viernes, 1 de diciembre de 2017

Mountain Biking Around Bogotá

Grab your bike and go pedal up and down the hills surrounding Bogotá!

That's the message, anyway, from Bogotá's District Tourism Institute this week with the launching of a new website showing regional mountain biking routes.

Technical information for riding from Bogotá to
the Tequendama Falls and then Sibate.
Take, for example, the relatively easy 20 km ride from Bogotá up to Patios and then down to the San Rafael Reservoir, which involves a 500 meter climb. Or the more demanding and desolate ride up to Sumapaz, which will take you close to 4,000 meters above sea level, through beautiful high-altitude wetlands, called paramos.

The web site is straightforward to use and contains lots of practical information, like altitudes, elevation gains and, most importantly, maps, which are downloadable. It even has an English version, altho the language could be improved.

On the other hand, it would be nice if the accompanying photographs actually included bicyclists, but that's a quibble, and hopefully will change. At a meeting the other day, Bogotá tourism officials said that the website is a work in progress.

It would also be nice if the routes included less generic warnings, since crime is a real concern in
Mountain biking in Cundinamarca.
(Photo: Government of Cundinamarca)
many areas. Working with police to get escorts, or at least an emergency number to call in case of need might be good ideas. They might also add some environmental concerns, since mountain biking can cause erosion, disturb animal habitats, and generate other impacts.

Unfortunately, many people need to be reminded not to litter. And, what about campfires? Camping?

There is of course tremendous mountain biking waiting to be discovered in the regions around Bogotá. Getting more Colombians out there will require cultural shifts, since mountain biking is not traditionally a major sport here. And growth of the middle class, since mountain biking is not a poor-person's activity.

A bleak high-altitude landscape near Sibate.
Officials of the administration of Mayor Peñalosa keep promising to convert Bogotá into 'The World Capital of Bicycling.' That's a great goal, and this website is supposed to be part of it. But Bogotá has a long, long way to go, beginning with creating a public bicycle program, controlling air pollution and imposing order on its chaotic traffic.

Promoting mountain biking, unfortunately, might not bring the city closer to that goal, since the riding is done outside of town and the bikers often get there by car with the bicycles mounted on the roof. Rather, Bogotá will need to promote practical cycle commuting, by making it safer and more pleasant and convenient. That means safe, accesible bike lanes, bike parking, and car drivers who understand that cyclists and pedestrians have a right to be on the road.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours, which offers rides outside of Bogotá.

jueves, 30 de noviembre de 2017

A Doping Scandal Hits La Vuelta

The Vuelta a Colombia's peloton in 2016.
La Vuelta a Colombia deserves to be one of the world's great stage races: It's got dramatic climbs, spectacular vistas and Colombia's great cycling legacy.

However, the Vuelta has lost stature during recent decades due to Colombia's violence, loss of big sponsors, and Colombian cycling stars' preference for focusing on European racers. Fewer foreign teams have participated, even tho La Vuelta offers climbs higher than those of the Tour de France.

And now, a doping scandal, has dealt it another blow - just when Colombian cycle racing seems to be entering a new golden era.

During this year's Vuelta eight riders tested positive for banned substances, mostly CERA, a blood booster, and seven of the eight were Colombians. (A second blood or urine sample will now be tested to confirm or negate the first results.) One of the positives belongs to under-23 champion Róbinson López. That's a huge number relative to the number of race participants and the small number of ricers tested: Only the stage winner, race leader and two riders chosen at random were tested at each stage. If that limited testing produced eight positives, it suggests that many more doped but were not caught. More positive results may, in fact, still be announced.

Colombia's drug testing capacity is limited. Its only internationally certified laboratory was closed down temporarily this year after it produced incorrect results for samples secretly mailed to it by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The Vuelta samples were tested in a U.S. lab.

Among other problems, such as lack of resources, Colombian doping controls suffer from a fundamental conflict of interests because Coldeportes is both a cycle-racing sponsor and responsible for anti-doping control, reports Bicycling magazine.

