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VELOBerlin 2018

VELOBerlin marked the occasion of the second bike show in Berlin this year, only a mere three weeks after the Berlin Fahrradschau. Despite having a slightly different vibe to the BFS, there were still a ton of awesome bikes and events to check out.

The first big event of the show was the 8bar crit on Saturday afternoon, organised by Berlin’s 8bar bikes. Although it rained for quite a lot of the afternoon, it was an exciting race, with riders from all over the place coming to Berlin to race around the track behind the former Tempelhof airport terminal. Despite the rain, there was a good crowd in attendance, and it was great to see many familiar faces riding. Below is a great video about the crit made by Francis Cade from the 8bar team:

The second notable race was the Berlin edition of the International Cargo Bike Race, held on the Sunday afternoon – this time with much more pleasant weather. A relay race, riders also had to pause to load their bikes up with various cargo as they raced around the area used the previous day for the 8bar crit. Check out the cool video below by pedalkultur for assorted scenes from before and during the cargo bike race:

A big part of VELOBerlin was the International Cargo Bike Festival, hosted for the very first time this year in Berlin. There were all kinds of cargo bikes on offer to check out and ride, including Berlin based manufacturer Pedal Power. In fact, most of the 9000m2 covered space directly behind the terminal building was dedicated to cargo bikes of all shapes and sizes. I won’t claim to know a lot about cargo bikes, but I think most of us can agree that the more of these there are in the city and the less cars, the better. As we mentioned in a previous article, you can now even rent a cargo bike for free; we hope that this trend will really take off and the number of cargo bikes available to rent around the city will grow and grow.

Moving inside, the two huge hangers adjacent to the covered area were occupied by (mostly 2-wheel) bikes, bike accessories, non-profit organisations and other firms promoting cycling, both in the city and further afield.

Many of the ubiquitous Berlin brands and builders were there: 8bar, Fern, Meerglas and Ostrad, all of whom we met and interviewed back in October for this feature. Other Berlin-based firms at the show included Cicli BonnanoGramm bags, and Wheeldan, all of whom we are keen to meet soon.

Many local shops brought their wares to the show: we really liked the bikes that The Gentle Jaunt and Bikedudes were showing off.

Aside from the more Berlin-centric stuff, many bigger internationally-recognised brands were also at the show: Giant, Schwalbe, Abus and Brooks.

Other cool stuff was happening near the entrance to the show: free bike coding/marking to prevent theft, free bike washing, a bike flea market and temporary bike repair stations.

We really enjoyed going to the show, and it was a clear indicator that bike culture in Berlin continues to thrive. If you didn’t go this year, make sure to check it out next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

16th April 2018 0 comment
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Interview: Mess Pack Berlin

photo: Rene Zieger

One of the first events of this year’s Berlin Fahrradschau was a panel discussion about the future of fixed gear racing in Germany. For the uninitiated, a fixed gear crit (short for criterium) is a race on a closed circuit where everyone has to ride a fixed gear bike. They are often held on city streets, with the popular Red Hook Crit series (held in Brooklyn, Milan, Barcelona and London) bringing a lot of attention to the sport.

Germany has a strong fixed gear racing scene with several well-attended races held every year, many of which are organised by Rad Race, who presented the Last Man/Woman Standing races on the Saturday night of the BFS18. There’s also a series of fixed gear races working together under the German Fixed Crit Series umbrella.

On the panel were 8 key people from the Berlin/German fixed gear scene, including Stefan Schott from 8bar, Benedict Herzberg from Standert, Ingo Engelhardt from Rad Race and Johanna Jahnke from East London Fixed. Chairing the panel was Hagen Lindner, one of the riders for Mess Pack, a Berlin-based bike team who race in crits all over the world.

Hagen, together with team mate Raphael were kind enough to share a few minutes with me to chat about the team, cycling in Berlin and fixed gear racing in Germany.

How did you guys get started?

Raphael: Basically, we all have a background as bike messengers. Not really in the same formation we are today, but the core of people who started the Mess Pack team was just a bunch of friends who worked together at one messenger company. It was a special company, kind of a collective, and we worked very closely together and organised things by ourselves. As a group of friends, we started to participate in small races and events, where it was just cool to have a team name or something we could call our own. That was basically where we started. That was about 4 or 5 years ago.

There first race we participated in was a Rad Race in Hamburg, in 2014, on the Heidbergring…

Hagen: …It was 2014. It was not under the name Mess Pack yet; it was after that we had shirts printed.

