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Cycling in Bogotá: the people’s transport and pleasure!

Cyclist on the street in Bogotá

Cycling is one of Colombia’s favourite sports, and it’s reflected in the infrastructure and activities available in Bogotá, from getting around the city to exploring the neighbouring mountains.

One of the things that has so enchanted me about this city is the people’s energy for meeting new people, dancing, and simply stepping out of the house for whatever reason. Cycling is another activity that me and the Bogotanos (or “Rolos”) can’t get enough of! And most people here are relatively competent cyclists!

For a short tourist break, it’s easy to rent a bike in Bogotá and bike tours are popular (check out our article on where to find bike rentals and tours here). However, this article is more aimed at visitors like me, who are thinking of staying a bit longer and settling into a routine. So, anyone who’s thinking about taking up cycling in Bogotá, here’s some reasons why they should go for it.

Cycling around the city

Cycling is a wonderful way to get to know a new city. Not only is it low-budget, I get that liberating feeling of being able to stop by many different places without having to wait for the bus!

Bogotá is the city with the most cycle paths in Latin America, and in a survey by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2016 Bogotá ranked the best city for cyclists out of 56 cities. Cycle lanes cover most major axes of the city, like the north to south axis along Avenida Caracas (See a full map here)

Cyclists, referred to as “urban heroes” on this city hall website, are a strong presence in the city, which innately makes cycling safer and more enjoyable! There are bike repair shops and stands spotted along the road in the most useful places in the case of a flat tyre or any other problem. There can even bike traffic at peak times.

Cycling path in Bogotá
© Photograph by Joanna Zell

Sunday’s Ciclovía has got to be a major reason why Bogotanos continue to be such enthusiastic cyclists. Ciclovía is a city scheme which has existed for over 40 years, which blocks off a huge network of major roads in Bogotá from 7am to 2pm every Sunday, reserving them to cyclists, skaters and joggers (map below). Everyone loves and excuse to get out and do something active!

Map of cycling routes in Bogotá
© Photograph by Joanna Zell

Twice I have asked taxi-drivers if they cycle and they replied yes, every weekend! Recently when my bike chain came off the street, an ambulant street vendor came over to discuss with me that my wheel was screwed in slightly too close and we managed to chat about bike repairs in broken Spanish for a fair while!

Sunday ciclovía in Bogotá
© Photograph by Joanna Zell

Practicalities of buying and using your bike in the city

Buying a bike is very easy. Like any commodity in Bogotá, there will be a whole street or area of shops which sell just this one thing. There’s a whole street with shops selling glasses, pet supplies, even army clothing! Avenida Colón (Calle 13) o Calle 68 (with Carrera 20 to 30) is the most obvious. Otherwise there are multiple second-hand websites (Mercado Libre, Locanto or OLX) or Facebook groups for buying and selling bicycles!

Guy fixing a bike in Bogotá
© Photograph by Joanna Zell

There’s a bike for every price range! You can find a decent second-hand bike from 200.000 COP (60 USD), or spend up to 1.000.000 COP (300 USD). Strangely, I have noticed many Colombians have a very non-European concept that buying something second-hand doesn’t reduce the price – if anything they think it is worth more after a few years of use!

Parking your bike is easy and safe during the day. There are carparks (parqueaderos) on every other street or below every shopping and cultural centre which all have bike ranks, where you tend to pay around 500 pesos (15 cents)/hour. Many bars and sports centres have big hooks in the ceiling either inside or outside to hang your bike. I’ve also found that leaving your bike locked to a post with a basic bike chain (purchased from any bike shop for 10.000-50.000 COP, 3-15 USD) in a busy street in the day is low-risk. For overnight storage, most houses have a small carpark, local or enclosed terrace for bikes.

Bike parking in Bogotá
© Photographs by Joanna Zell

Mountain biking

Hundreds of earnest cyclers flock to surrounding mountains, to spend a day of honest excursion closer to nature. For the mountains, many people have heavier, sturdier bikes than for road cycling. The views over Bogotá are obviously beautiful, and you have the added satisfaction of having cycled up! The incredible, green countryside which surrounds the city is filled with cycle-friendly roads and great little restaurants, shops and activities. Some well-known destinations are Alto de Patios (6 km, 380 m climb) in La Candela (check out our article on why to visit La Candela), and the more challenging Alto de Verjón (11 km, 900 m climb!).

Don’t forget, Bogotá is a city at 2,600 metres above sea level… that’s the altitude of a small mountain in the Alps, and twice as big as the tallest mountain in the UK! Physical exertion at high altitude requires a high level of cardio… you get tired quicker! I thought I had good cardio when I came to Colombia but these guys are real pros! This gives you an idea why so many world-class Colombian cyclists get through the Tour de France – because training at altitude is hard!

Final comments

I can admit to two downsides of cycling in Bogotá: firstly, the pollution. Many people wear masks over their mouth and nose in an attempt to protect themselves from car and bus emissions. The city has recently started sanctioning the use of personal cars heavily, but with such a heavy affluence of taxis and dirty old buses, the fumes are really tangible.

Secondly, you’ll have to accept the odd downpour of rain in the afternoon. For this reason, you might not want to consider making cycling your sole mode of transport, however there are still many ways to enjoy cycling as a hobby! Most of us grow to love the very mild climate of Bogotá, a 20°C average which is generally very agreeable for cycling!              

One of the many cycling paths in Bogotá
© Photograph by Joanna Zell

My personal interest in cycling is due to me being a proud daily cyclist for years, both in Paris, London and rural Europe. After many weeks cycling here I would conclude that the roads here in Bogotá don’t feel any more dangerous; if anything they’re bigger and motorists are calmer!

Please comment and share, and I wish you the best of luck with your travels! For many other interesting cultural articles check out the rest of the Colture website and also my personal trilingual travel blog here: https://josetireauxameriques.home.blog/!

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