Comments about cycling, and cycle and bicycle touring in Europe - routes, carriage of bicycles by public transport, hotels, hostels, camp sites, bicycle rental, bicycle hire, life in Viernheim, Germany and living in the time of peak oil.
We've just spent a few days in Austria cycling down the Tauern Cycle Path from 1100 or so m down to Passau on the Danube. As usual I took the chance to check out bike hire facilities on the way. In Passau we found the Fahrradklinik (www.fahrradklinik-passau.de) in the old town not far from the Danube Suspension Bridge. This shop has an innovative bike hire policy and rents high quality bikes with puncture proof tyres and in part Rohloff 14 speed hub gears. These are better bikes than we have at home. The company also offers bike trailers, Ortlieb panniers, tandems and e-bikes. Prices seem reasonable to us starting at 13€ a day for one day hire and 70€ for a week for the normal bikes. E-bikes and tandems cost twice as much. The real clincher though is that the shop offers one way hire to the edge of Vienna for 29€ extra. The shop also offers repair and service of your steeds.
Like many people who live in Germany, we regularly shop at ALDI, one of the leading discount stores in the country and in Europe. We are generally very satisfied with the goods the company sells, but… ALDI sells not only its core grocery goods, but also has a series of special offers that are on sale over a number of weeks. It appears to be habit for some customers to break open sealed packets to examine what is inside them and then leave the opened packets behind. It is definitely weird. Not all the goods are handled in this way. ALDI-Süd is selling a filled pepper mill at the moment and various of the packets in our local branch had been opened today. For goodness sake, it's a pepper mill with a clear plastic cylinder and you can see the contents, What more do people want? Maybe there is a PhD or at least a Master's degree in retail sociology to be written here and maybe even a cure for the problem.
We cycled from Viernheim to Mannheim at the start of our recent holiday. We took the direct route along the B38 main road thereby increasing the CO levels in our bloodstream and coating our lungs with unburnt polyaromatic hydrocarbons rather than following the fresh air route by nipping off through a series of green and leafy Schrebegärten (allotments) and then running along the bank of the Neckar into the centre of Mannheim.
I am not too sure whether the direct route is quicker. There are a number of roads to be crossed with pedestrian/cycle traffic lights on the direct route and these can add up to ten minutes to the journey. Under German law a red light for cyclists or pedestrians is a red light and one should stop and wait. If the gendarmes are about it can be an expensive pleasure with fines of up to 60€ for ignoring red lights. However I suspect these are for many of my two wheeled colleagues rather like speed limits for motorists advisory rather than mandatory. Cyclists arrived at the lights, cast a quick glance left and right and stamped on the pedals to cross the road pronto, whether the lights were red or green.
There is seemingly a little known aspect of German traffic laws that unless it is specified otherwise cyclists should travel along cycle paths adjacent to roads in the direction of the traffic on their left. The path on the right side of a road should be used by those cycling in the same direction as the motorised traffic. German cycle paths are laid out fairly economically. These are constrained by the need to have wide enough motor roads. The poor Mercedes drivers need the room for their safety protection features, electrical mirror adjustment devices and foot wide tyres. These heroes of the economy cannot be made to drive more slowly. This could mean them arriving a few seconds late at work or having three minutes less to visit an Einkaufszentrum (shopping centre/mall) thus causing a a 0.000001% drop in the DAX stock exchange results. This means that there is often not enough room for two cyclists to cycle alongside each other. Amongst the massed ranks of cyclists there are determined individualists who if given their head could transform the economy and they too like those sitting in high powered automobiles wish to cut through the red tape stopping us achieving our best. They are prepared to cycle on the wrong side against the flow of traffic on the cycle path. We had a train to catch and so put the pedal to the metal. We were not pleased to meet those wishing to shave a microsecond or two off their journey time to the uni cycling towards us a path wide enough for a bike and a half.
Then we arrived in the city centre and met the worst problem of all: pedestrians. The cycleway across Mannheim runs along pavements/sidewalks. Along the pedestrian zone by the congress centre groups of youths practised progression on the drunken sailor random model. It is de rigeur not to look where one is going and rapid changes of direction without checking if there is anyone behind are par for the course.
It seems to be beyond the capabilities of the average German pedestrian to notice that he or she is walking on a red path marked as a cycleway. When one politely warns them that one is approaching they turn round and are very surprised that they are on a cycleway. Perhaps they too wish to get to the shops in time to save the economy.
As we headed across Mannheim I was amused while waiting at a red light to observe a car whose driver was cuddling a small dog as she drove. Perhaps all classes of road user have their problems with sensible behaviour.
We have had several requests to republish "Marmots" our guide to Swiss Route 3. It has been out of print for some years. The route is covered in slightly less detail in "Cycling in Switzerland" From Cicerone, along with all the other Swiss National Cycle Routes. Finally we gave in to the requests and we updated the accommodation, bike shop, bike hire and transport sections; checked the route cartographically and modified the page layout of the book to produce an e-book. It is available for US$ 8.99 from Smashwords. We will also produce a version for Amazon, one of these days. Kindle users too should remember that one can download a Kindle compatible formated file from Smashwords.
