Monday, October 23, 2006


We spent last week in the Swiss Jura and I was reminded that a lot of British cycling mags suggest that the Swiss Mountains are easier than the northern English hills, because the Swiss routes are longer but less steep. Sorry guys, if this is true then the hills in the Swiss Jura are part of the Lake District. The climbs on Swiss National Route 7 are steep and long.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Road men

I am not one to critise my fellow cyclists. Cycling is a broad church, but why do serious numbers of road bike riders insist on riding on the road next to a marked (painted) cycleway? I can understand the objection to riding on separate cycleways, as these can suddenly veer away from roads and cause halts while one crosses minor roads. If one is riding along a road with a painted strip for cyclists why ride outside of this?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tour de Luxembourg

We have been members of the LVI the Letzelbuergische Velo Initiativ (Luxembourg National Cycling Club) for several years. We’d promised ourselves that we’d go on one their tours and finally we remembered to register in time. We set off the day before the trip began and put our bikes on the bus that runs between Mannheim and Hahn airport. The driver was a bit nonplussed - though their website says bikes are allowed - so we slung them unceremoniously on their sides in one of the luggage spaces and they arrived in Hahn OK. This meant that we were quite high up at the beginning of our ride. Unfortunately, as it says in “Northern Wheel” bike ride accounts, Judith then punctured! No her tyre not her! We then had a good, though long 100 km day, enjoying the rolling hills of the Hunsrück, the hills that lie on the left of the Rhine north of Frankfurt. Again much was gentle along an old rail line, then a few wild plunges up followed by downs by which time we were getting hungry and tired. At last we reached a road which hairpinned most satisfyingly down to the Mosel valley - a high wheee....factor. Quick turn right, ride a short distance then wheel our bikes up onto a bridge closed to cars while being rebuilt (this always feels really good), right at the other end, 4 km ride into the village where we'd booked the night at a vineyard where we've stayed before. Cocktail to welcome us, shower and change and then a large easy meal at a nearby restaurant. Collapse of stout parties and an immensely satisfying sleep.
From there we took an easy train trip into Luxembourg next day. We went for a tour in Luxembourg with a group of eight folks. It involved visiting the North, South, West and East of the country (only 80 km by 80 km) and as we discovered underway, the highest and lowest points - OK not down to sea level but the highest point is certainly higher than Scafell. Quite strenuous, though we managed OK and were not last getting up the hills, but we found the lengths of days and the distances a bit more than we normally do. 90 -100 km and from 9 am to 7pm! This included coffee breaks, several shandy drinking stops AND a proper meal at lunchtime - we've a picture of the piles of spaghetti involved. However, we had no route finding concerns and the group was very knowledgeable about their country and the places and people encountered en route. This was our aim since Luxembourg was usually one of the places we drove through or round as quickly as possible to get to Britain. Gust, the leader and President of the organisation gave us a personal tour of Luxembourg city before we set off and we then cycled through the European quarter at the start of the tour. We can assure you that the buildings there are undistinguished, undoubtedly cost millions of taxpayers’ money but the bike paths are superb. We left there on Thursday, the evening before the National Day so everywhere was a sea of flags, as of course was Germany at the time with the footie taking place. By good fortune there were no footie fanatics in the group and our long days ensured that the matches were mostly over before we reached our hotels, though we did go so far as to wave at a group of flag waving Germany supporters driving round and hooting their horns after a match. Our chance to see the England Equador match on the station in Koblenz was foiled by the TV mast being struck by lightning, but to all events and purposes we didn't miss much! The storms also delayed our train, signals failure near Bochum so we sat on the platform and watched the lightning. It had evidently poured down in Mannheim but apart from a few spots and further distant lightning displays we got home OK, though we had to ride in the dark. Most of the ride was on cycleways, a lot was along river valleys and the rest on quiet roads. Gust described most of the route as flat hills, though there was one epic climb up over some part of the Ardennes, 4 of us walked part of the way and there were other shorter steep climbs of 0.5 km where we got off. Basically the landscape is a mix of hills and valleys and if you are lucky you can get up enough speed on the downhill sections to spin at least halfway up the next slope. Much of the area is thinly populated but we also went through pretty small towns, including Esch, centre of iron ore mining and former steel town - visited by the TdF this year. We left the group there and set off on a rather tortuous journey home with several changes and then a long wait for our train in Koblenz. We stayed in good hotels, rather fancy French cuisine being the norm in Luxembourg so there was plenty of choice in the eating department. On our last full day we coasted up and down an old rail line for most of the distance, including a long delightfully cool section through a tunnel - lighted, fortunately.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Cycle mirrors and folding bicycles