The Cololmbian Cycling Federation's responses have been less than reassuring. When, during the Vuelta, Swiss cyclist Alexandre Ballet told a journalist that he'd seen pills being handed out, the Colombian federation sent a protest letter to the Swiss Cycling Federation asking Ballet to "make clear that he did not mean that Colombian cycling was dirty."

"We are very surprised by these declarations, which cast a shadow over our organization," and anti-doping efforts.

Sadly,  Ballet's criticisms were evidently right on.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 29 de noviembre de 2017

Does the Motor Make the Bike?

Can you tell which one is the bicycle?
Colombia, the nation of magical realism may be the only place where a motorized, three-wheeled vehicle apparently qualifies as a 'bicycle'.

What's the difference? A motorized bicycle waits on
the sidewalk, while a regular motorcycle passes on the street. 
At least, that's the way it appeared the other day on Carrera Septima's bike lane, which this loud, polluting monstrosity was sharing with cyclists, as police watched apathetically.

For the record, the motorized bicitaxis, which I understand are illegal wherever they are, are, tragically, replacing the traditional pedal-powered bicitaxis. The vehicles' two-stroke engines pump out more pollution than do most cars.

However, it's no big deal. After all, the equally loud and polluting bicimotores have long been invading our bike lanes, in the face of police and other authorities' total apathy.

In the case of the bicitaxi, I chased after it, but it roared down Carrera Septima, charging thru red lights along the pedestrian-only avenue. Do you think anybody cared?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 14 de noviembre de 2017

What are the Bicycle Cops Good For?

Bogotá's bicycle cops are back, after several years' absence. But one has to wonder why.

Bike cops frisking someone near Independence Park.
Bike cops have lots of advantage: they can move fast, to chase down bad guys, range over wide parts of the city, and quickly reach places like alleys and narrow streets where, driving or on foot, they might not be able to get to at all.

But Bogotá's bike cops don't actually seem to exploit these advantages. I see them roaming just a few central Bogotá streets, usually eating, chatting amongst themselves, or tirelessly pursuing bad guys in their smartphones. About the only arguably useful law enforcement I've seen them do is clearing poor street vendors off of the sidewalks - a task done equally well on foot.

But why pick on the cycling cops? Whether on foot, in cars or in helicopters, they don't seem motivated to do much except search young people for drugs, in the hopes of squeezing out a bribe.

Bike cops pedaling down
Ave. Septima.
I wish I weren't so cynical. But a few months ago, foreigner who lives here and has a nearby business was walking along in the evening when a drunk kid stabbed him several times in the back. He almost dies from the blood loss, spent mmore than a month in the hospital, lost a part of a kidney and is still slowly recovering. Do you think the police care? More than two months later, they still haven't interviewed the witness and told the victim's son to track down the relevant videos.

A few weeks before that attack, a Colombian acquaintance got stabbed in the hand during a mugging attempt. Since he filed the initial report, the police have done no follow-up to try to, say, identify the assailant.

How many more people have these guys since stabbed and robbed, because the cops just don't care?

This afternoon, with this on my mind, I passed a group of a half-dozen bike cops doing their usual thing, enjoying coffee on a side street. When I stopped to take photos, they detained and frisked me and made me erase the pictures 'because they were a security threat.' Or, perhaps they were embarrased?

'Move on', 'move on.' Bike cops clearing out street vendors.
In front of the San Francisco Church, in La Candelaria.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

The Bike Messenger Boom

Rappi bike messengers in a bike lane near the Zona Rosa in north Bogotá.
Years ago, back in Seattle, Washington, I worked as a bicycle messenger. It was one of the best and most memorable jobs I ever held: pumping up those hills, skidding around curvers, zipping down hills, slipping between trucks and buses with only inches to spare: We competed to see who could make the most deliveries in a day, and it was the closest I'll ever come to being a professional athlete.

Rappi messengers waiting for a job outside a
north Bogotá supermarket.
Not the least pleasure I got from it was marching, sweaty and mud-splattered, into the offices of the most high-powered and uptight executive offices in town.

Not long after my time there, bike messenger started dying, the victim of faxes, and then e-mail. Today, I suspect, the only things still messengered are food, medical supplies and, maybe, art pieces.

My old company, Elliot Bay Messengers, is gone now.

