Background Reading can be found here.
It’s time to drag your two-wheeler out of the basement and to the local bike shop for a spring fix-up. Germany is a haven for bike riders, but here’s what you need to know before flipping up your kickstand.
Bike license – Children in Germany become acquainted with bikes at a very young age. Practically before they can walk, toddlers can be seen scooting around on pedal-free wooden bike-like constructions known literally as a “run wheel” in German. A few years down the track, police officers come to schools to guide 8-to-9-year-olds through an official “bicycle license” program, where kids learn traffic rules.
Find a good spot – Münster (above) in north-western Germany was recently named the country’s most bike-friendly city, according to a poll of over 100,000 cyclists by German Cycling Club ADFC. Karlsruhe and Freiburg came in second and third, respectively. Needless to say, big cities don’t mesh well with two-wheelers. Berlin came in 30th due to parked cars on bike paths, construction sites and uncleared winter snow.
Plan your route Germany’s is strewn with an extensive network of cycling paths. They lead bikers into woods (like the Bavarian Forest), urban jungles (like the cycling “Autobahn” across the Ruhr region), and through agricultural delights, like the Ahr Valley path pictured here. The region is known for its hillside vineyards and red wine. Legs getting tired? Just stop and enjoy a glass of the local specialty.
Be nice to stray pedestrians – With so many designated bike paths in Germany, cyclists are inclined to take them seriously. That means if you aren’t rushing to your destination on your two-wheeler, then get off the path! And we mean pronto. If you’re on foot or cycling too slowly, you run the risk of bells driving you insane – or getting yelled at or run over. If you’re a biker, please be kind to those who forget the rules.
Sunday in Germany – When the first rays of spring sun make their grand appearance, flocks of bike riders take to their local paths. If you look carefully, you might spot a small phenomenon: An abundance of elderly couples with matching cycling shirts and his-and-her bicycles. The sight is enough to make anyone fall in love again.
Dress appropriately – In spring most of us have to come to grips with the Christmas cookies and Easter chocolate we’ve been hiding behind our baggy sweaters for the past few months. While Spandex is not very compatible with winter blubber, its sweat-whisking capabilities are practical – and Germany loves everything practical. No matter how seriously they cycle, many bikers in Germany make a point of dressing the part.
Rule number 1 – The most important bike rule in Germany is: Don’t ride drunk. This might seem absurd, since bikes are an ideal alternative to driving drunk. Up to a certain blood-alcohol content, this may be true. But a very inebriated cyclist is at least as dangerous to the nearest car driver as vice versa. That’s why you can lose your driving license if you’re caught swerving too much. Next time, call a taxi.
A little help never hurt – Riding a bike in Germany doesn’t mean you can’t afford a car. It’s a legitimate means of transportation, not just a piece of sports equipment. That’s why it’s also perfectly acceptable to get a bit of assistance from a small motor. So-called e-bikes are not an uncommon sight – though they’re admittedly most prevalent among certain age groups.
Carry your bike – In Germany, you’re allowed to take your bike on trams and trains (with a special ticket). But beware: You might get mean looks if you try to cram your huge, greasy two-wheeler onto a packed tram on a hot day. Can’t you just ride to your destination? That’s where foldable bikes come in handy. They take up less space – and keep your fellow tram passengers happy, too.