A City on Two Wheels


From a Buenos Aires winter to a Barcelona summer.  The language may be the same, but the feel of the two cities is as different as the temperatures in each.  It’s only been two weeks, but that special energy which pervades all of South America feels a long way away.  I’m back in Europe and all of a sudden it feels uncomfortably like I’ve come home.

When we travel to new destinations, we inevitably seek to orientate ourselves quickly with our surroundings.  The need to reach a early judgement, to feel a sense of understanding of our new environment, seems to be a human necessity. We all have our own metrics by which to get the measure of a new place.  They aren’t always very scientific and in some cases they may be wholly inaccurate, but we nevertheless do it.

20150724-Barca-1I judge the character of a city, in part, by whether or not you can park motos on the pavement.  It might sound trivial, but I think it is a simple medium by which to view the broader attitude of a city’s residents, and more particularly the authorities, to life and social behaviour.  By and large, cities have more pavement than their pedestrians require; they are often wider than needed, or sections are rendered of little use to foot-born traffic due to phone boxes, trees and the like creating obstacles.  Such redundant space provides valuable parking for motoqueros, whilst at the same keeping the motos out of the way of pedestrians.

Some authorities recognise this and allow it.  And as their part of the deal, motoqueros respect the decision and take care not to abuse it, parking with the needs of the pedestrians in mind.  This, to me, represents both a rational and mature approach to civic behaviour. Paris, for example, is one such city where this is evident.  However, parking on a pavement in London – even for five minutes and beside a section designated for the parking of bicycles, and thus clearly not at the expense of pedestrians – will fetch you a £60 fine.  I know this all too well. The basic liberal democratic philosophy of maximising a citizen’s freedom where it does not impact on another’s clearly does not underpin the decisions of London’s authorities; maximising revenue, however, does.

When it comes to moto pavement parking, Barcelona is surely king.  For Barcelona is, truly, a city on two wheels, rivalled only (in my experience) but the metropolises of South East Asia such as Bangkok.  There are thousands upon thousands of motos and scooters on the city’s streets.  A combination of factors, notably the year-round moto-friendly weather and the car-unfriendly narrow streets, come together to encourage young and old alike to go about their business with the wind in their face.

Somewhere in this city you will find almost every motorcycle in existence.  Unsurprisingly, the lightweight scooter is the undisputed champion; however, what is surprising to me is the fact that, for a city known for it’s style and culture, the ugly and utilitarian 125s and 150s from Honda and their Japanese cousins far outnumber the the Italian chic of Piaggio and Lambretta.  The classic urban hooligans – Ducati Monsters, Street Triples and their friends – and numerous.  The inevitable GS1200s carry commuters into the heart of the business district.  Retros, Honda twin pots, Harleys, crotch rockets, a lot of ‘maxi scooters’ (that is the one machine I just don’t understand), even a side car… I’ve seen them all, and more, during my short stay in this city.

The Tenere made it through customs without a hitch. It is parked up on the pavement outside my friend’s flat as I write, still sporting a light smattering of Bolivian mud.  It’s in good – and abundant – two-wheeled company here in Barcelona.  Yet somehow it feels out of place for me. It is not a natural city dweller; and nor am I.  So we shall soon be heading for the mountains, back on the open road.

7 Comments on A City on Two Wheels

  1. Hi Paul – great to have you back on the keyboard and sharing your thoughts and perspectives on things. Always interesting and thought provoking reading.

  2. Paul

    Good to hear you and your bike have made it in one piece and that you have still felt the urge to update us.

    Interestingly your ‘coming home’ entry is more foreign to me than your last two as we managed a trip to Peru and Bolivia, in April and May (albeit not on our bikes – this time). Several of the places you mentioned were still fresh in my memory and that added another dimension as I read!

    Whilst I am familiar with much of northern Spain, I have not yet visited Barcelona (in spite of being nagged – a lot). However, I have had several amazing trips further west and if you are looking for mountains, you probably know the Picos are pretty amazing. Typical Atlantic coast weather of course, mainly two seasons (the wet season and the cold and wet season), but I love the place.

    What struck me more than anything though, were all the empty houses, homes of the disappeared and a chilling reminder that Spain’s recent history holds some dark secrets.

    I’ll be waiting with interest to see where your heart takes you next and to hear your next instalment!

  3. Stephen Eldridge // 29/07/2015 at 2:43 pm // Reply

    Hi Paul, glad the Tenere came through customs ok! . I too have my own yardstick by which I guess the vibe of a new place…firstly the returned smile or wave from a stranger and secondly wether the parked up bikes are swathed in chains and disc-locks or not!. I don’t know Spain but hear it’s a great place to explore. …hope you guys enjoy it. Steve

  4. May the road rise to meet you,
    May the wind be always at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face,
    The rains fall soft upon your fields.

    May you be poor in misfortune,
    Rich in blessings.
    May you know nothing but happiness
    From this day forward.

    May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
    And may the hand of a friend always be near.

    May green be the grass you walk on,
    May blue be the skies above you,
    May pure be the joys that surround you,
    May true be the hearts that love you.

    ATGATT and keep writing. Your soul brings sunshine to many

  5. Chris Walker // 10/08/2015 at 7:48 pm // Reply

    Hi there Paul, I’ve just recently started following your blog, with the intention of traveling the Americas in a few years myself. Being ex squaddie too, its something i want to achieve solo. A mine if useful info we can all use and share.
    4 of us did a couple of weeks trailing in Portugal in April, wonderful country and friendly people. We rode near the border with Spain, away from the touristic coastline.
    Monsanto, if your going thst way, it’s a must if you’ve not been before. Trails everywhere you look, and the sunrise from top the Monastery is something very special.
    Happy riding, enjoy Europe, just stay out of the cities!

    • Hi Chris,

      We’ve heard only good things about Portugal – not just about the riding but also the people. I have a aunt and uncle there, so we may have to pay a visit!

      Feel free to ask any questions in the future as you plan S Am. We may be back there – missing it already!!


      • Chris Walker // 13/08/2015 at 4:48 am //

        Thanks Paul, I’ll do that. Good luck to you both and enjoy the ride.

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