The tips I write here are based on my own personal experiences from three long distance cycling trips in Brazil over the past four years that has taken me through eleven states in Brazil. Cycling in Brazil is better than most people think.
If you disagree with some of the things I write or think there is something that should be added then feel free to comment or write to me.
Road conditions for cyclists in Brazil.
I’m sure there are some roads in Brazil that are really bad, but the ones I have used as a cyclist has generally been quite good. And in Brazil you mostly have large shoulders on the main roads that caters to soft traffic which also includes horses in some part of Brazil, but because of the large shoulders I always felt quite safe cycling in Brazil even if the drivers can be real crazy at times.
I have cycled on the coastal road from Porto Alegre in the very south of Brazil to Salvador da Bahia in the Northeast and that road was nicely paved and had good shoulders most of the time and mostly not too much traffic, as long as I was not near any big city.
In the Northeast of Brazil where I have also cycled the roads have also been quite good especially when you get away from the coast, but even the coastal roads have been ok once you are out of the big cities.
Be sure to bring some good tires to Brazil.
Even if the roads are generally quite good they do tend to have a lot of industrial traffic and the trucks tend to dump a lot of rubbish by the side of the road including pieces of metal that can be hard for your bicycle tires.
Some parts of the country, especially inland, has a lot of cactuses and some cactus flowers can puncture your tires unless they are kevlar tires.
Good news is that it’s quite easy to pick up spare parts these days in Brazil as the number of cyclists has increased a lot in recent years and I never had any problems locating a bicycle store in the towns and cities I went in Brazil.
Now here is some good news for us cyclists.
While you see quite a few stray dogs on the streets in Brazil they have never been trained to be watch dogs so dog chases are very uncommon in Brazil.
You will get a dog that barks at you from time to time but it’s very very rare that they will chase you.
I find that most dogs in Brazil get a little scared when I come on my bike and run in to the ditch.
Cycling in Sertao.
Sertao is the part of Northeast Brazil where you are away from the coast.
This is a very hot and mostly dry part of Brazil and this is also a very poor part of the country.
Many people in the big Brazilian cities will warn you against going to Sertao as the favelas they have in the big cities are mostly populated by people from Sertao who was driven in to the big city because of poverty.
The favelas are often dangerous places to be and because of that the big city folks often view Sertao and the people from there with suspicion.
But I have been several times to Sertao and I have never had any problems or felt in danger there.
I actually think it’s one of the safest places to be in Brazil and it’s where I love to go for slow paced lifestyle and friendly country folks.
Life in Sertao bear no resemblance to life in a favela at all and Sertao is in general a very safe place to travel around.
And from a cyclist point of View Sertao is good news too.
When I went cycling there I took one of the main truck roads going south from the city Teresina and down towards the state of Pernambuco.
Now when you say truck road then I know it sounds really bad and potentially dangerous, but it was actually really good there because of the large shoulders on the road and because the truck drivers try to drive as little as possible during the day and more in the evening because of the intense heat, leaving the roads pretty quiet as there is not so much personal traffic in Sertao.
Only thing you have to be able to deal with is the heat.
35 to 40 degrees celsius is very common in Sertao and it’s a dry heat that really fries you and if rain comes it tends to be thunderstorms with lot’s of lightnings, so find some shelter if a thunderstorm is coming up as sertao is one of the places in the world that sees the most deaths because of lightning strikes.
Sleep at the gas stations.
One thing that I really like about Brazil is that gas stations often have some rooms they rent out, mainly to truck drivers.
This in particular in the interior of Brazil that you see this.
These gas stations will almost always also have a little restaurant and even free wifi so they are good places to stop if you are not near a town by the end of the day and that can often happen especially up in northern Brazil where you have long distances.
This might sound crazy but these gas stations can often be very social places where they put tables out on the parking lot at night and play loud music and party and dance the night away in best Brazilian style.