We cycled down the Leine Valley in Germany last week. It rises or a least starts in Leinefelden in western Thuringia and flows into the Aller a tributary of the Weser 300 km farther on. It is a good run with the chance of visiting Göttingen and Hannover underway. The thing that amazed me was that we were both cycling on Bromptons. Normally we find that we have to answer numerous questions about the little treasures, but no I was asked several times a day about a mini clip-on cycling mirror on my glasses that I wear when touring. To the best of my knowledge they have been available in Germany for at least 20 years.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A church for cyclists

I don't want to give the impression that all German cyclists are very religious, but in addition to the Pope Benedict cycleway down in Bavaria, the protestant church in Vellmar, a village near Kassel in the north of Hessen, will be open 24 hours a day for the cycling season. The village pastor was interviewed on TV and said that he felt, that in the same way that Autobahn churches (of which there are a number in Germany) are open 24 h a day, cyclists should also have a church available day and night.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Gas or should it be gaz cylinders

We had an eMail yesterday from a cyclist wishing to do a lightweight camping trip through Germany who was worried about gas cartridges. What we found out was that according to the Camping Gaz web site:, the following disposable canisters are on sale in Germany: C208, cv270, cv 470 and cp250. If you look on the web site and put the name of a town and Germany in the form "Where to find cartridges" and then wait a bit, the web site will show a map of the area showing the shops that sell the cartridges. Under this map there is a list of addresses. If you click on the word map next to the address this will give you a detailed street plan of the area around the shop. However I then looked at Viernheim where we live and realised that our local camping shop that does sell Camping Gaz cartridges was not shown. I suspect that most camping shops, camp sites etc. will sell the cartridges.
There is a second type of gas cartridge that can be unscrewed. Typical brands are Coleman and Markill. Markill is a German company. There is a lot of Coleman stuff on sale in Germany. I suspect you will need to go to big camping shops to find the cartridges. Camping Gaz are easier to find. Markill make an adaptor for camping gaz cartridges. According to Coleman: If you contact your local European Office they will tell you where shops are to be found: See It might be an idea to cheat and contact Coleman Germany. Since the German importers have to deal with the States the employees will understand English, if you don't want to write in German.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Special Bike Show again!

