HAVANA: Cubans are adept at inventing ways to earn cash but Felix Guirola stands – or rather, cycles – head and shoulders above them. The handyman, who loves heights, provides advertising space for companies on homemade bikes that tower up to 7.5 meters. He rides them around Havana in an ingenious way of getting around strict marketing regulations in the Communist island.
He said he clambered up coconut trees as a child so it was only natural that he would want to ride at tree-top level by soldering several frames onto one another.
For years, Guirola rode his contraptions as carnival attractions, which he dismounts by jumping off, or simply for pleasure.
His dream of earning a living off his bikes came slightly closer to reality last year when he was talent-spotted by foreign firms as Cuba was thrust into the global spotlight with a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama’s and a Rolling Stones concert.
They offered to pay Guirola for advertising their wares while he cycled by placing their adverts on the spindly frame of his bikes.
“It’s a new job and I’m happy to advertise anything, be it for the Cuban Revolution or for a business chain,” said Guirola, who has seven bikes of various sizes.
Guirola’s first gig was for Dutch energy drink Time Flies during the preparations for the Rolling Stones concert last March. He earned $40, a princely sum in a country where the average state wage is $25 per month.
Since then, he negotiated a deal with them whereby they pay him $100 per month.
Guirola said his life’s ambition was to win the Guinness World Record for the tallest rideable bike, although he was unsure how to apply. According to the Guinness website, the latest record was set in 2013 by a U.S. bike standing just 6.15 meters tall.
“In 1987, I was already riding a bicycle that measured 6 meters, but no one knew,” Guirola said.
He said he was working on a 10-meter tall bike although it would be easier if the United States lifted its embargo on Cuba so Cubans could have access to better technology. Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in July 2015, but the embargo remains in place.
“I’ve been doing this now for 34 years,” Guirola said. “I could teach people how to [ride tall bikes] but not everyone wants to take the risk.”