Taxi? Taxi? Taxi??!!!!!! In Havana the bicycle taxis are everywhere. The drivers are unstoppable athletes ferrying tourists, Cubans and cargo all over the busy city. They are the road warriors in a city where every driver earns their commando badge every day. They are perpetual salespeople selling their services to everyone, regardless of whether they appear to need a taxi or not.
As an icon of the Havana scene, bike taxi drivers are right up there with the mojito, the vintage American car and the coco taxi. But what of their vehicles? has a university research team ever analyzed the technical world of the bike taxi, the ingenuity behind this marvelous urban invention? Perhaps not.
Like many things in Cuba, manufacturing is right there, on the street or in a yard just beside it. The manufacturing and repair of bike taxis is continuous. After all, these taxis cover kilometres of tumultuous pavement every day. The ride, as anyone who has ever been aboard one will attest, delivers steady pounding on the passengers and on the equipment. I recently witnessed a bike taxi topple into an unmarked open construction pit on Avenida Italia. The driver dusted himself off, onlookers righted the bike and he rode off. Neither the driver nor the bike was damaged.
So solidity is a key feature of the bicycle configuration, but the construction miracles certainly don’t end there. Virtually anything you can think of from car parts to kitchen chairs is adapted to build the better taxi, then it’s painted and customized to add that curb appeal.
From my observations, there are two basic frame configurations. One uses the entire original bicycle right to the rear forks including the seat. The other uses just the front third of a bike, then builds seating aft so it can include a back and padding, rather like the passenger seat on a Harley.
Past that, anything goes. Some bikes have a conventional brake on the front wheel but most have a more substantial braking mechanism on the rear axle. Some have ordinary bike horns but others have many horns powered by pumps or even hydraulics. I recently saw a bike that recycled the effort used for applying the brakes into a storage cylinder that then powered a claxon. Steering ranges from conventional bicycle handlebars to single tillers to the adapted rack and pinion set up I observed on a particularly hi-tech beauty recently.
Signage and decoration has no limits. Curtains and windows suddenly fold down from the roof when there’s a shower, religious artifacts dot the fenders and signs and advertising are affixed anywhere.
Next time you’re in Havana, take a minute to appreciate the engineering that goes into these taxis and you’ll see that in Cuba, where new equipment and parts are a scarcity, there’s no limit to mechanical ingenuity.
Read another post you will enjoy by Carl Wallace here