As cars honk and taxis navigate the bustling streets of Mexico City, there’s a different kind of exploratory bliss on quieter, greener trails. With a few kicks on my bicycle pedals, I cruise the wide, empty sidewalk of the Reforma, the city’s largest boulevard, from the flea market of La Lagunilla to the sprawling greenery of Chapultepec Park. Along the way, I pass families for a Sunday stroll and hit the brakes when the smell of pit-cooked lamb tempts me to stop for flavorful tacos and hangover-healing consumption.
On Sundays in Mexico City — such as in Bogotá, Santiago and cities across Latin America and the world — the main street is closed to motorized vehicles. These ciclovías offer a stress-free (and often free, as some cities offer free bike rentals) access to the best way to see a new city: on two wheels.
Cycling brings you right to ground level – interacting with other cyclists, fast but slow enough to take in the sights and see the most of a new city as you cruise past buildings and pause to look around intersections. Unlike traveling by car, while biking around a destination like Mexico City, you can smell the hissing carnitas, hear the city’s chanting chatter, “Se compran colchones, tambores, refrigeradores,” and stop to see the giant painted mural staring you to “unlock your bitterness”.
This is of course also possible while walking. But cycling covers a lot more distance in less time – a precious commodity when exploring a new place. And while I’m a big believer in using public transportation when traveling (for many of the same reasons listed above), cycling allows you to be part of the city, get your heart rate going and whet the appetite that comes with cycling. don’t take public transport or taxis giving me more opportunities to sample new tamales, tlacoyos and tostadas. And it’s just fun.
In recent years, especially during the pandemic, cities have realized the value of pedestrianized streets. Some places have added miles or specific days of roads closed to cars, built segregated bike lanes, or even opened dedicated bike lanes, which, as an added bonus, tend to take the scenic route through parks or green belts. The number of bicycle sharing systems operating worldwide has doubled between 2011 and 2015, and again by 2019, making it even faster and easier to get out on two wheels and explore a destination by bike. The growth of e-bikes, as part of rental and sharing fleets, makes cycling more accessible – especially in hillier cities – and means you don’t get to places that are so sweaty.