Colombia is very bike centric, boasting some of the best road bikers in the world and terrain that provides challenging routes all over the country. Bogota closes over 200 kilometers of roads every sunday, offering traffic and stress free riding for its’ multitude of participants. And Medellin does the same on a smaller scale every Sunday, and is also promoting biking as a favorable mode of urban transportation through a number of methods.
One of many Encicla stations in Medellin
Medellin, like most large cities in Latin America, suffers from chaotic traffic with streets choked with vehicles every working hour, including 75,000 taxis. Conditions are not ideal for cyclists much of the time, as motorists seldom yield to anything other than a motorized vehicle. However, a network of bike lanes has been created to give bikers a safe route to travel around certain sections of the city. These are located close to several of the universities, such as Antioquia, Medellin, and Bolivariana.
The immense Laureles neighborhood is covered very extensively with this network of bike lanes, and is thus the safest place to ride. Situated in this barrio is the massive municipal sports complex which includes the main soccer stadium, swimming complex, and several other fine facilities. This area is also closed to motorized traffic every Sunday, and thousands of residents take advantage of the empty streets.
Ride for an hour, drop off, pick up another bike, free
Another progressive idea designed to encourage biking is the citys’ Encicla program, which offers free bikes that can be ridden at any of a dozen stations located primarily in Laureles. Each bike can be used for one hour, at which time it can be renewed at any of the stations for another hour, and this process can be repeated all day long. Many people like myself, pick up a bike for a one way ride to one of the Metro stations, dropping it off and continuing on with that. Helmets are mandatory and provided, and this system is open to all, residents and travelers, after an easy online registration. Encicla operates 7 to 7 Monday through Friday and is very popular.
The Wednesday night Bike Ride is tons of fun
One of the best examples of Medellin’s bike mania is the weekly Wednesday night mass group ride, which attracts thousands of fanatics every week. The route is different every week, and is created by some of the leaders of the event. It always starts at the same place, Carlos Restrepo Park at Avenida Colombia and Carrera 65, and launches at 8pm. The rides usually last about 3 hours total, with a half hour break for drinks and snacks halfway through. Some of the routes can be quite challenging, including lots of hills, and reaching 30+ kilometers in length. But it’s always a fun ride, with organizers up front to stop all traffic at busy intersections to allow the pack to get through. Another bunch trails the pack to ensure that everybody makes it through on time, and Bob the Rastaman holds court in the middle of the peloton, doling out advice and encouragement with his portable PA system. This is a terrific gathering that attracts all kinds; kids, extremists, and casual riders galore, and is one of the best ways to see parts of the city that would otherwise be unknown and under appreciated.
Bike retailers and rentals are popping up all over the city, and the movement to encourage pedaling gains momentum every day. Medellin is not Amsterdam yet, but it’s certainly moving in that direction. In this city, a bike can take you lots of places.