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Rio by bike

Rio de Janeiro by bike!

by Emiel Van Den Boomen

Street art Rio

Maybe it’s because I’m Dutch, but when I am on a bike I am happy! Riding a bike means freedom, invincibility and lots of fun at the same time. We also believe it’s the best way to discover a city.

So when we travel we take every opportunity to rent a bike and start exploring. Most of the times we do it ourselves (grab a city map somewhere and just go!), but sometimes we join a guided tour. Some cities are just too big to discover on your own. One of them is Rio de Janeiro.

View from sugar loaf mountain

We went on a tour with Baja Bikes, an enthousiastic company offering guided bike tours and city walks in 32 cities! Including Rio de Janeiro.

Biking streets of Rio

Discovering Rio de Janeiro by bike

It’s winter in Europe. But in Rio I feel the sun burning on my skin. Heaven. While cycling I can hear the sound of kids having fun on the beach. Copacabana. Ipanema. Waves slowly rolling in; that lovely, reoccurring sound which is so relaxing.

We pass joggers with suntanned bodies and are jealous of their stamina in this heat. While we move into the city, passing the Copacabana, a gentle breeze from the sea relieves us from the heat a bit. Rio by bike. Fabulous.

Traffic on bike lane in Rio

First stop: Copacabana

I am traveling with a very special and unique group: I joined my parents and my sister on a family trip to Brasil. In Brasil we traveled to beautiful but lesser known places (more about that elsewhere on this blog, just click here), but we started in the world-famous city of Rio de Janeiro. On a bike.

With bikes on beach Rio

We start on the Copacabana beach and boulevard, the first stop during our Rio de Janeiro bicycle tour.

Let’s stop for a minute!” Our guide is a Dutchman, Jan Willem Zeldenrust. Why were we not surprised when we met our guide at 9am in the morning…it just had to be a Dutchman starting a business of guided bike tours in Rio!

It’s a Sunday. Great thing about Sundays is that busses and cars are banned from the Copacabana. Awesome! People walking, jogging, biking and just having a good time.

Biking Copacabana

Being a freelance journalist Jan Willem explains about the history of Rio and specifically the Copacabana. How the Copacabana was once nothing more than a forgotten beach behind some mountains. Look at what is has development in to now! It is without a doubt the most famous beach in the world, but there are other beaches far more beautiful… I will show you later on in this post.

The tour with Baja Bikes will show you the highlights of Rio with regular stops, allowing ample of time to take pictures. Jan Willem is a citizen of Rio and he knows where to get a good snack or buy cold drinks against local prices.

Crossing the streets with bikes in Rio

Before we left, some people asked me whether Rio would be safe enough on a bike. Well, it currently has 300 kilometers of bicycle paths. That’s what I call surprising! And this will further increase to 450 kilometers in the coming years. Great news for bike lovers!

Rio by bike

The tour crosses multiple neighborhoods. From the Copacabana you will ride through the neighborhoods of Urca, Botafogo and Lagoa before ending at the beach of Ipanema…

Second stop: Urca and the Red Beach

Next stop after Copacabana is Praia Vermelha (Red Beach). This beach is part of the Urca neighborhood and close to one of the most popular attractions in Rio: the Sugarloaf mountain.

The Sugerloaf Mountain offers you the best views in the world. On your bike you will pass the cable car station that takes tourists up the mountain. You have to return later after your tour if you want to go up the mountain yourself. Such a visit can take 1-2 hours and does not fit into the biking tour logically.

Cable car up to Sugar Loaf

Praia Vermelha is what we think the most beautiful beach in Rio; a wonderfully scenic setting. It doesn’t get much tourist traffic, that is good news. It is still strange that so many visitors overlook this place. One of the best times to visit is when the sun goes down. At sunset, the coarse sand of this beach takes on a reddish colour.

View of Sugar Loaf from the beach

If you have more time to spend, make sure to visit more of the Urca neighborhood on the peninsula.

Selling pineapples from a truck

Third stop: Botafogo

From Sugarloaf mountain we passed the area of Botafogo. An upper middle class community where you will find splendid examples of colonial architecture. The area has a nice history and a good reputation (as proven by the increasing real estate prices).