Once oil gets even more expensive one of the ways we are going to get about, if we are lucky, is on a bicycle. Whether it will be the conventional two wheeled diamond frame “cumbersome” bicycle or one of the slightly different but exciting or amusing bikes shown at Spezi the Special Bike Show in Germersheim, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany on 29-30 April is not easy to say. Since many children are growing up without learning to ride a two wheeled vehicle, either there is going to have to be a massive adult teaching programme in years to come or trikes are going to be a lot popular.
Spezi started 11 years ago. The organisers, Haasies Radschlag, a bicycle shop in Germersheim, started by not only inviting well known manufacturers of bicycles, tricycles and accessories, but also new small one man companies starting up by brazing frames, the specialist builders of bikes, trikes and tandems for the disabled, the local cycling clubs and the human powered vehicle freaks. It has grown over the years without losing its friendly family atmosphere to become a major event with 80 exhibitors in three halls.
We understand that Bernds do not sell well in the UK which is a pity, although their tandems are offered by Cyclecentric in Cambridge ( Bernds ( still build a fairly conventional folding bike, but also now offer a low step through folder, if one has trouble getting one’s leg over. The same goes for the tandem which now offered as a step through version. Interesting that one can now write about a conventional folding bicycle.
We ogled the new titanium Bromptons and if we came up on the lottery, we would sell off our our heavier steel Bromptons and order the finest of the fine, but unfortunately to win the lottery we need to buy a ticket and common sense says we will win less, but more consistently if we don’t buy a ticket. Ah well!
We said hello to our friends at Altena Bike ( who we first met at the York Rally last year. Altena builds recumbent bicycles and tandems that are built more for comfort than than speed. They have a new conventional tandem that looks very nice which is unfortunately not mentioned on their web site. As our one attempt to use a tandem was not a great success, I suspect buying one has a low priority at “Schloss Forsyth”.
Beyond Altena we looked at the Ice stand and were much taken with the concept of the folding trike ( Obviously the main advantage of the trike recumbent is that until one is quite skilled a recumbent bicycle at low speeds is a so-and-so to ride. You don’t have to balance a trike. However my own feeling is that the very nearness to the ground brings visibility problems for motorists, but on the other hand one’s bum is a lot more comfortable in an armchair than on a saddle.
We were also quite impressed with the Hase bikes and trikes ( If we were going to buy a tandem, the Hase Pino would be high on the list. Hase is well represented at this show. The firm organises a very popular trike race during Spezi and has a large stand at the entrance to Hall 1. Hase is going to organise a show similar to Spezi on June 17 in Waltrop in the Ruhr called Fez am Flöz (Fun on the Coal Seam). There is a good chance you will see us there. There is more information on the company’s web site, but only in German.
When we get rid of the car, we will have to use our bicycle trailer more (or take more taxis), so we have been practising recently. We have also been playing with the idea of taking the trailer packed with camping gear to somewhere far away and cycling back to Viernheim. We are thus interested in trailers and these were well represented at the show. Used, the European agents for the Scottish Carry Freedom had examples of the Y-Frame platform, the bARK/POD dog carrier and the City trailer ( on show. The latter is a hard shell bike trailer, suitcase or courier bag, probably of great use if you are a commuter in the concrete jungle, but less so for the tourist. The Y-Frame trailer however seems to be a useful all round touring, shopping trailer. Fitted with a dog box it turns into the bARK/POD. I suspect if we had a dog, I would be more interested in the dog pulling me rather than me pulling the dog. Our American friends have stolen a march on the rest of the world, yet again, with the dog scooter: see and for more thoughts along these lines. Roland and Weber trailers shared a stand. The two companies appear to be cooperating. The single wheeled Weber Monoporter and the two wheeled Roland Carrie both use the same base. Something new that I have not seen anywhere else is a railing that can be fitted to either trailer to act as fastening point when carrying odd loads. (,
Dahon were represented by a local cycle shop and had a goodly number of bikes on show. I must admit I can never quite work out the difference between the various Dahon models, although the web site ( does offer a method to find out which bike is best for you. We were most impressed by the new El Bolso bag. This is a nylon trapezoidal bag which is carried on the shoulder. El Bolso is easy to use. The folded bike is put on the ground; the bike placed in the middle of the bag; the bag picked up, and slung over the shoulder. It has a slip over cover so you can hide your bike, if necessary, from the officious eyes of Southern TOC guards, in case bikes are banned, yet again. Dahon state that the bag can be used for 16”, 20” and 26” folding bikes. I think a Brompton would rattle like a pea in a drum, but there would be adequate amounts of room for other less compact folders.
One of the vehicles that would appeal to the generation that has never learned to ride a bike is the Short Bike which is actually a trike. It is a hinged separable trike with a wide saddle and a backrest, a solid well-built baggage platform (which could be fitted with a child seat), Schwalbe Big Apple tyres, a drum brake, and 7 gear Shimano (hub?) gear. The makers claim the baggage platform can take up to 60 kg. See photograph above. One’s initial impressions on riding the thing are somewhat odd, as the rear wheels stay on the ground when turning but the front wheel/handlebars seem to tip over. I suspect with a bit of practice the trike would be very nippy and make a superb utility vehicle. The turning circle is small. It is not as sexy as a tadpole recumbent trike, but one is more visible especially as the trike is offered with a red or blue or yellow plastic fairing and the rider sits higher up making it possible to look motorists in the eye. It costs about £850 in Germany (

Monday, May 01, 2006

Peak oil again, a rant!

