Oli Pritchard sings the praises of cycling in the big bad city
07:45: I’m having a relaxed coffee before work, idly lounging in the cool air of a bright Bogotá morning.
Most of my friends are filing in, already fed up with the day after their commute via taxi, Transmi or, worst of all, the dreaded buseta.
They’ve endured blasting music, stifling heat and the dubious pleasure of a stranger’s sweaty flesh pressed against them. A good night out in Cali, possibly, but not what most people want on the daily commute.
I arrived nice and early, trouble-free and fully alert, ready for the day’s stresses. Why? Simple: I came by bike.
But no! I hear you cry. The mean streets are far too traffic-choked and perilous for a cycle!
Frankly, that’s rubbish. Many foreigners come from tiny little places: for a big city, Bogotá has remarkably few cars. Those cars may be crammed onto very few streets, creating huge problems at junctions…but as a cyclist you’ll hardly notice as you effortlessly filter to the front, jink through the trancón and carry on your merry way, usually on a nice empty road as the traffic jam you waltzed through has prevented any more traffic from joining you.
You can get all lycra lout and ride aggressive, or just weave serenely through the cars like a swan (on wheels).
Either way, your commute time will remain sure and steady, as any time you lose in traffic you’ll gain elsewhere.
So…the drivers. Again, many foreigners aren’t used to big cities.
Bogotá traffic is phenomenally slow – I regularly overtake cars in free-flowing Septima traffic – and the drivers are remarkably courteous.
Colombians might honk their horns a lot, but largely that’s a warning, a signal to let you know where they are. It’s rarely aggressive.
Because of the strong cycling culture – the likes of Lucho and recently Nairo are heroes – up here in the Andes, cyclists are largely treated with respect.
Unlike truly aggressive Stateside cities or London, where it’s common for cyclists to be brushed past, you’re generally granted a good couple of metres when cars pass you.
Cars often hang back and wait to overtake, which is unheard of in most major cities.
Despite being a rather aggressive cyclist myself, I rarely receive any abuse from drivers, unlike London (and even Tokyo) where it was commonplace to hear things like “shove your Wiggins up your arse, you (deleted on legal advice)”.
Of course, if the roads and the traffic really do worry you that much, you can switch to the kilometres of cicloruta that criss-cross the city. But it rains! Well, you’re not soluble.
Therefore, since you will not dissolve in even a downpour, you can rely on your waterproof skin to get you back home.
Here’s the good news: Bogotá rain almost always arrives late in the day, so you’re very unlikely to turn up wet for work.
Maybe you’ll get home drenched, but when you have a nice shower waiting, who really cares?
Remember, if you don’t ride in the rain, you don’t ride. Even better than the time of the deluges is their length – only a few last more than an hour or so, most not even that.
Better still, they dry up at a really rapid rate because of the altitude. It’s not unusual for the heavens to open at two, yet by four the whole road is dryer than Mother Superior.
What of the state of the roads? Well, on this one you have me. Many Bogotá backstreets resemble the surface of the moon.
Even here we have some silver linings, as 6ft (or more, in the case of Land Ravagers) wide cars often get delayed more by the potholes than your skinny 2cm wide tyres and cars will understand your predilection for veering out to dodge holes and bumps.
Despite this one negative, for all the reasons outlined above, why not bury the buses and join the Velorution?
Bogotá is a wonderful city, but one of the real sticking points is the woeful state of transportation, hence why Bogotanos love to complain about it so much.
By eliminating this from your daily routine, you really will transform your life in Bogotá, as you make the city smaller and more accessible.
Ignore the negatives and remember the beautiful crispness of Andean air, the ever present challenge of the mountains, the sun on your skin and the breeze in your hair. After a few weeks of commuting, you’ll be itching to get out into the hills and discover all the interesting parts of Bogotá’s rich cycle culture such as the critical mass, bicipachanga, the Bicycle Film Festival, nightrides…but this is for future issues!
Ride safe out there!
Oli Pritchard is an ex-London courier with experience of riding in many cities across four continents. He will be writing a regular column on cycling in Bogotá.