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Beyond Chicagoland

More Thoughts and Images of Biking in Mexico

7:04 PM CDT on July 24, 2019

The central plaza in Tanhuato, Michoacán. Photo: Lynda Lopez

Last spring, after visiting family in the states of Jalisco and Michoacán, Mexico, Lynda Lopez shared some impressions of local cycling as it compares to biking in Chicago. "My biggest takeaway is to always remember so many people bike in ways and patterns we may not acknowledge and may not view as 'cycling culture,'” she wrote. Here are some more thoughts and photographs she collected on the subject during a visit this month.

Coming back from Mexico, I was reflecting on being with my family and also everything I saw and experienced. Part of this entailed thinking about the feeling of calm I experienced, and trying to further unpack the way bikes are integrated into everyday life.

Cycling in Lynda's grandmother's town in Michoacán. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Cycling in Lynda's grandmother's town in Michoacán. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Cycling in Lynda's grandmother's town in Michoacán. Photo: Lynda Lopez

I love riding my bike in Chicago, but it’s not a casual experience. When I decide to ride my bike, I have to mentally prep myself and think about the route I’m going to take. Deciding to bike is a deliberate act to be somewhat rebellious against the car culture that dominates our streets.

Lynda's grandmother's town in Michoacán. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Lynda's grandmother's town in Michoacán. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Lynda's grandmother's town in Michoacán. Photo: Lynda Lopez

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what makes cycling different in my family’s small Mexican towns until talking to a good friend. As we discussed my trip to Mexico and biking, I made a comment about how natural biking seemed to be in my family’s towns. Cyclist doesn’t seem to be a self-identifying label because it’s so embedded in the culture that it’s just normal. My friend noted that we tend to categorize ourselves here. When something is not the norm, we have more of a need to label and classify it. Identifying as a cyclist is a somewhat political act, a sort of move to differentiate yourself in the spectrum of car-centrism.

Biking in Tanhuato. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Biking in Tanhuato. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Biking in Tanhuato. Photo: Lynda Lopez

Hanging out at my grandparents’ town in Michoacán shows me what cycling can look like when it’s so embedded it doesn’t have to be separately defined as cycling culture because it's part of the mainstream culture. Grabbing a bike is the easy option in their town if you have to visit someone or buy something that's a few blocks away and you don’t want to walk. It’s such a low-stress and easy option that you don’t think twice about it. When I decide to do something at home in Chicago, there are multiple steps I need to take in preparation.

Biking in Tanhuato. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Biking in Tanhuato. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Biking in Tanhuato. Photo: Lynda Lopez

There are cars on the road in my grandparents' town, but the streets are so narrow and there are physical barriers like the central plaza (ubiquitous in Mexican towns and cities) and planters that driving fast is not typical. People on bikes are the dominant sight on the streets and car traffic is discouraged by the design and layout of the town. It’s also typical to ride motorbikes in the town, also partly due to the narrow streets.

Motorcycle riders and cyclist in Tanhuato. Photo: John Greenfield
Motorcycle riders and cyclist in Tanhuato. Photo: John Greenfield
Motorcycle riders and cyclist in Tanhuato. Photo: John Greenfield

The relaxed nature of that small Mexican town was further highlighted when I visited family in bigger cities like Queretaro. The ease of biking goes away with the prominence of cars and broad roads. In the neighboring towns in Michoacán, the same ease of biking was also prevalent. When you leave the small towns, it again becomes difficult to bike with ease, but within the towns themselves, it’s an easy option.

I loved sitting with my grandma on the steps of her front door, watching the bike and motorbike traffic go by throughout the day and night. My family members would casually grab one of my grandma’s bikes to go buy fruit from the vendor on the corner or to visit an aunt a few streets away. I would love to come to a point where the ease and casual nature of biking mirrors that of my family’s small Mexican town in Michoacán.

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