When I flew to Brazil, I knew one of the highlights of the trip would be cycling the length of Ipanema and Copacabana beach.
Both beaches offers views that are nothing short of spectacular. Look around you and you will see plenty of gorgeous Brazilians going about tanning, swimming and drinking Caipirinha. (Or Caipis as we affectionately called them). Look a little further and you will see the two mountains called the Two Brothers.
Similarly to when we were cycling in Vietnam, we decided to rent bikes. As we had amassed a decent sized group of new friends we completely cleared out the shop of all the bikes they had available. It soon emerged that I was a keen cyclist in London and so the shop owner trusted me with his personal bike.
After minor adjustments to the bicycles we travelled up to the lake which sits behind Ipanema. The picture above shows this lake from the Christ the Redeemer monument. True to the relaxed nature of the Rio de Janeiro residents we were soon relaxing in a cafe and drinking Guarana. A refreshing soft drink that I’m told can be bought in London as well.
The entire route around the lake is shared between pedestrians and cyclists and is well maintained. There is plenty of opportunity to stop and relax in the shade with a coconut drink. These are available all over Rio de Janeiro. After buying one for a couple of pounds the stall holder uses a sharp knife to create a hole in the top of them so you can stick a straw in and drink the juice.
Aftewards we travelled across the short strip of land that separates the lake from the sea. Along the entire length of both Copacabana and Ipanema is a segregated two lane cycle path. This is well used by locals and everyone cycling along it was very friendly. A couple of times I heard whistles when people wished to overtake and then as they overtook an “oblegado” which is Portuguese for thank you.
We kept the pace slow to enjoy the surroundings. However, I couldn’t resist racing my new friends at one stage on our mountain bikes. After all there is nothing wrong with a bit of showing off.
After cycling around in 32 degrees heat I was desperate to go for a swim to cool down. We locked up the bikes and ran into the sea Baywatch style! This was the perfect refreshment and we completed the rest of the cycling in our swimming gear.
During the cycling we had a chance to chat about cycling in London. Hiren who joined us on the cycling is also a Londoner and had previously worked for a short while at Halfords. He told me about how difficult it was to move a customer from the cheapest bikes to the slightly more expensive but miles better bikes. I told him about how Halfords made the error of putting the front forks on the wrong way round on one of their cheap bikes in the advert and he couldn’t believe it.
Maxi, who was travelling with Hiren, told me the favourite present she had ever received was a shiny new mountain bike but she had hardly used it for fear of the London streets. I told her it wasn’t as bad as everyone says and that I would give her some lessons back in London.
I also met Julie from France who I got along with really well. I have promised to visit her in Lyon and get her more into cycling.
While in Brazil we also took the chance to do a tour of the Favelas. This is where many of Brazil’s poorest residents live and is central to the drug crime that is so prevalent. We went with a group for reasons of safety. On the first day the tour had to be cancelled due to a special police raid on the Favela we were visiting and gunshots being fired. There was a lot of panic in people’s eyes as they told us not to continue on into the Favela so it was a little unnerving. The second day everything was calm so we were able to walk around undisturbed.
One of the sights we were shown is of the illegal electricity pirating. You can see the electricity pylon in the picture above and how it has been modified to provide free electricity to the residents. We were also told that Favelas are actually one of the safest places to be and the banks inside are the only ones not to have been robbed. This was due to the severity of the punishment by local drug gangs if you are caught committing such a crime.
Overall in Brazil the cycling seems very casual. You will mainly see single speed bikes with plenty of baskets for carrying things. The bike is largely seen as a utility vehicle and the majority of roads seem fairly dangerous for cyclists. Far more so than in the UK. However, some people do seem to be switching to bikes to beat the poor public transport and provisions such as the cycle lanes along Copacabana beach are likely to be central to this transition. If you get the chance to visit Brazil I couldn’t recommend it more and make sure while you are there you do some cycling.
- Chaotic cycling in Vietnam
- Cycling in the most remote part of the UK
- Alastair Humphreys book review – cycling around the world on a tight budget
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.