Friday, May 22, 2015

Bike Hire in Mannheim and Middle Hesse

We've just updated our Bicycle Touring Europe website with a chapter on bike hire in middle Hesse (NE of Frankfurt am Main) and an addition to the bike hire possibilities in Mannheim:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Romantic Road yet again

Judith has written an interesting article about the Romantic Road which has been published by Cicerone on its Cicerone Extra e-magazine: It is worth reading if you get the chance. This is our opinion and maybe we are biased.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Wörnitz Cycleway

We spend some time in winter visiting travel fairs ranging from the giant CMT event in Stuttgart in early January to minor, very minor events in shopping centres. We pick up brochures, too many brochures and sometime later when we start spring cleaning we look at what we've got and maybe find a topic for a blog or it's the bin.
Recently we found a map published by Ferienland Donau Ries, the regional tourist office for the Wörnitz Valley in western Bavaria, between Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Donauwörth across the ancient meteor crater. This shows a new route following a similar route to the Romantic Road Cycle Route. Much of the line of Romantic Road is shown on the printed map and on the website: but for some reason unknown the printed map does not show the stretch of the Romantic Road which runs through Feuchtwangen. We assume it is a mistake. This is a pity because Feuchtwangen itself is a little jewel and near by  is one of our favourite pubs/hotels: Gaststätte-Pension "Zum Grünen Wald" in Thürnhofen. The Wörnitz Valley would be a good area to have two or three nights and explore this new route in addition to the Romantic Road.

Monday, May 04, 2015

World-Klapp le 24 Heures de Schopp

The 24 Heures de Schopp, latest event in the rapidly growing SW German Klapprad racing scene was held last Friday and Saturday in the Schopp-o-drom aka the bike track in Schopp, a metropolis (1389 inhabitants) between Pirmasens and Kaiserslauten in Rheinland-Pfalz. A Klapprad is either the epitome of folding bicycle manufacture or one of those small wheeled folding bikes that were designed to be used to nip round to the baker's for couple of Brötchen (Rolls) for breakfast as long as the baker's was not more than 500 yards away.  Anymore than that and you spent the day crosseyed from the pain in your lower regions. 
Klapprad racing is a fast growing sport. The rules of 24h racing are simple:
  • The bike must be an at least 30 year old, single geared Klapprad with the original handlebars.
  • The hinge must still function.
  • The rider must wear an outfit from the 1970s with moustache. Think Jason King.
  • The Klapprad must be fitted with two functioning brakes. 
  • Because the race was to be held in part in darkness, the bikes needed lights, either battery powered or with dynamo.
  • Fake moustaches or full beards are verboten. Ladies can obtain a Bartwuchsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung (beard growth inability certificate) from the official race hair stylist.
  • Each team has four members. 
  • The team that cycles the farthest distance wins.
So what do the bikes look like?
Well originally something like this:

To get them to have a decent turn of speed you need to replace the wheels, fit narrower tyres and a bigger chain wheel (almost as big as the wheels):


You slipstream the field and let someone else act as windbreak. This photograph also shows the bar codes worn by the contestants that allowed automatic counting of the number of rounds:

Another view of the same technique showing the field and the Klapp-o-drom:

Not all the contestants seemed to address the race with the necessary earnestness:

Thirty eight teams from all over Germany took part and the winner was the Capri Sonne team:

who covered 1860 laps of the .45km track, i.e. 837km in 24h at an average speed of just under 38.9 km/h. (This is not much under the fastest speed we've achieved cycling down the Gotthard Pass with a following wind - 45km/h on bikes with good brakes and gears. That was terrifying.) Second was Klapp Sabbath at 1843 laps. Third  place was taken by the Early4Birds Team with 1828 laps. Even the tail end Charlies: Team Honnecker, we take it from the former East Germany or at least their bikes were, managed an average speed of 18.4 km/h. 

On a personal note we visited the event on Saturday afternoon almost at the end and should have introduced ourselves as members of the international press as we had to cough up 5€ a head to get in. Coffee and cake though were a very reasonable 1.50€. We also missed the riding in rain and darkness the night before which does not look as though it was enjoyable. We also wonder how much of the Pfalzer scenery the contestants saw in the dash round the circuit.  We'll see you guys in Kalmit or maybe in the Pfeiffertal on Whit Monday. Can we get a Press Ticket next time?

Friday, May 01, 2015

Public holidays and weather in Europe

I have spent many a pleasant hour or so reading "Crazy Guy on a Bike" - a website run as a place where cyclists can recount their adventures and pick up advice where to stop, cycle, eat or find the best beer in town ( Recently I was looking for information on cycling in the Netherlands and North Germany. Various of the articles mentioned difficulties with finding accommodation, somewhere to eat, shopping and the weather. I suspect there a few steps to take and a few facts to realise before you swing your leg over your bike and set out for the European Continent.

