Triciclederos | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Triciclederos

Most Yucatecans can't afford autos or trucks. The lucky ones have motorcycles; the poor have bicycles. Or feet. But bicycles are no good for hauling stuff. This need has been filled with typical Mexican ingenuity: Heavy-duty tricycles.

I saw my first tricicleta on Cózumel. A group of them were waiting to offload goods from the ferry. They were operated by a bunch of guys wearing identical tee shirts identifying them as members of something like "The Union of Tricliclederos, Local #264." Longshoremen. Harry Bridges would have been proud.

Your basic tricicleta hauls freight.

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It consists of a steel frame with a pair of bicycle wheels. This rig replaces the forks, front wheel and handlebars of an ordinary bicycle. You steer by twisting the entire front assembly.

Many are used as taxis. An actual automobile-type taxi is gonna cost you at least three bucks. A tricicleta is more like fifty cents. Moreover, cabs aren't air conditioned. Tricicletas have surrey-like tops and fresh breezes. Gringos and upper-class Mexicanos take taxis. Everone else goes for the enviornmentally-friendly option.

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A small front sprocket facilitates pedaling heavy loads. Braking is accomplished with whatever the original bike had: a single rear hand brake or a coaster brake. They can't stop quickly. I can only imagine what happens to the passengers if the driver runs into something. That front seat looks sort of like a launching pad. No seat belts, of course. Poor braking and maneuvering probably are the reason you see triciclederos drive so cautiously.

They make good platforms for selling stuff. This guy sells ice cream and brings in a little extra revenue advertising for Willy's grocery—"It's cheaper."

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In Izamal, this huipil-clad Mayan woman sells fruit snacks from her tricicleta. She's holding a mango that she's cut into delicate petals and thrust onto a pointed stick. Her husband is peeling jicama.

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Eight years ago, all I saw were pedal-powered tricicletas. Today, technology is coming to the Yucatán. Bicycle frames are being replaced by motorcycle rear ends.

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They go faster with less effort, but it's still one-wheel braking and no seatbelts. I think I'll stick with the manual model.

About halfway between Mérida and Izamal, tricicletas swarm in the hammock-making town of Tixcocob. They appear to be the most popular form of transportation there, and they come in every imaginable variety. Here, someone welded the motorcycle onto the front.

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The owner is a forward-thinking guy, wearing shorts and wraparound sunglasses. Younger Mayans dress like he does. Older men would never wear that stuff. Despite the heat, I always wear long pants in the towns so I won't feel out of place.

In Guadalajara last month, I saw a delightful tricicleta used for delivering drinking water.

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It has "kluge" written all over it. Yet it seems perfectly suited for what it does.

This vehicle was pieced together. Literally.

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Rusting tack welds hold a plastic BMX bike seat to the frame. Gasoline is gravity-fed into the carbuerator from the dented gas tank via a red plastic hose.

There's something—a rag maybe—wrapped around the joint between the header pipe and the muffler. Why? Surely it isn't holding them together. Looks to me like it's protecting the bailing wire that's holding up the exhaust system. And yes, you sharp-eyed mechanics, that's a pair of vise grips clamped onto something on the front sprocket housing—we can only wonder what.

It doesn't look very sturdy, but that's not the point, is it? In Mexico, you use it until something breaks, and then you fix it with whatever is at hand. You can make stuff work indefinitely that way.

Finally, in this noisy country, people are always seeking ways to increase the decibels. Near the mercado in Izamal, there's a cacophony of competing PA systems. Here's a trike adding to the din.



The modern world is reaching the Yucatán. The pace of life is accelerating. I'm sure that people here appreciate the benefits of mechanization.

But somthing is being lost. I remember years ago seeing a patient grandmother in her huipil, two scrubbed and starched grandsons beside her on a tricicleta bench, being pedaled to school at something less than walking speed. You see fewer of them today.
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