03 February 2009
Cuba Today: The Riquimbili Riders
Take one Flying Pigeon bike as made in China and imported by the thousand into Cuba. Attach by whatever means necessary a Russian made engine, old American water pump motor or Japanese chain saw engine. Use an old soft drink bottle as your fuel tank and a piece of bent piping for an exhaust. Bingo - you have an authentic Cuban riquimbili, a contraption that is pronounced rick-in-billy.
God knows where the name came from, but these lethal devices are now very common on the Cuban roads. Technically they are illegal, but the police seem to have given up trying to stop people making them and using them to get around.
The noise that they make is ferocious and you will hear a riquimbili clattering in your direction from a couple of hundred yards away. As it heads away from you the stench of petrol fumes that it leaves in its wake will have you choking.
Still, it's an authentic bit of Cuba, and the owners of these motorised bikes are only too pleased to explain - often at great length - just how they made them.