It makes sense that, as the owner of the technical bike and sportswear company Search and State, Daniel Golden prefers to spend life on two wheels. After more than 20 years as a serious rider, he believes that travel is all about the journey, and the journey is all the better if it involves a bike. So when two friends who happen to be global bike expeditionists suggested a ride across Cuba, how could Golden say no?
“Once the words were out of their mouths, everyone was really into it. After all, anytime you can get into a place that’s relatively unexplored, there’s that mystery and intrigue,” Golden remembers. While non-Americans have been getting to know Cuba for years (yes, Canada, we know; you don’t have to brag), they’ve mostly stuck to Havana and the beaches—the island’s interior is still largely untouristed. And, happily, it also turns out to be a great area to traverse by bike.
Golden’s buddies—Logan Watts, owner of BikePacking.com, and Joe Cruz, professor of philosophy at Williams College—planned the route. Cuba is crossed with paved roads, but the adventure bikers poured over satellite photos of the country instead to find secondary roads and farm roads to travel. Golden admits that he’s seeing more and more interest in biking across Cuba, but as of now, there are no established routes. Soon, all that remained was to pack up their bikes, apply for their “people-to-people” visas, and hit the road.
For the most part, the group camped or did homestays. Golden remembers people in towns staring at them as they rode through laden with bags and supplies: “We were kind of a spectacle coming through. It was that kind of scene where the whole town comes out and starts talking to you because they don’t know what you’re up to. People called it tourist shock.”
While Watson and Cruz (can someone please make that a lawyer TV show?) traversed the entire island in 20 days, Golden only joined them for five. “I would have gone for two days just to see the country,” he insists. But as it turns out, biking those few hundred miles in the backcountry was worth it. “It was a different experience than, say, flying to a major city and staying put. We met locals who had never seen tourists before. That’s the kind of experience that’s priceless for me.”
“If you can go (and want to), you should. I’m an advocate of doing it before it changes too much.”
2. Bring your bike
“You can’t rent bicycles or buy them there, so you have to plan and pack the bike to actually get it there.”
3. Study up on your Spanish
Golden admitted his grasp of Spanish was “broken and very elementary” and acknowledged that this wasn’t ideal. Luckily, one of his friends did speak Spanish well, but Golden says, “You should be able to speak Spanish for sure if you’re going there.”
4. Be prepared to wing it
“Getting there wasn’t hard, but transportation in the country isn’t easy,” he says. “And once you get out of the cities, it’s still a developing country.” Additionally, with a lack of Internet and established biking routes, bikers have fewer familiar tools to rely on.
5. If you bring one thing besides your bike, bring a water purifier
“A water purifier is the single most important piece of equipment to bring. I flew to Comaguey, where we started the trip, and on the first day out it was obvious that finding water and food and supplies was going to be an issue. People are so helpful, but definitely pack a purifier.”
But no matter how prepared you are, a backcountry bike trip in a country like Cuba may not be for everyone. Golden notes that there are plenty of paved roads for intermediate bikers to follow but, “If you’re going to go off the grid and do a backcountry trip, you need to have a little experience. It’s mixed terrain, a bit muddy, and there’s a bit of bushwhacking you’ll need to do through the jungle stuff.”
Even if you’re not ready to tackle a different country, you can still get some great long-distance riding experience (and perhaps prepare for a future Cuba trip) by joining Search and State’s second annual cross-country Search Brigade trip. No need to commit to riding the entire route—many participants hop on for a few days at a time. You’ll be ready to see Cuba from behind the handlebars in no time.
>>Next: How to Go Beyond Havana in Cuba
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