But Bogotá, it seems, is still behind the curve in information technology, and bike messengering is booming. A number of small companies pioneered the industry, but it took the smartphone boom and deep pockets such as Rappy and Uber Eats to make it the ubiquitous industry it is today.

Don't drop those bags! Dangling lunches off of handlebars.
Unfortunately, the big boys, like Rappi and Uber Eats, employ bicycles out of economics and speed, not any principles of sustainable transport. They also have motorcyclists and, undoubtedly, cars. But bicycles are cheap and slip past traffic jams, particularly thanks to Bogotá's expanding bike lane network. 

Other companies, such as CONTRARRELOJ and A Pedal appear to use exclusively bicycles.

Winding thru traffic.
A local food delivery guy on the pedal.

Frutapp waiting to go.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

sábado, 4 de noviembre de 2017

Edwin's Ingenious Cargo Trailers

Edwin and Alejandro making a final adjustment to a cargo trailer.
Edwin pedaling a bike with
cargo trailer.
For seven years, Edwin Vasquez has made industrial equipment in his shop in Bogotá's gritty, blue collar Samper Mendoza neighborhood, a half block off of Calle 26. Then, two years ago, he made the acquaintance of Edwin, an inveterate bicycle tourist, who once rode to the southern tip of Argentina to campaign for peace in Colombia.

Edwin makes a
final adjustment.
Since then, Edwin has created a series of practical, innovative and functional bicycle cargo trailers, which they were test riding the other day in front of his shop. The one I tried out was a bit top-heavy and swayed from side to side, but otherwise functioned well. Another, with a low platform, would likely provide a more stable ride.

Edwin Vasquez Santos: Kontrol
Tel: 269-5903 Cel: 320-866-3603
Carrera 25 No. 24B-45 
e-mails: kontrol.infoindustrial   or   edwinvasquez.kontrol  , both at gmail.

Edwin's workshop: Kontrol industrial equipment.

Alejandro and Edwin in Kontrol.
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 25 de octubre de 2017

To School By Bike

A student in a city-sponsored bike-to-school program.
Thousands of kids are cycling to school these days thanks to a city-sponsored program which provides bikes and guides to get kids used to pedaling.

Bicycling down a cycle path in the Santa Fe neighborhood.
'Al Colegio en Bici' (To School by Bike) lends bikes to students, which they are expected to use daily and take home at night. A guide rides a circuit before school, picking up children at their homes or pre-arranged pick-up spots. They form a caravan on their way to campus. After school, the process happens in reverse.

Children also learn basic mechanics and receive helmets and other things as prizes. In addition to commuting to school, the program also organizes cycling outings to parks, museums, historical sites and other destinations. Some 6,000 students participate, according to El Tiempo, under the watchful eyes of more than two hundred guides, primarily in middle- and lower-income neighborhoods. The idea is to set mobility and physical activity patterns the children will follow through the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, only a small proportion of students can participate - perhaps 20 or 30 in a whole
A well-worn 'Al Colegio en Bici'
bike sign.
school.  'It always fills up,' says a friend who works with the program.

Of course, many other children ride to school on their own bikes. 'The school bike parking lots are always full,' says the friend.

The program has been marred by tragedies. Recently, a guide was hit and killed by a bus, and a child whose parent didn't meet him at an after-school pick-up spot was fatally struck by a car as he tried to make his way home.

Both tragedies may say more about the habits of Bogotá drivers and the unruliness of the roads here, than the Al Colegio en Bici program.

With luck, the program will have a multiplier effect, by making the cyclists the envy of their classmates, and motivating others to buy bicycles or take that old bike out of storage.

'To the museum by bike.' Bikes wait outside for students visiting the National Museum.

Hand me that helmet!

Waiting to ride home.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 24 de octubre de 2017

A Full Service Shop - Where It's Needed

In back, working on a bike. 
The National University, known affectionately as La Nacho, is Colombia's largest university and a Mecca for cyclists. But for many years, there were no bike services nearby - either on or off of campus.

That's changed now with some informal repair stands by the main entrances, but mostly by Bicita, a small and efficient place near the university's Teusaquillo entrance.

