When Karla and I arrived at Básica Studio’s workshop in México City, one of the first things I noticed was a yellow bicycle parked on its kickstand standing a little apart from the other ones on the rack. A complete set of fenders and heavy-duty racks made it clear this bike was intended for fully loaded touring, and the letters on the down tube, F. Duarte, spelled a brand I hadn’t seen before. We soon found out this bike belonged to Juanito, one of the mechanics at the shop, and I knew I had to see this bike and this guy in action.
Juanito’s way of speaking and knowledge of local routes gave me the false impression that he was born in or around México City, but the truth is, he arrived in December 2020 coming from a bike tour in Europe. Some months ago he was visiting his family in Bogotá, Colombia, where his father often hangs out with the sons of the late José Duarte, who was one of the most prestigious frame builders in Colombia. Since his passing his sons continue his legacy under the name of Fabio Duarte Bikes, and when they found out that Juanito’s previous touring bike’s frame had cracked, they made him this one.
Touring in Desierto de los Leones National Park
We asked Juanito if he would like to come on a bike trip with us, if that would fit in with his duties at the shop. We settled for an overnighter and chose to go to the Desierto de los Leones National Park. The park starts about 30km to the west of the city center. Despite being a huge mass of concrete and buildings, México City has eight national parks within its limits and spending the couple of hours of battling city traffic it takes to get to them feels worth it once you find yourself surrounded by forest and are finally away from the sound of cars. “La gran Tenochtitlan” was founded in a valley at 2200 meters (around 7200 feet) of elevation and most of the areas that have been declared as national parks are in the surrounding mountains so they require a bit of climbing, easily reaching 3500 meters (11’500 feet) above sea level.
Juanito told us there was a way to connect Desierto de los Leones with Los Dinamos, another famous climb for México City locals and a protected natural preserve, via a road of dirt and cobblestone; it was just a matter of choosing a place to spend the night in between. Desierto de los Leones is the first natural area in the country that was given the status of protected, back in 1876. After the Mexican Revolution, in 1917 it was declared the first national park in Mexico, and it remains as a lung and water provider of the city.
On the departure day Karla and I met up with Juanito a little past noon and followed him west, with the climbing beginning very soon on a series of neighborhood streets. As we pedaled, houses progressively gave way to the forest, and a scent of fresh humidity entered my nose; after stopping at the last quesadilla spot we continued climbing some more before the sun disappeared. It amazed me how we suddenly found ourselves in the forest not too long after being right in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.
A light rain started falling, which brought us to a halt and made us consider riding back home; Juanito said he had not brought any rain gear and I knew my old rain jacket wouldn’t keep me dry for more than ten minutes, but we agreed that we were already out there and settled for a camp spot some kilometers before where we were aiming to finish the day. The drizzle gave us the chance to set up our tents before turning into full rain, and it stayed like that for most of the night.
In the morning we found a tiny pool inside our tent, which managed to wet most of Karla’s clothes; it turned out our rainfly had a hole but as we rarely see rain in northwest México, we didn’t know it was there. We waited till the sun came out to leave our sleeping bags, had cold burritos de frijoles for breakfast, and then packed up to continue the route before returning to the city. Steam rose from the ground as the sunlight hit; I hurried uphill to get ahead for a photo and when I stopped I had vapor coming up from my shoulders and head, and my glasses got all fogged up so I couldn’t see anything for the photo. We reached a clearing where we took time to enjoy the sun and admire Juanito’s bike in detail.
“Burra”, Spanish for a female donkey, is a common way to say “bicycle” in Colombia, as is “cicla”. At 21 years of age, Juanito has dedicated the recent years of his life to traveling by bicycle and has already seen plenty of Europe and Latin America. He’s constantly fiddling with his gear looking for the perfect setup, and for this trip he decided to try a seat post with a spring suspension after he took Karla’s ECR with a Thudbuster for a ride (he removed it two days later though as his knees were hurting).
But those bar ends on the drop bars? Yeah those have been there for a while and aren’t going anywhere, they’re where Juanito holds on while climbing and the source of his healthy spine. A SP PD-8 dynamo hub makes sure his front light and devices stay on, and his gears go low enough to haul him and his bags up the longest hills. Those trusty and worn Schwalbe Marathons were replaced a few days later by some proper 29×2.3″ mountain bike tires, making use of all the tire clearance available, which you can see in two photos I took in another ride.
Before Karla and I left México City we said goodbye to Juanito, and he asked if we’d be back. We told him maybe next summer, and he smiled and said “Well, I hope not to see you then”; Juanito told us he’s planning to move on to his next big adventure soon, and as I understood exactly what he meant, I smiled and hoped for the same.