Category Archives: Biking

Masa Critica takes to the streets in Guatemala City

GUATEMALA CITY – Between the black smoke-belching chicken buses and the mass of cars that congest the streets of Central America’s largest capital, it’s hard to imagine a bicycle, much less a mass of them. With one of the highest crime rates in Latin America, it’s not a place I was planning to explore on two wheels.

But there’s safety in numbers, and that’s the idea behind Critical Mass, a bicycling movement launched in 1992 in San Francisco that has now spread to more than 300 countries.

“We don’t block traffic; we are traffic!” is the group’s motto, and as an urban bicyclist confronted with rude, honking or just heedless motorists I’ve enjoyed expressing that sentiment, alone and in mass rides in San Antonio (MS 150), Houston, Texas (Bohemeo’s Bicycle Club) and Guadalajara, Mexico (Al Teatro en Bici and GDL en Bici).

So when I saw on Twitter that Masa Critica Guatemala was planning a ride my first weekend here, I decided to drop them a line to see if they might have a bike to spare.
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The Rolling Cameras of Guadalajara

Camara Rodante
Last week I had the chance to visit with Carlos Ibarra, news photographer for El Mural and one of the founders of Camara Rodante (literally, “rolling camera”.)

Carlos with his collection of miniature bicycles and a photo of his father, an avid bicyclist.

This intrepid group of biking photographers is dedicated to promoting biking in a variety of ways. Besides their weekly outings, which traverse a variety of rural terrains around Guadalajara and further afield, they’ve organized get-out-the-vote campaigns, children’s outings, first aid workshops, bicycle repair workshops, and a fundraiser for Haiti – all aboard the seat of a bicycle.
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Guadalajara by night – and by bike

It’s not every day you get to ride with 500 enthusiastic bicyclists to the theater. But in Guadalajara, you can do it once a week.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Matter of fact, you can ride with a herd of cyclists pretty much any night of the week – just pick your flavor. “Al Teatro en Bici” (To the Theater by Bicycle”) is one of a seemingly endless number of bicycle-oriented initiatives in Guadalajara. There’s Camera Rodante, a hard-riding group of biking photographers. There’s GDL en Bici, a group of young professionals dedicated to reclaiming the streets for all commuters, not just cars. Their nocturnal rides, each one with a theme and costumed riders, have drawn upwards of 4,000 participants.

Tuesday I got a taste of the Guadalajara bicycle explosion, as well as why it may have evolved. Guadalajara is a city that has evolved, like most U.S. cities, around the automobile, and public transit is somewhat disorganized. A morning taxi ride to Tonalá, a village on the southern outskirts, took me 15 minutes; the bus ride back, an hour and a half. It took longer than that to figure out how to take the bus back to Tonalá.

And that’s not even mentioning the aggressive stance a pedestrian must take in order to negotiate the glorietas, traffic circles where a seemingly endless churning mass of vehicles whirl past.

Little wonder, then, in a city where many people don’t have cars, that frustrated commuters turned to bicycles, then teamed up to find safety in numbers. It couldn’t have been easy, however; in a city where just a few years ago, bicycles were seen primarily as a vehicle for street vendors and poor people.

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On Tuesday, the first ride after the holidays, hundreds milled about with their bicycles in front of Punto del Arte, a classy cafe in the Centro. Suddenly a shout rang out – “Ya vamos!” followed by the voice of Aretha Franklin blaring from the loudspeakers attached to the lead bicycle.
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“What you want, baby, I got it… What you need, you know I got it. All I’m askin’ for is a little respect…”

I don’t know about the impatient drivers who waited as the wheeled hordes streamed through the red lights, but the message wasn’t lost on me.
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The eclectic soundtrack weaved from Rolling Stones to Caifanes, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Café Tacuba to Guns ‘N Roses, and the elation was so high you could feel it bouncing from the Beaux Arts decor in the old city streets. We plied those streets for about an hour before ending up at the spectacular neoclassical Teatro Degollado, where we piled in to see a free showing of ZaikoCirco, a surrealistic international troupe of circus performers who, of course, supported the effort with bicycles in their act.

