Cycling in Brazil vs the UK

Posted: October 5, 2012 by Ben Weber in Cycling, English
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Cycling along the canals in northern England – always nice, at least when the weather is good!

Coming from Britain, having learned to cycle up in the Orkney Islands, and cycled a lot around the north-western city of Lancaster, it is certainly a different experience cycling here in Brazil.

From what I remember from those days going around the beautiful country roads to Clitheroe, see in the media, cycling in England can be a dangerous experience – especially when you get on to the narrow back roads where the drivers know them pretty well and drive at ridiculous speeds; animals get in the roads, potholes are around, and when it gets dark… if you have no lights, you will be in trouble. The Guardian reported towards the end of this September that 13 cyclists had been killed on the roads in Britain in that month alone… not a nice thought, really, especially as we will be going back to cycle the length of the country this winter. At the same time, the countryside in the UK can make for lovely journeys, though the temperamental weather definitely increases the challenges.

Going to the maintenance road down to Santos…

Biking in Brazil is something that isn’t the most common sport and is only really taking off here in São Paulo at least. Now the city has got a reasonably good but limited network of devoted cycle paths which are open all week going along the River Pinheiros and a few other seemingly random locations. On Sundays, many of the roads are cut in half from 7am to 4pm for cyclists to stretch their legs along them. You can easily notch up over 100km riding along these lanes. As soon as 4pm comes, however, oh yes, those red cones that divide the roads soon go and the cars once again rule.

Being a relatively new sport in an area where the car dominates also means that cyclists do get very little respect from drivers (but then again, in São Paulo at least, it is pretty much a story of each vehicle-type for itself… motorbikes stick together, as do car drivers and well, bus drivers… they’re another story. It all depends on what kind of mood they were in when they woke up). Cycling either in or out of the city and getting closed off by a car passing and turning right in front of you happens on an alarming basis – riding to Itu this weekend it happened to me twice and Natalia once. You also get drivers who do deliberately set out to startle cyclists by either buzzing loudly as they get close, or getting too close (a motorbike rider going about 80kph got within one inch of Natalia whilst he made a very long and visible curve)… Not nice.

Aside from this, the weather is pretty much dependable. It will either be extremely hot or rainy with little of the winds that we get in the UK – and the heat can really exhaust and drain you, so care is definitely needed not to dehydrate or get sun stroke. In northern England at least, I remember that the hills are generally short but sharp, and there are plenty of them (though of course, there are plenty of flatter regions, especially down in the south/south-east). Here in São Paulo, there are some pretty long and nasty 15%-25% climbs that can be found to really take it out of you. On pretty much all of our 100km rides that leave the city of São Paulo, we have climbed over 2000metres in total, though looking at the routes of similar distances I did in England when I was younger, we didn’t really climb more than 1,200 metres in total over the course. Your legs can easily get tired, that’s for sure.

After living in the city and only journeying to other parts of the region by car or bus, it is also refreshing to escape the urban environment: living here for five years, it was hard to imagine the municipal of São Paulo as anything other than just a concrete mass… the place does, however, have its fair share of surprises that await anyone who wants to explore a bit. Ultimately, just as it is always nice to escape the cities in England, there are parts of São Paulo that I never really thought of as existing, and it is great to discover these parts.

Pic-nic along the Rodoanel highway

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing!! I really feel like I have to go cycling now.. 😀

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