James Daley: Cyclotherapy

A A A

Whenever I set foot in a new town, I'm always quick to get to work on finding a bike to rent. If there are none to be found, I put on my running shoes instead – but I still think there's no better way to explore a city or unfamiliar rural setting than on two wheels.

But I bit off more than I could chew last month, when I hunted down bikes in Trinidad, a beautiful town on the south side of Cuba. Although the old cobbled streets of Trinidad mean that anything short of a full-suspension mountain bike make for an incredibly uncomfortable journey – our plan was to head out of town towards the hills and then the beach, on one of the routes from our Bicycling in Cuba guidebook.

Having taken the coach down from Havana, I was impressed to see that the rural roads were in decent condition. And, while the streets of the capital were rammed with mostly 1950s cars, the countryside roads were largely clear – and ideal for cycling. The problem, alas, was not the roads – but the equipment we were given to navigate them with. Like their cars, most bikes in Cuba are ancient.

Many of those on Cuba's streets today date back to the early 1990s when Fidel Castro bought a million bicycles from the Chinese, to take the pressure off his country's creaking transport infrastructure. These bikes were not exactly state of the art at the time – but today, after 15 years of hard service, it's a miracle that most of them are still going.

My hire bike had the most uncomfortable saddle I've ever sat on. By the 12th mile on our ride, I found myself wondering whether the Chinese had invented it as some kind of torture device – designed to slowly grind off the rider's skin. My wife's bike had a more cushioned seat, but no brakes – a technical omission that nearly cost her her life at one junction.

Although our Bicycling in Cuba book was excellent – easy to follow, and full of nicely chosen routes – we did far less cycling in Cuba than we'd planned to, because of the ropey bikes. Back in Havana, the roads seemed dangerous (even for a hardened London cyclist like myself), and after two days of cultivating some painful scars on my bum, we took refuge next to the rooftop pool of a luxury hotel – the NH Parque Central.

Outside Havana, however, like most other tourists, we stayed in locals' houses and paid next to nothing for great food, comfortable beds and generous hospitality every night – perfect pitstops for any touring cyclists.

I'm planning to return to Cuba to cycle round the rest of the island some time soon – it's a beautiful place, and one of the few countries in the world where the supply of cars is restricted. But next time round, I'll be bringing my own bike!

cycling@independent.co.uk

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Recording Engineer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A long established media compan...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Events Business) - Manchester - Urgent!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A teacher of Science is required by this 11...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea