Explore Barranquilla in a relaxed, healthy environment – cycling with Biela Quilla
When invited to an evening bike ride around Barranquilla by some friends last week, I was understandably apprehensive. At a glance, Barranquilla isn’t a particularly bicycle-friendly city. The lack of appreciation for lanes or leaving any space between cars has left me counting my blessings several times when I’ve stepped out of a taxi unharmed, not to mention the craters in the road that are sometimes big enough to swallow up the dubious little yellow cars whole.
My typically British cynicism, however, soon disappeared when we arrived at El Parque Electrificadora on Thursday evening. We managed to hire bikes and helmets and, despite a customary delay in getting started, seemingly spontaneous shouts of “¡A la calle!” meant we were on our way by 8pm.
Guided by members of the Biela Quilla Cycling Team in their fetching green and blue fluorescent spandex, we started what seemed like an invasion through the northern barrios of the city. Hundreds of cheering riders flooded the streets, cars stopping for us at every crossing regardless of what colour the traffic lights were. Admittedly it did get fairly cramped at times, especially when people decided to stop half way up a hill, and I felt a bit like a naughty child when told off for wandering out of the line I was supposed to be pedalling.
Nevertheless, it turned out to be a miraculously well organised ride. The atmosphere was friendly and enjoyable, everyone chatting excitedly and offering help to others who needed it. For those who fell to the back of the group, Carlos Vives gave them the energy to continue as he blasted from the roof speakers of the following bike hire truck (we’re in Colombia, why wouldn’t there be music?). One rather unlikely gentleman even brought his own reggaeton-booming speakers, which he attached to the front of his bike – although he seemed to be cycling alone and was probably the least animated person I saw all night.
“It is a movement organised by and for the people”, Mauricio tells me, one of the volunteers from the Biela Quilla team. “The founders’ aim was to encourage public involvement in sport and exercise, whilst promoting cycling as a sustainable transport alternative in our city.” Started by a small group of cycling enthusiasts, its popularity has soared over the last few years – with an average of 250-300 people now taking part each time.
Whether you’re a keen cyclist or simply want to get some fresh air, I would highly recommend this biweekly activity as a healthy way to explore the city in a different setting. On several occasions I cycled past ‘that bar’ or ‘that restaurant’ I’ve been recommended but never managed to find, whilst marvelling at some beautiful houses in areas I didn’t even know existed.
When asked why people should cycle with Biela Quilla, Mauricio wants to make something clear: “We aren’t just promoting Biela Quilla, but cycling in general. It’s good for you, it clears your head and relaxes your body”, he says. “When I have a tough day at work, I come here to free myself from stress and my day-to-day worries – it’s just me, my bike, and the open road.” It does sound rather cheesy when translated into English, but I couldn’t agree with him more. I slept like a baby that night.
Where: El Parque Electificadora (Cra 64 #86)
When: Every Tuesday (advanced level) and Thursday (standard) at 7.30pm(Colombian time, i.e. don’t worry if you don’t arrive on the dot!)
Bike hire: Ciclo Martínez offer bike and helmet hire for 15-20,000 pesos (contact via facebook if you want to hire in advance)
Duration: Two hours approx. with a short break in the middle (taking water and snacks is advisable!)
Check the Biela Quilla facebook page before arriving for any updates.