Every Sunday and all holidays, the city of Bogotá closes nearly 100 miles of major roads in the city from 7am until 2pm, and they are clear for cycling, strolling, roller skating or roller blading, even skateboarding, dog-walking and the like. This blew my mind when I learned about it, nearly 100 miles car-free!! Here I was thinking I had come from a cycling conscious city(Denver)/country(USA)and here in grimy, cloudy Bogotá, they are closing the streets and the Colombians are coming out in droves. I have heard statistics that up to 2 million(!!!)people will come out for these events, impressive numbers in this city of about 8 million residents. The event is fully supported by the Bogotá police, with a traffic officer at every single intersection where cars will need to pass as lights change. This means hundreds of intersections across the whole of the huge city, all with a traffic officer(albiet an 18-year-old with a whistle and a beret, it'll do). Barriers are set up at appropriate spots to prevent the passing of cars and there is no shortage of traffic cones and yellow "CAUTION" tape to guide the riders and cars in the right direction. At certain points, maps of the never-changing route are displayed for all to guide themselves throughout.
And, before anyone gets any ideas of spandex-laden, peloton-type crowds racing in the streets, I believe the above picture clearly demonstrates it's anything but. It's a plethora of crappy bikes, with unskilled and inexperienced riders. Jeans are not an uncommon choice for attire and I'm not sure I saw a properly worn helmet the entire time I was in Bogotá. Also, can't leave baby at home, so she'll just sit on the top tube while we cruise. Hilarious!
Because I participated in the Ciclovías, I was able to see many areas of Bogotá that otherwise would have been inaccessible by bike or just simply to dangerous to go to. I cruised many, many miles of the Bogotá, and did some great climbs in the mountains that flank the east side of the city. I was also privy to some of the endless antics of the Colombians. I prefer to ride fast, but this is not possible in the crowds that come out. Instead, I took it slow and tried to avoid as many potential accidents as possible. My favorite obstacle was the roller-blading, hand-holding, dog-walking couple. This frequently sighted group of three had the uncanny ability to block the entire street sometimes. However, the Colombians ability to be a clueless pain-in-the-ass to others is never surprising.
Not only do activity craving types come out, the salesmen and women are also lining the streets of the Ciclovía. Latinos selling crap are present at every opportunity to make money. Everything from juice and water stands, to sellers of fried pork rinds amongst the most unhealthy of gastronomic delights. Got to balance out all that exercise. The above picture is actually from a Ciclovía. Either this guy is taking advantage of the car-free streets to transport his giant mirrors and paintings, or he actually thinks that someone is going to buy one of those things and just put it under their arm and ride home. Ambitious. For me, no giant mirror, but I have bought three t-shirts for $5 at the Ciclovía out of some guy's trunk. If one so desired, there was also plenty of Colombians selling single cigarettes and various candy and gum from a sort of brief case thing hanging in front of them. My favorite time to enjoy a cigarette and a caramel is usually mid-ride. There is also many bicycle repair stands, providing the most basic of maintenance and air pumps for all the squishy tires.
I loved the Ciclovía for it's cultural value. So funny and amazing to me every week to see the randomness and the variety of people, pets, bikes, "cycling" clothes, food for sale, and ways to try and make me crash. My Ciclovía career came to an end when one Sunday afternoon as I weaved in and out of the staring masses I slammed right into a kid(bringing my grand total of hitting kids on my bike to four). At this point, I had ridden in a lot of Ciclovías and was satisfied with the enlightenment it had brought to my life. Simply, I was fed up with the crowds.
The Ciclovía continues to inspire me as it is one of my fondest memories of living in Bogotá. A true and rare opportunity to see culture in a very unique form, to do something I absolutely live for, cycling, and to do it in a place where so much clouds the beauty of life. Though one of the most violent and seemingly ass-backwards countries in the world, Colombia is slowly getting things right. Thanks to Bogota's innovation of La Ciclovía, cities the world over are starting to experiment with similar events. Imagine, someday in United States, the most car loving country on the planet, cities closing down the most major roads for a few hours and people coming out to enjoy a cruise or a skate, or a stroll for the simple enjoyment of it. The day I can ride my bike down the middle of Colfax will be a beautiful day.