Be ware that smaller hotels in Brazil are usually called “Pousadas” so this is the sign you should first of all look for, not just at gas stations but all over Brazil when looking for a cheap place to spend the night.
City cycling in Brazil.
My big city cycling in Brazil is based on my experiences with cycling in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Teresina, Porto Alegre, Florianopolis, Santos, Curitiba, Vitoria and Joao Pessoa and my experience is that it’s very good if you go along the coastal roads where you mostly have beaches as they always tend to have good bicycle lanes there and lot’s of other cyclists.
The rest of the cities can be quite a challenge and I often resort to cycling on the pavement.
Bike lanes are becoming more and more common in Brazil these days and some cities are surprisingly well equipped with bike paths.Especially the state of Sao Paulo has a lot of good bicycle paths. But there are still plenty of places that needs more bike lanes, so do not expect some bike haven, but a fairly good place to have a bicycle.
I once lived three weeks in the center of Rio de Janeiro and took my bike every day along the beaches of Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon and the cycling there was world class and you have a lot of girls to look at along the beaches and some of them are biking too 🙂
Cycling in the southern part of Brazil.
When cycling in Brazil, I have also been to the southern states on Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Parana, which are quite different from the rest of Brazil. They are first of all not tropical and can be quite cold between may and september, when it’s winter in Brazil. But if you are cycling in Brazil, then these states are quite good for cycling too. Just be ware that there are some very industrial parts there, as this is where Brazil makes money. The area around Porto Alegre for instance, is quite industrial and not always the prettiest. But it’s a part of Brazil where cycling is quite hip, so you have many good bicycle shops. So it’s a good place to start your journey when cycling in Brazil, as you can easily buy a bicycle or get spare parts there.
The worst part about cycling in Brazil.
The thing I like the least about cycling in Brazil is when I need to get in and especially out of the big cities.
Traffic there tends to be very congested and that destroys the roads and create big potholes that fills with water if it rains so you can’t see how deep they are.
The favelas also tend to be in the outskirts of the big cities and these places are sometimes controlled by criminal gangs so it can be potentially dangerous to cycle past them.
Good news is that they have become a little safer in recent years, but you should still try to cycle past them as quickly as possible as they can be potentially dangerous.
If you have the chance to throw your bike on a bus or in a car and have it transported out of the city. Long distance busses in Brazil are generally very accepting to putting bikes on the bus and I have used bus to get in and out of cities like Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba for instance.
Cycling is hip in Brazil.
I have been coming to Brazil for the past 22 years and one big change I have seen is how cycling has grown from something only poor people did cause they could not afford a car to something that has become very popular with the hip city crowd.
If you cycle along the big city beaches in Brazil you will see dozens of Brazilian cyclists in cycling outfits.
Brazilians like to go cycling in groups and I have met many groups of young Brazilians on the roads of Brazil especially on sundays where they tend to meet up.
They are usually very happy to chat away with a foreign biker as they are few and far between in Brazil.
Knowing some portuguese here can be very helpful as english is not that widely spoken in Brazil but even if you speak no portuguese you can still socialise with them as they are usually so genuinely curious about foreign cyclists that they are ready to be very patient in order to understand you.
Finally I would like to recommend Brazil as a cycling destination, especially if you like to take a cycling trip in a place that sees few foreign cyclists.
Just remember to bring some suntan lotion, some good tires and last but not least, look people in the eyes when you talk to them. this is one thing Brazilians really appreciate as it’s considered a little rude not to do so.
I have not met many tour cyclists when I have been cycling in Brazil and they have all been South American cyclists. I have heard of a few other europeans and North Americans who have been cycling in Brazil, but it’s still not that common, but does not mean that it’s not good. And it is not nearly as dangerous as most people think.
Just try never to cycle at night and be a little careful when going in and out of big cities and you should be fine. I have personally never had a single incident where I felt unsafe when cycling in Brazil.
Have a nice trip. I am sure you will enjoy Brazil 🙂