Bike Spotting in the Yucatan Mexico

Bike Spotting in the Yucatan Mexico

Photos Lisa Logan
Text Andrew Frontini

Lisa and Andrew bike every day in Toronto and travel the world taking photos and, well, looking at other peoples bikes. Here are some observations from their recent trip to Mexico. Lisa is a photographer who contributes to dandyhorse.

Bicycles and their derivatives (tricycles and pedalled four wheelers) are everywhere we look, around the Yucatan. Getting people to work, transporting goods and in many cases providing the shop and the shipping all in one. Every evening in Valladolid, bicycle vendors circulate around the Plaza del Los Frailles, each peddled purveyor, with its own ingenious storage, exchange counter, sung advertising call or prerecorded jingle. In Valladolid, the bicycle is a basic platform for creative adaptation, done with the materials and skill set at hand. Welded steel angles, aluminum piping and carved wood appendages were all in evidence when scanning the highly customized fleet of bikes that navigate the towns narrow streets and lanes.

When we travelled beyond the confines of the town, we saw bicycles on the regional highways getting people between the small pueblos. This countryside is flat as a pancake, a fact that has no doubt encouraged the proliferation of bikes of every description. In near by Izamal, bicycles compete with horse drawn carriages to convey tourists and add a rainbow of colours that complement the consistent yellow backdrop of colonial era architecture.

The people of the Yucatan take pride in their pedal powered creations and we saw several fine examples of bicycle culture made manifest. Bicycle cafes, like the one pictured, bring riders together for a break in their journey and offer an aesthetic that honours the bike in its many forms, colours and adaptations. In the pueblos of the Yucatan, the bike is a beast of burden that, at the same time, offers colour whimsy and a sense of freedom that just have to be celebrated.

Early one morning in Valladolid, out of a rambling concrete block house with broken windows and a thatched roof, an older man emerged, stooping through the low doorway. Behind him followed a woman wearing a stained frock and an unsmiling expression. She passed the man a dented tin case (most likely his lunch) and stared as he turned silently and shuffled to the dusty street. At the curb, he stiffly mounted a rusted bicycle with a cockeyed seat and tossed his case into its twisted wire basket. Shoulders hunched, he sagged over his steed and with what seemed like a superhuman effort lifted one foot onto a bent pedal. The chain crunched, the woman with the stone face stared and the man grunted softly. A squeak, a lurch and the bicycle inched forward. No goodbyes, no wave, just the strain of man against rust. One pedal, two pedals and then the bike was moving, rhythmically squeaking and scraping at an increasing rate. The man straightened his spine, looked ahead and began to whistle. Softly at first and then with a vigor that matched the mechanical rhythm section of the bicycle as it accelerated down a slight grade. No longer shuffling or stooped, he seemed happy and, for a moment, free on his way to a day’s work.

Reflecting on this moment, it’s a great illustration of a bicycles ability to give easy moments of freedom and happiness that few other modes of conveyance can. Swimming might be a close second, but it doesn’t weave as seamlessly into the rhythms of daily life. When you travel around a bit, you see that some places have a much more integrated and pervasive bicycle culture than others. Amsterdam or Copenhagen are obviously the rulers of two-wheel transport, but there are many others including the walled renaissance town of Lucca in Tuscany and the most recent addition to my list, Valladolid in the Mexican State of Yucatan.

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