Havana Bikes
September 20, 2014 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Bicycling took off in Cuba in the 1990s during a period of oil scarcity, and became an important means of business and daily travel. Since then motor vehicles have returned to prominence, and new bicycle parts are in short supply. A small network of mechanics trades used parts and applies their ingenuity to maintain Cuba's aging fleet.
posted by domnit (5 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by Mblue at 6:32 PM on September 20, 2014

It's not so much that bicycling "took off" as that when the USSR imploded, Cuba stopped getting the huge subsidy every year that had kept the economy at least on life support during the Cold War. (Part of the subsidy was huge shipments of oil.)

They weren't going to be able to import enough oil at free market prices, so as a desperation move they used the last Russian subsidy payment to import a huge number of bicycles.

Things eased up a bit when Hugo Chavez started giving oil to Cuba at extremely cut-rate prices, but Chavez is dead and Venezuala's economy is now on the ropes (because of extreme mismanagement) and any such help from Venezuala won't be lasting much longer, if it hasn't ended already. (Venezuala is now importing oil.)

So Cuba has to maintain all those bicycles. It's that, or walk.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:10 PM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oddly, owing to the embargo in 1962, Cuba has approximately 60,000 classic American cars stll plying the roads. I know Fidel is in a bed somewhere being turned hourly and Raul is nominally in charge. I hope I see the day [and the disposable income] when I can walk, or bike, on a Havanna promenade and make a friend there.
posted by vapidave at 10:14 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cars, bikes. I look forward to reading a colorful piece about how Cuba has been using duct tape and baling wire to keep a collection of vintage 60s dishwashers running for the last 50 years.
posted by Naberius at 10:27 PM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I always thought that it was strange how the US embargo did so much to encourage organic agriculture and sustainable transportation. Bicycles, upcycled cars and mandatory hitchhiking.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:18 AM on September 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

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