Cuba’s giant bicycle-maker aims higher


By Raul Menchaca

HAVANA, Nov. 12 (Xinhua)– Felix Guirola is not afraid of heights as he rides through the streets of Havana on a unique 4-meter bicycle. Guirola has remodeled several bicycles since August 1981, when he pedalled a 2-meter bike at carnivals in the central Cuban city of Ciego de Avila, where he was born 52 years ago.

Unable to afford a bike, Guirola decided to build his own. He gradually raised the height of his bike over time. “I have it still here at home,” the peculiar Cuban biker told Xinhua recently.

Guirola claims that from 1987 to 2004 he held the world record for the tallest bicycle, but only his neighbors in Ciego de Avila knew about his achievements.

In November 2010, Guirola moved to Havana, where he lives in the basement of an old art-deco building. There he runs a small workshop, working with metal pieces and bike parts, mainly Chinese-made brands “Flying Pigeon” and “Forever.”

It was in that workshop where the desire to meet the high-jump world record holder, Javier Sotomayor, led him to assemble a bicycle of the height reached by the Cuban jumper — 2.45 meters. His dream came true and Sotomayor even rode the strange contraption.

But this wasn’t enough for Guirola. He began aiming higher. Breaking the Guinness World Records became an obsession, one he finally achieved, with a 7.3-meter-high bicycle, beating out Riche Trimble, an American who owned the previous record of 6.15 meters.

Trimble visited the island in April and the two men fostered a close friendship. They even had each other’s bicycle models as tattoos. The two men are now preparing a six-meter tandem bike to ride together in an effort to set a new record.

Guirola said he hopes that the current setback in Havana-Washington relations would not hinder his eventual trip to the United States, aimed at establishing a new world record.

His wife Francisca Acosta is used to her husband’s obsession as he often rides her to work with one of his unique “tower bicycles.” “I’m not afraid anymore, because I rode with him for a long time and lost my fear,” Acosta said.

Guirola goes up and down his bicycles with amazing agility, a legacy of his years as a boxer, when he won four national championships in the mens’ 48-51 kg division.

However, the real spectacle is watching him riding through the streets of Havana, where he arouses the admiration of passers-by, especially children who applaud and shout at him.

“It’s a unique thing,” said Raydel Sanchez, a 10-year-old schoolboy, who saw Guirola pass by on his bike. “He deserves a great award because he is a man who has balance and is brave.”

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