Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Alan Malarkey.
It must be the most cycling friendly city in South America. Medellin is situated at 1,600 meters in a deep valley running North and South in the northern Andes and in the green and hilly department of Antioquia.
It is surrounded on three sides by hills, some occupied by high-rise luxury apartments but in greater part by the poorer ‘barrios’ such as Comuna 13 where once Pablo Escobar once meted out favors and rough justice.
His reign was fueled by the first Colombian multi-national, otherwise known as the drug cartel, Oficina de Envigado.
Medellin was once dubbed the murder capital of South America and was fraught with drug gangs and political tensions between rebels and paramilitary.
It is now much safer with a developing infrastructure and commerce, known as a city of innovation and an unparalleled cycling destination.
My kind of cycling is predominately road cycling and my usual aim is to leave the city and get out into the countryside and fresh air, covering between 50 and 80 miles.
I enjoy mountain biking and there is certainly an interest in back trails and downhill here, but I haven’t explored it.
When asked what the security situation is like cycling in Colombia, I can truthfully report that it hasn’t been a problem.
Cyclists here have reached a critical mass and are revered locally and nationally, probably only second to football; that said it is probably prudent to keep to the better known cycling routes.
These are generally populated by fully lycra-clad enthusiasts, mostly with high specification American bikes bought locally from the brand outlet shops like Specialized and Trek.
You will see pro and semi-pro teams out on the hills and people of all ages, more men than women although there are some particularly strong female cyclists and teams.
I usually cycle with friends. Los Marielas is a club of around 40 very friendly and welcoming cyclists sponsored by a local beauty school.
For me, at least, there have been no security incidents during nearly seven months on the roads in and around Medellín.
The other voiced concern is about road safety and different traffic and driving conditions.
I would describe cycling in Medellín as moderately challenging but in some ways easier than my home city of London.
The roads are generally in good condition, and drivers, unlike some in the UK, have few prejudices towards cyclist. However they do drive fast, quite assertively and use their horns a lot.
Motorbikes ‘motos’ are more of a problem and they sometimes make risky right turn departures from main roads cutting in front of the flow of traffic – this requires attention and defensive signaling to prevent their bad behavior.
Rush hours are busy and best avoided – we often depart at 6 AM. Buses and taxis are unpredictable and will pull over unexpectedly but once you understand this you can take precautions.
On the plus side I have not had one shouting match with a driver and other cyclists are friendly and welcoming, usually with a whistled greeting as they pass by on the road.
The Cycling Experience
The overriding cycling experience in Medellin is one of hills. If you are a sports cyclist and don’t like climbing this isn’t for you.
There are five main exits from the city and all but one of them necessitate a climb of nine miles. Typically at an average gradient of six to eight percent, but in one case (Escobero), much steeper.
The most popular ride is to Alto de Las Palmas, a well ridden route, for me a demanding one hour and twenty minutes to the top.
Just over the brow, the reward is one of the best local restaurants where breakfast is served from open wood-fired grills on bare wooden tables hewn from huge tree trunks.
I usually have a modest pan de queso and cafe con leche, baked cheese rolls with milky coffee from a wood-burning oven, but locals might opt for the Colombian equivalent of a full English breakfast called Bandeja Paisa, which is composed of meaty blood sausage, crispy pork belly, egg and rice accompanied by agua panela, a drink made from sugar cane.
Mountain Biking, Stunt Cycling and BMX
As well as road cycling there is a lot of mountain biking, an accessible to all open air velodrome and a one and a half kilometer cycle practice track, the latter consisting of daily training from 6 AM and weekly league races.
Stunt cycling and BMX is a speciality and the facilities are excellent. On Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings, the city has road closures for cyclists called La Ciclovia opening 11 miles of highway and some inner-city roads to car-free access for all.
There are an increasing number of cycle paths and the city has a cycle loan scheme.
Notable Colombian Cyclists
Cycling is becoming evermore popular in a city that has been home of some of the defining stages of the South American Pro Tour circuit.
Current local heroes include Rigoberto Uran of Omega Pharma Quickstep and Mariana Pajon, world champion BMX rider.
Back in the day it was Martin ‘Cochise’ Rodriguez who broke the Hour Record in Mexico in 1970 and was and accomplished Grand Tour stage racer – he still rides locally and is an exuberant character.
Further afield from Medellin are some iconic rides and climbs, the longest climb of 90km, La Linea dwarfs the great climbs of Europe and the punishing Las Letras, 28km with some 14% sections, each ride taking you to an oxygen starved 3,000 meters plus.
Cycling in Colombia is worthy of serious consideration – for the road and club cyclists seeking new challenges and with a head for heights and spirit of adventure it can be a demanding but rewarding cultural and sporting experience.
As yet, as far as I know, there are no cycling holidays in Colombia but it can only be a matter of time.
I am back in the country between February and the end of April 2014, avoiding the UK winter and on my bike – I will be participating in a huge 100 mile 11,000 feet Gran Fondo event, La Ruta de Colombia on March 23.
I am happy to assist any cyclists attracted to this excellent destination – it is so good, I can’t really keep it to myself, can I?
