Biking In Guatemala City? One Group Is Proving It’s Possible

On a recent Saturday, the streets were filled with bicycles. Bells rang and horns sounded as the cyclists wound their way throughout the city like a moving train of youth and energy.

This wasn’t in Portland, or Paris, or any of dozens of bicycle-friendly cities around the world. This was in Guatemala City, a city known more for its violent crime rates than its progressive bike culture.

But one group is trying to change that. Biketun is a new organization started by Javier Mata and Lucia Pivaral with the purpose of promoting a more sustainable way of life and transport in Guatemala.

The group’s signature event is a nighttime bicycle tour of Guatemala City. The first was held in December and drew around 250 people. The second, held in February, drew more than 500. The goal is to one day attract 10,000 cyclists to Guatemala’s streets.

According to Pivaral, Biketun’s mission is to show the country that a better lifestyle is possible – “a lifestyle in which Guatemalans own not only public spaces, but most of all, our freedom. A lifestyle in which we can go out on our bicycles, go to the park, walk on the streets, and interact with different people without any worries.”


Pivaral says that public spaces in Guatemala City have been abandoned because of fear, which then leads to degeneration, negative perceptions and danger. Parents keep children at home because they are scared that they will be exposed to drugs and violence on the city streets.

“This is similar to a field with bad grass,” she says. “When we don’t use the field, bad grass grows and the only way of removing it is re-taking control of the field and making use of it. This is what this movement is about.”

Biketun events wind through different parts of Guatemala City. The December event was centered on the main avenues – Bulevar Liberación, Avenue Américas, Obelisco, Reforma, Plaza 30 de Marzo, Septima Avenida – with an itinerary designed to take in the Christmas sights and lights. The second event was organized in cooperation with the Municipality of Guatemala, which provided an educational tour of different sites in the Historic Center of the City, like the National Palace, Iglesia La Merced and Railroad Museum.

“Doing this regenerates my energy and soul, along with my hope for humanity,” says Pivaral. “I deeply believe that for a city to progress, we need to take into consideration sustainable ways of living. The best way to approach this, for me, was not talking about it, but starting to live it.”

The next Biketun event is scheduled to coincide with Earth Day in April. There is no cost to participate, and a limited number of bicycles are available for rent on the organization’s Eventbrite page. For more information, visit Biketun on Facebook.

[Photo Credit: Jorge Toscana, Biketun]

10 Tips On Riding A Bike In New York City

Though officials are tight-lipped, rumor has it that New York City‘s much-anticipated Citi Bike share program will launch this month. As we previously reported, Citi Bike will provide residents and tourists with the opportunity to borrow from 10,000 bikes parked in 600 stations scattered across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Pricing for the privately run system will range from $9.95 for a 24-hour pass to $95 for an annual membership.

While Citi Bike is a welcome addition to New York’s transportation scene, tourists might be wary of tackling the streets of Manhattan, and for good reason. Between bumpy roads, unclear signage, reckless taxicabs and texting pedestrians, the city’s streets are not for the faint of heart.

But once you get over the initial fear, New York can be a magical place to explore on two wheels. We spoke with a handful of avid city cyclists, who shared their tips for staying safe while making the most of your bike share experience.

1. Research your route. “Study a map of NYC before you go out to get a sense of what areas are easy to bike,” suggests Eva Mohr, an avid cyclist whose biking e-commerce shop, All That I Want, launches this fall. Google Maps offers a way to search bike routes online and through its Android app. iPhone users should invest $1.99 in the Ride the City app, which generates a number of routes from “Safest” to “Direct.” The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) also publishes a free City Cycling Map, available for download and in select locations throughout the city.2. Obey the traffic rules. “Bicyclists have the same traffic rules as motorists,” says Alison Lucien, founder of Eleanor’s NYC, a bicycle accessories shop for women. “The ticket for running a red light on a bike is the same as for a driver, with the exception that bicyclists do not have to pay the surcharge.” Laws on riding recklessly and against the flow of traffic also apply.

3. Wear a helmet, advises Mohr. If you plan to do a lot of city biking, it’s worth the luggage space to pack your own safety gear. NYC’s DOT reports that in 97 percent of biking fatalities, the rider was not wearing a helmet. Though bike share programs in cities like London, Boston and Washington, DC, report low levels of accidents and fatalities, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

4. Dress brightly. Wearing bright clothing can attract the attention of motorists, especially at night. Plus, “neons and bold prints are all the rage in fashion, so it shouldn’t be hard,” says Lucien.

5. Follow bike lanes, but remain alert. “Unlike in established bicycle countries like Holland, the bike lane is not well respected in many areas – by vendors and crowds who treat it as a private sidewalk or by delivery vans and cabs that pull into it without warning,” says Nona Varnado, who designs urban cycling and multi-sport apparel for women and blogs about biking culture at The Bird Wheel. “It’s getting better all the time, but a bike lane still requires staying alert.”

6. Don’t be afraid to make some noise, advises Lucien. “Ring your bell and shout out, ‘heads up!’ when pedestrians walk out in front of you.”

7. Beware of taxis. “Watch out for cabs that stop on the side of the street and be prepared for doors to open unexpectedly,” says Mohr. “If you are riding a cab yourself, always make sure to check for cyclists first before opening the door.”

8. Watch out for pedestrians. It’s common for unaware pedestrians to step into the road without looking both ways, especially when they’re preoccupied in conversation or tapping away on their smartphones. Large vehicles like trucks and busses can also hide these sneakers. “While you pass a bus, keep your hands on the brakes at all times,” suggests Lucien.

9. Wear clothes you feel comfortable in. While flowing dresses and flimsy sandals may be popular summer attire for women, they’re often impractical for the rigors of city biking. “If you wear a dress, use a skirt garter not only to protect your clothes from getting dirty, but also to prevent the dress from getting tangled in the spokes,” advises Mohr.

10. Once you get comfortable, feel free to venture off the beaten path. “Smaller neighborhoods and side streets are best seen on a bike and tend to be less busy,” says Varnado. “This is where the real NYC is. By riding a bike you can see amazing things you’d never experience any other way.”

[Flickr image via Missy S., Citi Bike image via Citi Bike]

Video of the day: bike stunts in Accra, Ghana

Bikelordz : Stunts and Styles from Accra, Ghana from Bikelordz on Vimeo.

The culture of a place is precisely what helps us get to know that place–even if the culture involves bike stunts and the place is Accra, Ghana. There’s a biking culture in Accra that I wasn’t aware of before watching this video. The video is just a sneak-peek, a trailer for a documentary that is currently being showed in festivals across the world. The documentary’s name? Bikelordz. But this little snippet is worth watching, too. In less than 2 minutes, you’ll see jaw-dropping bike stunts and styles. You’ll watch as members of this biking culture explain their passion for what they do and answer questions of day job employment with retorts about their practice, their talent. Not only does this video provide cultural insight, but there are some great shots of Accra and the people in and around this community, as well. Enjoy.