We recently took part in a Mannheim ADFC tour. The ADFC is a German cycling club - similar to the CTC or the League of American Bicyclists, campaigning for better cycle facilities and organising tours of various difficulty. Our tour was on a Wednesday morning, so the majority of the riders were old fogeys, like us. We had four e-bikes amongst the dozen or so riders. It was fine day and it was good cycling through the centres of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen through heavy traffic. There were no problems motorists driving both cars and heavy trucks treated us with respect. We cycled north along a series of lakes and arrived at our destination an Italian restaurant at a tennis club. Lunch was taken and enjoyed. In many ways Italian restaurants in Germany offer the best of both worlds: good Italian food and German beer. What could be better? Well fed and replete, at peace with the world, we cycled round the edge of Frankenthal and swung south along cycle paths next to the B9 federal road into Ludwigshafen. At the start we cycled parallel to the B9. We could hear it but it was two or three hundred metres away. As we approached the dreaming spires of the BASF plant, we found ourselves on a narrow cyclepath almost rubbing elbows with 18 wheeler trucks. We still had no problems. We nipped through Ludwigshafen's centre like a hot knife through butter and climbed up the approach road to the Konrad Adenauer Bridge. There were roadworks for the fossil-fuelled on the bridge, so we passed them on the cycleway, feeling to be not only on the high moral ground, but on a more sensible means of transport. The group split up in Mannheim and we followed a series of cyclepaths along the Neckar, through a Schrebergarten (allotments) and through a former US Army residential area until we reached a cycle path along the edge of the Viernheim Forest adjacent to a busy road, but separated from the road by a thick hedge. The path is narrow and bushy and shortly after crossing the border from Mannheim the path gyrates a little swings left and right over a hummock. It is place we take care, because cyclists can come the other way. We were pleasantly gruntled. We were almost at the end of our first tour of the season, had cycled 60km in good weather, seen a few mates, heard the odd joke and eaten garlicky spaghetti, then this idiot on a mountain bike dressed in gear more suitable for a downhill race in the Alps or a bank job with face mask shot up behind us, realised that the road narrowed, because of the aforementioned 'S'-bend, braked hard and very noisily, swerved round us out into the possible path of anyone coming the other way, pushing us towards the hedge, almost giving me a heart attack and accelerated away to cries of "Idiot" from my Mrs. I have no objection to getting a move on, but at the same time it is necessary to cycle taking account of the road conditions. We were definitely disgruntled. Under German Law cyclists should have a bell on their bikes and even if the idiot had taken his bell off his velocipede he still had a voice unless his face mask made conversation impossible. I wonder what he will do do with the microsecond he saves, write the doctoral thesis hat will deliver a cure for the common cold or a solution for world peace. Typical that the only impolite expletive-deleted idiot we met on this very pleasant day was from the ranks of the cyclists, our people.
Obviously you can, if you want, swing your leg over your mountain bike at Munich Airport, tighten your rucksack and set off on stony trails toward Italy across the Alps, risking life and limb on MTB routes, but the good news is that you don't have to bounce around on single track trails to get from Munich to Venice by bike. There is a signposted road and cycle path route with the option of taking the train up the Brenner Pass by train or bus. This means that all of us have the option to make what may well be the trip of lifetime through three countries, with two languages and through three climate zones. It is 560km (350 miles) from Munich to Venice via Innsbruck and the whole trip can be cycled in about a week though you may want to take more time. There is information available on:
www.tirol.at/a-muenchen-venezia The English version of the tirol.at website does not mention the Munich - Venice route at all, however the German version has downloadable gps and gpx tracks bottom right.
www.muenchen-venezia.info, but the English language portion is largely in German. Persevere and you can get some information. You could also use Google Translator to get more information.
http://www.italybike.info/en/cycle-holidays/munich-venice/ This website is the best laid out of these three websites and gives you all you need to know about the route. It is a commercial site for companies offering guided and self-guided tours. You can book the whole trip for about 800 Euros per person from Munich to Venice for an eight day trip. This is the comfortable option.
You may choose to use the information on the websites to organise your own trip. There are youth hostels and B&Bs along much of the route, which could cut your costs considerably.
We invited a friend along to today on a Draisine trip in the Pfalz. It was our and her first draisine trip. A draisine is small open pedal-powered railcar that runs on former branch or industrial lines. It would appear it is known as pedal trolley in US English. In this case the line ran from Bornheim near Landau to Westheim about 12km. It crosses a number of minor roads on in part traffic light controlled crossings. Unlike normal railway lines we did not have right of way over the majority of roads and so had to switch on the red light for road users, lift a barrier and push the draisine across the road. We pedalled to Westheim, ate an excellent lunch in a local Italian restaurant and pedalled back. What we did notice was that the seating position was fixed unlike on a bike where you shift the bottom about. If we do this again I think we will wear padded underpants. The 24km there and back were quite hard on the bottom. It was good fun with lots of wildlife - birds of prey, storks and worth trying.