Usa La Cleta - The Bike Revolution of Santiago

On the first Tuesday of every month the thundering cars, rattling buses and swerving taxis of Santiago come to a grinding hault as, with clicking gears and ringing bells, hundreds of cyclists take to the streets for the monthly Cicletada.

Plaza Italia
Plaza Italia

A Cicletada or Critical Mass is a bike ride around a town or city with the purpose of raising awareness for cyclists' road rights. Organised by the Movimiento Furiosos Ciclistas, the event has grown in popularity over the past few months. It offers cyclists a chance to congregate and demonstrate that pedal power is better than petrol power. Fold-ups, tandems, fixies, mountain bikes and even a Musicleta (the ingenious combination of a bike, with two enormous speakers attached to the front, blasting everything from cueca to 'Eye of the Tiger') are ridden by the many participants. Their message is simple: Usa la Cleta!

With the purpose of reinventing the bicycle as a sustainable mode of city transport, the Movimiento, a voluntary group of urban cyclists, manifests a strong and popular belief in the need for change, publicising not only the environmental and economic benefits but also symbolising the power of community in questioning the status quo. Their energy and enthusiasm is multiplied with the growing attendance of the Critical Masses. Many participants would agree that the community spirit shared by the hundreds of bike riders whirring down the city streets is just as important as the message they are collectively spreading. Singing, chanting and whooping drown out any irritated motorist's car horn.

Although the heavily polluted air, dodgy roads and even dodgier driving are a little off-putting, the benefits of swapping your Bip! card for a bike are numerous. For a start you can cycle merrily past the growing queues of cranky commuters on the Micro and Metro, the wind in you hair, knowing that you'll be spending half an hour less of your time squashed and crammed into hot, smelly public transport.

Happy Cyclists
Happy Cyclists

Then there's the obvious health benefits (as long as you don't stop too close to the exhaust of a bus and inhale a lung full of greenhouse gasses!). Although surrounded by mountains, central Santiago and the areas around are relatively flat, so you need not fear uphill slogs and five kilometer hill climbs! Cycling through the many city parks and along the few cycle lanes allows for a more relaxed ride, as does pavement cycling (a common sight in the city although with questionable legality).

Finally, becoming a Santiago cyclist means becoming a part of the ever growing community, the vibrancy of which is displayed in the popularity of the Cicletadas.

With the next massive ride taking place on Tuesday 2nd October, the Cicletada Primer Martes shows no sign of losing followers, with riders numbering in the thousands in recent months and a number of future events being planned. As more and more active groups concern themselves with cycling and cyclist road safety, Santiago is steadily becoming over-ridden by two-wheeled activists. Join the masses and get on your bike (but don't forget your helmet!).

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