Topes: Diabolical Aggravation, or Brilliant Marketing Tool?

In celebration of passing through my 12th (and final) Mexican state, I’ve decided to dedicate a post to Topes. If you spend any time in Mexico, you can’t avoid them. I feel like I’ve seen, crossed, and experienced enough of them to write a thesis paper, but this will do for now:

In the vehicle durability testing world, there is a device used to punish chassis and suspension components. It’s often referred to as a “rolling road” or “cam drum”. Essentially, it is a large roller with a speed bump on it, and the vehicle’s wheel(s) are placed on the roller such that the speed bump comes around and contacts the tire each revolution, causing a disturbance to the vehicle.

Topes (pronounced Toe-Pays) are the real world cam drum. The amount of stress imparted throughout a vehicle each time it hits a Mexican tope is significant. As I mentioned earlier, topes are not uniform: some are round and smooth, some are low and semi-circular and hardly noticeable. Others are sharp; not much less than a standard curb. And some are simply fake. They paint the lines on the street to fool you into thinking there is a tope there, but there isn’t.

In most places where there are topes, there are also businesses. Some are brick-and-mortar buildings — well, maybe not so much mortar. More cinder block, or just sticks and corrugated tin. It may be a restaurant, an automotive repair business, or a store of some sort. Then there are the free-standing “mobile” businesses: the guy selling fruit; the woman selling hand-made necklaces or dolls. Topes are the perfect marketing tool: they force you to slow down, so people can put stuff in your face.

This got me to wondering: which came first, the tope or the business? I had originally assumed that people congregated where the topes were. But the farther I ride through Mexico, I’m inclined to believe that in many cases the people place the topes where they want. I base this on the varying designs and construction methods. For example:

If you own a brick-and-mortar business and can afford it, put an asphalt or cement tope in front of your business. Yellow paint optional, but better to slow people down in time to notice your business.

If you can’t afford the asphalt or cement, paint the stripes across the road to fool people into thinking it’s a tope.

If you can’t afford that much paint, just paint a sign that says “Tope” and stick it on the side of the road. People will slow down, and you can still do business with them.

If you can’t afford the sign, just pile some mud across the road so it looks like a tope. Sure it wears down fast, but there’s plenty more where that came from.

And if you’re out of asphalt, cement, paint, and mud, just grab a couple of orange cones and place them in the centerline of the street, a tope’s width apart. People will still think there’s a tope there.

I’ve seen all of these methods used by sellers in Mexico.

And I’ve learned that if you see a guy standing on the center line of the road holding a bunch of stuff to sell, hit the brakes. There’s a speed bump coming.

I suppose this is what happens when you don’t slow down for the topes. And yes, there is a tope right there.

4 thoughts on “Topes: Diabolical Aggravation, or Brilliant Marketing Tool?

  1. Pat, Joe told me about your adventure and I am enjoying being your virtual riding buddy. Can’t wait to see your next posts. Rock on!

  2. Ahhhh, Topelandia!

    I’ve developed a certain affinity for topes over the years. They’re fun to launch the GSA from and catch a little air.
    Also essential for creating the gaps needed to enter the flow of traffic.

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