Here are your two wheels and a melon cover; get ready for an adventure!
The best part about bike tours is you never really know what to expect. What type of bikes will they have? Cruisers? Road Bike? Mt. Bike? Cheap? Comfy? Tandems? What type of path will we take? Right through the city? Bike path? Road? Will the guide speak English? Local language? Multiple languages? How long will we be on the bikes? Will we take breaks?
To go on a bike tour, I'm always prepared for a little bit of everything. I generally try to look up what previous guests wrote about the place on review boards, but that doesn't always mean every trip is the same. This theory has never been more true than when I signed up for a Bogota Bike Tour adventure.
Bogota is a Colombian city of nearly 8 million people. There was no way we were going to see every part of the city in the amount of time we had. We walked to certain areas and taxied to others, but we still hadn't scratched the main highlights. That's when we looked up a bike tour. Like Wheels to the City explained, bike tours make for an exciting way to take in the sights, get good exercise, and be part of an exhilarating biker gang.
The afternoon we stepped foot into Bogota Bike Tours, we knew the day was going to be exciting. Located in the old historic district, the little shop was tucked into a narrow, cobble stone street. Without the clue of bicycles spewed everywhere, we might have been nervous to enter such a place.
We introduced ourselves and stated our intentions of joining a tour. Being extra prompt we were the first ones there and able to pick out our bikes. This was definitely a bonus as our two-wheeled companions looked like they had seen better days. They also fitted us with flattering helmets that I tried not think about how many heads they had seen.
Eventually, a few more people started wandering into the shop. Everyone looked cautious, curious, and self-conscious. We heard English, an Australian accent, and British. This was a good sign because we were unsure what language the tour guide would use, at least we would be able to communicated with the other riders.
The tiny little shop was overflowing by the time the tour was to start. We were instructed to take our bikes outside and line up on the sidewalk. Once they got everyone situated with gear we were a group total of 10, plus our guide. They decided with such a large group they would send a tail guide along as well. With a grand total of 12 people, we were a HUGE biker gang for the narrow streets of Bogota.
The guide introduced himself speaking English. He was part French, part Spanish, and now calls Colombia home. Because all of us were English speakers, he also spoke English, and very well. He gave us a quick bike lesson, a quick overview of the tour, and some quick rules. Then we were off.
A minute later we were up a hill and gathered in front of some very old buildings. The guide did an awesome job at giving us history, culture, and entertainment all in one. After snapping a few pictures, he led us through an artistic area where locals were selling and creating their goods.
Everything had started off smoothly and everyone was smiling. Then the guide stopped to talk to a police officer. They pointed their arms this way, then that way, and a lot of nodding and thinking was taking place. Of course their rapid Spanish was hard to discern, but we gathered that there was some sort of demonstration going on today. (AKA a protest of sorts.) Colombia is unfortunately known for their violence and crime, so to hear there was a protest going on meant the guide had to be extra safe with our group.
The tail guide pulled up front to help devise a plan. He seemed like a Colombian born, hard-core local. His stern demeanor was actually comforting because we could tell he knew his city well. Soon they had us moving down a one way street the opposite direction. The tail guide was blocking cars so we could all cross over to our new path, away from the demonstration zone. With such a large group, we were causing a lot of honking, and swerving of taxis.
Before we knew it, we were on a really busy vehicle dominated street cutting across even more traffic. We paused at the red light then gunned it through before the oncoming cars reached the intersection. Make sure you read about road rules in Colombia, so the chaos of their "bike rules" make more sense.
Everyone's hearts were pumping either from the fast pace we were keeping, or the fear of being smoked by a rabid taxi. Then the guide finally slowed down, and we gathered up in front of their old bull fighting arena. Everyone caught their breath as he gave us fun facts about this historic place.
Much of the tour continued like this. We swerved down back alleys, rode through rich residential neighborhoods, pedaled fast through heavy intersections, popped some wheelies in the park, and stopped along busy highways. He kept us on our toes every minute, and IT WAS GREAT!
Biking in a big city is usually a bit hairy at times, but Bogota presents an underdeveloped road system that makes biking a complete adventure. At times we were in cobble stone plazas. Other times we were squeezing in between cars on the street. And still other times we were bucked onto the sidewalk. There are few road rules in Bogota, and our guides taught us the importance of courage. If you weren't bold and aggressive, you may find yourself left behind or worse, under a car. It was an interesting test for a few.
Some of my favorite pitstops were the graffiti walls, fresh fruit stands, and a coffee roastary. We were able to cover so many great spots of the city, and our guide gave us extra little tidbits that fed our intelligent side. This was a full package tour full of exercise and excitement.
There was a bit of entertainment as well, however unplanned it may have been by our guide. We had just made our coffee pit-stop where we each got a good dose of fresh Colombian caffeine. Everyone had a little time to bond and get to know the other members of the biker gang. As we were on our bikes again, we began to notice a little different atmosphere about the street we had just turned down. The guide was probably hoping we were busy chatting and enjoying our new found friendships, but that didn't stop the Aussie from announcing we had entered the "red light" district of Bogota. He knew because he had awkwardly stumbled upon this area the night before. We tried not to stare, but once we had left the area, we all started laughing. Had our guide really just strolled us through brothel avenue?
With big smiles, and a sense of relief, we made it back to the shop. Everyone tipped out our wonderful guide and said our thank you’s to the owner. It really felt like we had formed a biker gang as we took down several emails and contact information. Surviving a savage bike tour really bonds people, and it also deserves a beer at the local Irish Pub. And that's exactly how we ended the day with our new Aussie friend.