One of the best ways to ensure sleepless nights is to turn on your computer, log into the internet, punch in the term “peak oil” into a search engine and read the sites you find. “Peak Oil” is the term used to describe the problems when the day comes when demand for crude oil exceeds supply. Some say it is very close, others give it 30 or more years. On the other hand, consumption has exceeded discovery every year since 1981. (BTW This information is taken from the web site of the Society for Chemical Industry, London, an organisation that is not normally considered a bunch of tree huggers.) Basically what you find is that the concept of peak oil does not mean that oil will run out shortly, but that the era of cheap oil is probably coming to an end. What’s cheap oil? Our feeling is it is still cheap, at least seeing the number of cars on local roads. Our neighbours to our left have two cars and those on the right an estate car, a Smart car and a motor bike. Yes we have one too, but we use it less and less. According to Will Hutton writing in today’s “Observer” petrol costs about £1 a litre at some filling stations. Taking inflation into account this is about twice as expensive as it was in the late 60’s.
However a barrel of crude oil costs about $70 at the moment, but the increases in the price of crude oil are amplified by small reductions in supply, even if it is only 1% , because each purchaser thinks that the loss of 1% of the supply i.e. 850000 barrels are his 850000 barrels. The present price of $70 is considered high but it is likely to rise as the Chinese and the Indians buy more and more. Since 2004, China ’s incremental demand for oil has been outstripping that of the rest of the entire world (Society of Chemical Industry, London). We are all dependent on oil. Without it we would starve to death in the dark at the moment. Britain needs to cut back on oil and natural gas usage, on fossil fuel usage in general, not only because the stuff is going to get more and more expensive, but also because it might save security problems in future. It does not seem impossible to us that a lot of guys making and plotting trouble in the Middle East have financial backing from others who make their money from oil. The guys selling oil receive obscene amounts of loot. The less oil we buy from the Middle East, the less money the nasties will get. This makes it more difficult for them to make trouble.
Obviously it would behove the British government to slow down the extraction of oil from the North Sea; try to improve energy efficiency by improving house construction (passive heating and insulation) and public transport, by encouraging cycling and walking, by cutting back on road building programmes and by starting to build an economy that is not based on oil and natural gas. Interestingly enough at the start of the exploitation of North Sea oil Robb Wilmot, the former chairman of ICL, suggested that it would be better to leave the stuff in the ground as it would be worth more in future! There were some moves to use other feedstocks for the chemical industry and other fuels (typically wood, straw, vegetable oils and other forms of biomass) in the mid 1970s and there are a series of American and European efforts today (, About 10% of the feedstocks for the German chemical industry and 2% for the American are from renewable sources. These moves are important because the chemical industry not only supplies the frills that make shopping such an adventure - the packaging we have to puncture to get at the cool cotton shirt, but also the fertilisers and pesticides so that the cotton plants can flourish. Not all of these moves are going to be popular. As a good example: Aviation fuel is not taxed to encourage aviation, quite why I don’t know, but if it were taxed this would go someway towards leveling the playing field for other forms of public transport, such as the railways. However this would also begin to make those weekend trips to get dysfunctional in Dublin, legless in Lithuania or plastered in Prague or even to enjoy 4 days of Christmas shopping in New York expensive enough to think twice about doing it. This might not be a bad wheeze, but it would be unpopular with the airlines, the airports, the big and little civil engineering companies extending runways and a lot of punters, so do not expect HM Government to do anything to take steps to be able pull us out of the mess we will be in.
What does it mean for you in the medium term and what can you do? Without taking the drastic step of selling one of the cars, most of us can reduce our car mileage by 10% and our energy use by about 10% by doing a bit of planning. Just as an example or two: If you wish to show your green credentials by recycling the wine bottles, don’t make a special trip. If you need to do a school run by car then try to set up a car pool. Do you have to eat fresh strawberries in the depths of winter? Try buying locally grown food that is in season. Food tastes better then. Grow some of your own food. Start a compost heap. Your friendly council may well give you a composter and a booklet of handy hints to get it turning out first class compost, but then use it to improve the soil quality.
If your first thought when it is suggested that you sell one of the cars is “I can’t get rid of the car/s, because...”, then consider moving house to somewhere nearer work, the shops, school.... If you live way out in the sticks think seriously about selling up and moving nearer to a small town unless you have a functioning branch line at the bottom of the garden. If you already live near to the shops etc. try cycling or walking rather than driving. It has the advantage that you will buy less and still survive. It is worthwhile bringing energy usage (transport, insulation) into the house buying equation along with the quality of the local schools, for example. Think about putting solar water heating panels on the roof and improving the insulation. This can only increase the value of your house.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lake Constance or Bodensee*

The 210 km cycle route around Lake Constance is one of the most popular cycling routes in Germany. It is fairly easy to see why. The route is basically flat and consists in the main of dedicated cycle paths away from traffic. From the apple orchards of the northern shore you have superb views of the Alps to the south. There are hotels, guest houses, B&Bs galore. Many farms in Thurgau (Thurgovia) on the southern Swiss side of the lake and also just to the north in Germany offer families the chance to sleep in the straw. It is a lot less prickly than it sounds. All of the towns and villages around the lake offer good swimming and boating facilities. The food in restaurants is well cooked, comes in immense portions and at least in Germany is reasonably priced. If your pins give out on you there are lake steamers and trains to carry you on. If you fancy a bit of culture: Bregenz, at the eastern Austrian end of the lake has an annual festival between the middle of July and the end of August, the high point of which is opera on a floating stage just off the prom. At the other end of the lake the village of Stein am Rhein is a masterpiece of painted houses and mediaeval twiddly bits and the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen are not that far away. Fans of engineering and good design should not miss the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen. You and your bike can take the cable car from Bregenz and then either do the Diretissimo back to Bregenz or wander off along quiet roads into and out of the Allgäu (Germany) before descending into Bregenz at breakneck speed.

