These Women Bike Alongside the Boys in the Mean Streets of Mexico City

Mexico City–infamous for its maddening traffic–is becoming an unlikely cycling hub. From blocked-off cycle lanes along main avenues, to fixies in every shade of neon you could ever want, to public rent-a-bike schemes, and even critical mass groups, this city is moving on two wheels more than ever.

But there’s still a long way to go before cyclists are safe and respected on these pothole-ridden streets among drivers more suited to bumper cars. And for women it’s even tougher to feel confident on a bike. They have the added hurdle of wading through Mexico’s macho culture to prove they can handle a bike, and must then ignore the ubiquitous and sometimes intimidating cat-calling on the streets.

Enter Laura Bustos Endoqui: A woman obsessed with bikes and improving cycling for other women in Mexico City. We caught up with her at her makeshift bike school, which is set up every Sunday on Reforma, the city’s main avenue. She dedicates her Sunday mornings to teach mainly 20-to-35-year-old women how to cycle safely and assertively. Some of Bustos’ students have never been on a bike before.

“In Mexico and Latin America, which are still very macho, women are told they shouldn’t get on a bike because they’ll fall off or hurt themselves,” Bustos said. “So women have this idea that they’re fragile and they can’t do things.”

Other students complain their dads or boyfriends were too rough and impatient while trying to teach them, not understanding that women tend to be more physically cautious. To combat those problems, she takes her students step-by-step from mounting a bike for the first time to guiding them through heavy traffic until they can maneuver smoothly. Bustos also holds hands-on workshops for basic bike maintenance and mechanics to show her students they really can fix things on their own and become more self-sufficient.

In just a couple of months, one of her star students, Leslie Garcia Arzate, went from having never ridden a bike and being afraid to pedal to using the city rent-a-bike service to get around. When we met up with her at the school, she was polishing up on her signaling techniques in preparation for her first group night ride. Paseo de Todos (A Ride for All) is the city’s largest gathering of cyclists. Their monthly themed rides see thousands of chilangos on two wheels take over the streets in wacky costumes. We got to see Laura guide Leslie along as they joined thousands of Mexicans pedaling around in colorful Lucha Libre costumes. These group events help promote cycling and cyclists’ rights and, as Bustos said, “make[s] you part of a cycling community, and that’s important, because you realize you’re not alone.”