Engine Hacks: Riquimbilis, or: what we’d do if we couldn’t buy a car

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After the United States enacted a near-total economic embargo against Cuba in 1962, American export of Detroit Iron came to a halt. Since then, some Cubans have been lucky enough to own a classic Chevy or Buick. Soviet imports of Volgas stopped in the 1990s. With a dearth of any sort of motorized transport (and a public transport system that’s even worse than America’s), some Cubans went with the only reasonable solution: they built Rikimbilis, bicycles and engines hacked together into a moped.

Most rikimbilis are based around Chinese bicycles with a motor ‘obtained’ through ‘non-conventional means’. The exhaust can be fabricated from just about any metal tube available, and a plastic soda bottle is the gas tank of choice. Everything on these bikes is done for reasons of economy and availability, and the fuel efficiency is unbeatable with some rikinbilis getting 120 mpg.

Because they’re not especially safe, Riquimbilis are illegal in Cuba, but the police generally turn a blind eye to their use. Lately the Cuban government has begun cracking down on riquimbilis, but with not many cars to go around these machines of necessity will most likely continue plying Havana boulevards.

22 thoughts on “Engine Hacks: Riquimbilis, or: what we’d do if we couldn’t buy a car

  1. There are some kits to do this for like 200$ Ive always wanted to do this to my bike but something about sticking a motor on a bike with 21 speeds just seems like a death wish hehe.

    1. @Addidis One oil production company had a cobbled together truck with 45 forward speed, and 9 in reverse power by a 6/71 Detroit. An older friend of mine motorized is 16 speed bike. Of course ‘speeds” doesn’t equal speed, and we are all still alive. That is except for my older fiend, age finally caught up with him, the old boy was a hardware hacker born of his time. The Great Depression/ WWII era.

  2. Just out of curiosity, how is it actually spelled? I noticed three different spellings in this article. Not trying to be a sp/gr whore, just… Curious now.

  3. Having a spinning gear so close to my inside leg sounds a bit dangerous. I’ve heard stories of chopper belt drives taking peoples pant leg off, i’m sure this could also do some damage

  4. The really poor do that. The rest of them buy the china bike motor kits.

    Honestly, Cuba is not that bad. You can buy Kia Cars there brand NEW.

  5. Necessity is the mother of invention, so we have these, and I’m sure when this bike takes its owners nuts off he’ll just install a couple of marbles in a sandwich bag and be on his merry way. :)

    1. Sadly marbles in a sandwich bag isn’t going to restore function. That would be like how those with money who have cosmetic prosthesis’ put in when they castrate their pets. The option of being able to show off a bigger pair that what you originally had is a pee poor consolation prize.

      1. … if the Cuban government doesn’t arrest you first, that is. Just ask that guy who’s facing 4-20 years for hooking up a Jewish sect in Havana with wireless Internet.

  6. the engine is definitely manufactured..

    you can’t ignore 120MPG for something that can be put together for under $50..and it probably has a 2+ year life before rings or something need replaced..

  7. I live in downtown Phoenix, I’ve seen at least a dozen of these things buzzing around while out shopping.

    Didn’t think poverty here was as bad as Cuba…

  8. Wold seem that some Riquimbilis are safer than others. Hopefully any government crack down will be moderated toward construction safety standards.

  9. Honda makes a 4 stoke 50cc engine that fits this profile and application perfectly and is more efficient and quiet..experimentation in drive systems can yield uprising results..

    GXH50

  10. i bought a grubee starfire 66cc bicycle engine kit on ebay for like $150
    was fun as hell until it broke, cheap chinese engine as opposed to chinese bike(which im sure was also chinese)
    word of advice
    they come with studs for a reason
    it is better to snap a stud
    than to snap the engine mount because you used grade 8 bolts and have it smack you in the leg at 30 mph

  11. I have a work colleague is from Cuba and I asked him about these motorized bycicles.
    He told me he’s unsure about the spelling of the name himself (he told me they gave them a silly name he can’t even remember) and that their ban is not due to concerns about safety, but because after these bikes became widespread people started stealing motors from anything containing one, leading to real social problems :)

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