Tuesday 2 June 2015

Our visit to Germany - heaven for mountain bikers!

So, we recently attended a Cycling Expo in Berlin (Germany) and the cycling scene there blew our mind away! The mind-blowing began at the airport, where we saw people riding these cycles INSIDE the airport
Cycles inside the Frankfurt Airport
However the true awesomeness of Germany starts when you land and start seeing the city, in my case the city of Berlin. The roads are, of course, absolutely amazing. But 2 things stand out when you visit Germany from India - the sheer number of cycles and cyclists there boggles you.
The cycles outside a building downtown outnumber the motored vehicles
In part, the number of cyclists in Berlin (or in Germany) can be explained largely to culture, to relatively smaller (and consequently crowded) downtown areas and the presence of cycling lanes. The cycling lanes makes cycling super-safe and at each signal, you have separate set of signal lights for cyclists, walkers and motorists. Though I couldn't take photographs, Germany even separate inter-city highways for cyclists! So, you could go touring from one city to another on a dedicated cycling highway.
Cycling Lanes are sometimes part of the road itself

Most often, cycling lanes are part of the footpath 
The Cycling lanes are mostly elevated and a part of the footpath. However, the footpaths were usually quite wide and provided adequate space to those who chose to walk. That most of the population cycles was also evident from the fact that right from small shops to large malls had cycling stands available for people to part their bikes safely.
Cycling Stand outside a small shop

A populated cycle stand outside an office building - you can see more in the distance
The above photo was taken in March, when winter was still continuing and it would snow (light snowfall) in the evenings! The temperature was in the single digits (of degrees Celsius) and rains and wind would further make it difficult to cycle. Imagine the number of cyclists in summer!
This is how the weather was - you can see the light snow! 
One would think that, give the abundance of cycles, it must be quite safe to park your cycles outdoors. In fact, throughout my time in Berlin, I felt very safe at all times. However I noticed that all cycles are locked with very heavy locks and chains like this:
Cycles tended to be locked to pillars or bike stands, with heavy locks
Upon talking to locals, I realized that bike thefts are quite common (at least by local standards) and hence, people almost always made sure the bikes were locked to a pillar or a bike stand. The next day, we went to the Expo (the reason for our visit to Berlin) and there again, as expected, we saw a massive bike stand:
Bike Stand at the Expo 
The Expo was something else all-together. First off, we see this ice-hockey ring, but with people on cycles playing inside! 
Ice Hockey on cycles! 
Even better was the indoor Mountain Biking arena! This wasn't uncommon in Germany and helped riders enjoy the thrills of mountain biking indoors during the harsh-winters.
The start of the indoor MTB arena

A rider goes up the first climb on the indoor MTB Arena

View of the Indoor MTB arena from the other end
The cool thing is that I saw a whole bunch of 6-10 year old kids on mountain bikes, fearlessly navigating their own Junior Arena!
Junior MTB arena!

PureFix Stall at the Expo - one of the many Fixie brands on display there!
Berlin has a tremendous Fixie scene - Fixies are quite common and appreciated there. So, it was nice to see the PureFix stall in the Expo as well. Of course, we had our own stall set-up in the accessories section!
The Lumos Stall at the Berlin Expo
At the expo, I also saw my first Penny-Farthing. Penny-Farthings are the original cycles - in fact, until 1880, these are what 'Bicycles' were called! Apparently, the modern bicycle (with both wheels of same size) was introduced in 1890 as a specialty 'safety bicycle'. At the Expo, I met a man who had done an entire Bike tour on his Penny Farthing - even today they are sold for their novelty value. 
Me with a Penny Farthing
Once the Expo was successfully concluded, we decided to take some time off, rent some bikes and roam the city of Berlin on our rental bikes. The problem is that you only get "City" bikes - really heavy Steel bikes with 3 gears for your ride. Though less fun to ride, it gave us an experience of riding in Berling. The predictability of bicycling riding and the safety is amazing. Coming from India, even after the signal turns green, we are used to looking at both sides before starting off on a junction. In Berlin, people just start off once the signal turns green.
Sooraj, my teammate, on his rental through a Berlin park

My rental bike in the Berlin park, with our Prototype Pannier bag
While we rode through the Berlin, of course, we used the cycling tracks only. We did see a few folks cycling on the road, but those were the faster road-bikers. Also, coming from India, we find it odd to cycle without a helmet. However, in Berlin, we saw a good number of people cycling without helmets! To wear a helmet or not - this debate is seen to be jaded and avoided. The only conclusion we saw most Germans arrive at was - to each his own!
Me - on a beautiful cycling track in the middle of Berlin!
Berlin is a historic city - in downtown Berlin, you will find the most amazing historic buildings! The architecture will leave you amazed. Berlin is best explored on a bike though - the streets are narrow at times.
Sooraj in downtown Berlin.

More Berling Awesomness

A Panorama shot - Television Tower in Central Berlin

When I stopped for some train-watching!
During my stay, I also had the good fortune to visit the beautiful town of Wurzberg - a small and scenic town near Frankfurt. Though it was raining, it was nice to see people out cycling. You realize that in Germany, it rains so often that people just get used to it - they don't necessarily keep indoors during rains!
Such a sweet bike in Wurzberg

Central Wurzberg
For the final leg of the tour, we visited Frankfurt. In Berlin and in Frankfurt, getting bike rentals is super easy and affordable. The local railways runs a bike rental system which also is attached to an app. The app indicates the nearest available cycles, you select a cycle and the lock code (the cycles are locked by combination codes) is smsed to you. The rate was EU 1 per hour up to a maximum of EU 9 for 24 hours!
Bike rentals outside Frankfurt Station
I went out riding again in Frankfurt - it was a bright day. Though the locals were out running and cycling and enjoying the glorious weather, I still found it cold (it was 12 degrees Celsius).
My rental in Frankfurt! 
I also found an absolutely gorgeous jogging-cum-cycling path that went along-side the river in Frankfurt. I sat on a bench along the river, and let my bags sun-bathe a bit - which meant that we tested their solar performance. 
Lumos Solar bags sun-bathing and charging up in Frankfurt!
Cycling and jogging track along-side the river in Frankfurt
Thus ended the trip of Germany for me. All that cycling made me crave some hot Indian food, and I was lucky to find a Saravana Bhavan in Frankfurt! I rushed to it and ordered me a nice Chola Bhatura, which was spicy and felt so amazing in the cold weather. It seemed like a great conclusion to my trip. Though I enjoyed my trip of Germany, I had started to miss my own bike (a Giant Hybrid) back home and was craving to go on a nice long ride on my bike! Luckily, I ended up in Bangalore (India) on a weekday, with enough time to prepare for a 100km ride on the Sunday to get me back to action! 
Chola Bhatura at Saravana Bhavan

Odd to see a bar at the Saravana Bhavan in Frankfurt!