I visited Bicita years ago, when it was very rudimentary. The other day, they had a dozen that had been repaired or were awaiting repair parked outside. Inside, they sell drinks and pastries and a nice selection of cycling clothing and gear. The small repair shop is in back.

For a people with such entrepeneurial spirit, it's strange that it's taken so long for cycling services to appear here.

Bike jerseys.
Lots of bike gear for sale.
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 26 de septiembre de 2017

Making Cycling Safer: It isn't Easy

'Not One More Death!' Cyclists protest
the recent death of a Bogotá bicyclist.
Understandably, this year's Bogotá Bike Week is paying lots of attention to the problem of cyclist fatalities. After all, just recently two Bogotá bicyclists were killed by accidents on two consecutive days. And so far in 2017, some 45 cyclists have died on Bogotá streets. In contrast, in New York, which has about the same population and also a public bicycles program, about 15 cyclists die each year.

I'm writing this from northern California, where I'm visiting my
A video by the El Espectador newspaper
chronicles the number of Bogot'a cyclists
killed annualy, generally more than 50.
parents in a suburb east of San Francisco. Bicycling around here makes starkly clear how Bogotá falls short of being a cyclist-friendly city. Unfortunately, the improvements it needs aren't easy.

The 'Cicloruta' on Calle 13, in Bogotá.
Can you see it amidst all those pedestrians?
Safe, pleasant, useable bike lanes: Bogotá has some of these, and the city is improving. But many Bogotá bike lanes are merely lines painted on sidewalks, where cyclists must dodge around pedestrians, delivery drivers and cars. Other bike lanes have potholes or are blocked by signposts.

In contrast, in northern California, most bike lanes are wide, well-maintained and on streets, where
A California bike lane. Nice -
but where are the cyclists?
they actually take space away from cars.

A bicyclist (behind taxi/red arrow) tries to cross a
Bogotá intersection blocked by cars which ran the red light.
Cautious, courteous drivers: Unfortunately, many Bogotá motorists behave as tho they are the only ones with any rights. That's why you see pedestrians waiting interminably at crosswalks.

(When I block the cars to give an old lady a chance to cross, motorists insult me for it.)

Cycling across an intersection often becomes a game of chicken with drivers who run red lights or
Seldom seen in Bogotá: California cars
stop and wait to let a pedestrian
cross a street.
ignore stop signs and believe that neither laws nor common decency apply to them.

In contrast, here in the Bay Area when I even APPROACH an intersection drivers stop. Is something wrong? I wonder. No, they're waiting for me to cross. Is this out of courtesy, or because they're terrified of getting sued? Does it matter?

Of course, cyclists violate lots of traffic rules. But the general atmosphere of chaos and lack of civility on Bogotá streets makes a cyclist shake his shoulders and ask 'Why obey rules, if nobody else does?'

A Bogotá bus appears to aim its smokey
exhaust at a pedestrian.
Breathable air: In Bogotá, every time a bus, van or truck passes me, I hold my breath, half expecting to be blasted with diesel smoke. In Bogotá, even many cars belch fumes because they lack a catalytic converter or filters. As any Bogotano knows, in a congested spot, you can literally TASTE the air pollution.

Besides the obvious health impacts, this just makes bicycling unpleasant. In California, which has some of the world's strictest emissions laws, even in congested areas I barely sense fumes at all.

The first of these problems requires an engineering fix, and city planners appear to be improving: All the new bike lanes I've seen are on streets.

But the other two issues involve culture, which is tougher to change. Perhaps less apathetic (and less
New York City bicycling accident
rates have fallen steeply.
(Graph: N.Y. D.O.T.)
corrupt) transit police could help, as might public relations campaigns. But as long as the every-man-for-himmself credo rules, cycling, driving and walking Bogotá's streets will be dangerous and frustrating.

Yet, for all that, Bogotá has many more cycle commuters than do northern California's suburbs - and perhaps even more than does bike-friendly San Francisco.

That's why I'm becoming convinced that making cycling pleasant and making it popular are two very different - but related - issues. Fixing these troubles will lure onto two wheels only those people who already would like to bicycle, but are afraid to. To get more people to WANT to cycle will require  more fundamental social changes.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours