SERIES: Exiting Toronto by bike – Entering/Exiting Guadalajara & Mexico City
Story and photos by Alix Aylen
My partner, Bobby, and I rode into Guadalajara with the excitement of two urbanites who had been living in the desert and rural Mexico for three months. After having passed through Tijuana, La Paz and Mazatlan rather quickly, we decided that we wanted to spend a month in Guadalajara to enjoy the luxuries of city life (AKA see a movie and go on group rides) for a bit longer than a moment.
We decided to take the toll road in, as it almost always has a wide, smooth shoulder with a more gradual grade than the two lane, shoulder-less state highways. Bikes are not allowed on these highways, though they are usually the safest option and this law is rarely enforced. In contrast to the “no bikes” signs lining these toll roads, we were always greeted at toll booths with a smile, and guided around the entrance sensors to avoid paying the fee. At one point we were sure that our luck had run out as a police car pulled up in front of us and waved us over. We stopped to chat, expecting that we would be told to get off the toll road. The two officers, either ignorant of the “no bikes” law, or not troubled by it in the least, only asked what we were doing travelling by bicycle and requested a photo on their iPhones.
Our excitement fizzled out a bit as we approached Guadalajara on the long, shadeless stretch of highway that would lead us, so very slowly, into the heart of the city. About 70 km west of Guadalajara are volcanoes and dirt roads littered with fist-sized chunks of obsidian. The 20 km leading into the city, however, are long, arduous and so very crowded with semi trucks and exhaust fumes. The root cause of this is the beastly “Periferico”, a highway that forms almost a complete circle around the city of nearly two million.
The effects of the Periferico are felt as you approach it, with traffic becoming more aggressive and seemingly impenetrable. It felt almost like we were riding head on into a vortex that would pick us up and spit us out and into the centre of the city - that is if we could find a way of entering without getting run over by a car sling-shooting towards us. We rode with great concentration and focus, keeping within the sliver of shoulder that we now had. About half way through Zapopan, we decided to take a tamale break, regroup and figure out an alternate plan of action to cross the Pereferico. Our options seemed to be: stick to the highway and take the main motor-vehicle entrance into the city, or take a side road and try to weasel our way into the city using a series of awkward and disconnected pedestrian routes.
We chose the latter, which felt much safer, but was indeed much more awkward. Here’s a step-by-step summary of our route around the smokey ring of highway:
- Turn off of the main highway, just before merging with the Pereferico.
- Ride south, along a road running parallel to the highway until there is a light to cross at to take you closer to the Pereferico.
- Walk alongside the Pereferico until you find a pedestrian bridge with a ramp that you can roll a bike across.
- Exit pedestrian bridge, walk through slightly forested area along a makeshift trampled path, as there is no sidewalk on the other side of the pedestrian bridge.
- Look confused, and accept help from a local roady who understands this sentiment, and offers to lead you the rest of the way into the downtown core.
- Proceed to enjoy the best form of public transportation, the local guide-led group ride.
We exited Guadalajara through the southeast corner, where there is a gap in the Pereferico. This still involved a few awkwardly snug pedestrian bridge crossings over busy highways, but it definitely felt like less of a battle against a raging current of cars.
Entering Mexico City is a challenge of entirely more epic proportions. While the traffic leading into Guadalajara lasted about 15 km, the heavy and aggressive traffic leading into Mexico City begins about 150 km outside of the city to the north. We spent two days in San Juan del Rio, north of Mexico City, debating the merits of riding all the way into the city for the “glory” versus just taking the bus into town, for the sake of our nerves. The road transformed from a two to four lane highway with a shoulder, connecting towns of up to 800,000 people, to an eight lane highway, with an inconsistent shoulder, funnelling vehicles from all across the country into a city with a population of roughly 9 million. Not to mention the fact that we would be ascending into a city with an elevation of 7,381 ft, surrounded by a crown of mountains.
After our final breakfast meeting, we decided to throw in the towel and just hop on the bus. As we sat on a bus that ascended for about an hour and then descended very quickly on shoulder-less roads, we realized that this was a good decision, later supported by our cyclist friends in the city. “El Monstre”, they say when referring to the city, and with good reason.
I have found Mexico City and Guadalajara to be the most difficult cities to enter and exit by bicycle, however they also have some of the best group rides and cycling culture that I wish we could recreate in Toronto. There are group rides every night, all year long (Bicinema was my favourite) and Ciclovias (car free street events) every Sunday in both cities, reflecting the efforts of the many impassioned cycling advocates and groups.
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