Alteration: 29 June 2012: We have written a jolly little book about the cycle routes around the lake called “Mainly in High Gear - A cycling guide around Lake Constance” which is now only available as an e-book from Smashwords ( and from your local Amazon website.

*I can never understand why the lake is called the Bodensee (Lower Lake or Bottom Lake) in German. I suppose one could argue that it is at the bottom of a map of Germany, but the Swiss use the same name and the lake is at the top of their country on a map. The other thought is that the lake is in a depression, but then all lakes are in depressions. Ah well, just accept it.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Meetings and memories

Weeks of raw grey days, enlivened by short sharp thunderstorms finally gave way to temperatures in the comfort zone for cycling, around 15 °C. We took the chance for a short expedition, on the Bromptons, over the fields to Weinheim, a neighbouring small town, on the mainline railway, at the foot of the Odenwald hills. It’s a distance of about 8 km, mostly on tarmac. We approached Weinheim, as so often by bike, via the rather unappetising commercial zone, full of depots and truck parks, before reaching the residential bungalows with their struggling spring flowers and magnolias seemingly frozen in bud burst. We made for the station to buy the Saturday edition of one of the British ‘heavies’, a treasure to savour on our return. En route a car drove slowly past, with the window down. We expected perhaps, at best, a question about the bikes; at worst, abuse of the ‘get off and milk it’ variety; but no, it was my German teacher from the Viernheim night school whom I had last seen about 15 years earlier. We grinned, waved, said Hello and she was gone, leaving me amazed that heavily disguised by advancing age, sunglasses and helmet I was still recognisable. At the station we encountered a new interpretation of the Bromptons, 2 metres apart parallel in their parked positions: Tandems, I suppose, said a passerby?
Then we headed out of town roughly northwards, parallel to the Bergstrasse, an ancient routeway along the foot of the Odenwald hills, and the inspiration for our ‘mega’ publishing organisation. The Odenwald, a straight-edged line of hills were still mostly dark with leafless trees and occasional greener fields. On the plains we encountered two youngsters on unicycles, a recent special offer by one of the discount stores here. They were having a great time, riding fast off making circles and stepping off quickly from time to time. At a picnic bench, surrounded by apple orchards, still in bud a young family, small child in trailer, parents well wrapped in winter cycling togs, were having lunch. From their panniers they appeared to be touring, undeterred by the cool damp Spring. In front, over one of the bridges across a drainage channel, that slices in a straight line from the edge of the hills to the distant Rhine, there appeared a real tandem, that bore its riders away to the south. Above us wheeled hawks, hoping for mice on the channel banks and in the distance a couple of gliders circled lazily in the thermals after being catapulted aloft from the small airfield by Weinheim. Our route now turned into the forest that lies between Viernheim and Lorsch, an old monastic settlement to the north. Here it was, last year that we encountered a frightened riderless horse, clattering at speed along the field way. At that point we leapt from our bikes into the fenceless field without injuring ourselves. Shortly afterwards we encountered the limping horseman who had been thrown off shortly before. All parties being without mobile phones we could only report that the horse was heading back to the stables and assure ourselves that no real damage was done to anyone.
The forest, some 15 km long and 8 km wide with its myriad gravelled and unpaved tracks is a superb green lung for the people of Viernheim and the whole region. However, it was not always so. For the monks of Lorsch it was a hunting area, where dukes and kings also came for rest and recreation. Then anyone poaching game would have had an unpleasant end. For bona fide travellers using the ancient north/south track was not without its dangers as footpads and murderers sometimes lurked in the dark depths, as the memorial stone to BusMichael testifies. In more recent times large chunks of the woods were used by US forces as training areas and weapon storage in underground bunkers. Now these too have been reopened to the public and we cycled past the remains of giant fences, the wire in rusting rolls at intervals. Within these areas plants and animals have flourished largely undisturbed for 60 years, an unexpected plus point for military occupation. Viernheim is almost encircled by Autobahns, fortunately either in cuttings or bounded by soundwalls. Our route now took us over small bridges across two of these, through the Scots pines and the mix of oaks and beeches, glades of heathland interspersed in the area of ice-age sand dunes, which the forest covers. Just before reaching one of our landmarks, the Tank Road, a wide potholed route that follows the old railway line between Viernheim and Lampertheim we came across a group of youthful cyclists, clad in pinks and yellows and struggling a little to make headway over the chunky gravel. They seemed fairly cheerful, despite the occasional shriek as gravity almost prevailed and continued on their way, spurred by Mum, Dad or even Oma or Opa - here folks celebrate their 80th birthdays quite often on bikes! The Tank Road is very useful as a means of orientation for non-locals like ourselves since one tree or one crossroads in the forest looks much like any other! With 25 km ‘on the clock’ and lunch not taken we decided to take a few left turns to bring us home in good time. We reached the next landmark, the Kaefertal Waterworks after a brisk ride. Here another important act in Mannheim’s more recent history took place as US forces reached it in April 1945. By a stroke of fate the telephone was still connected with the civil powers in Mannheim. A German-speaking doctor with the US troops was able to negotiate a surrender without further bloodshed. On, over a small rise provided by a sand dune, encountering the usual mix of Nordic walkers, joggers, dog walkers and slow cyclists one finds near settlements, we pedalled the last kilometres home via the dog clubs, nests of pigeon fanciers and the like. After 30 km it was time to make tea, prepare a sandwich and settle down with the paper.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Viernheim her cyclists

