Itaú Bike Challenge II, West to East, Ride

So with some unexpected work cancellations, I found myself with a free Monday morning. With my second Itaú Bike Challenge already planned it was an easy decision to make as to what to do with my morning. My only concern was whether or not I could knock this challenge off in the four hour window I had. As well as the 30km route from west to east, I had to get to and from these points making the entire trip 57kms. I knew I’d be stopping a lot to take photos and that there would be a lot of slow going on backstreets but I went with my usual mantra of “Ride now. Think later.” and set off. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the way in which this adventure would end…

I made great time from home to the most westerly bike station in Berrini feeling fast and light without the usual backpack for work. Once there, I plugged the address of the next bike station at Aclimação park into Google Maps, put on my headphones for turn by turn directions and hit the road.

The most westerly Itaú bike station in São Paulo. #99 Berrini.

It felt strange to be headed back up the cycle path I had just arrived on (Av. Eng. Luis Carlos Berrini) and I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to start Strava so I stopped to do so.

From here to Ibirabuera Park it was all cycle paths which made for a relaxed ride, free from the bustling peak hour traffic…

I entered Ibirapuera through gate 6 and proceeded to race across it, all the while being guided by my soft spoken, Portuguese speaking Google lady. I wouldn’t be stopping here today but it was nice to see so many people here walking, riding, running and skating. It’s not Central Park, New York but it’s a very important space for the city with beautiful trees and nice facilities for exercising, picnicking and entertaining kids. I rate it a must visit. I wouldn’t be stopping here today and so pressed on toward my next bike station in Aclimação Park.

Cruising through Ibirapuera.
An attempt to show some of the shitty road surface. It’s worse than it looks if you are on a road bike descending at 40–50km/h.

Once clear of the park I opted not to get amongst the peak hour traffic but instead used some pedestrian crossings to get myself over to Av. Dr. Dante Pazzanese to begin the climb up towards Ana Rosa Metro Station. As Murphy’s law would have it, the road surface on the climb was quite good but once passed the Metro station and on the decent the surface turned to shit! This aspect of São Paulo really annoys me. Inevitably these poor, patchwork pieces of asphalt pass through residential areas where occupants pay hefty council taxes, some of which are supposed to go toward road maintenance but these roads remain pot holed and poorly repaired. Where does the money go? In a word; corruption.

Before long I was at my first stop; Aclimação Park. It had taken just 40 minutes so an Itaú biker could dock their bike here, explore the park on foot (bike riding prohibited) and then grab another one for the next leg.

Station #138. Parque da Aclimaçao.

This was my first visit to this park so I opted to walk through it (the security guard hastily reminded me as I entered that cycling was prohibited).

It’s a beautiful park with a lake and impressive, Brazilian flora. The locals are lucky to have such an oasis amidst the high density living.

I also spotted a free wifi sign next to ample bike parking…

Facilities for the digital nomad.

So I plugged in station number three into Google Maps and set off. Some of this leg would be familiar to me having ridden pieces on previous adventures but once at the next station, I’d be in unfamiliar territory.

Approaching the 050 with its bright yellow, elevated bus lane.

It was a great day for cycling being overcast and cool and I was enjoying the ride. The turn by turn instructions were working a treat and I hadn’t made a mistake yet. I cruised down Avenida da Independencia towards the 050, a main thorough fair that follows the Tamanduateí river and also features an elevated bus lane. I had been here several times in the past.

After a very brief stint on the slightly terrifying 050, I crossed over the Tamanduateí and under the bus lane to the other side to be greeted with the following sickening sight…

Ouch!

The Volvo’s airbags had all gone off filling the car but the little Chevy looked it may have been a death trap. Dangerous things these cars. In the photo on the right a poor, probably homeless guy wanders through the wreckage carrying his possessions and aluminium cans seemingly unfazed by such a horrific sight. I guess he’s seen worse…

I carried on feeling a bit nauseous for those involved and soon I was crossing a bridge over a wide area of railway tracks. Some of these tracks are still used today but mainly for cargo. The railways of São Paulo form an important part of its history but many of them now lay abandoned and rusting with much of the cargo and passenger traffic moving to the roads.

Beyond this point I was into new territory and pretty soon I was at my third Itaú bike station for the day, #185 Rua Camé, Mooca, which was notably empty.

Empty station and bad-ass bell head.

