Spend one afternoon in Cuenca and you’ll quickly notice a great number of motorcycles and scooters making their way around town. While this is not unusual in Latin America, I was perplexed by the lively culture of motorcyclists in Cuenca. The demographic of motorcyclists is diverse – young, old, male, female, riding with children, riding with dogs – I feel like I’ve seen it all! Why do motorcycles play such a big part of life in this city?
After speaking with motorciclistas around town, there are three primary reasons that motorcycles are a dominant form of transportation in Cuenca
Traveling by motorcycle or scooter saves lots of time getting around the city. Whether navigating Tranvia construction traffic, rush hour, or narrow one lane streets, most motorcycles are able to bypass traffic jams and significantly cut their commute down.
Cars are incredibly expensive in Cuenca – even a used car in poor condition could set you back $5,000. Of course this price does not match up with the general cost of living, thus a motorcycle is a very affordable investment, with some great scooters and cafe racers costing as little as $1,000. Gas is relatively cheap in Ecuador which makes motorcycles one of the most affordable transportation options, especially if you aren’t along a bus route.
3. Social Life
This subculture of Cuencano society has cultivated a social life revolving around motorcycles. In North America you’ll see mostly an older generation united around motorcycles, but in Ecuador you will see a wide range of ages gathering together around their motos. Whether 18 or 70 years of age, you will gather with buddies for a ride.
It seems as though locals and expats alike have realized the benefits of having a motorcycle in Cuenca. Aubree, young American and owner of Rumisol Yoga, says that travel by scooter is the best option for transportation in the city if you really need to get around. She notes that it is faster than her bicycle or a car to get around the city, and the least expensive. Al Bourassa, another expat living in Cuenca, says that he had a car when he first moved to Cuenca, but decided to buy a scooter when he noticed how much faster and cheaper it was to get around.
Motorcycles & Social Life
Motorcyclists form a real subculture of Cuencano society, and many define their social life by their motorcycle status. The most lively day of the week for the social life aspect of motorcyclists is Thursday evening, when each type of motorcycles gathers on Remigio Crespo to hang out, have a drink, and go for a ride around the city or a destination on the outskirts of the city. You’ll see the scooters at Puente Roto, the Royal Enfields in front of the brand’s only store in the country, and the Harleys, sports bikes, cafe racers spread along Remigio. What a sight to see!
Cuenca also has its very own association of motorcyclists, LAMA Cuenca. LAMA (The Latin American Motorcycle Association) was started by Latinos living in Chicago in the 1970s. Over the years, LAMA chapters have spread to every state in the United States, and throughout the Americas. To be a member of LAMA is a formal commitment to brotherhood and to being a hardworking, standup individual and there is a vetting process to become an official member. LAMA Cuenca is one of several chapters in Ecuador and has 8 official members. Each official member pays annual dues, goes to conferences, and travels regularly. You may see them riding around with the LAMA vest decorated with patches symbolizing their hometown and places where they have traveled.
In fact, LAMA Cuenca is only but one of the motorcycle clubs in Cuenca. Another active club is the Herederos del Pasado, which is the scooter club of the city. The Herederos del Pasado meet every Thursday evening at Puente Roto, and go for day rides many weekends. The group is formal with jackets embroidered with the members’ names, and is coming upon its two-year anniversary.
Traveling Ecuador by Motorcycle
For most motorcyclists, traveling by moto is a way of life. Whether the travel is a short day trip out of the city or taking long road trips to greater distances traveling on the motorcycle is a whole new perspective and way to experience the beauty of Ecuador. The options for short day trips from Cuenca Popular spots for day trips are endless, with some popular destinations including Yunguilla, Gualaceo, Giron, Cajas, or Tarqui. Taking longer trips on the motorcycle requires much preparation, but is well worth it and really allows you to see the country in a whole new experience. Some popular routes include riding the Ruta del Sol along the Pacific Coast, trekking north through the Sierra to Quito, or in the east through the Amazon.
Locals Eduardo Merchán and Pedro Hermida say their favorite part of having a motorcycle is being able to travel. Eduardo notes that being on the motorcycle is liberating, and that it is a new way to see and experience the roads and scenery that Ecuador has to offer. Pedro explains that traveling by motorcycle is an entirely different way to travel because it allows for a new perspective, and that riding through the wind is a great feeling.
My Ecuadorian partner and I have taken wonderful trips by motorcycle throughout Ecuador. One of my favorite things about being on the motorcycle is being able to adapt to the different geographies and climates of the country. For example, in a ride to the coast you will need to prepare for the rural areas outside of Cuenca, going through Cajas, and coming down to sea level and coastal temperatures. One of our favorite trips went through the oriente (the jungle) to the towns of Sucua, Macas, and Puyo, up to the popular adventure town Banos de Ambato, and back down south through Riobamba and Alausi.
Traveling by motorcycle shows you that Ecuador really is the “país de cuatro mundos” as you enjoy the cities, coast, Andes, and Amazon. Even more, it gives you the chance to immerse in a culture of brotherhood and solidarity with motorcyclists who are looking for the same sense of adventure in this beautiful land.