BOGOTA — It's impossible to ignore car traffic or air pollution in the Colombian capital of Bogota, but there is cause for optimism here as cycling becomes increasingly visible. The city government is encouraging this green transport, and younger residents especially are keen to find new ways to live in this car-dominated metropolis.

If you plan to be among the million or so foreign tourists who visit the capital every year, cycling may be a good option for getting around, becoming familiar with the city geography, and meeting locals through cycling groups. 

One of the city's most popular circuits is the Sunday ride and walk down the carrera Séptima, one of the major arteries linking residential northern Bogota to the historical district, which is closed to auto traffic Sunday mornings.

The city has also begun cycling nights on Wednesdays and Thursdays, effectively adopting a trend now solidly established in European and some American cities. It allows residents to rediscover a habit President John F. Kennedy once described as an incomparable, if simple, pleasure.

Photo: ChiKs Bikes Bogotá

The trend began here about five years ago when few believed it was feasible or could catch on amid significant smog and sometimes life-threatening car traffic. Today, there are 15 cycling groups in the capital.

"Some are born to create a space inside each locality so people can know and start owning the city," says Walter García, head of the En Bici es Mejor group. He says it also unites friends who like the same things and who want to make a difference. Other routes he suggests include around the Campín stadium to the historic Plaza de Bolívar, to Suba in northern Bogota, or the Chorro de Quevedo, one of the city's oldest districts. It's even possible to cycle to the airport.

Some of the neighborhood itineraries include FontiruedaTeusacatubici — in the trendy, midtown district of Teusaquillo — or Bikennedy in the southern district named after John F. Kennedy, who visited Bogota in 1961. Other groups take members on rides outside the capital.

Unfortunately, theft and other crimes are a reality in Bogota, and there are intermittent reports of muggers attacking cyclists, who lack the protection of a private vehicle but attract more attention than pedestrians. For that reason, some cycling groups don't publish their routes on networking websites, instead telling members just the meeting point. 

Photo: CicloPaseo Cachaco

Groups typically cycle for between two and six hours. Whatever the distance or time, membership is free. Some, like Ciclopaseo Cachaco, have dress codes (vintage lovers, this is the group for you). Others, such as ChicKs Bikes, have one-off themes. 

Bogota has the largest regional network of bike lines, 392 kilometers, according to the city's transport authority. Authorities put the current number of cyclists at 450,000 and growing. But of course, the trend's longer-term environmental benefits and impact on social culture, while almost certain, have yet to be measured.