Ciclovia takes Winnipeg

People pedaled and strolled and hula-hooped their way down Broadway Avenue, basking in the warmth of a late summer Sunday.

On September 13, the thoroughfare’s north side was entirely cordoned off to vehicles, allowing, albeit temporarily, for the bicycle to reign supreme. The occasion was Ciclovia, an event that originated in 1976 in the streets of the Colombian capital of Bogotá, to promote healthy and active living whilst curbing the use of cars.
Though it’s been replicated worldwide, Winnipeg was the first Canadian city ever to host the event.

“It’s been done everywhere from Medellín to Melbourne, from Guadalajara to Poland,” explains Colombian-born Erica Castañeda, “It really took off under Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá.” Peñalosa once said in an interview that “a protected bicycle path is a symbol that shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally as important as one in a $30,000 car.”

Winnipeggers of all ilk streamed down the colourful avenue in the hundreds, partaking in the various activities on display. Buskers filled the air with sounds of accordion, plucked bass chords and guitar. Children bounced off the walls of a gargantuan inflatable tiger, built sandcastles and got their faces painted. Children-at-heart did yoga, sipped organic coffee or perused leaflets at information booths. Street vendors showcased everything from jelly preserves to cowboy hats, used books and jewellery.

Motives for coming varied depending with whom one spoke.
“We love to bike as a family, and this is a great occasion for the little ones to cycle with their grandfather,” says Dave Hall.
“My handlebars were loose” explains Jacquie Pharaoh, “and I was told that this repair guy, the ‘Bike Angel’ they call him, was going around, fixing people’s bikes for free. So my handlebars got fixed! Plus it’s a beautiful day, and everyone’s so friendly. I’ve met three new people already.”
“I just moved to Winnipeg, and wanted to discover the bike community. I love the feeling of biking, it’s usually my choice mode of transport,” tells Elysse Schlein.
“We drank all weekend,” jokes a guilt-ridden partier, “and needed to burn off the calories.”

A two-wheeled variant of classical horseback polo also drew curious onlookers.
“All you need for bike polo is a hard floor hockey ball, plastic mallets, a group of friends on wheels, and you’re set,” says Jens Bauermeister, “We usually play three-on-three. First up to five points wins.”

“Bike polo started on grass and moved onto hard court,” explains Shona Kusyk, a former bike courier and organizer of Monday-night pick-up games at the River Osborne Community Centre. “I first saw it played in Minneapolis, and we’ve been playing it here in Winnipeg for about two years now. Biking is very individualized. Bike polo allows people who love cycling to come together.”

For Dan Moroz, “The sport is part of the bike-courier or ‘alternative cycling’ culture. We have a ball playing. It’s about just hanging out with your friends while doing something physical. And that’s sort of what Ciclovia is all about.”

Perhaps one day, in the not-so-distant future, prepsters everywhere will plead their mothers to unpick the horse under the embroidered polo player on their shirts, and stitch a bicycle in lieu.