Havana suffers from a serious mobility problem, which is one of the city’s main urban issues. For starters, due to the car ownership restrictions and sky-high prices, not many Cubans can afford a car. Therefore, Cubans must rely on public transportation and alternative means of getting around the city, which are scarce: public transit (buses, collective taxis) is limited and unreliable, and alternative mobility is almost completely inexistent. As for the cars that do circulate, they are in majoirty extremely old, endangering the roads for pedestrians and causing high level of pollution. Any significant increase in the use of private cars, taking into account the poor state of the roads, would be entirely unsustainable.
However hopeless the situation may seem, we think there is an easy, sustainable and affordable solution: the bicycle! In Cuba, cycling as a way of moving around the city has a huge potential. The terrain is mostly flat and the weather allows us to pedal year around. Ecological in itself, the bicycle is the sustainable solution that our weak economy and suffering city needs.
However, there are two major obstacles. First of all, it is not simple for Cubans to obtain a bike. Due to the weak economy and trade restrictions, it is almost impossible to buy a quality bike in Cuba or the pieces to repair it, and prices surpass Cubans’ means. Secondly, bicycle culture in Cuba was gravely affected by the traumatic experience of the “Special Period” (the economic crisis in the 1990s) and its association to bicycles, which were, at the time, the only available mean of transportation. For many Cubans, bicycles bring back this time, equaling poverty, crisis and necessity. This makes them quite unpopular and stigmatized in urban culture.
Our project aims to tackle both these challenges: making the bicycle more popular as well as more accessible for Cubans. By addressing these issues, we hope to re integrate the bicycle in Havana dwellers’ everyday life and in their city’s panorama.
The bicycle in our story
Since 2015, we have been working to increase the awareness around the benefits of cycling, as well as to make bikes more accessible to Cubans. Starting with monthly group rides around Havana, we founded Bicicletear Havana (BLH), a cycling critical mass. Our aim was to build a community of people with shared environmental awareness, as well to promote more sustainable lifestyle choices. BHL has thus begun to generate a young community of urban cyclists, which later developed into a network of small rental businesses (before there was no possibility of renting a bicycle in Havana). The core idea of our activity lies in the use of income from tourism (from bike rentals and tours for tourists) to support the Cuban cycling community with special discounts on bike rental and free technical support, in order to make cycling available to all regardless of their means.
Currently, we are Citykleta, a locally owned operator of bike tours based in Havana. Motivated by our love for the bicycle and the desire to show a more genuine Havana, Citykleta was founded by Yasser in January 2017. Citykleta regroups young fun-loving hosts who have come together to share Cuba’s culture and history, entertaining guests with quality sightseeing as well as a genuine experience of local life.
What we want to do with bicycles
This experience and functioning network have set us up to further expand our initiatives and develop more ambitious project and events that would strengthen the community. Normally, we run our activities from one of the local emerging bike-shops, who rent us the bikes we need. This, however, is not financially viable for Citykleta and limits our activities. From now on, we would like to run events from our own bike-shops with our own bicycles. This opens a world of possibility: bicycle picnics with electronic music, night rides, bike-yoga events, bicycle-riding lessons for new riders, bicycle repair workshops…
For this we need:
- Our own bike shop/ headquarters: opening our own bike headquarters will make us more easy to find, and create a space for us to develop research, to design communication campaigns, to lead cycling lessons and bike repair workshops, and to store a collection of bicycles that will allow us to run our events autonomously.
- Our own bicycles (10 bicycles for $200/each + 100 transportation): having our own bicycles will help us make our bike events viable and to innovate with new activities like the wanted bike lessons.
- Our own bicycle-repair material (from $300): we will need to provide our bike shop with bike supplies, material and tools to have a good bike-repair shop for the community.
- Develop communication and awareness campaigns about good practices in bicycle use, road safety, culture and lifestyle with bike, tips and events on bikes.
Help us out!