Bicycling is one of my great passions and I have been fortunate to cycle in places like Rome, Madrid, Berlin, New York City, San Francisco, Miami, and many more. So when I travelled to Argentina in November of 2011, there was no doubt I was going to do some biking in Buenos Aires. And instead of just renting a bicycle I decided to go on some guided bicycle tours to learn more about the city.
I located a company called www.bikingbuenosaires.com and connected with one of the two co-owners, Robin Gerlach. Robin took me on a one-on-one guided bicycle tour of the wonderful park system in Buenos Aires’ upscale Palermo neighbourhood and we stopped for a delicious lunch in the city’s Barrio Chino (Chinatown). I also had a chance to meet his business partner Will Whittle who’s been building this cool business together with Robin.
The next day I went on an 8-hour bicycle tour of some of the major sights in Buenos Aires, led by Rodrigo Liffourena, the company’s multilingual bicycle guide who boasts an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city. During the tour I connected with three other interesting female adventurers who I am still in touch with. I found out that these bicycle tours are a great way to make new friends as well.
Finally, on the third day I took the Graffiti Tour, guided by Johnny Robson from www.graffitimundo.com. The country’s political struggles express themselves through graffiti art and it was great to decipher some of the symbolic pictorial messages with the help of our knowledable guide.
These three tours gave me an amazing first-hand look at so many areas of Buenos Aires that I would have never been able to explore on my own. And with the help of these local experts I learned so much about Argentina, its history and culture, and about life in the fascinating city of Buenos Aires.
Here is an interview with Robin Gerlach, with occasional comments from his partner Will, that will give you an overview of why bicycling is such a great way of exploring the exciting city of Buenos Aires. [For actual video clips and on-camera interviews with Robin, Will, Rodrigo and Johnny, please scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and you will see video clips of my bicycling experiences].
1. Please tell us about your background. Where did you grow up and go to college?
Robin- I grew up in a very small town in Colorado and always loved riding a bicycle whether it was a bmx through town or a mountain bike on a single track through the Rocky Mountains. After years of small town living I longed to get to a city, a larger school on the west coast. I landed at San Diego State University in 2003 and then met my brother from another mother, William Whittle, now my fellow business partner and founder of Biking Buenos Aires.
William- I entered this world October 28, 1984 in San Jose, California but grew up in the foothills of Sacramento. My childhood consisted of tree-forts, peewee football, and of course my Mongoose Menace bmx bike. I rode most times without a destination in mind, in fact, my pops says I learned how to ride my bike before learning how to walk. I have the scars to prove it!
My grandparents told me as a kid that I can go to any college I’m accepted to so I always had my sights on San Diego State University after high school. My roommate Robin and I destroyed school projects, lead professional business organizations (Alpha Kappa Psi) and hunted for success.
2. What made you so passionate about bicycling?
I always loved the feeling of riding a bike as a kid. After several years without riding a bike in college I re-discovered my passion for cycling when I was traveling through Europe in 2007. Every city I went to I would rent a bike or take a bike tour as I quickly found out it was by far the best way to familiarize myself with a foreign city. Upon living in Buenos Aires after the travels, we met a good friend from Cuba named Barry. He rode his bike all over BA and showed us this city on two wheels and the potential was endless for William and I via Barry’s inspiration combined with our passion.
William — The freedom it allows, the balance you find, the exercise you get and smile that precedes when you find life’s rhythm flowing from the two wheels taking you wherever you need to go.
3. Will Whittle is your a business partner at Biking Buenos Aires. Please tell us about Will as well.
Willie is the cool California kid, imaginative and creative. I’ll let you hear about Will from the source himself… enter Whittle – I don’t know what this guy is talking about, I grew up on a farm. The truth is that I consider myself an idealist and Robin’s more of a realist so we balance each other out well. I guess I’m someone who’s always looking for that next original idea so I tend to play trial and error a lot. At least in my mind.
4. How did you first meet and how did you come up with the idea to create a bicycle tour company together in the Argentine capital?
In the Zura halls of the SDSU campus, we were roommates in the big bad world that was college life. Since then we’d always imagined running a business together being both business majors. There was really only one stipulation; we have to absolutely love what we do naturally. Many intelligent people have told us along the way to indulge in whatever we are passionate about. Biking BA revolves around two passions, the city of Buenos Aires and bicycles. We ventured to BA after college and met our mentor, Barry, who revealed this city to us on two wheels.
Enter Willi- Well said.
5. What was involved in getting this company off the ground?
Patience, resiliency, buena onda….repeat
6. All your bicycles have license plates – a very unique feature. What are these license plates all about?
We were standing there looking at our haggard fleet of used bikes with a good friend of ours one night and he said “I’ll buy you guys a bike, just put my name on it somewhere.” We quickly thought of license plates and contacted our closest friends and family about this idea, after two weeks we had 9 or 10 ‘bike sponsors’. Each bike has its respective sponsor’s names on it and we say it carries their personality as well. All of our friends and family are just as much a part of this experience as we are. They live vicariously through their bike. And fortunately for them, their bike gets to show this place off to people from everywhere.