Two wheels good

Fall in love with cycling in Santiago de Chile

The bicycle is fast becoming an emblem of creativity and environmental awareness in Chile’s capital. This is Chile shows you how to join in the fun on two wheels.

Monday, August 29, 2011  
Cycling in Santiago is a creative passion. (Photo: Isaías Campbell/Flickr) Cycling in Santiago is a creative passion. (Photo: Isaías Campbell/Flickr)

If you’re not already a cycle geek when you arrive in Santiago de Chile, chances are you will be when you leave.

Santiago is by no means the cycling capital of the world, but when it comes to passion and creativity on two wheels, it’s up there with San Francisco, Oxford and Amsterdam.

Join the bike revolution

For Santiagüinos, riding a bike is more than just a cheap and convenient way to get around the city’s busy streets. It’s also at the forefront of the green movement. Nowhere is this more evident than at Santiago’s monthly Critical Mass cycle events, where cyclists from all over the city hit the streets en masse to demonstrate the importance of bicycles in Santiago’s effort to go green.

If you love cycling and want to enjoy it with like-minded people, there are a number of citizen groups in Chile that gather to promote bike culture. Check out the Arriba e la Chancha, Recicleta, Ciclismo Urbano and Bicicultura websites for activities ranging from family cycling days to “pimp your bike” workshops and activism rides.

The cycling community receives support from city authorities and the tourism sector, too. Santiago has 100 miles (162 km) of bike paths, and the government has promised a further 320 miles (514 km) by 2012. Neighborhoods such as Providencia offer bikes for citizen use around its streets, and tourism company Bicicleta Verde provides popular bicycle sightseeing tours.

Recycle and repair

Second-hand bikes are easy to find in the city and are a great way to recycle. The website Recicleta helps bike-hunters find used cycles under the slogan, “Rescuing bicycles to get them back on the streets.”

If you feel like exploring the city, head down to the Persa Bío Bío market in the south of Central Santiago, a hotspot for cheap cycles. You can sample some traditional Chilean food and drink while you’re there – check out our guide.

Want to know how to fix your own bike? Arriba e la Chancha organizes free bicycle repair workshops in Providencia, near Manuel Montt Metro. Check out their website for the next event.

Pedaling backwards…

There’s no need to stick to a boring bike, either. In the Persa Bío Bío area you can seek out Guillermo Martínez, recently named “King of Made-to-Order Bikes” by Chile’s La Tercera newspaper.

Martínez – or “Nano Vera” to the cycling world – owns a bike repair shop where customers can order tailor-made cycles. You can choose all the colors, structures and extras you want, ranging from collapsible bikes to tandem cycles to a “road-cargo trike”, first built for a design student to transport items to and from his workshop.

Nano even created a bike where you “pedal backwards and go forwards,” he told La Tercera. “I actually measured it: pedaling forwards you would advance 5 meters, and pedaling backwards, 4 meters. But I made it work. I like challenges.”

Find Nano’s shop at 1989 Tocornal Street, +56 2 8704 4701.

Where to cycle in Santiago

There are cyclists everywhere in the captial. A great resource for new arrivals to the city is the Bicimapa, an online route-planner specially made for bike travel. The map lets you choose direct routes or ultra-safe detours, depending on your priorities, and uses cycle paths where possible. You can also download a PDF of Santiago’s bike paths here, by clicking on the map image.

And don’t limit yourself to the city – every weekend, a hoard of Santiago’s world-class cyclists head out to the countryside in the Cajón del Maipo or up the winding road to ski resort Valle Nevado.