It was a typical cloudy afternoon in Bogotá. I was waiting for a bus, but as is usually the case, all the northbound buses were packed with commuters. It suddenly started to rain. The smell of wet cement mixed with diesel fumes created a scent that all of us who grew up in Bogotá know well. It's the smell of the our city. It's unmistakable. Like everyone around me, I became anxious as it began to rain, and I started to consider taking any bus regardless of its destination in order to not get soaked. Bogotá is an odd place. It always rains there, and yet very few people carry umbrellas. It's as though the city's citizens are in denial about Bogotá's climate and choose to ignore it, much like some people try to ignore the fact that professionals not only wear, but also win stages while sporting toe covers....or much like fans of the Cosby Show chose to ignore Rudy Huxtable's mustache for all those years.
As I waited for the bus and got rained on, I realized that I was now running late. To make matters worse, I had a large cardboard box with me, containing two bike frames. I wondered how I would make it onto a crowded buseta (see image below), and how I would make it past its turnstile. A taxi was out of the question because of the box (the average Colombian taxi is the size of an woman's handbag in the United States).
Though larger and fancier methods of transportation exist in Bogota, the buseta remains the primary source of mass transit for many people. These small buses are owned by private companies, and their interior decor is often as wild and loud as the music that their drivers enjoy blasting as they speed through city streets. Word of warning. While many words in Spanish and Portuguese are similar in sound and meaning, some are not. Buseta is one such word, since in Portuguese it means vagina. So beware of describing busetas as being in high demand in Bogota...or saying that they are small, large, crowded or colorful to anyone from Brazil or Portugal.
As the rain increased, I finally saw a buseta that was going in my direction. I hopped on, paid my fair and made it through the turnstile with the help of a young man. As I stood next to him, he asked me what I had in the box he had just helped me with. "Two bike frames" I told him. "Carbon fiber?", he asked inquisitively. "No, no. Steel" I responded. He felt the box's weight again. "Two frames? Not bad, they're pretty light." I kindly disagreed with him, and we continued to talk about the bike frames' geometries and details about their dropouts and bottom brackets. He went on to tell me that he had been to at least one stage of the Vuelta A Colombia every year from the time he was born. His father was a big fan of the sport, as was his mother. He told me that he frequented an internet cafe, where he watched race feeds from Europe. We discussed what teams had switched bike sponsors in the off-season, and he asked if I'd be building up the bike frames any time soon. We continued to talk like this for sixty-some blocks as we head north. As my stop approached, I told him that I'd be in town for another four days. I asked if perhaps he'd like to go for a ride that weekend. He looked at me like I was insane. I had just asked him an odd question, and I quickly realized that. Had I lived in the United States for too long? Perhaps. I said goodbye, and made my way out of the the crowded bus. The young man still looked at me like I was crazy.
In the United States, it would be fair to assume that someone with knowledge about cycling, and about the construction of road bikes would perhaps ride or own one. Not so in Colombia. I forget this when I'm back in Bogota, so I ask people I meet to see if they'd like to go for a ride. When I do this, I quickly realize my mistake. I suppose the same is probably true in places like Belgium. I somehow doubt that many of the large, chain-smoking Flandrians who line the roads at races are all actively riding their bikes on the weekends, and shaving their legs. In the context of the United States, imagine asking a sedentary fan of American football if he'd like to put on pads and play a game of football on Saturday, or imagine asking that same person what position he plays. "Wide receiver, or free safety?" The guy would dismiss your question as a joke.
Everyone knows that you watch American football. You don't usually play football. Sure, this has lots to do with the complexity of the game, the equipment needed, and the risks involved. I guess some of those things are also true for cycling. Still, when it comes to bikes and cycling, the United States is different. If someone asks about the bike frames you have in a box, and asks what they're made out of, and then asks you what type of threading the bottom bracket shells have...I think you can safely assume that they probably own or ride a bike. But if you ever find yourself riding a bus in Bogotá with two bike frames, remember that the same may not be true. So if hear a voice in the back of your mind telling you to ask that person if they'd like to go for a ride that weekend...just ignore it. Just like we all ignored Rudy Huxtable's mustache.