Viernheim is basically flat and there is little ice and snow in winter, so it is a good place to cycle. The old town is criss-crossed by narrow streets and there is almost only on street parking. The newer suburbs have a blanket 30 kph speed limit. These features coupled with a number of cycleways means it is safe to cycle here. Both young and old cycle extensively. A bicycle is the quickest way of getting about within the town. Old people carry on cycling well past the age when in other parts of the world they would have hung up their bicycle clips. This does mean, however that there are many elderly cyclists about.
The standard Viernheim bike for the elderly is a ladies’ sit-up-and-beg model. Three speed gears are fairly common, though a goodly minority, normally the older bikes, have one speed only. Ninety-nine percent have a square wire basket on the rear carrier and a goodly number have a clip to carry a crutch or a walking stick. The bike owners have difficulty walking, but they have no trouble riding a bike. The wire basket is often used to carry a watering can. Grave gardening is a major big time sport in Viernheim and it is felt necessary to water every day in summer. (The soil is 99% river sand, so I am afraid that the majority of the water just runs straight through and ends up in the groundwater a couples of metre or so below the surface.)
The bikes are much used for shopping when the wire basket is loaded with two full carrier bags or with 12 litres of mineral water and two more carrier bags are hung on the handlebars. If it is raining then the sensible Viernheimer cycles with an umbrella up in the air and quite often with a dog on a lead attached to the other wrist. How one then controls a bike is a mystery to us. This could be the reason for the crutches, but also for a couple of idiosyncrasies that can often be seen on the streets of Viernheim, especially carried out by the female members of society. We call them the Viernheim Stop and the Viernheim Turn. The Viernheim Stop: The cyclists approach a problem zone and pedal ever slowly until they jump off the pedals and land with both feet on the floor straddling the bike. The Viernheim Turn: The cyclists perform a Viernheim Stop and then without looking round push their bikes left across the line of the oncoming traffic. Once in the position across the road they mount their bicycle again and cycle on. Somehow it would appear that elderly Viernheimers have only learned to cycle in a straight line.
Shortly after my wife arrived in Viernheim she was crossing the town centre pedestrian zone on foot when somebody behind her called out “Hello!”. As she knew very few people in Viernheim at the time, she assumed that the person behind her was calling to somebody else and carried on walking. She was amazed when she was almost run over by a lady cyclist. She remonstrated with the lady and asked why she had not used her bell. “…because it’s too aggressive”, came the reply. So Viernheim cyclists are prepared to run the risk of running someone over, rather than being thought aggressive.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Way of St James

