HAVANA – The great passion of Cuba’s Felix Guirola is to pedal gigantic bicycles he has built around the streets of Havana, where he is already a popular character who dreams of getting into the Guinness Records book for riding the highest bike in the world.
At age 53, with the mastery and quickness of an acrobat, Guirola climbs onto a bike three meters (9.8 feet) high that is leaning against the outer wall of his house in Old Havana which he then takes out into narrow Aguacate Street amid astonished looks from passersby.
“For me, paradise is at high altitude and every day I climb to the heights,” the cyclist told EFE, adding that for 35 years he has devoted his energies to building mega-bikes with his own resources and the donations of friends who admire his inventiveness and perseverance.
Guirola started out building bikes that were 1.7 meters high, moving on to assemble others that were 2.5, 3, 4, 6 and even 7.5 meters (25 feet) high with the aim of breaking the world record for riding the world’s biggest bike.
He is a regular sight as he pedals his medium-sized 3-meter-high bike along the famous Malecon seaside esplanade or Prado Avenue.
Nevertheless, his goal is to build even bigger bikes – 12 or 15 meters high – and he hopes to travel this summer to Detroit, the US auto manufacturing capital, at the invitation of US Guinness record-holder Richie Trimble.
Trimble – who holds the record for riding his own 6.15-meter bicycle known as “Stoopidtaller” – visited Guirola last month in Havana and helped him assemble the 7.5-meter bike weighing 120 pounds.
Their affinity for riding super-high bikes has blossomed into a mutual friendship, with each man getting a tattoo of the bike built by the other on his leg.
In the US, Guirola hopes to be able to acquire materials such as duraluminum, carbon fiber and titanium – all of which are impossible to obtain on the communist island – so that he can build more stable, lighter and safer bikes than he can create at home using Cuban, Chinese and Russian materials.
He says he enjoys seeing the smiles of the children and the admiring looks from people who are shocked when they spot him on one of the bikes.
Guirola, who won eight boxing medals as a youth, can get up to 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour on the 2.95-meter bike, and he even rode one of them the 110 kilometers separating the cities of Camaguey and his hometown of Ciego de Avila.