When Gaby Hernández Castillo was told she’d have to wait three months for approval for a car loan, she grabbed her bicycle and hit the streets of Mexico City. By doing so, she cut her two-hour metro commute down by half. Gaby also came to realize how Mexico City offers thousands of miles of protected bike lanes, secure warehouses around the city for overnight bike storage, multiple bike sharing platforms, dozens of group rides each week, and a strong network of cycling advocates. When the car dealership called a few months later to offer her the loan, she declined; by now she had become a cycling enthusiast.
Architect turned bicycle advocate turned small business owner, Gaby now runs Poráy Biclaturs and Rentals, a bike rental and tour company based in Mexico City. Her staff are mostly female and her team strive to change the outdated notion in Mexico that bicycle mechanics, guides, and enthusiasts should be male.
Gaby herself biked the entire nine months of both of her pregnancies, then rode with her babies wrapped in a rebozo (a scarf wrap) on her back until they were large enough to fit into a bicycle-mounted toddler seat. She now loads both her children, ages four and six, into a specially made cargo bike to transport around town. “It’s my version of a mommy van,” she says. “I have a box in the back for snacks, diapers and water, and we go to the movies, the park, school or wherever.”
Gaby began her advocacy with Mujeres en Bici (Women on Bicycles), a women’s bicycle advocacy organization that started the first free bike school in Mexico City. Here participants learn to ride a bike as well as strategies for riding safely in the street and how to make basic repairs. They set up shop on Reforma Avenue during the city’s weekly Ciclovía, when the city shuts down major thoroughfares to cars for cyclist and pedestrian use only. The group now operates three other schools in different parts of the city, some locations offering daily classes and events.
Cycling is increasing in popularity for riders of all ages in Mexico City. Gaby says that many women in their sixties, who weren’t allowed to ride bikes as children because “that’s not what girls did” at the time, are excited to learn to ride. These cycling seniors feel like rebels and get a sense of empowerment on two wheels. While some just ride in their neighborhoods and during the Sunday Ciclovía, others have become members of cycling organizations and are joining longer rides out of the city.
Mexico City has no shortage of female cycling groups. Rueda Violeta organizes weekend rides and offers training to help women break physical and mental barriers to cycle out of the city and into the hills. Clitoral Mass (named after the monthly Critical Mass global bike rides) organizes various rides and events for women, including protest rides in response to recent abuses against women, such as a rape, domestic violence, femicide, or the often overlooked fatalities caused by female trafficking.
Groups like Bicitekas, a 20-year-old bike advocacy organization, lead weekly rides, rain or shine, for all genders. In fact, there are so many organized group rides in Mexico City now that Gaby estimates that cyclists have their pick of at least 10 group rides on any given day. She used to post upcoming rides on Twitter, but found there were so many that she was spending several hours a day researching and posting them. As no official clearing house exists for group rides in Mexico City, most local cyclists are members of several Facebook groups, where they look for upcoming rides.
While much of the cycling infrastructure in Mexico City is geared towards locals, visitors can take advantage of the city’s efforts and explore the metropolis from a saddle. Main streets with bike lanes such as Reforma, or car-free areas like Chapultapec Park, are the safest areas, especially for those without much experience. The Sunday Ciclovía is fun for riders of all skill levels and is the perfect place for tourists, who can ride on car-free streets that are normally packed with vehicles.
Poráy, along with dozens of other bike shops, rents bicycles to visitors and offers guided tours. Mexico City’s bike share program, Ecobici, is also available to tourists, though keep in mind that rental pay stations often don’t accept credit cards and making an in-person reservation at one of the company’s four offices can be tricky. Some themed group tours to Mexico City also include guided bike tours within CDMX (and surrounding cities) for travelers who really want to experience the country on two wheels.
What’s next for Mexico City’s cycling advocates? According to Gaby, getting bureaucrats to require Mexican drivers to undergo competence and safety testing before receiving their license. “There’s so much more to be done,” she says, “but we’ve made so much progress.”