Shaun Murphy will remount his tall bike as he continues to ride for auSOMEtism at the 947 Cycle Challenge in Johannesburg on Sunday after he first tackled the event as a “test run” six years ago.
Murphy, whose son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, teamed up with one of Nicholas’ teachers to raise funds for his son’s school through a ride from Johannesburg to Cape Town six years ago.
They used the 947 Cycle Challenge the previous November to test their legs “to see how we would hold up” ahead of the 1 300km ride – and so the organisation auSOMEtism was born.
Since then, the drive to raise awareness for autism through cycling has grown. The orange and blue riders perched on wacky cycles have been a feature for the past few years, but they weren’t always so conspicuous.
Two years after their first 947, they decided to try out unicycles after Murphy had been paging through a cycling magazine.
“I’d been looking through a magazine and seen something about a lady riding a unicycle and that night we went and ordered some online. It fits in with how our kids think and do things differently.
“We thought it would be a zany thing to do to ride 100km on one wheel, with no gears. Our kids face challenges everyday so it was a perfect mix and it grew from there.”
Over the years the auSOMEtism team have increased from three riders in their first year to 100 in 2016. This year a dedicated group will once again take to the streets of Johannesburg on their attention grabbing mounts.
“We try and get as many riders to join us who are keen to ride on unconventional cycles. There was a back-to-back tandem last year and even a stretch tandem, which is three on a tandem, and last year there was a tall bike.”
In the last edition, Murphy was part of a five-man group on unicycles, but on Sunday he will opt for the less challenging, but more enjoyable, tall bike.
A self-proclaimed recreational rider, he said they never took themselves too seriously and just focused on getting out the message, “Different, not less” – the organisation’s mantra.
The 38-year-old from Westville in Durban, who completed the Amashova Durban Classic on a unicycle last year, said their goal was to raise funds for the Johannesburg Hospital School for Autism.
Although a highly popular end of season race for the country’s elite cyclists, the 947 Cycle Challenge is an ideal event for people to ride for a purpose.