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Urban Ruckus - Learning to Ride in Mexico City

By Jacquelynne Ocaña

I discovered urban cycling by way of my friend Jimmy, a die-hard street rider and a genuine character, one of those East Los Angeles natives who pride themselves on a mixed heritage and an ability to speak several neighborhood dialects of Spanish.

A bike messenger in downtown Los Angeles for more than a decade, on the side he helped head up a nonprofit, rough-and-ready bike emporium called the Bicycle Kitchen, just north of Korea Town. Collectively they continue on as a diverse group of mostly fixed riders who encourage people to learn to build their own setups out of donated bike parts.

A few years ago, I found myself living and writing in Mexico City when Jimmy was invited to Mexico’s first ever National Conference on Urban Cycling.

The Congreso Nacional de Ciclismo Urbano has become an annual meet-up of international cyclists working to create alliances between urban bike activists and public authorities in major cities across Latin America. Now in its third year local street riders, messengers and even novice enthusiasts have joined forces with the newly created Mexico City Bicycle Mobility Corp, an offshoot of the city’s Environmental Secretary’s office. Although it remains a small council with an even smaller budget, they have succeeded in creating actual bike lanes, installing bike racks downtown, and organizing the Sunday closure of major avenues for family-friendly bike days.

In Mexico for less than a week, Jimmy was hyped on touring the city and getting to know the local banda, a crew of helmet-free single speeders and fearless roadies, most of whom don’t even know how to drive a car. Although millions of vehicles navigate the chaotic streets of this, the world’s third most populated city, not that many people own cars.

Seeing as I didn’t even have a bike, the best I could come up with was a borrowed hybrid for an impromptu ride. I had ridden some in L.A., and a critical mass or two in San Francisco, but mostly on a low cruiser around San Diego, so I jumped at the opportunity to explore a mega-metropolis with such an experienced urban rider.