Buenos Aires: a bike-friendly city? It’s early days, but the wheels are certainly in motion. Back in mid-2010, the city government launched its Mejor en Bici (Better by Bike) campaign to promote the advantages of cycling and improve facilities in the traffic-choked capital. Recently, bike lanes have been springing up across the city almost overnight. You can find a map of current routes and projected routes here.
Bike crossing up ahead, photo courtesy of Beatrice Murch.
Mayor Mauricio Macri says he is working towards having the streets “filled with bikes” by 2015. Some time ago he introduced the city’s first public bike scheme. Just like Paris has its Velibs and London has its Boris Bikes, Buenos Aires now has its… erm… Yellow Bikes? (Let’s not call them Macri Bikes.)
Mauricio Macri en el Compromiso Bicicletas, photo courtesy of Mauricio Macri.
Perhaps it’s a testament to the fledging success of the Buenos Aires scheme that the bikes haven’t got a nickname yet. Nonetheless, more of these little yellow numbers are being spotted around town and extra pick-up stations have been launched. Let’s bear in mind that project is still very much in an experimental stage and a population that has never been big on cycling is not going to convert overnight.
To get your hands on one of these public bikes, you have to get proof of residency from a local police station, which means they are not exactly tourist friendly. Fortunately, visitors will find no shortage of hire companies, including the popular and well-established Bicicleta Naranja. Some hotels are getting in on the act now too. Eco hotel Casa Calma offers guests access to its rather swish bamboo bikes.
Bicicletas Naranjas, photo courtesy of José Levin.
Bamboo Bicycles, photo courtesy of Casa Calma Hotel.
Taking to two wheels is a great way to see the city. Check out the Sunday tours by graffitimundo or head out to Tigre with Urban Biking. Once a month, you can also take part in Critical Mass and their Facebook group is a good way to keep up with all bike-related happenings.
Yet despite all its new moves, Buenos Aires is still playing catch up internationally. Argentina’s capital still lags way behind Quito and Bogotá, where every Sunday the authorities close large stretches of downtown to cars, encouraging cyclists of all ages to take to the streets safely and with confidence. Will we ever see the same happening on 9 de Julio? We can live in hope. Until then, things are certainly improving.
Corrientes full of bikes, photo courtesy of Beatrice Murch.
Before you get in the saddle, here are some useful tips on biking in Buenos Aires from The Real Argentina:
Don’t leave your bike on the street if you can help it. If you have to, secure it very tightly and be aware that simple chains could be cut. Fortunately, many houses in Buenos Aires have interior patios or corridors for safe storage.
Brakes and gears
Note that when buying a bike in Buenos Aires, it may not come with either brakes or gears. As crazy as it sounds, you can live without them. Many bikes use the old-school method of backpedaling to stop and, as the city is so flat, gears are non-essential.
Where to buy
Good ol’ Mercardo Libre (the Argentinian eBay) is a good place for second-hand deals. A playera (simple beach bike, very popular here even though there is no beach) will cost you around ARS $700 pesos on average (approx. GBP £100 or USD $160).
Hazards in bike paths
Unfortunately, bike paths –- aka bicisendas or ciclovias –- do not come with a force field. Motorbikes have been seen sneaking down them, and big lorries sometimes manage to straddle their wheels over the protective barrier. You also have to avoid stray wheelie bins and day-dreaming pedestrians. Basically, keep your ojos peeled. Always.
Ladies, you will be patronized
Seeing a woman on a bike seems to give a green-light for machistas to make a comment. A taxi driver once crawled alongside me for two blocks with the window undone, shouting, “Muy bien, flaca! Muy bien!” (Very good, skinny girl! Very good!). It would be great if this was to change too, but don’t hold your breath.
Finally, here’s an exciting video to get you in the mood. It’s fun to watch, but this bike messenger is braver than we are. We advise a bit more caution when negotiating the city’s unpredictable traffic.
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