Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Makes Colombian Cycling So Unique? Part III

I am back in Medellin after two superb weeks in Argentina. Its been a month or so since I wrote about Colombian cycling, so today I am writing the third installment: Support Vehicles. You can read Part I here (The Colombians and Colombia's Road Surfaces) and Part II here (Food and Diet).

Colombian cyclists often arrange a support vehicle for long rides. The support vehicle serves three purposes: 1) to carry spare wheels and fix any mechanical problems, 2) to hand-out food and liquids, and 3) for safety (by trailing us if the traffic is heavy). A support vehicle is just like having a team-car, but without the sponsors' logos. 

If we're a small group (say 3-4) we'll have one motorcycle. With larger groups, say 12 or so, we'll have a motorcycle and at least one SUV. Usually, the driver is an ex-cyclist and bike mechanic. We often have Jorge accompany us (Jorge goes by the nickname 'Sapuca'). Sapuca is a former track-cyclist and very agile on his motorbike.

What I like most about a support vehicle is the convenience. The driver hands out water bottles and food upon request. It saves a lot of time; we don't have to stop every 30-60 minutes at a gas station or shop to replenish the bottles. Plus, its kinda pro to have an SUV pull up alongside the paceline and hear "Senor...Gatorade, Coke Cola, or agua?"

Other times, the driver will leapfrog ahead of us and stand on the side of the road to hand out water bottles.

But there might be a little secret for choosing to ride with support. I won't name any names, but on two occasions, I caught a fellow cyclist getting towed by the support motorbike. Both times, we were nearing the end of a big climb and the cyclists were at their limits. I turned around to see the cyclist with one hand locked onto the motorbike!

As far as I know, support vehicles for non-pros is unique to Colombia. I haven't cycled in every country in the world, but I never saw such a thing in the US, Italy, Spain, France, Basque Country, or New Zealand. (Tour companies are the exception).

As soon as I arrived in Medellin and started meeting local cyclists, they all insisted upon a support vehicle for my long solo rides in rural areas outside Medellin. I can understand the convenience of support, but it doesn't feel right to have a motorized vehicle trailing behind. Rural areas are quiet and peaceful - perfect for a non-motorized vehicle. 

On the other hand, I'm in Colombia. Maybe I should reconsider.


The SUV leapfrogs ahead to hand-out water bottles.

Above and below: we are trailed by the motorbike and SUV.


  1. This is so freaking awesome. Out of interest, how much does it cost to hire their services for a ride?

    1. Hey Matt: $50 per day, max. So, its a great deal when split between a small group. Definitely worthwhile.

  2. Hi Duncan, great report. Are you still in Medellin? I would love to ride my bike with you. Maybe in November or so? All the best from Germany. Btw: What's your email address?