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Whether you’re a passionate road cyclist, or just looking for an economical way to get around while visiting Belize…you might want to bring your bike when traveling to this location. It's not a widely known fact, but cycling is considered one of the National sports in the Central American country of Belize. Considering this sport is not as popular amongst the other Central American countries, it's quite an interesting fact and with the condition of the roads, you're probably wondering how can this be so.
Yes, if you've ever been to Belize you'll know that the roads are far from being in the condition of those found in other cycling friendly locations around the World but they do the job. Not only is cycling a popular pastime and source of transportation, it's also a serious sport in which young Belizean riders train and compete within the country and abroad. The most highly anticipated race each year is the gruelling "Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic" which is a one day amateur road cycling race held every year during the Easter holidays. It is Belize's biggest bicycle event and over the years it's become well known internationally.
The race starts off just outside of Belize City and cyclists travel along the Western Highway en route to San Ignacio where they turn around and come back. In total, the route is 140 miles but I can personally tell you from experience that riding 140 miles on roads like those in Belize is comparable to riding 200 miles on the more suitable cycling roads found in North America. Add to it the fact that the hot Belize sun is blazing down on the riders at this time of year, and you have the makings of a cycling race comparable to the toughest ones out there.
The idea for the Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic dates back to 1928 when Belizean, Monrad Metzgen recognized that many of the locals would travel by bicycle to attend cricket games in the country. The roads were even worse at that time, but on April 5th, 1928 the first race was held and has continued to take place each year.
Even if you’re not a road racer, you can still enjoy the cycling benefits that Belize has to offer. You don't have to look too far to realize that the bicycle is a primary source of transportation within the cities and rural areas of this country. It is commonplace to see bicyclists transporting as much as they can fit on their bike while going from one place to another. Another frequent site is watching parents carrying their young children on their bikes with the kids straddling the cross bar, in a way that seems so uncomfortable yet still performed countless times each day. The bike really is a way of life in Belize and the infrastructure found within the cities of Belmopan and Belize City make this mode of transportation much more accessible. These cities have paths that allow for pedestrian and bike traffic away from the main roads. They were built for this kind of traffic in advance, instead of the method found commonly in North America where bike roads and paths are being integrated into cities designed around the vehicle.
Traveling between towns and cities can definitely be done by bike as well, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The roads are narrow and rarely can a shoulder lane be found, and if there is one it is extremely small. Add to it that the local drivers like to move at a fierce rate, and you have the makings of some nervous times on the bike. But with that said, there are countless cyclists on the road each and every day. If you’re a confident cyclist and up for an adventure, inter-country travel by bike is a great way to see Belize.
Unfortunately the one thing I didn’t see a lot of in Belize was helmets. I’m used to seeing locals ride around on their cruisers without helmets, but I have never seen so many road bikers with nothing on their heads. During competition, they do wear them but I saw countless cyclists out on training rides without helmets and it was such a strange site to see.