A Week in Mexico City Part 2: People, Routes, and the Sunday Cicloton
If you find yourself traveling through Mexico City – perhaps to ride one of the routes we’ve posted on the site – you might be surprised how a few days of cycling around the capital will enrich your visit to this beautiful and diverse country. Cass shares his recent experiences there, from trying out its bike-share program and savouring car-free Sundays to enjoying local dirt road day rides and a sunrise coffee outside…
As you’ve likely gleaned from the number of stories and routes we’ve posted on the site, we love Mexico and the wealth of dirt road riding that’s to be found here. What’s more – and contrary to expectations – Mexico City is amongst the most bike-friendly metropolises in North America.
Usually, I go out of my way to avoid big cities on a bike trip. But I’m delighted to make an exception for the Distrito Federal, or ‘DF’, thanks to its standout combination of food, art, history, architecture, and most of all, its impressive network of bike paths and vibrant cycling culture.
As a somewhat belated follow-up to Part 1: Makers, Part 2 of my week in Mexico City shares the experience of Coffee Outside a la Mexicana, riding the traffic-free Sunday Ciclotón, tackling a couple of dirt road day rides, and meeting up with other bikepacking enthusiasts.
I know, I haven’t even touched on the 13th-century Aztec temples, the baroque Catedral Metropolitana de México, and the Palacio Nacional, with its Diego Rivera murals. But still, this will at least give you a feel for the city and its surroundings from a cyclist’s perspective.
#coffeeoutside and Chapultepec Park
First things first. Coffee. Thankfully, my week coincided with Mexico City’s monthly coffee outside meetup.
Downside? It meant getting up at the crack of dawn. This group of hardy gravel and mountain bike riders meets at 6:30 a.m., hits a tangle of urban trails by torchlight, then pauses on their whirligig ride for coffee and pastries at sunrise.
The clubhouse/coffee shop/workshop Distrito Fijo Club de Ciclismo organizes a number of rides throughout the week, of which their midweek early morning outing is apparently the most easygoing. And, on the first Wednesday of each month, it includes a morning brew – Coffee Outside, or Café en el Parque. Linking the three sectors of Chapultepec, the largest and oldest city park in Latin America, riders (and coffee enthusiasts) enjoy a couple of hours of woodsy trail riding before heading off to work.
This fantastic park, mostly empty during the week but packed at the weekend, is also home to a number of museums and ever-changing exhibitions, often of a photographic persuasion, be it social or environmental in theme.
I enjoyed two especially – the overwhelmingly vast and fascinating Museo Nacional de Antropología (be sure to check out the Zapotec wing if you’re headed south to ride on one of our Oaxacan routes), and the nearby Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo. Both are houses in stunning buildings and are easy to get to by bike.
There are few better ways of getting to know people than riding bikes and drinking coffee. Attending Mexico City’s coffee outside put me in touch with a number of riders, including Paola Berber. Poli’s a keen bikepacker and is currently putting together a couple of Mexico City overnighters for the site. Read the interview below to learn more about her.
So what got you into cycling, Paola?
I was born in Mexico City. I have a bachelor’s in economics and I’m a communications analyst at an environmental think tank. I’m also a contributor to the Spanish language cycling blog Pedalia, and I’m an adventure cycling – and cycling in general – enthusiast. Bicycles entered a bit late in my life, and that’s because ever since I was a child I was always afraid of cycling. In fact, I bought my first bicycle in 2017, when I was 25 years old. I had just moved to Tijuana, Baja California, to do a master’s in environmental management, and I wanted to go to school by bike.
I realized that riding bikes made me feel good, so I started riding further and longer. Afterwards, I started to ride in the city with local groups. Eventually, I started going to neighboring cities, such as Rosarito, Tecate and Ensenada. I later joined a cross-border cycling group and began riding into San Diego, California.
And how long have you been into bikepacking?
In 2019, I spent more than 10 months cycling with my partner Mike. We shared a passion for bicycles and travel, so we decided to plan a long bike trip together. We bike toured with panniers, our bikes fully loaded with everything that we needed to live on the road for that long. We started out in Paris, France, and from there we headed to the Atlantic coast, then south towards Spain and Portugal, where we crossed the Mediterranean by boat to Morocco, crossed the Mediterranean again, and disembarked in northern Italy. We then cycled to the Balkans and saw a little of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, and finally we arrived in Armenia.
It was on that trip that I fell in love with adventure cycling. Afterwards, I became more aware of bikepacking and it was very appealing because of the lighter setup, so I started traveling with less weight and changed my setup in order to explore more challenging routes.
In Mexico, I have bikepacked around my city, in the State of Mexico, in Hidalgo, Morelos, Puebla, and in Oaxaca. This year, I would like to do a bikepacking trip in the Mayan Peninsula, or maybe a trip to Colombia.
Tell us more about Mexico City’s coffee outside meetup.
It all started when I met José Luis Ramírez, editor of Pedalia, at the beginning of 2021. He invited me to collaborate with him and we met for coffee outside in Chapultepec Park. We kept doing that periodically, and eventually invited more people and others joined in, so that was the beginning of the Wednesday coffee outside tradition.
As José Luis is a member of the Distrito Fijo Cycling Club (DFCC), and they already had a gravel Wednesdays morning ride. We started to co-organize coffee outside every first Wednesday of each month to meet others in the gravel community of Mexico City. Since then, we ride and share and have a good time before going to work every first Wednesday of the month.
Dirt Road Day Rides
Getting to know Paola encouraged me to ride one of the gravel day loops she’s posted to the Spanish-language site Pedalia.cc.
