Tour company uses bikes to give visitors a taste of Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO – Bruno Elias, a native of Rio de Janeiro, started his company Bike in Rio Tours four years ago with the goal of imparting the culture of Rio on curious travelers.

“I always liked biking,” Elias said. “One day I was riding in the cycle lane and I thought ‘wow tourists would like to see Rio this way.’”

A lifelong cyclist, Elias studied to be a tour guide in Rio. He started checking websites to see if any companies were offering bike tours in Rio but couldn’t find any, so he decided to start one of his own.

For the hundreds of thousands of tourists flooding into Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Bike in Rio Tours offers guided excursions throughout the city to learn about some of its history while also getting a little bit of exercise.

Elias believes biking through Rio is the best way for visitors to get familiar with their new surroundings and get an unfiltered view, as opposed to traveling in a closed vehicle.

“All the time you are interacting with the city. There’s no makeup, you’re going to see some of the good features of the city as well as the bad,” he said.

Raymond Carmichael, who helps guide tourists along the route with Elias, said he loves the independence offered by bikes and shares his enthusiasm with the groups.

“It’s the perfect companion,” he said. “Super quick, you don’t have the traffic hassles. There’s a lot more freedom. You can move around, you can see a lot more.”

Bike in Rio Tours offers four different routes through the city that cover the urban and nature areas of Rio.

Their city tour, which takes about four hours and covers more than 10 miles, is the company’s most popular route, with its mixture of landscapes and urban areas.

Starting in Copacabana, the route weaves cyclists through the high-rises and streets of Rio while making stops at popular tourist destinations like Flamengo Park, the city’s largest outdoor recreation area, as well as historical districts such as Cinelandia, which used to have the highest concentration of movie theaters in Rio.

Hardcore biking experience is not a necessary requirement, as the flat ground makes for an easy ride through the city.

The easygoing vibe of the city is apparent while riding in the streets around the pedestrians as they leisurely walk or jog on the sidewalks.

The cars and buses that fill the road serve as a kind of natural soundtrack filling the air with sounds of the city. But there is no need to be intimidated by the traffic, as the locals tend to yield to bicycles.

The tour also includes lessons on the history of Rio and Brazil as riders pass cultural sites like the statue of Princess Isabel, the woman responsible for outlawing slavery in Brazil, and the Urca neighborhood, the site where the Portuguese first landed and established the first settlement that would become Rio.

But the highlight of the tour is the stretch between Botafogo Beach and Flamengo Park. Here, riders pedal along the beach with a view of Sugarloaf Mountain and the surrounding landscapes as the backdrop. The beach is an active site, filled with people playing volleyball, soccer and exercising with some free equipment provided by the city.

Bike tour goer Jen Keating traveled from Boston to Brazil to attend a friend’s wedding, and decided to make a stop in Rio during her trip. She said she did not know what to expect when she signed up for the ride, but by the end she was impressed by what she was able to see along the route.

“This bike path that they have is incredible,” Keating said. “I don’t know how they managed to put it together. We’ve been able to go around the whole city and see the landscape.”