Monday, February 23, 2009

No El Ciclismo en San Juan Puerto Rico

"Have you ever driven in big city,” asked the rent a car clerk at the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport.  "Chicago," my wife replied.  "How 'bout Mexico City," he questioned.  “We’ll take the insurance,” said my wife.  That and the drive from San Juan to our seaside condo in Dorado was all it took for me to realize there would be no road cycling in San Juan, Dorado, or any Pueto Rican wonderland in between.  (Photo: El Yunque Nat'l Forest, Puerto Rico)

Presumably there are traffic laws in Puerto Rico, presumably the same ones that apply to all of the US and its territories; however the traffic etiquette is quite different.  Puerto Rico puts the free in freeway, or maybe free-for-all.  Unless you’re wearing a full face helmet with a Hans device, downhill body armor and have no deductable on your health insurance, you’d be wise to not ride a bike on the roads within an hour of San Juan. 

In the continental US, if you were pulling out of a driveway into the main road or out of a parking spot, you’d wait for a gap in traffic.  In Puerto Rico, you just stick the front of your car into the road (or rear if you’re backing up), make traffic stop for you and proceed with your turn.  This applies to left hand turns from a driveway as well.  If you don’t have the cajoles to execute this maneuver, the person in the car behind you will kindly come around from behind you and show you how it’s done.  “He just came out of nowhere,” was common-speak during our driving.  If you spaced out for a second, a different colored car would appear in front of you.

In the continental US, you usually allow a safe distance to the car in front of you based on one car length for every ten miles per hour.  In Puerto Rico, I’m guessing because of the metric system, a safe distance is measured in centimeters, one centimeter for every 10mph.

In the continental US, you’d only use the shoulder of the road to pull over for an emergency.  In Puerto Rico the shoulder of the road is at the very least a passing lane.  As you get closer to San Juan the shoulder becomes just another lane, the only drawback being the lack of smooth pavement, or in many cases, any pavement whatsoever.

In the continental US, motorcycles ride in the same lanes as cars.  In Puerto Rico the lines between lanes mark the path that motorcycles should take.  Even the motorcycle cops use them.

In the continental US, if an exit ramp has one lane, traffic travels on the ramp single file.  In Puerto Rico, if three cars can fit abreast in the single exit ramp lane, three cars exit or enter the freeway at the same time.

In the continental US, there are lines painted to separate the lanes on the road.  In San Juan there are some long sections of freeway, up to 8 lanes wide in one direction (9 if you count the shoulder), with no lines painted.  Think of that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer painted the lane lines black to create an extra wide luxury lane.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that even the speedway in Daytona has lane markers.

All of this was disconcerting at first, but there was very little if any horn honking, middle fingers, cursing or road rage.  Traffic seemed to move quite well.  While this driving etiquette put the nix on road cycling, it did open up the doors for non-cycling activities like climbing/hiking El Yunque Mountain and running oceanside on coral cliffs that only Hans Rey might be able to ride.

There are some nice mountain bike trails in Puerto Rico, however staying in Dorado, it was unpractical to rent a decent bike, stuff them into a Toyota Yaris and drive to Cerro Gordo or another trail system.  Maybe next time we’ll stay further away from San Juan.  The south side of the island around Ponce seemed less busy and closer to the real mountains.  I think a road ride through El Yunque National Forest would be fun too.


shannon said...

wow -- and i thought the traffic in the smoky mountains was heavy.

Mark said...

I was there in 1990 running sound for a band for about 3 months (rough right?). We stayed in San Juan proper, then went to Dorado and stayed in a condo on the beach for 3 weeks, till our opening gig with Stryper (yeah-that band)
I feel you on the driving. It's like driving in Miami and LA, but with no real rules or lines painted on the roads or freeway.
I went back there on my honeymoon too, in 2003. It's paradise, but in some areas, it's not. The Rainforest is amazing, the boat ride/swim in the 'magic glitter water' is not to be missed. Not sure if I would ride my bike on any of their roads and feel safe, unless I was in an organized race. It's about as big as Ohio, but when I had my golden long rock locks, many out in remote areas, had never seen blonde hair ever and had never left their little mountain village to travel 2 hours to the coast. I am not sure now, but I remember there being a lower class and upper class, no real middle per say. Money or not. Expensive cars and crappy cars. I met some amazing, interesting people there, I think some of the most beautiful looking women there as well.

Joe Biker said...

Yeah we had a good time, no cylcing, but hiked El Yunque and saw the waterfalls and views from the top, hit the first day of Carnival in Ponce, hiked another park on the east side of the island, and hit old San Juan...other than that...beach baby.

GenghisKhan said...

Sounds like a lot like driving in Mumbai, India--pure, utter chaos--and it all seems to flow so smoothly!

Too bad no MTB, but sounds like a great vacation nonetheless!

Johnny Guzman said...

For the record, I'm Puerto Rican and I'll tell you that if you would have bothered to venture out of the metro area you would have found some choice areas/clubs to ride with. The beautiful part of the island is on the west coast. That being said next time you go you should check out the towns of San German, Lajas, Guanica, Cayuey and you'll see what you were missing. There is a bigger MTB scene in Puerto Rico right now, but plenty of opportunities to go road biking as well.