If you're an avid cyclist, you may like biking around Cuenca. Then again, you may not.
Although Cuenca's streets are not nearly as congested as Quito's or Guayaquil's (except for El Centro's narrow one-way streets), the drivers' lack of consideration for cyclists (and pedestrians, for that matter!) can make cycling in Cuenca less than enjoyable.
And then there are the traffic circles (also called roundabouts; in Spanish, redondeles). Once you're in a circle, be absolutely certain that you're seen by drivers entering the circle. Most are too busy judging when the flow of cars and trucks and buses will ebb a little so that they can proceed into the circle. They could quite easily miss seeing you entirely.
Jeff used to be a bike courier in downtown Toronto, and even he wouldn't do much riding in El Centro. But he enjoys riding around the areas with wider streets. It reminds him of his younger days, although riding at 8,200 feet is a lot tougher than riding in Toronto!
Because it's a university city, Cuenca has a lot of bike shops. And they sell just about every bike brand available in North America, but typically for more money. They have a variety of sizes, although if you have a 36"-40" inseam, you may not find one tall enough for you.
If you're going to try biking around Cuenca, you'll need a bike with, at the least, front suspension.
A lot of the older roads are made of stones. And many of the newer ones have holes in them, or sewers covers with tire-grabbing grates.
Therefore, Jeff recommends a mountain bike, or a mountain-city hybrid with wider tires. Unless you're going to ride in the Cajas Mountains west of Cuenca, you don't need front and rear disc brakes. Front shocks are a must, and back suspension would be a plus, but it's not needed, unless you're going off-road.
Select a bike that has street tires (ones without the big knobs, or at least one with a riding line of smooth rubber). If you plan on also riding in the Cajas, you may want to buy two sets of tires and change them before you go out and when you get back.
Don't even consider leaving the bike shop without a helmet. There's just too much risk of head injury the way that Ecuadorians drive.
There weren't many privately owned cars in Ecuador before 2000, so most drivers have no more than 12 years of experience.
And many are either timid drivers (the unpredictable ones) or aggressive drivers (the ones who won't give you the right of way even when you're already in the intersection!).
You can find expensive helmets at the bike shops or cheaper ones at stores like Coral.
A pair of gel-filled riding gloves will protect your hands somewhat from the jarring they may suffer on the roads (especially if your bike doesn't have front shocks).
They'll also keep your hands warmer during the cooler months and in the Cajas.
Jeff recommends a mirror for your left handlebar, so that you can see when someone's coming up behind you. Given that most cars won't stop when they want to turn right and will go around you and cut you off, it's best to know what's coming.
Ask for a kickstand as well. It's a low-cost option that will keep your bike looking good much longer.
If your bike has a quick-release seat, you may want to buy two locks.
Buy a coiling cable lock and coil it through the underside of the seat and part of the frame. Use it to lock the back wheel and the seat to the frame.
Then run a long straight cable or a coiling cable through the frame and the front wheel, then around the stationary object.
Another necessity is a heavy-duty lock. You want something long enough to go through both wheels, through the frame at least once, and around a solid object that can't be removed easily (like a lightpost).
A tire repair kit is a must, as well as a hand pump. And one of the tools that allows you to make several different repairs is highly recommended.
If you plan to ride outside the city, be sure you have a water bottle and bottle holder, or a hydration pack, such as those made by CamelBak®.
And, although it's not really a bike accessory, a cell phone is an absolute must. It could be a lifesaver if you're in an accident and need help. Be sure to always have some small bills ($1 or $5) in case you need to take a taxi home.
On a couple of Sunday mornings each month, the police close down a long section of Avenida 12 de Abril for walkers and cyclists. That's a great way to see the buildings sitting above the Tomebamba River, on the barranco (riverbank).
Any road that's four lanes has enough room for drivers to go around you. Don't expect them to give you much room, though.
And biking around Cuenca is a great way to see the city's neighborhoods. Do keep an eye out for dogs, however, as some may run out and bark at you and/or chase you.
This article could paint a picture of doom and gloom befalling anyone who puts a foot on a bike pedal. But biking around Cuenca is something that a growing number of people do every day, most of them Cuencanos.
If you prepare yourself with the right equipment, and keep alert at all times (even when stopped on the side of the road), you'll do alright cycling in Cuenca.
Jeff may see you out there one day.
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I just want to thank you both soooo much for creating this web site. I am originally from Cuenca but moved to New York 11 years ago and have not being back since. My husband and I are planning on visiting Cuenca over the Summer and this web site has helped me a lot.
When I came to the US we still had the "sucre," the bus ride cost 1,000 sucres and a pack of trident gum would cost 3,000 sucres. I am very nervous to go back, but thanks to your web site I now know what to expect.
My husband is American and Captivating Cuenca has taught him a lot about what my great city has to offer, things that I had forgotten about myself! :)
Thank You both so much! I cannot wait to visit Cuenca!!