By Jennifer Hosek
HAVANA TIMES – This March 3-5 boasted a Festival of the Bicycle in Havana. Centered in the Fábrica del Arte and radiating into streets and parks, the weekend highlighted the benefits of pedal power. Organizer Yasser Gonzales (Citykleta) sees the free-and-open-to-the-public event as an opportunity for people to connect and to strengthen the bicycle community.
The well-organized and well-attended celebration featured a range of activities and panels. It hosted bicycle tours that included a nighttime meander punctuated with pop-up outdoor film screenings (BIKE IT! Bremen), as well as Havana Forest (Rutabike) and Urban Graffiti (Cubania Travels) rides. Workshops taught repair (Chimuelo bicycle kitchen) and riding for adults and kids (Velocuba), as well as yoga for cyclists (Bike and Flow).
Adriana Ricardo (Artecorte / Copas para Cuba las Minas) explained the benefits of using a menstrual cup while bicycling—spoiler: yes, it’s truly liberatory. Participants were also inspired to move beyond Lycra through a lively evening fashion show on bikes and a subsequent nighttime runway extravaganza in concert with the fabulous Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana.
Information-packed lectures provided European and global contexts and analysis of Havana’s bicycling landscape. Sven Hermann (ProLog Innovation / LogistikLotsen) emphasized the need for sustainable mobility in cities, where 70% of the world’s population will live by 2025. Against the backdrop of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Europe aims to double bicycling by 2030. In today’s European cities, up to 70% of motorized transportation is private. A combination of more bicycles and public transportation could cut this percentage radically, a boon for the environment, health, family budgets, and livable cities.
Jap Kellner (VeloLab) highlighted the benefits of the cargo bicycle. This versatile workhorse is increasing popular not only for commercial delivery, but also personal use. Some urban dwellers are selling their automobiles in favor of a regular and a cargo bike duo. Cargo bicycle users Adriano Chimuelo, Aurora Couret, and Yasser González spoke of benefits including safety (respect from automobilists), independence (move just about anything), and versatility (think full-on glamping picnics). Yasser pointed out that while the up-front cost of these bicycles is on par with the e-scooters and e-bicycles increasingly popular in Havana, their lifetime cost over time is significantly lower. They are very robust and do not necessarily require a battery.
Handmade cargo bicycles currently ply Havana’s streets. Accessibly priced cargo bicycles would certainly improve city transport, although robust foldable bikes with optional trailers might fit the average Habanero’s needs better. Adriano added adaptive cycling to the picture (e.g., Asociación Cubana de Personas con Discapacidad Físico [ACLIFIM]): “Estoy convencido de las potenciales generadas por la interacción con modelos de bicis más inclusivos con la actividad cotidiana; ¡aprender de la experiencia de proyectos que dominan este punto nos brinda una oportunidad de auto gestión de los modelos que puedan rodar y hacer más felices a sus usuarios y a la sociedad!”
Jaime Garrido (Journey Up!) focused on equity-aimed bicycle tourism and how experiences that travelers have bicycling while abroad might translate to taking up bicycling at home. He also described the successful and decade-long struggle in the Netherlands to prioritize bicycle transportation in this densely populated country in which until the 1970s, the car was king. Another way is possible, and Netherlands shows it.
Sociologist Danay Díaz Pérez of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences shared a study of Havana bicycling undertaken in 2021 when the pandemic greatly increased the use of the bicycle. The study recommends building on this momentum to further two wheeling in Cuba right now.
Participants Carlos and Tamara agreed. “This festival is unique. It’s a great way to promote bicycling and build off the impetus that the pandemic gave to bicycling when public transport was halted for public health reasons. More could be done to get more people to try it. Bicycling gives us the most transport autonomy. We used it in the pandemic to get around. Now it’s become a means of employment, as we use it for deliveries. The city needs more bicycle routes, bicycle repair shops, and places to buy bicycles and spare parts. These supports would really make bicycle commuting easier.”
The Festival closed after a friendly and inclusive Critical Mass ride (every first Sunday leaving 4:30 PM from Parque de los Mártires, Infanta and Jovellar). But, not before a night of exciting bicycle films, including this author’s 2016 documentary Rodando en La Habana: bicycle stories (Santos/Hosek). Festival participants–part of a much larger community of bicycle enthusiasts in Cuba–enjoyed big-screen panoramas of the island through Dominik Duhrsen and Lisa Synowski’s in-process bicycle tour documentary Pedaleando Cuba. Hopefully all Cuban riders and would-be riders will have the experience of exploring their whole country and, indeed, their whole world on a bicycle.
FOR MORE ABOUT THE FESTIVAL AND A FULL LIST OF COLLABORATORS AND SPONSORS SEE: https://citykleta.org/festival/