About the Author: Alan Malarkey is a member of the Addiscombe Cycling Club and can be reached via email at email@example.com
Great post Alan, thank you! My wife and I will be visiting in April, I wonder if you could share your Salsa experiences too? I know you are accomplished; we are definitely not! Can you recommend a club for middle aged novices? The hipsters who write this blog are out of our league 🙂 Thanks, Dave
Hi, not sure how you surmise my dancing prowess, must be legendary (not). I wrote this a while ago. http://malarkeyenperu.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/salsa-in-medellin.html To be honest I don’t really like clubbing solo – In London I go out with dancing friends and enjoy a social dance but here I mostly take advantage of reasonably priced lessons. I am learning Porro which is a dance style based on cumbia and more evenly distributed across the age range; you can find schools that specialise and have gatherings of students. As a couple you can go to any of the clubs and not feel too out of place and David in Medellin Living covers these including El Suave which I intend to check out. There are some free lessons around and it would be easier to describe these personally, give me a call when you arrive, 3137575480, we can have coffee. I am here until end of April, good wishes, Alan
Thanks Alan! I read your salsa post awhile back, it was very informative, so I added a link to your post in my blog: http://southernboulder.com/2014/01/06/salsa-dancing-for-dorks/
What are your thoughts as a way to commute? That’s seems to up the ante with so much traffic on the road and agressive motorcycles but when I move there, I won’t have a car or a motorbike.
It kind of depends on the route and time of day. Certainly many do but not so many as in London for example – many more motos. There are some cycle lanes but they can be tedious with walkers. Mostly you can find back roads which are quieter but if you need to cross the river you will encounter traffic – There are some fierce hills, for example in Envigado. let me know where to where and I can comment better, good luck
I agree w/Alan: Cycling is a special experience in Colombia!
While the inner city traffic is demanding with a lot of unpredicatable and weird maneuvers, to leave the city on an early Sunday morning is a special treat. It must not be the steep climb of Las Palmas, although very rewarding, especially if you continue and proceed to do the “Vuelta Oriente”, the Eastern Circle via the International Airport and Guarne.
However if you head north to Barbosa, you find an excellent road, little traffic and just a few elevations. Going to Caldas in the South is a nice trip as well, not too demanding. And then there is, of course, the “Vuelta Occidente”.
Leave the city into the western direction heading to Santa Fe de Antioquia, but go on straight direction to San Pedro, cut across the altiplanos and head down the dirt road San Jeronimo (needless to mention that you need a mountain bike for this).
Six km before the city you stop for the night at the Hostel la Finca/Cultures United -> https://www.facebook.com/HostalLaFinca, relax in the pool and stay for the night.
Next morning you head all the way down and return to Medellin via “la carretera vieja” — not the new one with the tunnel. Altogether a unique experience, trip altogether about 130 km, each part roundabout six hours. You ascend from 1500 m to 2500, descend to 1300 (hostel), 700 (San Jeronimo) and 2600 (Bocaron on the way back before you descend again to Medellin).
If you have more than a weekend, extend your trip and make another circle. Form the hostel to Sopetran, from there to the river Cauca and across it via the “puente Occidente”, sit down at the plaza of Santa Fe, continue to San Jeronimo and stay another night at the hostel. About 50 km and another 6 hrs.
By the way: A good place for salsa and to start is the Hostel Wandering Paisa –> http://www.wanderingpaisahostel.com/.
HAPPY RIDING & HAPPY DANCING!
Thanks for you additions, yes there are a variety of interesting routes and types of terrain. I sometimes wish I had a mountain bike here as well as there seems to be a lot of off road cyclists particularly on route to Caldas, good wishes, Alan
Thank you for your kind comments and thanks to David for the opportunity to post in this excellent Blog, Chapeau!
Great information. Thanks.
I have become very interested in cycling the roads in and around Medellin.
Could you recommend a mid priced (US$65-80/nt) hotel that is bike friendly and situated so as to make it easy to ride without a lot of traffic from the get go?
Also, are there bike rentals available? Good quality road bikes, that is?
You are welcome to use my email in case I don’t return to this site.
Thanks in advance.
My wife is from Manizales and we are flying down through Medellin to see her family for Christmas. It would be a dream to get a few days of cycling in while I’m there. Do you know of any club rides around Manizales or Medellin that wouldn’t mind me tagging along, and/or a place I can rent a higher end bike?
Thanks for your help,
Bike house may rent you a bike. You can try hanging out at El aereoparque track and talking to the guys there about weekend rides. Arrive by 7pm. If you see a Mariela shirt tell them you know me and ask to join a Sunday and occasionally Saturday ride. Good luck. Alan
I am from Belgium and arrived in Medellin with my road bike.
I would like to bike up the mountains with other people,
and Los Marielos seem like a perfect fit.
Do you think I can join the group,
if so when is the next ride,
or can you put me in contact with the responsible people?
Much appreciated Alan.
i have recently learnt that BikeHouse, one of the main cycle shops is prepared to offer high end road bikes for rent. May be worth investigating.
Great post Alan, thank you. I am arriving/departing Medellin for a 10 day cycle tour on a Hybrid, looking at around 50-70miles daily. I enjoy steep mountain challenges and quiet villages. Any suggestions what direction I should head off to please to complete a big loop? thanks in advance….
I Can’t give you an exact route but have a look at the general direction of Caldas, to titiribi, then Bolombolo, on towards jardin but there are som other villages around there, I think Grecia. From Jardin retrace to Bolombolo and cut across to la pintada I believe via venicia then back towards alto Miinas. You could also explore further in the opposite direction from la pintada.. Hope this helps. Sorry I don’t have a good map but you can Skype me at alanmalarkey . Hav fun
Fantastic!, thank you so much for the info it`s greatly appreciated
Anyone find a road bike rental place in Medellin? Have emailed Bikehouse but they aren’t having it!
I may be able to help. Find me on Facebook. A
Great post, thank you! My wife and I will be visiting in Medellin, Colombia
OK. let me know if I can help with anything – thanks for the nice comment, Alan