With a total 200km of bike lines planned, a new bike-sharing program, and multiple cycle tours, Buenos Aires is well on its way to becoming a cyclist’s city.

On a sunny, mild Friday afternoon in Buenos Aires, cyclists pedal down the bike lane on Calle Gorriti on mountain bikes, cruisers and identical yellow bikes. Some greet each other as they pass in opposite directions or ring their bells at cars driving alongside. Two years ago, this scene was far from reality. The bike lane was non-existent, as were the yellow bikes, which are part of the city’s bike-sharing program.

As local officials have made sustainable transportation and biking infrastructure a priority, close to 70km of protected bike lanes — ciclovías or bicisendas — have been built and there are plans to reach 100km by the end of 2011, with an eventual goal to construct a total of 200km. A bike-sharing program for residents and long-term visitors began in November 2010, and there are now 18 stations throughout the city and a total of 500 bikes available. In shared office space Urban Station Palermo Soho has bikes to lend patrons who come in to borrow their Internet. Now, an estimated 8,000 people travel on bike every day. Buenos Aires is well on its way to becoming a cyclist’s city.

When US native William Whittle first arrived in Buenos Aires in 2008, few people were navigating the city streets on bike other than for delivery guys. Whittle clearly remembers one of his rides from back in November 2009 when he was on the street Santa Fe and crossing over Callao. “I think I was getting into the adrenaline. It really got into me,” he said. “It just hit me all of a sudden: This is so much fun. And I looked around me and nobody was doing it. There was nobody biking.”

As one of the earlier cycling aficionados in Buenos Aires, friends turned to him for advice and he became a contact for visitors who wanted to see the city by bike. So in 2009, Whittle started on plans for Biking Buenos Aires, which rents bikes and runs four tour routes ($30 to $75) in five different languages, including a street art-themed tour in conjunction with non-profit organisation Graffitimundo that promotes Buenos Aires’ urban art and its artists. Other reputable bike tour and rental companies include bike it!, La Bicicleta Naranja and Urban Biking Buenos Aires.

Matias Kalwill, who has been biking as a form of transport more than a decade, is the founder and director of La Vida en Bici (“Life on Bike”), a website which offers information for cyclists and organizes events to promote sustainability and bike use in Buenos Aires. Currently, Kalwill is preparing for Buenos Aires’ participation in Moving Planet, an international rally for solutions to climate issues, on 24 September and orchestrating the painting of a plaza in Palermo Soho with a cheery, pastel-hued mural that promotes bike use and positive bike etiquette. One of the ways in which Kalwill became a leading force behind the nascent but growing bike movement in Buenos Aires was by starting to organize Biciconga with friends, an outdoor party that happens every few months and celebrates biking culture with art, live music and of course, a ride.

Both Kalwill and Whittle regularly participate in Masa Crítica (Critical Mass), an international, monthly event originating in San Francisco in 1992, for which cyclists take over city streets to call attention to biking as a form of urban transport and, in a way, push for bike-related initiatives. Masa Crítica rides in Buenos Aires began three years ago, ballooning from 90 cyclists at the January 2010 event to 2,000 in January 2011.

José Luis del Rio, the owner of Bicicletas Orense (Paraguay 4718) in Palermo, has been in the bike business since the 1970s. He said this past year has been his busiest to date, and thinks it was visitors to Buenos Aires who were accustomed to pedalling around their own home cities who got residents to think more about biking.

“The first thing these tourists do (when they come to Buenos Aires) is look for a bike to get around the city,” he said. “They called attention to how little we were using bikes.

Similarly, Mayor Mauricio Macri is said to have drawn inspiration for his Mejor en Bici (“Better on Bike”) campaign, the umbrella under which the new ciclovías and bike-sharing program fall, from Barcelona’s indisputably successful Bicing program, which debuted in 2007. Mr. del Rio, who is rumoured to offer discounts for those professing the Beatles fandom, says he does substantial business with longer-term visitors to the city; he sells bikes to them to use during their time in Buenos Aires, then buys them back before the tourists depart. (Long-term visitors can also participate in Buenos Aires’ bike-sharing program; all that is needed is a valid passport and a Certificado de Domicilio, a paper local police deliver as proof of address.)

Biking in Buenos Aires still faces a few challenges. In a city where many drivers take stoplights as mere suggestions and the person with the right of way tends to be the bigger or gutsier, cycling can be a harrowing endeavour. Bike theft also is common, as there is no formal registration for private bikes. And despite mounting popularity, Kalwill thinks the biking culture has yet to transition from trendy to mainstream.

But many see biking as a necessary solution in Buenos Aires. Notorious rush hour traffic chokes the city’s flat roadways daily, and local newspaper Clarín reported the city lacks parking spaces for 500,000 cars. Andrés Fingeret, the director of the Instituto de Políticas para el Transporte y el Desarrollo, which advises the government on sustainability initiatives including Mejor en Bici as well as the Plan de Movilidad Sustentable (Plan for Sustainable Movement) of which Mejor en Bici is a part, also sees advantages for the city’s tourism reputation.

“Everyone knows about the Metro in Paris,” he said. “But they don’t go to Paris for the Metro. They go to walk along the Champs-Élysées, to be outside on the streets. Great cities are recognized for their great pedestrian infrastructure.” And Fingeret includes bike pathways as part of that pedestrian infrastructure. “You get to know a city by biking, not by Metro or even bus.”

With more cycling pathways in the works, more bike-sharing stations set to open and additional businesses offering guests or clients bikes to borrow, Buenos Aires is set to become more bike-friendly than ever.

“There are many cultural and creative initiatives going on, and I guess that is something that’s becoming characteristic of bike culture here in Buenos Aires,” Kalwill said. “I hope in the future bike culture in Buenos Aires manages to grow so big that it becomes a reference and inspiration to other cities in Latin America.”