Ahhh, Buenos Aires. So much to see, so little time. Whether you’re getting your meat on at a parrilla, ripping up the dancefloor at a milonga or soaking up rays in the park, you want to make the most of your free time by shaving down your travel time. Walking will certainly add many minutes, miles and misery to your route, not to mention the perils of navigating the dodgy footpaths. Forget getting a colectivo, there’s surely a diversion or some cantankerous passenger holding up the cola by shouting at the driver about rising rates. Subte? Only if sucking in the armpit odor of a stranger creates an olfactory symphony in your nostrils. Mmmm. And obviously, avoid any form of vehicular transport if you don’t want to end up in a frenzy of knuckle-whitening hatred for the human race after sitting in traffic for 40 minutes.
Thank God, then, for the humble bicycle, getting you from A to B in a far speedier fashion. Since 2009, over 100km of bike lanes have been built in the city. The last time I mapped my work route from Villa Crespo to San Telmo, it took exactly one minute less for me to cycle as it did to take the Subte. Take that cramped, sweaty, underground, tin worm!
So off I go, every morning, not a care in the world, savoring the fresh air and my hair blowing in the wind…until I get to Avenida Corrientes, that is. Tackling the avenidas by bike can be nerve-wracking; motorbikes zooming past you if you stay on the left, buses cutting in front of you if you stay on the right, gritting your teeth and holding onto the handlebars for dear life until you make it to the sectioned-off safety of the bicisenda, or bike lane.
But not everyone in the city is bike lane savvy. It ain’t rocket science: bike lanes are for bikes. Period. So, before you don your head, shoulder, knees and toe pads to zip through the traffic looking for the closest bike lane, here’s a heads up on some pesky obstacles you may find lurking where there should be bikes.
1. GIANT TRASH BINS
Trash. Yes, trash. This is what you have to deal with all over any city, really, on a daily basis. Whether it’s dog shit that someone conveniently neglected to pick up, or broken glass from a smashed-in car window, trash is featured heavily on the streets of Buenos Aires. We all know how much of a pain in the ass it is for an innocent tire to fall victim to the evils of road debris, but the Buenos Aires bike lanes are host to another, bigger, more pain in the ass type of rubbish: the giant wheelie bin. Yes, this bike lane predator takes up the entire inside lane, and is also a visual impairment, leaving you prone to head-on collisions with other bikers.
TACTIC – THE WEAVE
The weave does what it says on the tin – you weave in, out and around the rubbish. This can be a bit more difficult if you face oncoming traffic while avoiding the wheelie bin, but just keep your eyes peeled and you should be okay.
2. IDIOTS P
Whether they are crossing the street, avoiding footfall on the pavements or standing idly chatting, people in bike lanes are a bike’s nemesis. Old people are especially treacherous, as the guilt attached to knocking one of them down far outweighs the anger at them being in the bike lane in the first place. Not that I’m speaking from experience, it’s just a hypothesis.
Still, humans are the single largest threat to a pleasant cruise through the city. If God had intended us to walk, he wouldn’t have invented bikes, and by proxy, bike lanes. So stay on the pavement before I plough through you on my hog.
TACTIC – SHOUT
This is literally the only way to part the sea of pedestrians like Moses. If you encounter a pesky pedestrian, shout, “HOLA, PERMISO!” at the top of your lungs.
Upholding the law? Or holding-up bike traffic? Police think it’s their right to obstruct bike lanes wherever they see fit, screeching up in their cop cars and parking them willy-nilly across not one, but both bike lanes. The hubris! Who knows, maybe it is their right, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.
TACTIC – I’VE GOT NOTHING.
Don’t fuck with the police, they are scary and have power. Sorry, you just gotta suck this one up.
You can’t really hold it against these guys. If I had to push a giant cart full of cardboard around all day, I’d be taking the easiest and safest route as well. Luckily, cartoneros are aware of the fact that they are in bike lanes and are generally on the lookout for passing bikes, doing their utmost to let you pass safely.
TACTIC – PATIENCE
This is a tough job, and in the end they may be the only people actually recycling in this city. So practice patience. It’s not like you’re in a hurry, right?
Downside: generators are massive. Upside: their presence is usually seasonal. High demand on the electricity grid in cities with dense populations can cause huge power outages for days on end, usually in extremely hot weather when everyone has the AC on a full blast. Cue the influx of generators to supply electricity, and consequently, their presence on bike lanes. Again, though, you can’t really be too pissed off about this one, because 10 seconds of detour is easily outdone by the absolute ecstasy of having electricity after a few days of living in the dark ages.
TACTIC – CARE
If there is a giant generator in your way, be very careful, especially if the traffic is going the opposite way to which you are riding. Drivers can’t see you coming from the other side, so wait until the coast is clear and then go.
So peeps, cycle safe, cycle far, and cycle unobstructed. May the Gods of two wheels be with you today. (And please do wear a helmet, it’s dangerous out there, kids.)
* Thanks for pointing it out, Twitter police! Obviously you know what I meant. 😉