Small German towns often have a vibrant cultural and social life. Our small town, Viernheim (under 30 000 inhabitants), has a night school and a Catholic Family Education Centre offering courses and lectures on wide range of topics. There are concerts in the winter in several of the churches. Obviously the walking and the ski clubs have a number of slide show cum lectures on popular and also unknown mountain areas. However something that never fails to amaze us are the activities of a local climbing, canoeing and camping shop: Christian’s Outdoor Center. Christian organises a series of lectures in winter which do not only cover the usual rambles in the Alps or cycling along disused railway lines in Canada, but such topics as humour in mountain climbing and exhibitions of historic books on the Alps. (BTW Contrary to popular British received wisdom, German can be a very funny language. We have dined out on several occasions on the story of the American proposal of marriage on Mount McKinley, that we heard one night in his shop.)
Last Thursday 6. April 2006 Christian organised a information fair on the Camino de Santiago or Way of St James, the main part of which runs from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Obviously the pilgrims in earlier times did not hop in car or on a train to get to the Pyrenees. They walked all the way. There are connecting routes across western Europe. Christian thus invited local people who have experience on these routes to set up a poster display. A number of them had walked and/or cycled from Viernheim or nearby to Santiago de Compostella, which is at least 3000 km.
One spoke of the spiritual aspects of the journey, starting with the decision what to pack. In her words the trip taught her its first lesson before she started, in deciding what was really necessary.
Another walker covered 25 km a day for 100 days from Heppenheim to Santiago via the Mediterranean coast, across the Basque country and then along the Atlantic coast.
Another followed the Silver Route from Seville to Santiago pulling a trolley with his belongings.
Another couple spent their holidays over several years walking part of the major route from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostella. As did the cyclist there who cycled and walked with his wife and friends all the way from Viernheim. We did discuss with him the cyclist’s problem with the Way of St James. What do you do with the bike after you have ridden to Santiago? The railways in the north of Spain will only accept bicycles if they are partially taken to bits and popped in a bag. Our fellow cyclist at the event said that they had put the bikes as they were on the trains and argued. The trouble is our Spanish is not that good. We could see three solutions:
Fly back and pay the extra for the bike.
Take a folder and there are then no problems on the trains.
There are long distance buses from Santiago de Compostella to the rest of Spain and presumably Hendaya/Hendaye that will take bicycles without having to unfold or disassemble them, but the buses need to be booked in advance.
There was also a Viernheimer who is organising a bus trip to the classic section of the Camino in late spring.
We also discovered, although we had actually come across this before, that there are two 130 km long Jakobswege (Ways of St. James) in Rheinland Pfalz west of Speyer. These strike us as good routes to follow with vineyards, hills, views across the Rhine Plain, decent wine and beer, hearty food and plenty of history from the Celts to present day technology. The Tourist Office in Speyer ( can organise a week’s walking holiday (B&B plus a daily picnic) for around 300 € per person sharing a room.
We met an acquaintance who was due to set off for St Jean Pied de Port the next day to walk to Burgos and will be fighting her way through the rain at present. Personally we are not so taken with the Way of St James. It strikes us there are lots of routes much nearer to hand that offer one the chance to reflect on the meaning of life without having to use so much fossil fuel to have a philosophical moment.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Weird as it is the Germans often use words made up of bits of terms as abbreviations rather than the initial letters used in the Anglo-Saxon world. As an example “Flak” is the abbreviation for Fliegerabwehrkanone, i.e. aircraft defence cannon. Admittedly not quite as well known outside of cycling circles Spezi is the abbreviation for Spezialradmesse, i.e. special bicycle fair. This gives you the chance to check the latest developments in recumbents, recumbent tricycles, quad cycles, folding cycles, tandems, family cycles, velomobiles, transporters, electrical bikes, special needs bikes, adult kick scooters, child and load trailers, customized designs and accessories. You can expect to meet the European distributors for Bike Friday, Brompton and many more delectable pieces of pedal-powered hardware. This event has been held every year for 10 or so years in Gemersheim south of Heidelberg and north of Karlsruhe on the west bank of the Rhine. The event is well worth visiting and will be held this year 2006 on 29 and 30 April at the Stadthalle in the centre of the town. The nearest major airport is at Frankfurt am Main. There are good rail connections to Mannheim and then to Germesheim via Speyer. You could also fly to Hahn or Baden-Baden Airport with a discount airline from Britain. There is a bus connection from Hahn to Heidelberg via Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. You can catch a train from any of these cities to Germesheim via Speyer. There is a bus connection from Baden-Baden Airport to Karlsruhe where you can take a train to Germesheim.
Entrance fees are reasonable:
Adults 8.- €
Adults (reduced) 6.- €
Family Ticket 16.-€
Season Ticket 13,- €
The do is organised by:
Siebecke & Lange GbR
Marktstraße 22
D-76726 Germersheim
Tel +49 (72 74) 48 63
Fax +49 (72 74) 77 93 60

