The Wonderful World of the Mercurio Magnum
They may not be his first choice of steed for bicycle touring, but that doesn’t stop Cass from sharing his love for Mexico’s behemoth cargo trikes. Sightings are a bike-cultural highlight of his bikepacking trips around the region, especially when they’re laden with homemade ice cream. Find his ode to the Mercurio Magnum here…
There are a number of silver linings to resisting the siren-like call of the mountainous Sierra Norte, my local bikepacking destination, and keeping to the more subdued terrain of valley floor instead. An abundance of tasty regional food is one – think memelas, Oaxaca’s freshly made corn tortillas, heaped with refried beans, salsa, fillings, and cheese – and the chance to rub shoulders with local riders, aboard all kinds of pedal-powered machines, is another.
And especially, because I can admire all the cargo trikes in circulation.
The majority seem to be made by the Mexican brand Mercurio, the nation’s largest bicycle manufacturer, and sport a bright and eye-catching yellow livery as unmistakable as that of a US school bus. They’re used for all manner of duties, including commerce. My favourites are packed with an enormous cooler of homemade paletas or aguas frescas, their pilots announcing their approach with a comical squeezy horn that can be heard three blocks away, often with a parasol to keep them cool. In the early, it’s like to be fresh tamales, touted by megaphone to the waking population. Equally delightful, there’s also the early evening platanitos dulces sellers and their piping-hot treats, complete with a portable oven and a chimney that whistles shrilly like a passing steam train.
Out in the countryside, Mercurios are a popular choice for farming responsibilities. The barebones Land Rover Defenders of the cargo trike world, they’re often bundled high with freshly cut corn, or lashed with tools. Patinaed and peeling, I never see them locked up. And then there’s the many that are pressed into service for around-town errands. In Campeche, pedal-powered taxis ply the roads; tricitaxi drivers hang out under their canvas awnings, chewing the cud like a group of messengers. And in Oaxaca it would appear that no cargo is too big, because I’ve spotted riders peeking over furniture, as they navigate potholes and restless city streets. Somewhat brazenly, these heavyweight cargo trikes are evenly squeezed through jam-packed and hectic markets (watch out toes), on the busiest of Sundays.
Most are specced with conventional 26-inch wheels and I marvel at how their rims can possibly cope. Granted, some of these behemoths have motorcycle wheels to support their payloads, whilst others still are shrunk down in proportion and run 24-inch or even 20-inch hoops. Regardless, they are omnipresent, ridden by men, women, and children alike, and cost around 6,000 pesos, or $300 USD. When I park up my bike beside them, I can’t but feel self-conscious of the lavish frivolity of my own means of transportation.
Of course, with their single gears and undeniable weight, these machines are best suited to valley riding, or the flat expanse of the Yucatán Peninsula, where they’re more prevalent than pickup trucks in some communities. There, you can see them bouncing along jungle dirt roads, hauling firewood, carrying palm leaves for construction, or taking families to church on a Sunday.
My own history in cargo bikes dates back to an Xtracycle Freeradical that I bolted onto a 1998 Specialized Rockhopper, my first serious touring bike and one I rode from Indonesia to England. I later had the bike resprayed and renamed it the Green Machine, using it for everything from shopping, to trips to the DIY store, to pickup up friends at the train station. In fact, this very bike is still in circulation, on a long-term loan to friends who use it to transport their growing family. After experiencing its potential, I’ve never stopped dreaming of a world full of cargo bikes, which is why I’m always so delighted whenever I come across them on my travels.
Back here in Mexico, people often laugh when I stop and take photos of their wonderful Mercurios. I hope it’s not out of embarrassment, because despite their modest cost, these are the vehicles of the future—if only we would give them a chance. On one occasion, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was deftly piloting her Magnum around dozing street dogs and badly parked cars. She remarked on how many pesos she saves in gas. You do have to eat more memelas, I reminded her, which we both agreed was no bad thing.
For those curious about specs, I have yet to track down the official unladen weight, or even their maximum payload. In my imagination, the first is significant but the second is limitless! But I do know that mudguards come included, as does a coaster brake. In the department stores that sell then, high-tensile steel is mentioned as a selling point, along with the promise of a comfortable saddle. The most common brand is Mercurio and the majority of the machines that ply the valley roads are a particular model: the Triciclo de Trabajo Mercurio Magnum R26, or the Mercurio Magnum, for short. The sales spiel is especially grand. Transporta los productos que requieres y entrega a tiempo tus pedidos con el triciclo Mercurio Magnum! Transport the products you require and deliver your orders on time with the Mercurio Magnum tricycle! Perhaps akin to the difference between an F150 in a V6 and a V8, you can also upgrade to the even musclier Mercurio Titan, which includes burly motorbike tires at the front. Bigger is better, right? I’ll take it!
But in all seriousness, I’m not going to say I haven’t been tempted to invest in one myself. If I do, perhaps I’ll ask Mone Bikes to put together a coaster brake hop-up kit and braze in some brass.
Maybe a triciclo tour of the Yucatán Peninsula is calling?
Make sure to dig into these cargo articles for more load hauling inspiration...
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