by Francisco Jara
HAVANA, July 14, 2012 (AFP) - For years, Felix Guirola has earned stares of astonishment from fellow Cubans as he pedals his giant bicycle down the streets of Havana. Now he hopes to wheel himself into the record books.
From his humble home in Cuba's capital city, Guirola labors away in his small workshop on the mammoth contraptions that have earned him increasing fame.
Guirola hopes that the Guinness World Records will officially recognize his latest oversized conveyance, which measures 5.6 meters (more than 18 feet) in height, as the biggest ever ridden.
"I've never been much of a cyclist, but I really like riding tall bikes," Guirola told AFP.
Shocked motorists and tourists look up with eyes agog when Guirola, a former welder, pedals his strange contraptions up busy roadways, carefully avoiding potholes and pedestrians.
He needs the assistance of three people to mount his bikes or descend from them.
And he can only ride his outsized two-wheelers on the widest boulevards of a city that is famous for the narrow streets of its Old Havana historic district, and where myriad electrical cables criss-cross perilously overhead.
Guirola admits that his is a somewhat unusual pastime.
"I don't know if this interests Cubans, but it interests me. This is my hobby," he said.
'Like an obsession'
He told AFP that he was confident he had clinched the record for the world's tallest bike.
"With this one, I already have the record," he said, claiming it was five centimeters (about two inches) taller than the one produced by Canadian Terry Goertzen in June 2004.
Even as Goertzen was claiming his record, Guirola, in fact claims he was already pedaling the world's tallest bike -- he just never knew to register the feat with officials at Guinness.
"Nobody ever told me anything," he said with a hint of disgust.
Guirola has now let officials know that he has what he believes to be the world's tallest bicycle and is awaiting official confirmation.
A vendor of small household items by day, and a renowned tinkerer in his spare time, Guirola crafted his first bike, one that was almost two meters high (6.5 feet), in 1983.
He thought he might use it in some way to raise money to help his disabled sister, who died in 1994.
Since then, his bicycles have grown in scale. He now plans to go even bigger, constructing one that will soar to 12 meters (39 feet).
"I say sometimes it's like an obsession," his wife, Francisca Acosta, told AFP. "It is always about bicycles and each passing day it gets a little bit taller."
Every day he drops Acosta off by tall bike at the restaurant where she works -- an unusual commute, but one she has grown accustomed to over the years.
"At first I felt a bit strange, I was not used to this type of bike," his wife said. "Little by little, he won me over."