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All in all, a phenomenal performance – beginning with the commute.

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Journeys with a cause

Tendai Joe pics

Many of you know I am currently in the process of gearing up for a year-long journey with a mission: to raise the visibility of the unsung heroes of Latin America’s environmental movement.  In the process I hope to build a well of creative ideas and inspiration through the new web portal I’m designing, a networking tool for the groups themselves and a sharp contradiction to the sense of hopelessness and cynicism about the future that has enveloped much of our population. I’m calling it The Esperanza Project, and I’ll be filling you in on the details in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, I’ll be taking the opportunity to highlight the journeys of other travelers whose journeys represent a larger purpose. Today I ran across the story of Tendai Sean Joe, a former street child from Zimbabwe who has become an advocate for disadvantaged children and youths. He has launched the Trail of Hope Foundation to provide a base for his advocacy work. Currently the group is raising money for a three-motorcycle trip through 16 countries to document the conditions of street children from Cape Town to Berlin.

Tendai Joe
Tendai Sean Joe

You can follow Tendai Sean Joe on his blog, on Facebook or on Twitter, and you can read his guest post in Deb Corbeil and Dave Bouskill’s excellent blog, Canada’s Adventure Couple, where I first learned about him. Deb and Dave (@theplanetd on Twitter) bring a great deal of insight to the subject, having biked from Cairo to Capetown to raise money for Plan Canada, another group that raises money for underprivileged children. Their blog also highlights journeys for a cause, and you can find a list of stories from their Giving Back, Travel the World and Make a Difference series at the end of Tendai Joe’s guest post.
Here’s one of many photos from Tendai Joe’s Facebook page, taken on a preliminary trip to one of the sites he will visit on his tour.

Biking Bohemeo Style

Last night I followed up on a welcome invitation from Patrick Taylor, organizer of a new biking group over on Houston’s East End. I couldn’t think of a better way to meet new friends and explore my new city than this one — so I packed up Bessie and headed east.

Bohemeo’s, it turns out, is a pretty cool little cooling-off spot in itself – tucked inside the Tlaquepaque Market (an East End community center that’s as much fun to visit as it is to say), it’s a coffeeshop (yes, free wifi), restaurant, bar, and art & music venue all wrapped up in one.

Bohemio's, the East End's first art and music coffeehouse
Bohemeo's, the East End's first art and music coffeehouse

And now, it’s also the departure point for the city’s coolest new biking club.

Patrick Taylor checks Lajla Cline's tires in preparation for our inaugural ride.
Patrick Taylor checks Lajla Cline's tires in preparation for our inaugural ride.

It quickly became apparent that this group was not going to be like the bicycle club I trained with for the MS 150. No padded bicycle shorts or gloves here, and barely a helmet to be seen. The important thing here, I was told, was to have a good time.

“I work hard enough during the daytime,” said Elise, who was fetchingly attired in a denim dress and pink headscarf. Her hobby is biking from bar to bar, and “the getup is really important for that,” she confided. Note to self: I need to work on the getup!

There was an impressive turnout for the group’s first ride. I guess it shows the power of Facebook – and Patrick’s organizing skills. Or maybe it was just a good idea whose time had come.

Ready to roll
Ready to roll

Our first ride took us down the new Columbia TAP Trail, a rail-to-trail project inaugurated in March, and past scores of new trees planted as part of Mayor Bill White’s Million Trees + Houston Initiative. We cruised through East End neighborhoods and the TSU Campus to the McGowan Street Trail, a bike trail that parallels Brays Bayou and runs through the so-called “River Oaks of Houston,” a wealthy black neighborhood where you’ll find the mansions of famous locals like Beyonce Knowles.

The bayou here is sadly paved in concrete, unlike the Buffalo Bayou in my neighborhood, which was mercifully left intact. But the skies opened up here to the prettiest sunset I’ve seen in awhile, and I can honestly say the breezes were refreshing.

We did seven miles on this first round, and got back to Bohemeo’s before dark — in time to drink a cold one and enjoy some live music. A little soggy for a public appearance indoors, unfortunately — so the music will have to wait!

Mission accomplished
Mission accomplished