The right bike to cycle Cuba
How do I find the right bike to cycle Cuba?
You decided to go on a cycling trip through Cuba – very good you will have a lot of fun no matter what you decide on next. There are however a few questions popping up that needs to be answered to go ahead with your planning. Depending on your preferences, route choice and budget you have to decide which type of bike you want to cycle through Cuba and how you will get it to your starting point.
We took quite some time before we started our trip to scout out the options and are happy to share our gathered knowledge with you.
Which type of bike suits a Cuba cycling trip?
First of all, we saw people cycling Cuba on every type of bike you can imagine. So the question of the right bike is more a question of your travel style and route.
We encountered groups on expensive road bikes flying over hills with their own support car right behind them. If your road bike is your only thinkable form of transport for this trip, this is most likely the option you should look into. Several tour operators organise cycling tours for different sized groups.
All accommodation and most meals are pre booked and everything else around your trip is organised for you down to the water bottle you’ll get at every planned pitstop. Immersion into the local culture is though probably the only thing that’s definitely excluded in this form of travel.
Your route choices are limited even though Cuba has surprisingly good road surfaces in some parts, it has way more that would kill your road bike and leave you with nothing but punctured tubes. Choosing your road bike means missing out on some of Cubas most beautiful cycling routes!
Mountain bikes are a very common and safe choice for a cycling trip through Cuba. They are stable, can be used on almost all road surfaces and therefore definitely offer you a lot of freedom putting your route together. There only weakness is the obvious. If the road surface is good they are not the fast option. If you want to do longer distances you will need to plan in long days of cycling and it will cost you more energy than on a light road bike. On sandy or bumpy patches you will be thankful for the grippier wheels though.
Our choice was the all-rounder. We decided to cycle on hybrid bikes since we didn’t want to be limited in route choice nor did we expect to do a lot of technical off-road mountain biking. Hybrid bikes are ready for rougher surfaces but also a stable choice for good roads. They usually come with a rack for panniers and often convenience features like mudguards.
We brought some older but well serviced bikes with us since we decided to sell them in Cuba at the end of our trip and found it to be the perfect choice. We didn’t have any problem with the bikes not even a puncture, which still feels like a miracle considering some of the routes we took. Another advantage was that we weren’t too concerned about scratches and other little damages. Cuban roads can be tough on bikes. Even tougher though are bus transports. We decided to take the bus twice to skip a few less scenic sections of the route and our bikes needed to be half taken apart and where cramped into the luggage compartment of the bus for hours of bumpy roads.
How do I get the bike to Cuba?
Basically there a three options. Bring your bike, rent a bike or buy a in Cuba.
Bring your own bike to cycle Cuba
This is what we choose to do. The pros are clearly that you know what you get if you bring your own bike. If you have a direct flight it might be a relatively hassle-free option. However you will have to fit your bike into a box of some kind. You have the choice between a designated bike box or bag or – what we did – fit it into a cardboard box.
The cardboard box option is especially advisable if you, like us, plan on selling your bike in Cuba at the end of your trip, so you don’t need to pay for the transport of an empty bike box back home.
The big advantage of this option is that the cardboard box will be cheap and easy to get since almost every shop that sells bicycles will have some and give one to you for free as they are throwing them out anyway. You will need a lot of duct tape and some other wrapping materials to make sure your bike arrives in one piece – or more correct – so that all the pieces of your bike will arrive safe. You will need to be ok with taking your bike apart and putting it together. Don’t forget to pack the tools your need!
To buy a designated bike bag or box will make transporting your bike parts – you will of course still need to take it apart – a little bit easier. The box will be more stable and will offer more protection. However this security plus comes with a price. And – in case you want to take your bike back home with you – you will need to find a place to store the bike box while you cruise around. And if you plan on finishing at a location different from your starting point you will need to arrange it to be transferred.
Rent a bike
During our 5 weeks cycling through Cuba we met several cyclists who had rented their bicycle in Cuba. Especially the rates for long term rentals seemed quite reasonable if you have basic bargaining skills. Rentals can nowadays be arranged online in advance and the bikes can be delivered to a different starting location. All the rental providers we know about are in the city of Havana.
On the down side of things it has to be noted that you won’t have a huge range of choices available. Keep in mind that every bike that is for rent in Cuba was at some point brought to Cuba by a private person and sold to the company there, since there is no commercial import of bicycles into Cuba. We did get a lot of positive reviews of the rental bikes from other cyclists we met tough. One place in Havana we can highly recommend is Ha’Bici. The shop which is owned and run by Cuban women is professional, helpful and super friendly. We were lucky to find them when we looked for a spare piece.
Buy a bike in Cuba
It is possible to buy a second hand bike in Cuba and we met people who did and where happy with their purchase. You won’t find a bicycle shop though. Buying a bike is therefore not very likely to happen anywhere but in Havana. You will have to spend time looking and asking around for a suitable one and will probably end up buying one off a rental company and paying more for it than you would at home for a similar bike. So it is only really an option if you plan to spend a very long time cycling around. Selling it after will be easier but it’s doubtful you make profit and it will cost time.