Medellin is mad for bicycles, and me being a bit of an enthusiast, the time had come to hop on the bike, so to speak, along with the rest of the city.
A borrowed old heap of metal with a buckled wheel, a rusty chain, and no brakes to speak of, was to be my two-wheeled steed through the city.
Government enthusiasm for cycling is high in Medellin. The first Sundays of June and October have been declared “Day of the Bike” and the whole city is closed to cars. Out in the southwestern and southeastern suburbs of the city there are wide pavements with clearly marked bike paths. There are even public bikes for rent (free for students).
The ride to work, however, is terrifying. There are no bike lanes here. Cars drive fast and with little regard for pedestrians. Three and four-lane roads merge with hardly any indication at all. Horns blare and cars fly by in all directions consuming cyclists in their backdrafts. You can keep your San Gil level five white-water rapids, this is the real heart-in-your-mouth stuff.
For a safer alternative to potential traffic-related death, the “Ciclovia” is an initiative organized by Medellin authorities where certain routes are closed off to cars. This is no stroll in the park, however, as serious athletes attend with their top-notch equipment. There are also some pretty hardcore roller-bladers as well. Colombia has a long list of inline speed skating champions and it is easy to see why.
The Ciclovia takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8PM until 10PM between the Ayura metro station and Parque Berrio. The round trip is close to 11 miles. Along the way are paramedics, bike mechanics, and juice vendors. Stopping and getting a drink of guarapo – sugar cane pressed with limes – is recommended.
The bike ride also runs the length of Medellin along the Regional highway on Sundays from around 7AM to 1PM.
The SiClas bike tour gathers every Wednesday at Parque Carlos E. Restrepo at around 7:30PM – 8PM. The group has an ideology, according to one of its organizers, of “showing people the option of an alternative lifestyle.”
The tour rides around the city whistling, blowing horns, shouting and generally making a ton of noise and blocking up the thoroughfares.
“We are looking for investment from the government,” the organizer told Colombia Reports. The man had a long hippie-esque philosophy of the cycle tour, much of which was about “bringing awareness,” and “showing people a different way of life,” among other lofty ideals. But don’t let that take from the sheer enjoyment of being part of a rowdy group of up to 500 cyclists disrupting traffic all around the city.
The cycle route is long, over 10 miles, and sometimes it runs until midnight, though the route is constantly changing. Parts of the run are challenging as well — the road from the neighborhoods above El Centro across to Las Palmas and into El Poblado is a grueling incline that seems to last forever. A bike with gears would be handy.
The SiClas is all about community, and this is evident in the camaraderie among the riders and the residents of the barrios, who come out on the streets and balconies to wave and cheer as the bedlam of bells and whistles ride by.
The collective is a hodgepodge of riders and bikes — hipsters with their hipster fixies, dreadlocked hippies, a smattering of Lycra-bound legs, some really cool choppers and high nellies, BMXs, and old crocks like mine.
This is a great way to get into the thick of the city, to meet some locals and have a laugh while being part of a movement whose enthusiasm is infectious. You can borrow, rent or buy a bike by posting on the Facebook page here, or many hostels also rent bikes by the hour to their guests.
View Bicycle Fun in Medellin in a larger map