I headed out with Brad Sutton, another coffee outside regular – at least since he and his wife moved from New York to Mexico City. Brad rides a steel Bianchi, studied architecture, and works in furniture design (side note: I’m looking forward to riding his Candela Architecture Tour when I’m next back, which takes in a number of the Spanish-Mexican architect’s work). Brad’s wife is Mexican-American; having always lived in the US, she’s here to write her thesis on contemporary Mexican feminist art.
When you’re in the heart of the city, it’s easy to forget that it’s situated at 2,240 metres (7,350 feet) and surrounded by pine forests, volcanos, and craggy mountains. We chose to try Paola’s Ruta Ajusco-Dinamos route, which connects the Parque Nacional Cumbres with the Parque Nacional Los Dinamos, both of which are popular weekend destinations with cyclists. The loop lies on Mexico City’s rugged doorstep, and while climbing out of the city takes time and perseverance (and a few lungfuls of exhaust fumes), it’s a great example of how much protected forest can be found so close to a city of almost nine million people.
The next morning, Gael Isai Resendiz Ruiz, who I’d met during the same event, offered to show me one of his local rides. So, I peeled myself out of bed once more and followed a bike path to a tangle of singletrack at the other end of the city, scratched into the hills behind the famous Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe (which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is visited by some nine million pilgrims in the days leading up to December 12, when Santa María de Guadalupe is celebrated).
Without Gael and his friends, there’s absolutely no way I would have thought of riding there – and it’s for this very reason that I enjoyed our outing all the more. It was the kind of escapade that follows overgrown and awkward trails that only locals appreciate, savour, and share. Scrappy, steep, on-and-off the bike, we crashed and pushed and smiled. We picked our way past abandoned buildings and shrines. This was prime rough-stuff riding with no fancy bikes in sight (mine excluded), just friends enjoying the simple pleasures of exploring unlikely backyards, in each other’s company. I don’t have the route to hand, but get in touch with Gael, and I’m sure he’d be delighted to have you along.
Later in the week, ever the glutton for punishment, I rolled out with my buddy with Nicolas Legoretta, who makes bikepacking bags under the brand Peregrinus Equipment in nearby Valle del Bravo (on the Trans Mexico Norte Route and a recommended mountain biking destination in its own right).
We settled on a more than 100-kilometre day ride that routed out via the Desierto de Los Leones (another great MTB/enduro centre that’s especially popular at weekends, see Trailforks), climbing all the way up to 3,200 metres and enjoying gorditas for lunch before returning back to the city on the remarkable Ajusco-Parres rails-to-trails bike path. With some fine tuning, this route may well make a good overnighter, so watch this space.
The ciclovia from Parres was an unexpected highlight, and included renovated railway stations, sculptures, and a bizarre cave dedicated to the broken figurines of saints…
But back to the hustle and bustle of the Ciudad de Mexico. If you don’t have your bike with you, or you’d prefer not to worry about locking it up all the time, then sign up with Eco Bici. From what I could see, this bike-sharing progam is incredibly popular and has really helped lift the visibility of cyclists in Mexico City.
I joined for three days at a cost of about $10 (the yearly fee is only $25). Google Maps will show you which Eco Bici centres have bikes available and spots free to park at the end of your ride. Once you pay your fee online, you have access to any of the 6700 bikes and 480 bike stations spread across the centre of the city. Trips are free if you keep them to 45 minutes or less. Just make sure the bikes are properly parked before leaving them – type in the pin you’re given for confirmation, otherwise you could be be hit with a hefty bill.
Incidentally, Google Maps also does a good job at navigating you around the city centre on bike paths – of which there are many – so it may be worth investing in some kind of universal phone mount. That way, you’re not digging into your pocket at every junction.
The Sunday Ciclotón
Part of my time in Mexico City coincided with seeing my son Sage, and there’s no better time to ride with your family than on a Sunday. Each and every week, some 40-50 kilometres of roads are closed to vehicles between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., space that’s reclaimed by cyclists, roller bladers, and pedestrians. It’s a beautiful insight into the way a livable city could (and should) be. Expect a relatively serene pace, so kick back and enjoy all the pop-up events along the way.
There’s a car-free circuit of the university area too – Mario de la Cueva Circuit – that’s known for its architecture, sculptures, and leafy avenues. I wasn’t able to make it on this trip, but intend to check it out next time.
Well, a week isn’t enough time to do justice to Mexico City, so this is hardly an exhaustive list, more of an alternative guide. But still, it would be remiss of me not to mention a few personal favourites. Be sure to swing by Saint, in Hipódromo, for coffee and fancy pastries. If you like tacos, then Taquería Orinoco (Av. Insurgentes Sur 253), with its smashed and fried potatos, should be one of the many taco joints you visit. And art deco and ice cream enthusiasts will want to check out Nevería Roxy, too.
I’ve mentioned a couple of museums within biking range of Roma and La Condesa, the areas where many visitors stay. Also in the easy-to-reach-by-bike category, the Frida Kahlo Museum – aka the Blue House in which she lived – is well worth seeing. It’s home to many of her paintings, her studio, the room in which she was bed-ridden, and her wardrobe, including the elaborate corsets and contraptions that supported her broken spine and pelvis, the result of both polio and being hit by a bus – her shattered body and ever-looming death becoming the inpiration for much of her work.
And, book ahead for Casa Luis Barragán, the home of the acclaimed architect. It’s now a UNESCO heritage site, and the only individual property in Latin America to have achieved such a distinct honor.
Thanks to all those who showed me the sights of the city and shared recommendations of a cycling persuasion, including Rafaela, Gael, Paola, Brad, and Nicolas. Any other places to recommened for visiting bikepackers, especially those that can be reached by bike? Let us know your favourites in the conversation below… and I’ll be sure to check them out next time!
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