Geography (and Topography) of Quito


When you first arrive in Quito the first thing you notice is the mountains. And there are a lot of them.  You pay special attention to this as a cyclist. Coming from a pretty flat city, when I first arrived in Quito 3 years ago, I would do just about anything to avoid biking up the hills (read mountains). In the mornings I would triple check that I had everything thing I would need for the day, because I lived at the top of the eastern edge of the city.  During the day I would go ridiculous distances out of the way to avoid going up hills.  But by the end of my time in Quito (round 1), and being back here now, I’m really enjoying the hills.  Mostly going down them, but sometimes biking up them as well.

But the mountains here also function as a way of segregating Quito.  The Panecillo stands in the middle of Quito, a small but formidable mountain that divides northern and southern quito.  It is both a physical and social barrier for Quito.  I was talking with my friend Sofy the other day and she told me a bit about the intertwined histories of the geography and segregation in Quito.  The colony of Quito sprouted just north of the Panecillo, where the historic center of Quito still stands.  As the colony grew, the colonial government obligated all workers, mainly railroad workers, to live on the southern side of the Panecillo so that they would be out of the view of the wealthy colonists.  As the city grew the divide remained.  Wealthy families, and in recent decades middle class families as well, lived in the north of the city, and working class families lived in the south.  The historic center of Quito is now some of the poorest neighborhoods, while simultaneously a center of tourism, which holds a whole other set of paradoxes.  Yet in the last 5 to 10 years, the strict class divide of Northern/Southern Quito has changed.  Southern Quito has a large middle class, and as you go to the northern most parts of Northern Quito there are many working class neighborhoods sprawling up the sides of Pichincha (the volcano). Quito sometimes defies the general urban studies logic that the wealthy live at the top of hills and the poor at the bottom.

Yet crossing the Panecillo still presents a very real barrier in Quito.  Especially for cyclists. There are only two ways to cross from North to South for cyclists, and neither are safe options at night – at least not by yourself. The last few days I’ve been teaching my ahijada (my biking goddaughter) how to bike in southern Quito, which has meant crossing the three main regions of Quito (North, Center, South).  The video above is arranged somewhat geographically – it portrays me biking from the North, Center, and South and then returning South, Center, North.  The yellow line (beautifully drawn in – really showing off my graphic design skillz here) in the aerial photo represents the general route.

Pictures and Video of the BiciMaquinas

Just when I thought that my chance to document the bicimaquinas was gone – I got a call this morning to go back and help with a few final details.  I took some pictures of the machines (I took pictures of 2 of them – in total there are about 6), and took a video of my friend Nadia explaining a bit about the machines.


I met Nadia through Carishina en Bici, and she asked me if I would help her with the bike mechanics of building some bicimaquinas.  She works as a high school near my apartment teaching technical drawing.  Instead of having her students take a final exam, she had them build a bike machine.  Everyone in the class built a pedal powered grinder, as inspired by the designs of Maya Pedal. It was a really cool experience to help her students out, because they completely understood the mechanisms of the machines (which took me a little longer to process), but didn’t know how to take apart the recycled bikes they were using, or how to put the chains together at the end. It was a nice knowledge exchange, and at the end we built some really cool machines!


Nadia is going to use the machines as part of the mission work that students at the high school are required to do to graduate (catholic high school).  They’re going to be bringing the machines to collectives of women who work in organic agriculture/products.  One machine might even make an appearance at the next environmental themed Carishina alley-cat!

BiciMaquinas, Mechanic Workshops, and Ahijadas/Madrinas

It’s been a busy few weeks in Quito. I’ve been working like a crazy person, but it’s all worth it. In the mornings I’ve been helping my friend Nadia’s high school students build BiciMaquinas (pedal powered bike machines), in the afternoons building bikes to lend out for the Hadas Madrinas (Goddaughter/Godmother on Bikes) project (I built 40 wheels in 2.5 days!), and in the evenings having meetings about how to make these projects happen. I wish I had more photos to share from all these experiences (especially pictures of the BiciMaquinas), but alas these pictures will have to do.


The first few pictures are from a group of teenage girls called the Guambras Carishinas that meet at 10am every Sunday to ride in the Ciclopaseo (the ciclopaseo is a weekly event where 60km of city streets are closed off to traffic and are open to only cyclists and pedestrians).  We went for a ride to the Centro Historico and saw a few religious processions go by (I couldn’t tell you what holiday it was… maybe corpus christi?).

The next picture is from a Fix-a-flat workshop I taught yesterday.  I taught two workshops back to back, and the younger girls that I taught in the first workshop stuck around for the second workshop – so I put them to work to teach the older women who came for the second workshop.

After the workshop we had the first meeting of Hadas Madrinas en Bici project.  The project idea (this is the the project I came down here to work on – or at least half the reason why I came back) is to pair together an experienced biker – the godmother – with an inexperienced biker – the goddaughter – who live in the same neighborhood (ish). The goddaughters vary from women who never learned how to ride a bike, to women who do lots of mountain biking, but don’t know how to ride in the traffic in Quito.  The pairs go out riding together at least once a week, and through these personal relationships the hope is that more women will gain the confidence and the abilities to be able to ride in Quito.

Part of the funding that I came down here with was to build bikes to lend to women who have not been able to economically access the biking community. This last week I built 10 of the 20 bikes, and yesterday we lent out 6 of the bikes (the other 4 will be lent out this week to women who couldn’t make it to the workshop yesterday). It was pretty incredible to see how excited these women were to receive the bikes.  The last pictures of the slideshow are of one participant practicing on one of the bikes.  She had never ridden before – and by the end of the day she was already pedaling around the court like a pro!

Video of Elena in Quito, Ecuador


I am very happy to present the next Woman on a Wheel video.  This footage comes from my friend Elena, who is an inspiring cyclist, and an incredible organizer.  I meet Elena for the first time 2 years ago when she raced the Carishina Race (which she talks about in the video) and later when she attended a mechanic workshop.  She is someone who is full of energy, good ideas, and the drive to make it happen.  I think that the footage that she took represents both what is great and not great about biking in Quito – she went riding on a beautiful day, with breathtaking blue skies, but she also filmed what it’s like to bike in a city where cars don’t respect cyclists. As she says, you have to make the cars respect you.

When I left Quito two years ago I turned over the Carishina en Bici collective to a group of female cyclists, Elena being one of them. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen to the Carishinas when I left, but coming back to Quito and getting to know the new group of women who are organizing the collective has been amazing. It’s incredible to see what a horizontal, volunteer run organization looks like, and what a difference they are making for female cyclists in Quito.

Bike Polo in Quito


One of the best parts of being back in Quito has been playing lots of bike polo. Last week my roommate Pancho and I both played with the camera on to see what polo would look like.  We played some 2 v. 2 polo (normally you play 3 vs. 3) and I put together a short video from that night.

You can check out Bike Polo Ecuador on facbeook or also here.

Coming soon –  This week will be the first narrated video from Quito with footage from my friend Elena riding around the city.

A Salsear con las Carishinas


Last week I went on a bike ride with the Carishinas en Bici collective to a bike bar and then to a salsa club. It was a pretty amazing feeling to get to know the new Carishinas who are now organizing the collective. Carishinas en Bici has turned into something much bigger and better than what it was when I turned it over to friends here. It’s a really awesome thing to see.

You can check out the “Carishinas en Bici” on Facebook.

The footage is from that ride. You can see a bit of what riding in Quito is like at night.