Cycling in Costa Rica

I guess nowadays most countries promote cycling, and are eager to tell that there is excellent cycling to be had inside the borders. Costa Rica can be named as one of such countries. But is it really the case?

One of the first things I noticed is that there are a lot of bike shops here, ranging from normal bike shops to fully equipped shops that specialise in the top segments of racing and mountain biking.

On the roads, especially in “the valley” (the area around the capital San Jose) a lot of road bikers can be seen, especially in the weekends. So, there is a biking culture similar to that in Europe. But this is still Centro America. Typically, when cyclists greet each other, they use a high pitch whistle that I (not yet) have mastered. I just nod or gesture, but it works anyway. On the road, you can expect a lot of motorized traffic, potholes and missing sewage covers that expose holes in the ground big enough to swallow you with bike and all. And, although there are a lot of signs to urge the motorists to respect the cyclists (and pass them at a distance of 1.5 meters) they will rarely do so. The roads just aren’t wide enough. And on top of that a lot of drivers are distracted by their mobile phones. Statistics show hat walking and cycling are about as dangerous as it gets, here in Costa Rica. Already in 2016 initiatives of roadway respect for cyclists ware started. I am not sure if it paid off in the mean time, but I survived cycling the roads anyway. During day time. Riding in the darkness is a sure way to get hurt in my opinion.

I have been in Costa Rica for a longer time and had the opportunity to do some cycling across the country. As most readers will know, I am an avid mountain biker, and usually ride cross country. I guess it could be compared to the nowadays term “gravelling”: riding (roaming) around using natural trails and tracks. But costa Rica is mostly privatised, which means that there is not so much “road” left besides the main roads. And then it becomes a bit more complicated. Road cycling is popular and can be done liberally, but off road riding is not so easy because there is a lack of secondary or tertiary roads that are freely accessible. Single tracks are nearly impossible to find.

By accident, one evening we noticed a nice parking area just besides the road which, as usual, was not accessible because of a gate. It belonged to a Finca (a coffee plantation). A sign advertised e-bike riding and it mentioned a telephone number. so I asked if we could stay there for the night, which was OK. In the morning it became clear that there was also a bike park on this plantation. It is called Los Senderos de Colón. I decided to use this opportunity and ride here. Access to the bike park was not free of course, it was CRC 4500. But it was a really pleasant experience, with well maintained trails and proper downhill courses, which, looking at the visitors, was the main reason to come here.

On another instance, I found a nice loop which seemed to go off road for about 50%. But after riding 10km on the asphalted (crowded) road arriving at the point where the route would veer of into the fields, a gated community had been build, so it was not accessible any more. I made a detour to pick up the route further on. But when I arrived there, after riding just 500m I had already passed three sign stating that is was private property and that is was not allowed to pass. so I gave up, turned around and went home.

I also rode a length of gravel along the coast of the Nicoya Pensinsula. Here, you can easily ride a multi day tour along gravel roads. For me (a bit unlucky) it was rainy season, which meant that sooner or later a river had to be crossed that during this season cannot be negotiated. Detours are possible here, and I think the Nicoya Pensinsula is a better match if you like to roam around on bicycle.

So, for mountain biking in Costa Rica the options are a bit limited (if you like to do it on your own). There are some bike parks and guided tours are offered as well. Along the Pacific coast (Nicoya Peninsula for example) there are the better chances to roam around freely and independently.

In general, the roads are steep when it is going up or down, and that happens a lot because there are lots of volcanos with steep slopes. I once hit a stretch of road that had an average of at least 30 degrees for about 3km. If I had known that it was that long, I would have avoided it, but the warning signs for the steep road were only placed on other side, form where it would go down…In Costa Rica the answer to steep slopes is a simple bike upgrade: add a combustion engine.

Road signs are not abundant anyway; more than once I took a dead end road without knowing it. Still, the road sign for a dead end road does exist here, but alas, it is not used as often as it should. Ah, I guess it is all part of the adventure here.

Now, it might sound a bit negative, but riding in tropical conditions around volcanos, or ridding along tropical beaches certainly has it’s charm!

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