By David Ward
You may not want to ride in Mexico City. Unless it is Sunday morning. Or unless you are a little crazy and think riding a bike almost anywhere is simply an opportunity for adventure. On a trip from which I just returned, both reasons sufficed for me.
As I have related in this column before, my daughter, Jessica, works for the Foreign Service and as such ends up working in embassies around the world. This has taken my wife, Karma, and me to Dhaka, Vienna, Beirut, Belgrade and, most recently, to Mexico City. On all of these sojourns, I have tried to work some cycling into my schedule and have succeeded except for the trip to Beirut.
Muévete en Bici
Jessica facilitates my passion by checking with others about cycling opportunities. This time, she learned that on Sunday mornings a main route through the heart of Mexico City, Paseo de la Reforma, is closed to traffic and opened up to cyclists and other non-motorized traffic as part of Muévete en Bici – Move by Bike.
So, Saturday evening, I rented a single speed bike (Mexico City is mostly flat) for a day and on Sunday rode the short distance to La Reforma. I was amazed by what greeted me: Bicycles, scooters, pedestrians and roller bladers, but mostly cyclists.
All kinds of cyclists. I was only one of a few people in lycra, and we stood out conspicuously. Most others were on older mountain bikes, city bikes and even trikes, dressed in everyday clothing. I also saw Uber Eats delivery riders, and cargo bikes delivering water jugs and various other goods. I saw a person with a Day of the Dead mask on, and a beautiful custom low-rider bike. Occasionally, someone had on a helmet, but that was pretty scarce. This was not a bike event so much as a civic happening. It happens every Sunday, and thousands turn out to take advantage of the closed road for a casual Sunday morning ride and the festive atmosphere.
La Reforma is closed off for about 7.5 miles, though most ride a stretch of about 4 miles. There is no start or finish. You just jump in where you want, turn around when you want, and exit when you are done. Volunteers are posted at main intersections to stop the flow so cross traffic can get through. Along the route are mechanical support stations and vendors of crafts, goods and food. La Reforma is a great thoroughfare for this entire circuit, allowing one to enjoy the sites, sounds and smells. After completing the 15-mile loop and smelling the cooking from the food stands, I met up with Jessica and Karma for tacos. We had tacos for which the meat was a pork and chorizo mix, and were simply some of the tastiest tacos I have eaten, made better I am sure by the ride and vibrant atmosphere.
I had previously read about a similar event in another Central or South American city. But to experience it brought home how enjoyable and relaxing it is. No one needs to, and clearly few do, identify as a cyclist. They just grab whatever wheels they may have and show up for a fun time.
Exploring Mexico City by Bike
But this was not my only cycling adventure in Mexico City. On another day, I again rented this trusty single speed and set out to explore, something I really enjoy doing when visiting new places. It is a great way to discover an area and some of its uniqueness, eccentricities, and hidden treasures. This time, traffic was all around me, and I can say that cycling in Mexico City is not for the weak at heart. You have to be willing to ride somewhat aggressively. Drivers are generally courteous and will let you in, but only once you stick out your nose, or rather front wheel. Thankfully, traffic is generally fairly slow and not overly busy if you can stay off the main roads.
Exploring Mexico City on a bike is a challenge, though probably easier than a car if you don’t know your way around. I was constantly on Google Maps to figure out where to go, and then on again to figure out where I was and where I had gone astray. Straight streets are rare, many are one way, and the names keep changing. Plus, it is hard to get over the main expressway going through Mexico City without braving a very traffic congested road. I ended up bike-hiking over a pedestrian bridge. But then, that is all part of the adventure.
On this day, I very indirectly made my way to the main center of Mexico City (informally called the Zocalo), and wound through its underbelly a little, observing huge work stands where all that corn the Mexicans cook and eat is shucked. I then worked my way to the Plaza de la Constitucion. Here you can visit the Palacio National with its beautiful Diego Rivera murals, the grand Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México and the Templo Mayor, a relatively recently discovered Aztec temple previously buried beneath the city’s streets and buildings. A little further away is the Palacio des Belles Artes where, the night before, we had attended the Ballet Folklorico, one of the best cultural dance and musical events I have ever attended. From there, I made my way back to my friendly bike shop and dropped off my bike.
Mexico City is a city full of life and living. Before going, Karma and I had talked with several people who had been to Mexico City, and each one told how much they enjoyed it with many saying it was their favorite city. Having been there, I now understand and agree. It is hard to put into words, but Mexico City has a vibrancy and liveliness that is invigorating and intoxicating.
Cycling in San Miguel de Allende
We also took a 4-day excursion to San Miguel de Allende, a tourist favorite with its well-preserved colonial Spanish baroque architecture and cobbled streets. It is an experience just to walk around this city. In the evening, its main plaza, El Jardín, is full of people milling around and being entertained by the ubiquitous mariachi bands. Towering over El Jardín is the beautiful neo-Gothic church Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel with its dramatic pink towers rising above the plaza. Like Mexico City, San Miguel is full of life and you find yourself just wanting to be out in the middle of it.
Naturally, I checked on-line into the possibility of renting a bike. In one of the chats I stumbled upon, one person said to forget riding in San Miguel because it is all cobblestones and very hilly. But I also came across a website for Bici-Burro Bikes. It’s owner, Alberto (“Beto”) Martinez, conducts biking and hiking tours. So, I signed up.
The next day, I joined two ladies, Gianna and Leila, and Beto took us on a 22-mile tour through the environs of San Miguel. All riding is done on mountain bikes with front suspension which is what is needed in San Miguel. I would have also enjoyed rear suspension, but these are excellent bikes and sufficed very well for the rough cobbles and dirt and gravel roads we traversed. The tour took us through countryside where, among many other things, we saw haciendas and passed through small Mexican villages, including one where I saw parents leading a donkey on which their son was seated. I really enjoyed this ride for the feel and sense it provided of life in rural Mexico.
Prior to this trip, I had never really had a desire to visit Mexico. But our time there filled me with an overwhelming sense of the rich vibrancy of Mexican life and culture. I was enthralled with it, and am looking forward to a return trip.
And to further exploration and adventures there on a bike.
For more on Muévete en Bici visit: http://thecityfix.com/blog/beyond-move-mexico-city-integrating-sustainable-mobility-ecobici-biking-gisela-mendez/