Pandemic Pushes Colombians to Get to Work by Bicycle


10 September 2020

Luis Fernando Muete used to go to work on a crowded bus. But since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he has been using his bicycle instead.

The change saves him long waits at a bus station in a poor neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia. It is also less of a health risk for Muete.

"It's better to avoid crowded places," Muete said as he stopped at a traffic light on his way to the city center. "Using a bike is fast and cheaper," he added.

Cycling, or using a bicycle, has long been a popular sport in Colombia. The country is the home of Tour de France winner Egan Bernal. But the pandemic has pushed more Colombians to go to work by bicycle.

Only one city in the country has a subway system. Before the pandemic, most people got to work by bus or by car.

The capital, Bogotá, is a city of eight million people. More than 210,000 coronavirus infections have been reported there. People in the city are quickly turning to bicycles as a way of transportation. In fact, many stores there have run out of bikes. The stores are struggling to import more bicycles.

Bike House is Colombia's second largest bicycle importer. It said that its sales increased by 150 percent in July. The company imported 16,400 bikes in the first six months of 2020. That is 4,000 more than all of last year. It has already run out of some kinds of bikes and is waiting for new shipments from China.

Most bicycles in the world are made in China. But Chinese factories have struggled to keep up with growing demand from Europe and the United States.

"We are probably one of the last places on their list," said Martha Cecilia Sanchez. She is the general manager of Distrito Bike, a Bogota shop that mostly sells the Cannondale brand of bikes. "It used to take four months...to arrive. Now it takes eight months," she said.

The small store has been selling around 30 bikes each weekend during the pandemic. Before, it sold about 15 to 20 each weekend. Sanchez said that recent sales have been "better than the Christmas season."

Across the street, the Nissi bike store said it had experienced a similar increase. It sells road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids and even some very costly bikes for racing. Before the pandemic, the store was selling about 15 bikes a day. Now it sells about 25 a day.

"People are buying them to go to work, but also for pleasure," said sales manager Juan Pablo Garces. He added that it "will help us get cars off the streets."

Commuters, wearing protective masks, ride their bicycles in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Commuters, wearing protective masks, ride their bicycles in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

Local governments in Colombia are pushing for more bicycle use. Bogotá Mayor Claudia Lopez turned car lanes over to bicycles at the start of the pandemic. The government added 85 kilometers to the city's bike paths.

Bogotá was already a Latin American leader in bicycle use before the pandemic began. Last month, 13 percent of all trips in the city were taken on bicycles. That information comes from the municipal government. In February, it was only 10 percent.

It is a small increase, but officials expect bicycle use to increase as restrictions are lifted and more people return to work in offices.

But rising crime rates may make people fearful of buying or using a bike. Police say 1,022 bicycles were stolen in Bogotá in July, almost two times as many as during the same month last year.

Sometimes thieves push riders off their bicycles. The thieves then attack riders with knives and guns.

To make biking safer, the city has asked for everyone to register their bicycles. They have also improved lighting in dangerous areas and increased police presence at places where bicycle stealing has taken place.

Cristian Gutierrez is a salesman at Class Bikes. He said buyers know about the security situation. Most people, he said, are seeking bicycles that sell for $150 to $250. "People don't want to buy an expensive bike and have it stolen," Gutierrez said. "This city is still a bit dangerous."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

bicycle - n . a 2-wheeled vehicle that a person rides by pushing on foot pedals

pandemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly around the world

manager - n. someone who is in charge

hybrid - n. something that is formed by combining two or more things

brand - n. products made by a particular company

pleasure - n. something that causes a feeling of happiness, enjoyment,...

lane - n. part of a road that is marked by painted lines

thief- n. a person who steals something

expensive - adj. costing a lot of money