I was surprised to see hardly any motorcycles when I first arrived in central Mexico in 2003. After all, the temperate climate in most areas makes them much more convenient than in places like New York. . But it is only in the last few years that I have noticed a significant number of motorcycles on the streets of Mexico City.
I’m not the only one, and it wasn’t just in Mexico City that this happened.
Scooters (motonetas in Mexican Spanish) and small-engine motorcycles are becoming an important part of major urban areas in Mexico. They can be seen in small towns and even more so in rural areas.
Mexican statistics agency Inegi says there are about five million motorcycles registered in Mexico, with an increase of 10 to 20 percent each year. Growth started as early as 2003 but has really taken off since 2013, in large part thanks to the rise of delivery services. In fact, small motorcycles are sometimes classified as “deliveries” (using the English word).
With numbers doubling and tripling, most motorcycles can be found in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. But the Yucatán Peninsula comes in fourth with a fairly long history of using these small bikes for daily transport.
The impact of food delivery services such as Rappi and Uber Eats is best seen in central and northern Mexico, which lacked an urban motorcycle culture. But only 15% of small motorcycles are used primarily for this job. Many are now used as a general means of transportation.
They are much cheaper than cars, take up less space, are nimble in heavy traffic, and fare much better in terms of gas mileage – that’s no small thing, considering the fuel prices of our cars. days. In Mexico City, small motorcycles face less hoy no traffic traffic restrictions, which aim to combat the city’s notorious smog, and none if the vehicle is electric.
The “discovery” in Mexico of two-wheeled motorized transport caught the attention of foreign manufacturers. They have become a bigger part of companies like Yamaha and BMW, which have been selling these bikes and bigger bikes for years, but new players are looking to take advantage of the low-end market.
These include Chinese manufacturer Tayo Motorcycle Technology and Indian manufacturer Bajaj. CEO Olaf Sarabia González says Bajaj México’s interest comes from the fact that the country has a much higher population than Chile and much more room for growth than Colombia, two Latin American countries where the brand has had success.
By far the main Mexican brand of small motorcycles is Italika. Their motonetas and deliveries can be found all over the country, even on sale in supermarkets and department stores. At its plant in Toluca, Mexico, the company produces more than 650,000 units per year, mostly vehicles with 125cc and 150cc engines.
Specialty motorcycles have been around for some time in Mexico, often operating as mini-taxis and small delivery trucks. Muevetec, based in Ecatepec, Mexico, specializes in these vehicles, and their activity has increased significantly due to the pandemic.
Their most popular vehicles are three-wheeled motorcycle trucks. These are built to order, almost always for small businesses like food trucks and mobile pet grooming and used to haul everything from clean water to dry cleaning.
The tailor-made concept is important, explains co-founder Roberto Sánchez, as they can tailor the vehicle to customer needs and the peculiarities of Mexican roads.
But the rise of the economical motorcycle is not without its problems. Chief among them is the high accident rate, which has tripled across the country as the number of motorcycles has similarly increased.
The main problem is that there is a lack of motorcycle culture here. Lack of helmet use is the main contributor to motorcycle fatalities, along with speeding, faulty lights, and little or no rider training.
Bikers complain that cars don’t take them into consideration, but motorists and pedestrians complain about little bikers ignoring basic traffic rules. In some areas, up to 98% of motorcyclists do not have insurance.
Some manufacturers offer riding lessons to help with this, and new laws have been passed and proposed for the same purpose. These include helmet laws, prohibiting minors from riding motorcycles, and even special permits for delivery drivers.
In large cities, crimes committed using motorcycles have been a problem. They are used in robberies, assaults and even murder. Attackers use them because motorcycles make it easier to escape in traffic and their small number plates are more difficult to read. Mexico City has tried to require credentials on runners’ helmets, but this has proven impractical.
The economy favors the increase of urban motorcycling, and time will tell if a (semi) orderly motorcycle culture will emerge in the country. If you watch movies about automobile traffic from the turn of the 20th century, you know that the adoption of the car was also a chaotic process.
With an increasing number of users, they become less abnormal, making cars and pedestrians more aware of their possible presence. Hopefully they will reciprocate by seeing themselves as motorists as well.
Leigh Themadatter arrived in Mexico 18 years ago and fell in love with the land and culture especially its crafts and art. She is the author of Mexican cardboard: paper, paste and fiesta (Schiffer 2019). His culture section appears regularly on Mexico Daily News.