Bogotá is ranked as the most-bicycled city in Latin America (ahead of Santiago and Rio) but within this broad two-wheeled community lies a fascinating range of bikes and riders. Here is a guide to some of Bogotá’s bicycling tribes.
The Whistle-Blower. Assertive and sweaty, the Whistle-Blower carves his way through the city’s cluttered cycle paths with short sharp blasts on a whistle to clear lingering pedestrians – or other more tardy bikes – from his speedy path. Well-kitted out with a blinged helmet, designer sunglasses and chin stubble, the Whistle Blower is the fastest of the cycle path warriors, until colliding with a Dead Head, who can’t hear the whistle (see below).
Dead Header. If music be the food of love…ride on. This biker can’t live without his iTunes but might die with them too, as the headphones clamped over his ears effectively block the sound of car horns, squealing car tyres, incoming Whistle Blowers, and other extraneous noises that might alert him to impending doom. Usually forgoes a helmet. Dead Headers are often spotted around Universities, proving that common sense is no pre-requisite for higher education.
Fast Laner. Too cool for the cycle paths, these serious cyclists go head-to-head with cars, trucks and buses along Bogotá’s main through-fares, riding on stripped-down racing bikes as they jockey their way through the pack. Fast Laners come equipped with gas masks which help against car fumes, but offer no protection whatsoever against being flattened by 16 wheels of a 50-tonne truck.
Downhill Demon: a mud-splattered full-monty mountain biker with full-face helmet, googles, shin guards, knee guards and body armour that films himself on his Go-Pro as he flies out of the bushes in the National Park. Hidden under that mud is a bike which costs more than a small car.
Lycra Goddess: Cyclist expanding perfectly into a spandex track suit, often seen on Bogotá’s Sunday Ciclovía accompanied by a small dog on a long lead. In traffic this head-turner can cause accidents. A sub-clan of this tribe is Colombia’s Bogotá Humana Cycle Team which showed up in Italy with a flesh-coloured kit that made them appear naked, thoroughly shocking the otherwise unshakable world of professional cycling.
Domicilio Dodger: The guy dodging traffic with 50 kilos of groceries and two bags of cement on his bike rack is the unsung hero of the city as he carries domicilios, i.e. delivered shopping to residents too lazy to do their own. There is nothing Domicilio Dodger can’t carry, nowhere he can’t go, and he is always cheerful. Remember to tip.
BMXer: Tough-looking guy with ear studs, tattoos and a fake designer baseball cap riding an improbably small BMX bike through traffic in the wrong direction, creating an effect which manages to be both comical and menacing at the same time. Try not to laugh or make eye contact.
Franken-Biker: everyday cyclist who rides a mutant bike cobbled together from spare parts, having had several good bikes stolen in the past, and works on the theory that no-one will rob this one. The Frankenstein effect is com- pleted with a massive chain and padlock which cost more than the bike.
The Fixster: bearded urban hipster riding a ‘fixie’ that is a bike with no free-wheel on the drivetrain. This means no back brake (you stand on the pedals to stop) and no gears. Fixsters look good gliding down Parkway on their hand-crafted bamboo-frame bikes, but not quite so cool when they get to a hill and have to get off and push.
Rich Kid Racer: this young, wealthy cyclist puffs up to La Calera every Sunday on a 21-gear racing bike followed at 1km per hour by the family car with all blinkers on (usually a Renault Duster). This bout of intensive physical activity eventually lowers the Rich Kid’s blood pressure, meanwhile increasing every other road users’ as they queue up frus- trated behind mother’s SUV.
Continental Drifter: foreign tourist seeing the world by bike who covers 500,000 kms, four continents, 89 countries, five war zones and the Panama Gap before getting his/her super-light touring cycle stolen…in Colombia. But this also being Colombia, after some local media coverage the sympathetic locals collect money to buy him/her a new one. Perhaps even a better one. (Smart cycle tourists actually plan to “lose” a bike in Colombia to get a free upgrade!).
Chug-a-Bugger: a dare-devil rider that straps a 50cc engine to an old bike, often overlooking to upgrade the brakes, and buzzes down the city’s cycle-paths thanks to a local law that classifies a motorbike with pedals as a bicycle and removes the need for taxes, registration, technical revision, insurance, driving licence or emission control. In fact the smoky two-stroke motor offsets the environmental benefits of all the other bikes on the cicloruta. Hopefully this is the bike tribe most at risk of extinction.