So, everyone in Mess Pack is or was a bike messenger?

R: Yeah. That was also part of the name Mess Pack…nowadays it’s changed slightly – a couple of people have moved to other cities, but we’ve also got new members involved and always a kind of criteria was that they have a background, or still work as a messenger.

photo: Rene Zieger

How often and where do you race?

H: It depends on the season, obviously, but actually from April to September there is a race nearly every weekend. It’s a bit slower in the Summer, but we also do road races in between. It’s most of the time around Germany. Most races are in the north/north-east of the country, which is good for us because Berlin is very close to most of them. We also do international races: some of us go to Red Hook. The first one is end of April in Brooklyn – two of us are going. Last year, a few went to Barcelona and Milan.

We also attend cycle messenger championships, German, European and worldwide – not all of us, but we try to go as often as we can as a team.

How often do you race in Berlin?

H: There’s the 8bar race, there’s the annual Rad Race. There’s the Standert Crit, which is new, so those are three bigger races.

R: There’s the fixed42, which is based on the Velothon, definitely one of the biggest races in Germany, and definitely the biggest in Berlin. (apparently the biggest fixed gear race on the planet – Ed). 

H: So this is the fourth race, and then…

R: …and then there are other small road races – not on fixed gear bikes –  around Berlin which we use for training. There’s a small series, in Märkisches Oderland, a region north of Berlin and there there are 5 or 6 races over the season.

Is Berlin a good place to ride? Is it a safe city for cycling?

R: When you have a certain background as a messenger, you would probably say it’s quite rough to cycle in most parts of the city. We are used to it, so it doesn’t affect us so much. There are definitely a lot of places where, for example, my wife would never cycle because it’s just too dangerous. Which is really not as it should be.

H: I think Berlin is pretty safe compared to many other big cities, the traffic is not as easy to predict as in other (North American) cities where there’s more of a grid system like New York, so it’s a little more hectic. I think as a messenger, you have a little bit of a different understanding of what traffic is, what’s dangerous and where to cycle. I, myself, cycle on the street, not on the bike path, which I think is often the safest place to be.

R: I think the main thing is, if you’re confident on your bike, and you feel like part of the traffic, then usually you’re fine. I think if you’re really anxious and you always stick to the places where you’re told to cycle, you could have trouble. They also often don’t take care of the bike paths very well.

What’s next for Mess Pack?

H: Tomorrow (Rad Race Last Man Standing) is the first race. Then I race a cyclocross race on Sunday, which is also part of the (Berlin Fahrradschau) show. That’s gonna be the last cross race for the season, which are usually in Winter. We also do a lot of alleycats, so there’s a big alleycat coming up in Hamburg, which I might do. Then the first road races start, then the fixed gear crit season starts with the 8bar crit. A week later, a bit north of Berlin there’s a two-day event called Steuerradtage, also part of the fixed crit series. And then there’s Red Hook Brooklyn.

photo: Rene Zieger

Cycling is a pretty male-dominated sport. How is it for the girls in the team? Do they get treated well?

R: I think that because many of the girls have a messenger background, that they’re also tougher than many and are used to claiming their space and fighting back a little bit. Recently at the 6 Day Berlin there were a few (sexist) comments said that were really unpleasant towards women, and made them feel that it wasn’t their place.

H: It totally depends on the race and who’s organising it. Most of the time we’re lucky because the fixed gear crit scene is from a background of messengers and people from the punk scene who have a certain understanding about equality – the races are more welcoming. That’s not only feedback from the girls in our team, but other female riders we know.

Is fixed gear racing becoming more popular in Germany?

R: I guess so. The main source of this popularity is coming from the international scene. With Red Hook, which is a huge event, which also started small, but they put a lot of marketing into it. Those events got a lot of attention in the media, which had the result of many pro or semi-pro cyclists getting into the scene, which made the scene a lot bigger over the last couple of years. I think that’s a good and a bad thing – it brings more attention which allows people to stage bigger events, but the downside is that you have certain people who feel excluded because this started as a small, niche thing and it’s now getting more mainstream and professional. I would say yes, it’s becoming more popular.

H: …and it’s not necessarily growing. It’s becoming more selective. We’ll see different, more selective formats in the future…

R: …it’s got more professional. You can compare it to live music, if you have a band who plays in front of 50 people at a small club and everyone loves the band and the concert. Once it becomes a band who plays in front of 10,000 people it’s not the same band any more and it becomes difficult to keep the old fans and old vibe. That’s just what’s happening with the fixed gear scene.

