I never expected biking to become my favorite activity in Rio de Janeiro. It wasn’t until I moved to Rio that I realized I hadn’t had the chance to live in a city where biking is encouraged and the right infrastructure exists. About two or three weeks ago my host-mother suggested that I could bike to and from PUC, my host university, every morning and afternoon. I thought it was a fantastic idea (from a social, environmental, and financial perspective, biking is the way to go!) but first I needed to make sure I had a bicycle, a safe path to take, and, of course, the time to do it.
I initially thought about buying a used bicycle. I had seen countless bike racks (bicycle stands) in Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Sul (where I am living,) so I thought buying a used bike was a reasonable plan. I told my host-mother about my plan but she quickly suggested it would be better to subscribe to BikeRio first. Needless to say, I had no idea what she was talking about, so I asked her to explain. BikeRio is a sustainability project led by the city’s Prefeitura (similar to a City Council,) the Itaú Bank, and the bicycle system SAMBA. The project relies on approximately 60 stations with twenty bikes each located throughout Rio’s Zona Sul and some other neighborhoods. BikoRio’s main objective is to provide a low-cost transportation alternative for people who move around these urban neighborhoods. “That’s exactly what I need,” I told my host-mother, and I had no idea that I was about to expand my image of Rio de Janeiro by simply joining a biking program.
Using BikeRio is incredibly simple. You pay a $4.00 monthly fee and gain the right to pick a bike from any station and use it for an hour. After you return to the bike to any station, you can wait fifteen minutes and pick another bike. The project also has an app for iPhone, iPad, etc., where you can check if the closest station to you has any available bikes. And in case you are wondering, every bicycle I have used so far has been in perfect condition.
“Great, I now have a bike,” I thought, but I also needed to find how to safely get to PUC and then home every day. The first days that I biked to my University I took the route that my bus usually takes. At that point, that route was the only one I knew and taking it was quite necessary to avoid getting lost. With time I have found countless ways to get to PUC in the mornings and come to my apartment in the afternoon. However, and I say this without a doubt, the safest and most enjoyable route to take is around the Lagoa (Rio’s lagoon.) The city’s Zona Sul now has several biking paths and lanes that can take you across this part of the city crossing only some major roads. This past Friday and today in the afternoon I went biking without a particular destination, and I reached some very interesting and new places in the neighborhoods surrounding the one where I live.
So I have a bike (well, several) and a safe way to get to and from PUC every day, but do I really have the time? Going by bus to my University saves me a total of 40 minutes per day in comparison to taking a bike. Now, if I were to base my transportation choice purely on how much time it takes out of my day, I would have to go for the bus. However, the benefits I get from biking are definitely greater than what I could get out of those 40 “extra” minutes each day. Those benefits impact my health (both physical and mental, since I have found that biking can clear my mind for a while,) my perception of Rio de Janeiro (you certainly become part of the “biking community,”) my finances (I calculated that I save approximately $68 per month if I take a bike instead of the bus,) and many social and environmental aspects of the city. From a holistic point of view, and as I said in the beginning, biking is the way to go!
I am looking forward to biking beyond Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Sul. I recently met some Brazilian students at PUC who go biking for fun every weekend, so I am truly excited about joining them this coming week. Buying a used bike is still an attractive plan…