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.

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