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New generation pedal through Havana, hoping to change stigma of cycling

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Published: 04:06 GMT, Aug 8, 2018 |
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Cycling

Cubans are pedaling hard these days, reviving a bicycle trend in Havana in an effort to counter a struggling public transport system and to change a stigma associated with bicycles during the Special Period.

Once a month, dozens of cyclists meet to take 20-kilometer ride through the capital as part of a project called “Bicicletear”, which started two years ago.

The majority of cyclists are young professionals who see the bikes as an ecological and affordable way of traveling through a city where public transport entails long waits.

30-year-old Cuban Yasser Gonzalez runs Bicicletear. He believes that bicycles could solve many problems for Cubans if they do not evoke feelings of social and economic trauma that arose during the Special Period, a time of economic hardship following the fall of the Soviet Union.

At the time, then-President Fidel Castro distributed thousands of bicycles to the population and encouraged their use.

When the situation improved, many left behind their bicycles for other forms of transport.

Today, a new generation of Cubans is trying to change an image of sacrifice and poverty once associated with the bicycle.

Suley Pena, a 33-year-old masseuse, called it a “healthier way of improving the quality of life.”

Currently, the State only sells bicycles in foreign currency stores with prices too high for most of the population. The infrastructure of cycling paths, parking and repair services that once existed has also disappeared.

But members of Bicicletear hope to change that and cyclist Claudia Boch, wants Cubans to focus on the positive side of bike riding.

“The best thing is to ride a bicycle. You save time, space and you are more free. You are with yourself, you enjoy the city a little more and all the things that happen around you. It is great,” she said.

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