  • Accommodation: Check out accommodation before you go. Either use a search engine to find tourist office websites along your route, try to go to a tourism fair, check out our "Cycling in Europe entry" entitled "Cyclist- and bicyclist-friendly accommodation in Europe" or drop a line to the national tourist office of the country of interest. 
    • On the web you may well need to wade through a number of hotel booking websites to find an official tourist office website, where you can also find B&Bs and or holiday flats. You can also try using Name of or .dk or .fr,  etc. which will lead to the official sites. There are also regional tourist offices. Checking these sites will give you a feel for the average price of accommodation in the towns and villages on route. 
    • If you are writing to the national tourist offices, once you get the addresses of the regional or city offices write to them. Normally you will be showered with information. Read it all. As an example, we found some years ago that the average price of hotels in a string of French towns could vary by up to 50%. This will also give you a feel for how much accommodation is available. This will help you save time when looking.
    • Once you are underway, if you are not booking ahead, try to start looking for somewhere to stop at 16:00 (4 o'clock). You will rarely find anything at a reasonable price much later.
  • Eating: If you find a place way out in the country that is super remember you might want to eat in the evening and if the house concerned is 5 or 10km from the near restaurant or inn, that's what you will need to cycle to get some food. It might be worth enquiring whether your landlady can prepare you an evening meal.
  • Public Holidays: These are taken more seriously than in the UK. Shops and tourist offices will be closed on these days. Public transport will still run, but may be with a restricted service.  It is definitely not like the UK where shops are open on public holidays, so make sure you have enough supplies. Public holidays do not match those of your country.
  • The weather: It can be as cold and wet in the Netherlands as it is in East Anglia, so take appropriate gear.  The wind is your constant companion in the Netherlands, Denmark and much of Northern Germany. If you are cycling in hilly country you are unlikely to climb more than a few thousand metres per day, i.e. hills come to an end sometime, however a continental head wind can last several days and can easily reduce your normal speed by 20 or 30%. The prevailing winds come from the west. Bear this in mind when you are route planning. Just as an example if you want to cycle along the Elbe then cycle upstream with the prevailing wind behind you, rather than cycling downstream. The major continental rivers have few gradients along much of their routes. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cycling in Amsterdam

Cycling in Amsterdam is like cycling in any major city with the exception that the city has more cyclists than you can imagine and about 400km of cycleway. There are parked bikes everywhere you look, fastened with one or often two heavy chains to street furniture. There are manned bike garages at some railway stations where you can leave your bike guarded or have it serviced while you travel up to town. Fietser (cyclists) zoom round the city, scattering all before them, up and over canal bridges, the only hills this side of Nijmegen, in their own lanes. Most of the bikes are Oma fiets (grannie bikes) single or three geared sit up and beg vintage 28” wheeled transport machines, some with just back pedal brakes. Second hand bikes are easy to come by. You can pick them up at street markets along with the important heavy duty chains. These bikes are real beasts of burden. We have seen them carrying a week’s shopping, one or two children, cellos or lawn mowers.

At rush hours the cycle lanes resemble the Charge of the Light Brigade. If you are a pedestrian crossing a zebra crossing as soon as the lights change you need to pick up your feet and run. Nobody wears a helmet apart from the shaven legged men and women on road bikes, often carbon fibre sculptures costing several thousand Euros. Nobody includes another problem on these cycleways, the Broomfietser (scooter or mopeds). These characters weave their way across the city, ignoring red lights, speed limits and pedestrians. In spite of the 400 km of cycleway some cyclists will jumpa a red light, cycle the wrong way down a road or across pedestrian zones to save a few seconds. It makes a pedestrian’s life interesting. After a while I developed paranoia both about cyclists and the expletive deleted Broomfietser. It probably kept me alive though. If it sounds like chaos it is, but it works. Bike traffic flows and in the main most of the cyclists are good humoured. 

We didn’t cycle when we were there. The friends we met there, were worried by the sheer volume of two wheeled vehicles. If you ever decide to cycle there, the best advice we can give you you is to get off the cycleway when you decide to stop to look in a shop window or your knowledge of Dutch will increase by leaps and bounds. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bike Hire in Amsterdam

Obviously in a city where 60% of all journeys are made by bicycle, it is easy to hire a bike in Amsterdam. There are bicycle hire companies all over town. These bikes are well maintained and prices are roughly the same. Competition is such that companies offering poorly maintained or expensive bikes would rapidly go out of business. Practically all of these hire bikes are brightly coloured and bear an advertising slogan or logo from the shop or hotel they were hired from. There is however at least one exception:

Bike City

Bloemgracht 68-70
1015 TL AMSTERDAM (Across the Prinsengracht canal from the Anne Frank House on a side canal.)
Telephone: 020 626 3721
Fax: 020 422 3326

For city use this company rents out black solidly built three and seven gear city bikes with two hand operated brakes. You are indistinguishable from local cyclists. The three gear bikes can be hired from upwards of half a day. The seven gear city bikes are slightly sportier, intended for use farther afield and have a minimum hire period of two days. The company does offer some slightly cheaper single gear bikes with coaster or back brakes which are adequate, as long as you are used to riding this type of bike. 

Bike City also has ten aluminium framed Hybrid Bikes with a minimum rental period of a week which are a cross between a mountain and a city bike that come with Ortlieb panniers front and back, 28" wheels, an eight speed derailleur, a 5-function speedo, lighting front and rear, SPD combi pedals, a bottle holder, a pump, toolkit and 2 locks. (Bike theft is a major industry in the Netherlands, so make sure you lock your bike to something substantial before leaving it, no matter who you hire from.) If you are holidaying in Europe and want to have a week or so's cycling, then you can hire the bikes, pack the panniers, leave your suitcases behind and set set off to explore Holland from the Rhine delta around Rotterdam and Maastricht in the south up to Groningen in the north. Cost in 2015 is 172.50€ for the first week and 22.50€ a day after that. You have to return the bikes to Amsterdam. You will need to pick up your cases anyway.

A disclaimer just for the record: We have no connection with this company and have received no payments either in cash or kind for this blog. I was very impressed by the company's website when we were planning a trip to Amsterdam with friends. For various reasons we did not do any cycling when we there, but as our friends were stopping nearby we visited the shop and I talked to the one of the team. 

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