Monday, March 27, 2006


One of the questions we are often asked about cycling (bicycling for our American friends) is where would you recommend that we go cycling in Germany? This question is almost impossible to answer. Germany has 40 000 km of cycleways. There is good cycling to be found all over. The rather oddly named, well at least to our eyes, Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club (ADFC - General German Bicycle Club) has published an excellent map of the whole of the country showing all of the major cycling routes called ADFC-Entdeckerkarte. This is in German, but it’s a map and is available free-of-charge from ADFC stands at bicycle fairs etc. You can request a copy from the ADFC Bundesgeschäftsstelle, Postfach 10 77 47, D 28077 Bremen, Germany. As the ADFC is a voluntary society and dependent on the subscriptions paid by members such as my wife and I, it would be polite to enclose one or even two International Reply Coupon/s.
There is also a booklet available from the German National tourist Office entitled “Discovering Germany by Bike” which gives you some but not all of the routes shown on the map.
The Bavarian provincial government has produced a map of Bavaria with all of their cycle routes entitled: “Bayernetz für Radler”. You can order it from Ernst Vögel GmbH, Kalvarienbergstraße 22, D93491 Stamsried; Germany, eMail:
When you have decided where you want to cycle then you can buy the ADFC/BVA 1:150000 Radtourenkarte map/s from the CTC or Stanfords. These maps show the roads and cycle routes as a function of motor traffic density. The less traffic there is the brighter the colour on the map, so the quiet roads really stand out. They also show cycle routes in neighbouring countries, so that short trips across the border can be planned without having to buy new maps.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Football, cycling and life

If you are a supporter of the English football team, it is possible to watch each of the matches and cycle in the days after to the next stadium. Drop us a line if you want a route suggested. If however you have got a ticket or tickets for one of the southern match stadiums: Kaiserslauten, Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg or Frankfurt, then rather than looking for a hotel or campsite in one of these cities, then think about stopping in one of the towns or villages in the Tauber Valley. The tourist authorities will arrange transport for you to the match/es of your choice and you can watch the other matches on a large public display screens. In between you can enjoy good cycling, swimming, lots of history, decent ale and taste the local wines and as a peace move her indoors can pick up Christmas decorations in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. If you do go to Rothenburg odT then make sure that you stay until the evening to take part in the walk with the nightwatchman, if only to learn the fine art of emptying chamber pots!

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Not that much to do with cycling but we have just spent 2 days in Munich. We stopped in the A&O Hotel/Hostel Bayerstrasse 75 near the Hauptbahnhof (Central Railway Station) which we can recommend. It was clean, quiet and the breakfast was excellent.
We had lunch in the Augustiner Grossgastaette in Neuhaeuserstrasse which is one of the other Munich beer halls. The food was good, the service quick, the customers local and the beer especially the Dunkel (dark beer) excellent. Personally I much prefer it to the Hofbrauhaus which is full of tourists trying to get smashed and unfortunately in many cases succeeding.
Obviously one can cycle in the city. There are a number of cycle routes which were well used in spite of the near freezing temperatures.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Pope's Cycle Route

The Germans were over the moon when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict. The "Bild Zeitung" the biggest German tabloid had a headline: "Wir sind Papst (We are Pope)". The Pope comes from a small town east of Munich. Of all the German provinces Bavaria is the one that is making the most efforts to increase its already extensive cycleway network, so it is not surprising that a group of local authorities east of Munich have joined together to set up a circular 224 km cycle route connecting the Pope's birthplace with various towns and villages with connections to Pope Benedict and previous Popes. Check out the route and more information than most of us would want on Obviously for devoted Roman Catholics it would be one of the holidays of a lifetime, but even non followers of Pope Benedict can find much of interest: the views into the Alps, Lake Chiemsee.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cycling in Europe

This blog will give our comments on the news of the day as it affects cyclists, especially touring cyclists and will try to answer the important questions, e.g.
"Do I have to be a Catholic to cycle the Benedict Cycle Way in Bavaria?" (No)
"I am going to watch the England-Paraguay match in June and I also have tickets for the match with Trinidad & Tobago. Can I cycle from Frankfurt to Nuremberg?" (Yes and we will discuss this in the next couple of days. How did you manage to get hold of the tickets?)

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