Andy Villalba, a tattooed and scrawny bicycle mechanic in Colombia’s capital, has lengthy been sensible to the hazards of biking in such a chaotic metropolis. Now, amid a growth in each biking and bike theft, he’s giving workshops in street security and self-defence.
“Welcome to Bogotá,” stated Villalba, who has misplaced depend of the variety of occasions he has been threatened for his bicycle. “The biking capital of loss of life.”
Biking in Colombia is flourishing. As in different cities world wide, the pandemic has prompted many commuters to forgo taxis or buses, and bike use is up 40% since final yr. Greater than 100km of motorcycle paths had been laid in Bogotá through the lockdown.
In the meantime, skilled biking has confirmed to be the nation’s most profitable sport: elite riders have received medals at excursions throughout Europe and final yr Egan Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour de France.
However as extra individuals step into the saddle, bicycle thieves and homicidal drivers are forcing them to combat again with self-defence courses and weapons.
“The best use of violence is to keep away from a bodily confrontation, but when it involves it, the D-lock is your greatest good friend,” stated Villalba, 33, at a latest workshop. “Maintain that in a single hand and with the opposite use the body of the bike as a defend.”
Villalba additionally advises cyclists to construct a community of fellow cyclists, keep away from sluggish bike paths at night time, and to cowl any costly branding on their bikes with stickers.
Although Bogotá has significantly reduced violent crime over the past two decades, robberies are nonetheless a each day actuality. From January to September this yr, 8,023 instances of bicycle theft have been reported, up 36% on the identical interval the earlier yr.
Some riders have taken to carrying baseball bats and extendable batons to guard themselves. “Carrying bats and weapons is critical in among the rougher neighbourhoods on the sting of the town,” stated Jaime Mercho, an fanatic. “However D-locks and chains are simply nearly as good.”
Cyclists throughout the nation united in outrage this month after José Antonio Duarte, a 50-year-old safety guard, was killed by a van driver whereas biking over a bridge north of Bogotá. Footage of the incident went viral, displaying the van working straight into Duarte, flipping him over the railing to fall 4.5 metres, touchdown on his head.
“Do me a fucking favour,” tweeted Bernal, when he posted the video. “How simple it’s to finish somebody’s life … I hope there’s justice.”
The native governor promised a radical investigation, although many cyclists stated they had been unsurprised by the incident.
Abdon Bermúdez, got here to Colombia 4 years in the past from Venezuela, and works as a bicycle messenger. “My bike is my technique of transport and work,” he stated. “And I see on a regular basis that drivers don’t respect cyclists – they don’t care that we now have as a lot of a proper to be on the street as they do.”
A standard grievance of cyclists is the dearth of consideration from different street customers. In Bogotá, drivers routinely neglect to make use of indicators, and all street customers run pink lights. A legislation handed in 2016 gave cyclists extra rights on the street, although motorists usually honk at riders of their lane.
Sandy Millares runs a small bike messaging firm in Bogotá, protecting dozens of miles a day throughout the town.
Throughout her 5 years as a courier, Millares has seen all of it. “Individuals have used their automobiles to drive into me, motorcyclists have run their arms over me as they go, and I’ve had bikes stolen,” the 30-year-old stated, taking a break after a supply.
“I like my job however I do know it’s harmful,” she stated. “And I like my metropolis, however I do know there’s sure neighbourhoods and routes that I can’t go to – as a bicycle owner and as a girl.”