Each Wednesday, our newsletter takes readers around the world, exploring a single theme through a number of places. We call it our Field Guide. The Tour de France kicks off July 1, so this week, we’re exploring cycling. Start peddling and explore cycling cultures in Colombia, China, Scotland and beyond.
Power of the Pedal
Colombia’s thriving cycling culture
By Sinar Alvarado
I wake up early three times a week and jump out of bed, driven by an irresistible impulse. After quickly getting dressed, I venture out into Bogotá’s perpetually cool morning air. I hop onto my bicycle, ride through the still-sleeping neighborhood, and the first smile of satisfaction crosses my face. Cycling is a sickness, I know, but I’m not the only one who suffers from it.
Hundreds of thousands of cyclists travel the streets of Colombia’s capital every morning. Most are going to work at factories, construction sites and offices; some are students. Others, like me, are athletes who choose long routes to test ourselves on Bogotá’s mountainous periphery. In a metropolitan area of more than eleven million residents, we bikers clock 1.2 million trips a day. It’s a thrill to live in the cycling capital of Latin America.
Cycling has long been popular in Colombia. Much of the country, roughly the size of South Africa, is graced by rainforests and savannas. To the west, however, lush mountain ranges have nurtured a booming bicycle culture. Cycling, as in few other places on Earth, has allowed Colombians to travel on steep, hard-to-navigate roads in rural areas: the bicycle has been the most widely used means of transportation for campesinos, or peasant farmers, in this rugged, high-altitude land. For many who have not been able to afford either cars or expensive gasoline, the bicycle has been a lifesaver, the people’s ally in commuting to school, heading to coffee plantations for work or picking up produce at the market.
Did you Know?
Scottish cycler Mark Beaumont holds the Guinness World Record for cycling around the world. In 2017, he completed an 18,000 mile route in 78 days, 14 hours and 40 minutes.
Did you Know?
German baron Karl von Drais invented a “horseless carriage” that would later inspire the creation of the bicycle in 1817. The “draisine” was a two-wheeled device propelled by the rider pushing their feet against the ground.
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The bicycle was still there, brand new, with its pale-blue frame and its plated handlebars which sparkled against the dull stone of the wall. It was so lissome, so slender, that even when not in use it seemed to cut through the air. Hélène had never seen such an elegant bicycle. “I’ll repaint it dark green, it’ll be even more beautiful,” she thought.
— Simone de Beauvoir, The Blood of Others
With the flow
Of the earth
Like a cloud
In the October sky
Like licking ice cream
From a cone
Like knowing you
— from “Bicycles,” Nikki Giovanni, Bicycles: Love Poems