Bayamo: The City of Bicycles

By Ramon Andujar, Photos: Ihosvanny

HAVANA TIMES, Aug. 22 — If Freddy Mercury had visited the city of Bayamo (located in the south eastern region of Cuba) maybe his song “Bicycle” would have been written to the rhythm of salsa and with a reggaeton beat.

Bayamo is known as the cradle of the Cuban nationality because here is where began the 18th century struggles for independence from Spanish colonialism. The city is also famous for a song that goes: “I want to go to Bayamo, riding in a carriage” (referring to the number of horse-drawn wagons that exist in this city).

Few people, however, have referred to the large number of bicycles that circulate through the streets of Bayamo. There are of all makes and models: from old Russian two-wheelers to modern BMXs, that today come to the island in the hands of Cubans who live overseas or island residents who travel as aid workers to serve in diverse countries of the world.

In Cuba a bicycle is a means of transportation, different from most developed countries where its basic function is that of sports and physical exercise. The use of bikes on the island expanded in the 1990s after the collapse of European socialism and the sharpening of the commercial embargo by the United States against the island.

At that time the Cuban government decided to import enormous numbers of these vehicles from China, and even national production of them began. For a Cuban to receive the right to buy a bicycle was like a gift that had dropped out of the sky, since only those considered the best workers could access them. Many of those bikes were in turn resold on the black market for a price seven times their original purchase price, with the proceeds used by the seller to cover other basic needs.

Later —after having been ridden for hundreds of miles on pavement full of potholes or on unpaved back roads— it was shown that the bicycles themselves were not enough. The lack of inner tubes and tires became evident.

Yet again, in their meetings workers discussed who most deserved more than the two inner tubes and the three tires that had been assigned by the union.

However, Cubans have developed incredible resources to confront need. The mouth of any foreign visitor would drop with astonishment before a tire repaired after more than fifty punctures or a tire sewn together with nylon fishing line.

Perhaps someday a song will be heard that goes, “I want to go to Bayamo riding on a bike,” or some rocker might wail, “Bicycle, bicycle, I want to ride my bicycle (in Bayamo).

You can see more photos taken by Ihosvanny in his photoblog on at

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