domingo, 4 de febrero de 2018

Bullfighting Reroutes La Ciclovia

'Turn right' during the bullfighting season.
During the past several Sundays and the next ones, Bogotá's Sunday Ciclovia is making an obligatory detour - for non-cycling motives.

Riding past a mural on Calle 26.
This is bullfighting season, which can mean big protests, which sometimes spill into violence. papa bombas and tear gas, or to keep people away from the plaza, or to give police freer action, the Ciclovia which normally goes along Carrera Septima, now instead detours west along Calle 26, jogs through the Teusaquillo neighborhood, and then turns right again to rejoin La Septima two blocks south of the Parque Nacional.
Whether it's to protect cyclists from
Watch out! Pedaling past a multi-bike accident
on Calle 26 underneath Carrera 13.

Some of the new route, such as 26th Street, was already part of La Ciclovia - but not obligatory for those riding along La Septima. The temporary route exposes more people to the delights of Teusaquillo, while depriving them of landmarks such as the Torre Colpatria, Museo Nacional and the Centro Bavaria. It also adds more risk. In three weekends rides I've witnessed the aftermath of two accidents in Calle 26's dark underpass.

Calle 26 passes by the famous
'Beso del Bronx' mural.
Bullfighting seems like a throwback to medieval times. Bullfighting does involve courage and skill, but any 'entertainment' involving stabbing animals to death just doesn't fit in a society which claims to value life. As for the protesters: More power to them. However, they ought to turn they attention and protests toward things like cockfighting and factory farming, which are much crueler and affect many more animals.

But, even if one stays agnostic about bullfighting, the fact is that Bogotá is expending tremendous amounts of money and resources to defend the pastime of a small minority of people, even if they do happen to be wealthy, conservative and influential. Besides inconveniencing the city's cyclists, Bogotá has also called out more than 3,000 police to keep the peace around the bullfighting stadium - police who must be paid and outfitted at taxpayer expense, and who could better be employed preventing crime.

Right or wrong, bullfighting inevitably generates protests, all of which cause huge inconvenience and expense for Bogotá. Why not leave all of this behind? Lots of other forms of enterntainment are available.

Cyclling along some Teusaquillo streets not normally part of La Ciclovia.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

viernes, 2 de febrero de 2018

Car-Free Day is Bicyclists' Day

Cyclists ride down the newish bike lane on Carrera 7, over Calle 26.
This year's Car-Free Day, held Feb. 1, was supposed to be dedicated to pedestrians. 

Its star performers, however, were the bicyclists. 

Evening rush hour on Carrera Septina.

Calle 26, usually a long parking lot on weekdays, was a big bike lane yesterday.
And Calle 26 today, Feb. 2. Notice the difference?

Normally, it's difficult cycling across Paloquemao's parking lot. Yesterday, cyclists owned it.
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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