On the streets of Rio

Unfortunately we were cycling on a Sunday morning, which resulted in many shops being closed. It was nice to experience the quiet Sunday morning roads, but next time we will try to capture more of the daily life of the Botafogo Carioca’s (inhabitants of Rio) by choosing another day.

Great thing is that (even on Sundays) you will find small bicycle repair shops along the way. So don’t worry about flat tires!

Bicycle repair shop Rio

Fourth stop: Lagoa

This neighborhood is a very popular recreation area, occupied by parks and of course the biggest lake of Rio: Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. There is a bike path around the lake and you watch people, listen to music or just enjoy the lake with mountains scenery. I felt it to have a bit of New York’s Central Park…

Lake in Rio de Janeiro

The lake is not for swimming though. Very polluted. Ever since the 1980s attention has focused on cleaning up the lake, but there is still much work to be done.

When you cycle around the lake you can see the statue of Christ the Redeemer (Corcovado) on top of one of the mountains. Weather permitting.
Great to see that statue from below, but visiting it high up the mountain is a must when in Rio. Again not part of the tour, but it’s easy to take a taxi that will bring you to the Trem do Corcovado, a train that will take you directly to the base of the statue. Views from here are the best in the world….

Christ de redeemer statue

View of bay Rio De Janeiro

Last stop: Ipanema

The tour starts and ends on a beach. Ipanema has become the preferred choice over Copacabana for many visitors and locals alike. The beach is the place where it all happens in Rio…(even when it’s a bit cloudy!)

On a bike near Ipanema beach

The tour ends around 1pm, so it’s time for lunch! Great tip is to head to the Fort Copacabana at the south end of the beach (actually right next to the starting point of the tour). The fort is a military base but open for public and offers awesome views on the Copacabana.

Brasil national flag

Baja Bikes

Booking with Baja Bikes is easy and trouble-free. Baja Bikes offers various tours in all the cities they cover. In Rio the tours are being guided by a local agency called Rio by Bike.
The booking confirmation told us to arrive at the starting point 15 minutes before start of the tour. The starting point was a bike shop, but that one was closed until 9am. So we had some troubles finding the right people and our bikes.
Great thing about Dutch tour guides however is that you recognize these tall guys from a distance! So after some searching we identified our guide and off we went! I guess life in Rio is not really about following the clock….

This tour was offered to us by Baja Bikes. This post expresses my own opinions.

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Farnoosh March 1, 2014 - 05:34

What a comprehensive report on Brazil and yes it’s because you are Dutch 😉 Just kidding – riding a bike is such a great reminder of being a kid and I can’t wait to ride some in Amsterdam. I love how much work you put into your blogs, keep them up @vandenboomen:disqus 🙂

Emiel van den Boomen March 1, 2014 - 13:16

Thanks for your kind words Farnoosh! I’m sure you will ride a bike when in Amsterdam, although on Kings Day it will be very difficult with all these people celebrating on the streets…. 🙂 I am so much looking forward to end of April!

Andrew Wyatt February 13, 2014 - 09:32

We have been talking recently about where we want to visit in South America, Brazil and Rio especially come high up on our list! We would love to do a bike tour too. 🙂

Emiel van den Boomen February 15, 2014 - 20:04

Thanks Andrew and Rio indeed should be high on your list! The country is huge, so you might have to do some serious planning 🙂

Heidi Wagoner February 11, 2014 - 09:32

Oh this looks like a great time. We love to ride bikes too.

Pedro Weber Pereira Lemos February 11, 2014 - 03:29

How nice to see your enthusiasm for Brazil, you had the opportunity to know Brazil better than some Brazilians, obviously the sight of a tourist is not like the sight of the brazilians, but as I know you can capture the essence of people, you could clearly convey what you really see here.
Your work is improving with each issue.
I am waiting for new stories and interesting pictures like this.
Follow the act of traveling 😉
Thank you Emiel!

Emiel van den Boomen February 12, 2014 - 21:41

Thank you for your kind words Pedro, very much appreciated! I do realize that the trip to Brazil showed us the real Brazil (thank you for that) and I am indeed looking forward to writing about that.


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