Cuba

Will this Cuban build the planet’s tallest bike? U.S. record holder is helping him try

Video: Riding High on Flying Pigeons in Havana

Welding together parts from Chinese Flying Pigeon bicycles that became ubiquitous in Cuba during the era known as the Special Period, Félix Ramón Guirola Cepero has become Cuba's king of towering bicycles. He is in the process of building a Guinne
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Welding together parts from Chinese Flying Pigeon bicycles that became ubiquitous in Cuba during the era known as the Special Period, Félix Ramón Guirola Cepero has become Cuba's king of towering bicycles. He is in the process of building a Guinne

Richie Trimble, the California man who holds the Guinness World record for building and riding the world's tallest bike at a whopping 20-plus feet, headed to Cuba this week loaded with 30 pounds of bicycle parts and accessories to help a Cuban tallbike aficionado build a soaring bicycle that could top his own record.

Trimble came across a Miami Herald article from November 2015 detailing the quest of Félix Ramón Guirola Cepero to build a record-setting 10-meter bike (32 feet, 9.7 inches) and put meeting Guirola on his bucket list. A photojournalist friend of Trimble’s also met Guirola, who promptly asked him to convey an invitation to the world-record holder to come to Cuba and ride with him.

With an open spot on his calendar, Trimble left Tuesday for a 2-1/2 week trip to Havana. He decided not only that he and Guirola would ride tallbikes together, but that they would work on Guirola’s dream bike. Trimble had his first meeting with Guirola on Wednesday.

Guirola, who turns 53 on Saturday, has already pieced together several tallbikes that he uses to tool around Havana and give his wife rides to work, prompting plenty of double takes as he speeds along the seaside Malecón or rides near his Old Havana home.

His tallest completed bike, at 19 feet eight inches, already approaches Trimble’s record and was soldered together using frames from old Chinese-made Flying Pigeon bicycles.

Trimble’s record-setter, which he calls “Stoopidtaller,” has a triangular frame and is sleek by comparison. Building it, said Trimble, is the “hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Guinness adjudicators measured Stoopidtaller at 20-feet, 2.5 inches (6.15 meters) in Los Angeles on Dec. 26, 2013, and Trimble has held the record for tallest rideable bicycle ever since.

Snippets of Trimble riding the bike can be seen in current “Dream Big — Visit California” commercials. His latest tallbike project with Guirola will be documented on video.

Even Helen Trimble, the record holder’s mother, is rooting for Guirola. “It seems the only thing holding Félix back from building this record-breaking bike is money for parts,” she said. Her son by contrast, Trimble said, “was brought up to know no limits.”

For Helen Trimble, her son’s trip to Havana is also one about the possibilities of engagement. “Richie feels by reaching out to Félix, it is not only about showing good sportsmanship, it is about showing support for a Cuban athlete who is trying to grow and to transcend the once impenetrable political barriers that limited doing so,” she said.

Guirola himself has been reaching out to bike enthusiasts around the world for years, offering to take them on bike tours of the island or to try his true passion, riding tallbikes.

Swiss long-distance bicyclist and author Claude Marthaler went to Cuba and spent a week with Guirola and included their visit in a book, “¡Hasta la bicicleta siempre!,”which he wrote about his three-month solo bike trip through Cuba. The book’s title Ever Onward to Bike is a play on Cuban Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s saying, “Hasta la victoria siempre” (Ever onward to victory).

Building a 10-meter bike is one thing, but being able to ride it is another. To claim a Guinness record, the tallbike must be ridden for a minimum of 100 meters.

But if anyone can ride a 10-meter bike, Guirola, a former boxer, thinks he’s the man for the job. Havana’s king of the road has been riding tallbikes for more than 35 years and clambers up his current bikes like Spider-Man. Stability, equilibrium and fearlessness are needed to navigate a sky-high bike and Guirola says he has them all.

“I'm fascinated by height,” he said back in 2015. “When I go to a baseball stadium, I would prefer to see the game from the highest point, where nobody is sitting.”

His dream then and still is “to invent the largest bicycle in the history of the world.”

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