It had only taken me 33 minutes from Aclimação Park so if you were using an Itaú bike you would certainly have time to look for another station with bikes in order to swap out for another (after waiting 15 minutes that is) as there are plenty in Mooca.

So now I was completely at the mercy of Google Maps and I quickly lost my sense of direction as my navigation lady directed me this way and that. It was quite a relaxing ride and I felt like I was on a guided tour having handed over navigational responsibilities to someone else. Mooca was quite a nice area with a huge recreational centre with cycle paths that I would have liked to have explored. (I saw later on satellite images that it has a huge swimming pool). I was also back on cycle paths for the first time since Ibirapuera so it was super relaxing cycling.

The Mooca Sports and Recreation Centre and cycle paths.

I next crossed another major road, Avenida Salim Farah Maluf on a cool cable bridge into Vila Carrão. Soon after I passed another empty bike station unexpectedly at Praça Silvio Romero.

The cable bridge above Av. Salim Farah Maluf and some makeshift homes in the distance at Praça Silvio Romero.

I pedalled on and passed yet another bike station on Coronel Marques, also empty. It seemed the bikes were in good use out here and there was no shortage of stations.

I was aware that Google Maps was keeping me off main roads as I caught glimpses of heavier trafficked roads as I wound around the back streets. None of what I was seeing could be described as touristy but for me it was really enjoyable to get a feel for these areas.

I made one brief slip up by not paying attention to my guide but I was soon back on track and at my fourth planned bike station stop, #227 Conselheiro Carrão on Rua Evangelica where there was one lonely Itaú bike. It had only taken about forty minutes to reach from the previous station.

It was now only 5kms to the most easterly bike station in São Paulo but I was already worried about the time. I had about an hour and forty five minutes to get there and then sprint back home in order to get my kids from school. With this pressure on, of course the first thing I hit was my least favourite road surface. Cobblestones. Much of São Paulo’s roads were cobblestones in the past and a lot of it has been asphalted over (which makes for a pretty crappy surface over time) but still many parts remain. You literally can’t go much faster than 5km/h on a road bike on this stuff or you risk losing teeth and vital bike components.

I had to just grin and bear it or use the sidewalk whenever I could. It was soon over and I found myself being directed over a pedestrian overpass; a nice feature when using Google Map’s cycling option.

Shortly after I was directed through Vila Matilde station, another thing I wouldn’t have thought of with manual planning.

Once through I looked at the time. I was really under the pump now. I wasn’t sure I could complete the remaining 2kms and get home in time. Should I abandon the challenge for the sake of 2kms? How late could I be? I put my head down and pushed on hard. It was at this point that I noticed some play in my handlebars. WTF? I quickly stopped and tried to tighten the bolts on the stem. They were all tight. In my rushed state I decided to just press on and hope I could get to the bike station then somehow limp home. Big mistake.

Pushing hard up hill my handlebars suddenly came off and pieces of the stem assembly scattered all over the road! Thankfully, I managed to get my feet off the pedals to land on the ground without injury. A car, that had been waiting patiently behind me on the narrow street to pass, pulled along side to see if I was alright. Amazingly, I was. My bike however, wasn’t. The adventure had come to an abrupt end.

I picked up all the pieces (mainly the stem spacers used to adjust handlebar height) and pulled my bike over to the sidewalk to inspect the damage. The steerer tube which attaches to the forks through the front of the frame had completely sheered off! I felt frustrated that this had happened so near to the end but quickly realised what a lucky escape I’d had. I thought back to some of the nice downhills I had been on only half an hour before in Vila Carrão where I had reached speeds of 50km/h plus. Perhaps I had just narrowly escaped serious injury or even death. I also realised my stupidity in not having disassembled the headset immediately after having discovered the movement in it. Had I done that I would have surely discovered the beginning of the crack that lead to the failure and aborted the ride. After having considered all this I felt a kind of nervous happiness wash over me. I was truly a luck SOB.

Now to get home. I opened the Uber app and looked for an Uber Bike. There were none available so I decided to call an Uber Bag; a car usually bigger than an Uber X. Within minutes a sedan pulled up. Luckily the driver was super friendly and understanding and also, a keen cyclist! In no time we had the wheels in the trunk and the frame in the back seat and we were off and I was back in time to get the kids from school.

My super Uber dude and back seat bike.

So the adventure had ended exactly 1km from my destination. Will I do the whole challenge again for the sake of this kilometre? I doubt it, but any future adventures out this way will have to include a stop at the most easterly Itaú bike station just to say I’ve been there.

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