Tag Archives: bicycle activism

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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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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