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An unpromising security gate opens into a wedge of a courtyard with a tower block view, a giant bicycle fashioned from drainpipes affixed to one high wall. Onwards, a labyrinth of a dozen or more rooms spreadeagles inside and out, into cellar, studio, kitchen, workshop, gallery and so on, full of space and visual surprise: stickers, stencil slogans, decorated wheels resting in bike racks, tiny air plants hanging in cotton webs.

bc1-290Curitiba’s Bicicletaria Cultural was founded in 2011 by Fernando Rosenbaum and Patrícia Valverde, both as an acknowledgement of the growth of cycling in Curitiba and as a focal point around which local riders could coalesce and try to improve their lot. There’s a workshop and bike parking, along with regular talks and discussions on bike-related subjects. The venue is also home to a small bike-hire/bike-tour company and a local campaigning group. However, both Patrícia and Fernando are artists as well as cyclists. While Patrícia admitted to us with a laugh that they’d considered calling the place Look Mum No Hands, the ‘cultural’ part of the name they chose is an appropriate acknowledgement of the varied creative programme they run here every week.

Saturday night’s second birthday party offered a wonderfully haphazard array of diversions. Dutch-style bikes and cycling clothes sat on display at the front; vegetarian food and red wine emerged from a modest kitchen; untutored under-10s were let loose on a drum kit and guitars; the day was bookended by an art launch and a fashion show. Even the music was varied, from the intricate, classically-inspired guitar-and-tape compositions of Angelo Esmanhotto to the more traditional songs of Janaina Fellini. Throughout, a varied crowd – not just cyclists – mixed easily.

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To our eyes, Bicicletaria Cultural carries echoes of the best of European squat culture. In particular, it reminded us a little of a couple of long-lost, everything-goes spots in Amsterdam. However, there’s more purpose here, a grassroots desire from local cyclists to promote riding in the city while also improving the conditions in which they can do it, along with a more contemporary artistic aesthetic and greater variety. Patrícia asked us if we’d found any other venues like theirs on our travels. We haven’t, but we hope we do.

 


 

felipe-290One feature of the events programme at the Bicicletaria Cultural is a series of monthly talks by touring cyclists, As we’re learning, long-distance bike touring is still rare in Brazil, and many of those who ride around this vast country are foreigners. There are exceptions, though, such as 25-year-old photographer and livewire cycling enthusiast Felipe Baenninger. Hailing from São Paulo but currently in Curitiba, where we met him on Saturday night, Felipe has just started a 17,000km odyssey during which he’ll be photographing cyclists and documenting bike culture in towns and cities around the country. For an English introduction to his project, click here and scroll down.

Cicloturismo is also a feature at Bike Sul, an excellent bike store that sits in an anonymous mall a couple of kilometres north of central Curitiba. Alongside the bikes and standard spares on display are panniers, a rare sight in bike shops here; other nods to touring culture dot the cabinets and the walls. Noticing the Rohloff hub on Will’s rear wheel, the owner raised an eyebrow and pulls out a Rohloff wheel of his own from behind the counter. Hen’s teeth are seen more often around here.

As at all the best local bike shops, the simplest question at Bike Sul inspires a long, meandering discussion in which opinions are sought, weighed and measured from everyone within earshot. Our route from Curitiba is the main topic of conversation. Foz do Iguaçu is incredible, runs the consensus, but the ride there isn’t terribly interesting, and, oh, have we considered heading south towards Urubici, perhaps via the coast road and Florianópolis, to ride the extraordinary-looking Serra do Rio do Rastro and the barely-less-impressive Serra do Corvo Branco? We haven’t, but now we are.

from Curitiba, Brazil