCI 1.1 status, which meant that a number of international, African and local women’s racing teams were able to compete to earn valuable UCI points in their attempts to strengthen their chances for Olympic places for Rio 2016.
In 2016, The 947 – along with a new headline sponsor, Telkom – celebrated the 20th anniversary of the iconic Joburg race.
Kyalami back on the route
Shortly after the start the route will take a sharp right turn into the NEW Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit. The 947 was hosted at Kyalami for many years so the return of the track as part of the route is a special one for cyclists.