Note: This article is part of an Ecoworldly series on the topic of bicycling. This week our writers are discussing the activity and its importance in a number of countries around the world. Please check at the bottom for links to more entries and check throughout the week for additional entries in this series.
In some places in Peru it is just as common to see people bicycling as it is driving cars. Most Peruvians cannot afford cars and for this reason, bicycles provide an excellent, inexpensive means of quick transportation. Peruvians also are masters at modifying their bicycles in creative ways so that they can be used to transport goods and tools for their work and businesses. Fruits, vegetables, construction materials, ice cream, meat, bananas, pets, and countless other items can be transported by bicycle, when a cart has been added. Unlike in the United States though, these aren’t your everyday bicycle carts.
The Most Common Bicycle Adaptation in Peru is Putting a Cart in Front of the Bicycle (and Unlike a Cart in Front of a Horse, this Strategy Works)
While there are other adaptations made to bicycles here, it is most common to see people who have attached large carts to the fronts of their bicycles (see the photo above for an example). One of the things I find most interesting about this adaptation is how when people drive these large, bulky creations, they almost never crash into other objects like cars. People learn how to maneuver these bicycle-carts down narrow streets with extreme accuracy. I also wonder if the drivers of these carts build monster calf muscles. I can’t even imagine bicycling with all of that weight while maintaining vigilance for oncoming traffic. Occasionally, though you do see people walking with their carts, rather than riding with them.
So why do Peruvians put their carts in the front of their bicycles rather than the back? I can only speculate, but I have two major guesses for why this is so. The first is that it helps the owner of the bicycle to make sure that none of her or his goods are being stolen. Theft is a problem in Peru because of the extreme levels of poverty here, and if you can’t see your possessions, then they might be as good as gone. The other reason I might figure for the cart being placed in front is for the personal safety of the bicycle rider in the event of a crash. It should provide some buffer for the rider if they, for example, have a banana-cushion in front of them. But I guess, if it’s bananas, then a crash could also cause a humorous incident of people slipping on the peels! (please, please… I know, your knee must be hurting after all the slapping that’s been going on after reading that past sentence. Also, has anyone ever actually seen someone slip on a banana?) Readers, any idea why the cart is placed in the front? Is it matter of balance or stopping the cart?
Bicycling, Although Practical and Inexpensive, Can Also be Dangerous in Peru
It is more common in some Peruvian cities than others to see people riding and using bicycles. In Peru’s capital city of Lima, for instance, if you don’t know what you are doing you are likely to get killed bicycling. I used to ride my bicycle regularly in Boston, so I feel confident in my assessment of the matter. The aggressive style of driving most Limeños are accustomed to using makes bicycling dangerous, as ad-lib maneuvers are common by drivers trying to get where they want to go as quickly as possible.
In other cities, where the mood is more likely to be calmer (or it least more manageable), you are more likely to see more people bicycling for pleasure and for transportation. In the rainforest city of Iquitos for example, there used to be numerous taxicholos, bicycles modified to have seats for paying passengers. Now, there tend to be more mototaxis, motorcycles adapted to have seats for paying passengers. Probably the reasons for this change include the added speed of motorcycles, their added safety in comparison to bicycles (safety from other vehicles that is), and the advantage provided to the driver, who does not need to use as much strength and energy this way.
I am Planning to Come Visit Peru this Winter, is There Anywhere Where I Can Bicycle?
Yes! Don’t be intimidated by the comments made above. There are many places in Peru where bicycling can be safe and fun. Companies often guide biking tours throughout Peru and there are also countless roads outside of major cities that can make for beautiful and enjoyable rides. Many tour agencies and companies in Peru rent bikes and also lead tours. Some good resources for learning more about bicycle tours in Peru include this website and also the website for Cicloturismo Peru (Cycle touring Peru).
Other Articles in Ecoworldly’s Bicycling Series
If You Want a Blissful Sex Life, Don’t Ride a Bike! by Sam Aola Ooko
Cyclists & Pedestrians– An Uneasy Mix by Mark Seall
Photo Credit: Levi T. Novey ©