During most Sunday mornings, the access roads and neighborhoods along Puerto Rico’s PR-3 highway are eerily quiet. Businesses are closed, and many residents stay indoors to take shelter from the heat. But the last Sunday of February was different. The silence along the highway was broken by the distinct horn blasts of a song I probably heard many thousands of times during my childhood, Joe Arroyo's "La Noche" . It was playing out of concert-sized speakers strapped to the back of a pick-up truck. Behind that truck were roughly 400 cyclists, who all pulled in to this small access road, and stopped. They stopped to talk, drink, dance and sign along. By mere chance, I had just stumbled upon Puerto Rico's Bicicletada.
The Bicicletada has no lofty political goals, it doesn't seek to spread awareness or raise money for any issue. Equal parts parade, ride and party, the event is simply meant to be fun for Puerto Rican's whose bikes are part of their lives. At least that's what one of the ride's organizers told me, and as I looked around, I saw what he meant. He was right, and I was instantly reminded of something that Corey Shouse Tourino Ph.D. told me, whenI spoke with him about the significance and organic nature with which Colombians take to cycling.
"Americans... ride bikes the same way they drink wine: these are prosthetic acts that require special gear and a ‘rarified air’ of intention and pretention. Cycling for many in the U.S. is indeed enjoyable but artificial, not organic, like making a big fuss over that ‘special bottle of fermented grape juice’ that Italians put on their tables every single afternoon without thinking about it. I say this knowing I am over-generalizing, but the observation holds true in all too many American cycling circles."
At first glance, someone could disagree with me applying Corey's thought process to an event like this. After all, many of the bikes were clearly pampered and shown off as though this was a car show in Pebble Beach. But in reality, these bikes (even the ones with coolers, sound systems and oversized flags) are simply people's means of transportation. In the days following the Bicicletada, I went on to see several of the people I met that day riding down highway PR-3, probably on their way to or from work, with their Puerto Rican flags proudly flapping in the wind.
I asked many of the riders about exactly that, were these their everyday bikes? Did they get around mostly by bike? They nodded and agreed, not seeing why a vintage Schwinn with raccoon tails, reflectors, and Puerto Rican flags might seem like an interesting choice.
As I stood there, and spoke with the owner of a bike with a particularly loud sound system, a voice came over the loudspeakers from the lead pick-up truck. They were ready to get going again, and everyone was reminded to stay behind the lead truck. Riders grabbed their beers, put their sunglasses back on, and rode back into highway PR-3.
Edited down from the original version, which was published in Bicycle Times Magazine.
Short documentary about the Puerto Rican Schwinn Club in New York City. The video really gets going about a minute in.