The rise of bike culture in São Paulo

São Paulo is becoming more bike-minded. This does not seem surprising, regarding the global trend of urban bike culture as an alternative to car use and public transport, or as a hip subculture. But those who know the city of São Paulo and its inhabitants, will affirm that a revolution is taking place.

Bike lane, painted over the traditional pavement of central São Paulo

Car dominated avenue near Ibirapuera, São Paulo

This city of car lovers and manufacturers, hills and valleys, broad avenues and potholes, is probably one of the most bike-unfriendly environments on the planet. The average driver here has been tormented for years by traffic jams and strings of ´motoboys´ that zigzag their way through traffic as mavericks. For him, two-wheelers are the enemy. Biking may have a promising future in the city, in the light of increasing congestion and air pollution, if only it were a bit safer. I tried to bike to work for a couple of weeks in central São Paulo, but downhill I almost got killed several times, and biking uphill behind a fuming bus or truck equals smoking a pack of cigarettes.

Bike network map of central São Paulo

Over the last decade, a small number of bike lanes was implemented, mainly in parks and in the center of arterial roads. The Minhocão viaduct is a well-known meeting place for bikers. More and more bike events and trips have been organized, especially at night and in the weekends. Recently, the municipality organizes temporary bike routes – called Ciclofaixa, that are slowly becoming a network for recreational biking. Hip bike stores are popping up throughout the central area, as well as bike rental points comparable to those in London or Paris. Dozens of municipal employees with red flags, guarding each crossing of the temporary bike lane, remind us that biking is still not completely safe in the city, but at least it´s possible. Big trucks are increasingly banned to the ring roads, and cars are becoming cleaner. As soon as the smaller, greener roads are incorporated into a permanent bike network, São Paulo could be a great place to ride a bicycle.

Ciclofaixa flagholders on Sunday at Avenida Paulista

Bike rental in central São Paulo, sponsored by Itaú


Recreational biking in Parque Ibirapuera

3 thoughts on “The rise of bike culture in São Paulo

  1. I have been living in SP for the last few months and it is a city that offers many interesting things for the newcomer except the opportunity to cycle. At home in Toronto where I live JM the urban core, I use my bicycle for almost all my inner city transportation needs.
    After arriving here, I immediately realized that road conditions , driver attitudes and lack of road space or designated cycling lanes meant I would have to forgo my preferred mode of transportation. I have noticed cycle shops opening and a few brave souls on the roads but feel sorry for new bike owners with no where to use their bikes except on Sundays and in Ibuerapura Park. It appear to me that they are wasting their money for a trend that has no practicle application in the city in which they live.
    Anyone who has spent any time here knows the road conditions are deplorable. Not only is the cyclist challenged by hostile drivers who have had the constant agrivation of maverick motorcyclist abusing the roads but with pot holes, sudden sharp pavement irregularities and crumbling surfaces.
    Another challenge would be the almost daily downpours that are heavy enough to turn many streets into rapids up to a foot deep in places.
    No point in venturing our for the hour or two that these conditions exist almost daily .

    There are few ways in which SP has disappointed me. The biggest one is the fact that I can not use a bicycle to get around. I hate to be pessimistic but changing driver attitudes and improving cycling road space and fixing the streets don’t seem like issues that will soon become priorities. SP is a city with major social issues and a large and seemingly uncertain percentage of porverty stricken people, so public spending to make cycling available seems unlikely in the near future.

    Pollution concerns don’t seem to be very prominent either. In a city with several million cars on the road ( no one is sure of how many) where gas prices are reasonable and pollution controls on vehicles nonexistent , the impetus is not going to rise out of a concern for air quality I’m afraid. I hope that if and when I return in 10 years , my pessimistic present view may be proven wrong.
    For the cycling Paulistas, keep up the fight- raise awareness and make it a trendy way of being seen to be aware. The effect which would be exhibited by the walked and security obsessed middle class may trickle down to those less privileged.
    All my best-
    The pessimist ..

  2. Dear Marvin,
    I recognize everything you describe. Compared to my home country, The Netherlands, cycling in SP can sometimes be a nightmare. Still I think there is reason to be slightly optimistic. Driver attitudes, for example, to me already seem better than say 10 years ago. And the current improvised bike lanes are hopefully only the starting point of a robust network. But as you say, it will largely depend on the behavior of the Paulistanos themselves, and on public spending on bike infrastructure. In a place where many people spend 4 hours per day in traffic jams, alternatives of this kind would be most welcome, I suppose.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Best regards,

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