Every now and then, unique opportunities to visit special, far-off riding destinations pop into my inbox. Despite my jet-setting ambitions, most of them are beyond my time and budget constraints. But one offer I could not refuse? Visiting Puerto Rico! When Martín Hanzlík emailed me the story of his Puerto Rican advocacy group’s success, I realized that the island’s biking story made a perfect fit for the Local Loam series.
Martín, born and raised in Puerto Rico, is a geophysicist who has been working in Houston, TX for several years. In September 2017, hurricane Harvey ravaged that city. Then, two short weeks later, hurricane María made landfall in Puerto Rico. Martín had friends and family in both places. Seeing the hurricane damage in Houston first hand really put the scope of these huge disasters into perspective. Meeting Martín Hanzlík for the first time, just after 1am at the San Juan airport. We still had a two-and-a-half-hour drive to reach Boqueron, in Cabo Rojo, on the south western corner of the island. And yes, as seen in the video, we were on the wrong side of the freeway for an exit.
Martín’s coworker, fellow geophysicist John Blum, served on the board of GHORBA
, the Greater Houston Off Road Biking Association. After Harvey, John won several hurricane recovery grants for the Houston group. John’s success inspired Martín to ask him to give pointers on securing funding for Puerto Rican mountain bike recovery efforts. John agreed, and shared extensive resources with Martín. They faced a particularly difficult challenge -- finding a grant that could be used in a US territory, and not be limited to a US state. With determination and diligence, John and Martín found a grant available through People for Bikes.
Martín worked hard to identify a local Puerto Rican group that could receive the grant. The Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike Trails Association
, based in the southwest corner of the island, made an ideal fit. Martín is a big fan of riding in the area, and he visited this part of the country often. However, because Martín had been living on the mainland for so long, he didn’t personally know any of the board members of Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike. During more than a few phone calls, and many more emails with the Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike board, Martín demonstrated how serious he was about offering to do the legwork in securing the grant.
Lo and behold, they won the $10,000 People for Bikes grant, and the timing to announce it all worked out amazingly well. Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike held their first ever enduro race in February 2019. Martín attended, even competing in the race himself. No one at the event had met Martín before, and none of the other racers had any idea about the grant. Then, after racing was over for the day, Jansen Colberg, treasurer of the group, called Martín up to the awards podium. Jansen announced to the crowd what Martín had done, and that Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike would indeed be receiving the grant. The cheers were so loud some folks say they could be heard all the way to the mainland.
This grant marks a big step forward for Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike. Previously, the board members (Jansen Colberg, Luis Padilla, Jose Rivera) had paid for the club’s expenses out of their own pockets. This model was not sustainable in the long term. Nonetheless, they were dedicated to growing the sport they loved within the Cabo Rojo region. During trips to Whistler, BC, they had observed how much mountain biking can contribute as an instrumental part of a community. This discovery motivated them to get Cabo Rojo off the ground so that more adults and kids could benefit from what biking has to offer. Being awarded the new grant was a huge win for the group, providing funding for trail signage and maintenance. Jansen and Martín. This section had a great, natural double/double option, though the neighbor did not want us to jump over their fence. Manuel Matos (left) corners and Eduardo Santiago (right) hops. As we were grabbing snacks and supplies for a ride, I saw a travel agency/coconut water operation next door. A few dollars later, and we had an old rum bottle full of fresh coconut water. These key members of Cabo Rojo Bike and Hike are accustomed to the intense heat along the coast, much warmer than in the shaded jungles where we rode the day before. José Rojas loves to ride, and a week after the hurricane, began building these jumps. While they aren’t sanctioned, they are a lot of fun, and if you meet the Cabo Rojo crew, you might get the chance to meet José as well. We couldn’t help but wonder how many of the flowers were for losses from hurricane María.
Puerto Rico is 3,750 miles from my hometown of Bellingham, WA. The cost for the flights, rental car, and lodging made visiting Cabo Rojo beyond my budget for the Local Loam series. I discussed this with Martín and Jansen. With their personal funds, they offered to cover our travel expenses. Big thanks to them for their support on this!
And finally, one more thing that was super cool -- John Blum explained to me that he learned many of his own grant application best practices and contacts from SORBA
, as well as the San Diego Mountain Bike Association
. The advocacy community is well aware of the need for regional groups to work together. I hope this example of helping one another will inspire even more groups to think bigger, sharing information and ideas, helping us to grow the sport we all love so much.
Produced by: Jeff Kendall-Weed
Cinematography: Logan Patrick Nelson
Photography: Ben Gavelda Supported by:
Ibis Cycles, Kali Protectives, Kitsbow Cycling Apparel, Trust Performance, Jenson USA, PNW Components, Industry Nine, and WTB
@jeffweed / @loganpnelson
/ @kitsbow / @ibiscycles
/ @kaliprotectives / @industryNineOfficial / @jenson-usa / @pnwcomponents