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The Five Borough Bicycle Club


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5BBC Benefits - Overseas Edition

David Meltzer | Published on 6/19/2014

Lisbon is not a city designed for cyclists. It is composed of seven hills - steep hills. The streets are primarily cobblestones. And, there are electric trams that run all over the place liberally placing the tracks on the streets. Picture Red Hook or Dumbo at an 8% grade and you get the idea. And if the roads are not crazy enough - Portuguese drivers have the highest motor vehicle fatality rate in Europe. Of course, being a NYC Cyclist, none of this fazed me. So off I went to Bike Iberia for a tour. The tour was advertised as a three hour roll through Lisbon. When I arrived, I discovered that the Tour made our Happy Face Rides look like a quick spin. I gave him a 5BBC card and told him that I am a cyclist - and needed some steady riding. After a discussion with Jorge, the owner of the store, I opted out.

And then we got to talking. When George opened Bike Iberia in the then dodgy Cais do Sodre area, he was told by numerous people that he was insane. But the fortunes of that area of town, and the fortunes of cycling have taken an upturn. Lisbon is still in the process of getting its bike infrastructure together. There are a variety of trails that mostly run along the flat areas along the Tejo river. Although I did see a hearty rider or two in the Alfama district where I am staying. Most of the bikes that I have seen are of the mountain bike variety - no fancy carbon fiber road bikes need apply here. What Lisbon does not have is a bike map. Very soon, that is going to change.

Jorge is in the process of making the bike map on his own. He has spent thousands of Euros from his pocket - without any municipal support or interest. After the tour left, he spread out the prototype map like a proud poppa. He showed me how the map would work. Trails are laid out. Cobble stone streets are noted. Hills are indicated, and like the NYC map - suggested routes are also provided. I showed him my NYC Bike Map App as an example. He was also working on an English translation of the map - and I was enlisted as a proof reader.

At the end of our discussion, he gave me a bike - free of charge - and told me where he thought that I should ride. He called it an "advocate's discount." Jorge added a sturdy lock, threw in a helmet and water, and off I went. I opted for a flat route along the river towards the Vasco da Gama Bridge and beyond. It passed through older industrial areas that reminded me of a waterfront version of Review Avenue. Then, the trail widened at the beautiful Parque de Nacoes area. The trail itself was very well marked with either sharrows, signs or small discs embedded in the ground. Being Lisbon, the surface was a mix of pavement and cobblestones. There were also dirt areas and one or two boardwalk type places. Truck would have felt at home here. When I got to the end of the trail, I turned around and headed back for a further consultation with Jorge.

Cycling and politics is not confined to NYC. It is a world-wide effort, made stronger by men of vision like Jorge. He is literally putting his Euros where he mouth is, and providing a map for cyclists in this city where few would have given cycling a chance.