Oli Pritchard shares the joys of getting out of the city and pushing his pedals in the páramo.
I’m generally a hardcore urban cyclist with miles of experience in the legs, but my first love will always be cycling on the road, alone, free, feeling the need for speed, munching up the miles like a hungry, hungry Magdalena hippo steadily ploughing its way through whatever in the world hippopotami eat (probably not plastic balls). Living in Bogotá affords many opportunities to explore some seriously good riding routes. Last issue we looked at why you should ride the city…this issue we’re going to take a look at why you should get the fuck out!
The Andes are awesome. Bogotá, you must have noticed, is blessed with some quite tasty hills dotting the sabana. It might not be Boyacá or Antioquia, but it’s certainly not as flat as a pancake!
There’s a reason why Colombian cyclists are tiny climbers with barrel sized thighs and not tall, rangy triallists. Simply put, with this many mountains and hills, no true cyclist can resist them for long…like they say, we climb because the hills are there. And boy,are they there. The entire east of the city are basically just hills and they start right next to the city proper (the city limits are bizarrely gigantic). Most of Cundinamarca has hills and it’s a short hop to Boyacá- plus of course you can always simply drop off the sabana and try a 2500m return. Textbook.
The Los Patios climb (around category 2-3), up and out towards La Calera, is by far the most popular route out of the city. Every ciclovía day sees dozens of cyclists, serious and seriously bad alike, testing themselves on this 6km drag. It runs directly from Calle 85 all the way to the peaje (tollbooth) at the top. From there you can roll down a nice twisty descent all the way to the Teusacá river, then a short uphill to wonderful views of Acueducto´s own San Rafael reservoir.
After that it’s downhill all the way to La Calera, where you can turn and head back or push on for another little climb out to the Altos de Arepas. On no account consider stopping your wheels in the empty nothing of La Calera.
Eventually this path reaches the Guasca turn, which is where serious schlepping kicks in…get as far as Guasca itself and you’ll have clocked up a good 80km by the time you get home…or push on through the rolls of the Tolimé reservoir past Guatavita and up to Suesca and back…which would make a good 100 plus km, and should test even the most enthusiastic of legs.
The classic, though is to reverse the route and head up the Autopista Norte from around 140, then hang the right turn off towards Sopó, and follow all the way back to La Calera and Bogotá.
This means you should be nice and warmed up by the time you hit the climbs, plus of course they’re separated, rather than having to face the brutality of Los Patios all in one go. However, you can’t easily turn back on this route, so there’s not a lot you can do if you lose your legs part way.
When a man tires of the Andes, he tires of life, says no-one at all. However, Los Patios can get boring and there are better rides to be had, both technically and traffic-wise. There is another, less popular option in the south: jump off the circunvalar at the colegio de some dead ex president or another and the climbing is relentless. For a good 4km you simply go up and up at a double figure gradient. Eventually, when your legs are about to snap, come spectacular views of Monserrate and Bogotá as you round into a valley for a short while.
Hardcore masochists can try the ascent up to the Virgén de Guadalupe. Completing the climb leads you onto the eerie páramo, which is really why you take this route. The Páramo rocks and rolls, weaving through brush and forest, past vultures, who will eye you disconcertingly if you drop the pace, and often into sheer cloud.
Be warned, temperatures can get a bit North European round these parts. Eventually, just past a Colombia ‘86 (what a reference!) arepa stand, comes the descent.-all 2000m of it, winding you down to Choachí.
It’s also possible to head out on the highways. Calle 80 develops into the Autopista Medellín, which is fun for a while but a little on the scary side once you reach the descent. Meanwhile, the NQS will eventually bring you all the way onto the Llanos via Villavicencio. Bear in mind that this also will involve horrific climbing on the way back.
Bogotá is a great place to get drunk on cheap rum in places of ill-repute, but it’s also a great place to take a night off the booze and spend the weekend day tackling Andean peaks, with images of Nairo and Lucho shooting through your brain…well, isn’t this one of the reasons you love cycling? To climb for the sheer masochistic thrill of it? To feel lactic acid burn through your lungs like mustard gas? To experience the joy of reaching the top where you can see the valleys unfolding like a real life Attenborough documentary? To feel the chill air around you as you hurtle down a 80kph descent protected by naught more than a few millimetres of lycra? Your bike, she cries when you leave her in the garage. She wants to see the sights and feel the burn. She is there to be ridden. RIDE HER.