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El Montar en Bicicleta
I just got back from a short vacation in the resort town of Santa Lucia, near Neuvitas,
on the Atlantic coast of the south-central province of Camaguey, Cuba. I was there with my
significant other and it was not, strictly speaking, a cycling holiday. We did, however,
take the hotel bikes out for short excursions in and around Santa Lucia. We also took a
bus trip to the provincial capital, Camaguey (pop. 300,000).
Here are a few notes from my travel logbook that might be of interest to vehicular
- If I can't take my own bike on my next trip to Cuba, I'll at least remember to take my
bike tools, pump, chain oil, patch kit, etc. The hotel bikes were relatively cheap
mountain bikes and they were all a bit on the small side. I could have adjusted the saddle
height, but they didn't have a wrench, and I had forgotten my tools.
- Even on a poor fitting, badly adjusted and questionably maintained bike, cycling can
still be enjoyable. Just don't expect maximum performance.
- The bicycle is the most important means of transportation in Cuba. With the collapse of
the Soviet Union in 1991, and the economic crisis that ensued , the Cuban government made
available to its citizens several million Chinese-made bicycles. Bicycles outnumber motor
vehicles, both on the rural highways and in the cities. Bikes are used to transport goods
and it's not unusual to see passengers on a bike, either on the rear rack or on the top
- Cuban cyclists are vehicular cyclists. They act as if they belong, and they are treated
as if they belong. Almost everybody I saw respected the rules of the road. The only person
I saw riding on a sidewalk was a tourist. I only saw a couple of instances of wrong-way
riding in the city of Camaguey and at the one traffic light that I saw, also in Camaguey,
all of the cyclists stopped for the red light.
- Many bike advocates claim that the rules of the road are made for cars, and that in the
post-automobile Nirvana that they dream of, such rules would be unnecessary. Well, I don't
know if Cuba is a cycling Nirvana, but it's probably as good a facsimile of one as I'm
likely to see in my lifetime, and I can tell you that the rules of the road are just as
important there as they are in continental North America.
- The paved two-lane highways between Santa Lucia and Camaguey are narrow--not more than 7
metres wide, maybe even less. Wider lanes might be nice, but they would have much more to
do with the convenience of motor vehicles than with the safety and convenience of
cyclists. Our bus driver would often have to slow down and follow behind a cyclist until
it was safe to pull over and pass. Wide lanes could allow buses and trucks to travel
faster, but I doubt that they would make the roads any more safe for cyclists than they
already are. I suppose that the presence of cyclists on the highway slowed down our
average speed a bit, but an hour and a half to travel the 112 km between Camaguey and
Santa Lucia is really not such a hardship.
- We noticed, when riding around Santa Lucia, that a lot of drivers sound their horn when
approaching from behind. I thought that that was a bit unnecessary, but I think they meant
it as a signal to let us know that they were about to pass and so that we would remain in
single file. It was, after all, more of a friendly toot than a get off the road honk.