Cuba is not your conventional mountain biking destination. In fact, mountain bike photographer Paris Gore wasn’t even sure if there was suitable riding when the idea came to mind. But when Obama permitted access to Caribbean island in 2015, Gore couldn’t turn down the opportunity to explore a zone that felt relatively untouched.
So, he got to researching. Turns out legendary mountain biker Hans Rey had spent some time riding around the island in the ‘90s. From what Gore had gathered, Rey biked part of a mountain range in Cuba that topped at 6500 feet. Aside from that, there wasn’t much information about the riding or the trails.
Gore wasn’t worried. Usually, with these kinds of trips, he tries not expect much and embraces the adventure. Plus, the opportunity to shoot an area that hasn’t been incessantly photographed? Well, that was tempting enough in itself.
We caught up with Gore to learn a little more about the adventure, which is documented in Freehub Magazine's full-length feature "One Piece at a Time". Here’s what he had to say.
Cuba is just beginning to develop its mountain biking scene. No doubt its vibrant culture will become integrated with it as it blossoms. Paris Gore Photo.
Given the controversial history between the U.S. and Cuba, how was your group received by the local community?
PG: I tried to not advertise my nationality during the first few days, but soon learned that the Cubans absolutely love Americans and what our country stands for.
It was really eye-opening and the people were super welcoming everywhere we went. All the locals were super interested in our plans and itinerary—not once did I feel unsafe or have anyone give us a bad vibe about being there.
Aaron Chase, Tom Dunfee, and Paris Gore ventured to the Island with no idea of what to expect. What they found was a passionate mountain biking scene that will only continue to grow. Paris Gore Photo.
How would you describe the Cuban mountain biking culture?
PG: You could describe Cuban MTB culture as very roots at this point. In many ways, it's like going back in time. I found it very similar to the late 80's in California when mountain biking was starting to take off.
A bike ride through the Island means weaving through the lush jungle foliage. Paris Gore Photo.
There are a lot of Cubans that are fortunate enough own a bike, but actually getting one imported—that's the hardest part for them. Aside from the technology, the love and passion for biking are massive.
They ride on what most of us would consider a jeep road as their "mountain bike ride" some on DH rigs, some on entry level rim brake hardtails, and all of them are having a blast.
The trails haven't evolved into what we would know as a mountain bike trail, but it will in the future consideringtheir passion behind riding.
What was your favorite part of the experience?
PG: My favorite part of Cuba... really hard to nail one down. There’s one moment that no one else in our group got to experience—which was this bar I went to the night I arrived.
Commuting as the Cubans do. Despite the tense history between the U.S. and Cuba, the local communities welcomed their group with open arms. Paris Gore Photo.
Aaron and Tom got to Havana a day after me so I had a brief stent to myself in Cuba. I found this really cool bar in the city center and enjoyed a couple mojitos while watching a phantom of the opera type of performer sing and dance around the bar.
It was really cool to see the music and nightlife first hand in a city that was so rich with life.