Cuban Cyclist Aims for Guinness World Record

The Guardian reports on the dreams of a Cuban cyclist Felix Guirola, who aims to beat the current record for the world’s tallest rideable bicycle, to honor the memory of his disabled sister.

Many people would be wary of cycling through chaotic downtown Havana, of sharing its narrow, potholed streets with the darting scooters, jaywalkers and hulking 1950s Detroit classics. Felix Guirola does it every day – and not on just any bicycle. Guirola rides four metres (13ft) above the ground on his homemade, super-tall bike, peering over pickup trucks and even buses, and without a helmet or other protective gear to break a fall.

[. . .] Since Guirola sold his home in the central province of Ciego de Ávila and moved to Havana in November, the odd spectacle of him pedalling around town at eye level with second-story apartments has become a daily occurrence. But neighbours still turn their heads and gawk, and smiling tourists whip out digital cameras.

[. . .] Guirola has been riding tall since 1983, when seeing a tandem inspired him to build up instead of out. He said his first tall bike measured 1.6 metres. They got progressively taller, and five years later he was riding 5.5 metres in the air at Ciego de Ávila carnivals. That puts Guirola in the area of world records. A representative of Guinness World said it currently recognised as the world’s tallest rideable bicycle a 5.55-metre contraption that was ridden 300 metres in 2004 by Terry Goertzen, a Canadian.

Guirola is nearing completion of another five-metre bicycle to use in Havana, and he is planning an eight-metre model. But he says he is returning to Ciego de Ávila this week to work out some residency issues, so he is not planning an immediate attempt to mount the taller bike.

His dream is to earn a living from the bike through tips or performance payments, and along the way to honour the memory of his disabled sister, who died two decades ago. Eneida had a brain tumour, which was operated on when she was in her early 20s. After the surgery, she had problems with balance, and was unable to walk without assistance. She died at the age of 33.

“I told her that one day, with my giant bike, I would make enough money to buy her everything she needed for her disability,” Guirola recalled tearfully. “Eneida is no longer around to see me, but I want to keep my promise. And if one day I win an award, I’ll give part of the money to help disabled children in Cuba like my sister.”

For now, the occasional tip isn’t enough to pay the bills, and he lives off savings and the meagre income from his wife’s privately run cafeteria. A welder by trade, Guirola has used the proceeds from the sale of his home to buy parts for the new bike he is building. A nearby workshop charges him a nominal fee for a space to store and work on the bike, which he has yet to try out even though it lacks only the finishing touches. “I haven’t ridden the 5.5-metre one yet,” Guirola says, “because I want to do it when it’s painted and all pretty, and try to win a Guinness record.”

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