How does someone get into racing fixed gear? Do you have be an athlete? A lot of people see bike racing as a sport for elite athletes and are put off getting involved for that reason.

R: That was exactly the point, say three or four years ago. Everybody just got into it and started doing it. I actually bought a track bike just because I saw the race on the car track. It was so much fun. There was no one wearing bib shorts, just racing in cut-off jeans and a t-shirt. I thought, wow, that looks like fun. That was my main motivation. Nowadays, because it’s so professional it might scare people off getting involved. That’s why there’s now a development to form A and B races, to make it more available and accessible to beginners, which I really appreciate.

H: I would say start small, go to local events, meet people, go to alleycats, race them – that’s always fun and it’s actually a race. It’s not on a closed track, but it’s cool. There you meet people you can start training with, go to other races with. Then just give it a shot. If you like it, you’ll grow with it. You don’t have to be an athlete.

R: In Berlin, there are a also couple of regular training rides. Every Thursday Standert Bicycles do a group ride. Stefan from 8bar just announced that he’s going to do one on Tuesday, so there are basically two to three days a week where you can do a group ride to just try it out.

Cheers, guys.

 

8th April 2018 0 comment
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Berlin Fahrradschau 2018

Starting in 2010 with 90 exhibitors and 5000 visitors and now with over 300 brands exhibiting to over 13,000 people, the Berlin Fahrradschau is a fantastic event for anyone in Berlin (or nearby) interested in cycling.

Held every year at Station-Berlin in buildings of the former Dresdener Bahnhof near Gleisdreieck, the BFS offers visitors the opportunity not only to drool over some of the coolest bikes available, but also to check out live races, workshops, talks and panel discussions. It’s also a great chance for Berlin bike manufacturers, teams and organisations to promote themselves.

The BFS started Friday 23rd and finished Sunday 25th of March. We started off by riding the Brooks/Tortuga Cycles gravel ride on Friday morning, before going to the show proper on Friday evening to check out an interesting panel discussion about the future of German fixed gear racing. Several key players in the scene were involved, including the German fixed crit series, Rad Race,  8bar, Standert bikes and Messpack.

On Saturday we went back to check out the bikes.  Many Berlin bike brands were at the show, including 3 we met last year for our 5 Berlin bike manufacturers feature: Fern, 8bar and Meerglas. Additionally, we saw beautiful bikes from Cicli Bonanno, Wheeldan and Schindelhauer.

In the vast room behind the exhibition hall there was live BMX, trials bikes and bike polo, also with a space to try out bikes from the show.

On Saturday evening we trekked up to Hohenschönhausen to check out the Rad Race Last Man/Woman Standing,  an evening of fixed gear crit racing. It was great fun, with a real party atmosphere – check out the link for a great write-up with pictures. As you can see from the results, several of the top 10 riders from both the womens’ and mens’ races were from Berlin teams: 8bar, Schindelhauer and Messpack. Watch the official Rad Race video below.

On Sunday it was back to the show to check out the Standert Points Cross race, which used both the ‘backyard’ behind the exhibition hall and the indoor events room itself to create an awesome, challenging cross-country course. Check out tons of great pics in the link, or the youtube video of one rider riding the course below. It was really cool to see a cyclocross race like this in the middle of the city and the shorter track meant the crowd got to see a lot more of the action than at a classic cyclocross race.

What bikes were hot?

As expected, adventure/gravel/all-road bikes were super popular, with countless manufacturers big and small showing off bike-packing rigs with drop bars and fat tires. Traditional touring set ups with panniers seemed less popular.

A big range of slick urban/city bikes was also on offer, hopefully indicating that city cycling and commuting are on the up and up. Cargo bikes also seemed to be quite popular: we saw lots of people trying them out and there were several exhibited at the show.

Fixed gear and single-speed bikes seemed to be as popular as ever, with a huge selection of sexy bikes to check out from 8bar, Standert, London’s Brick Lane Bikes and Hamburg’s Suicycle.

We didn’t get to see and do everything at BFS18, but what we did see and do was fantastic, and we can’t wait for next year. If you haven’t been yet and are even moderately interested in cycling, definitely check out next year’s show.

 

31st March 2018 0 comment
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BFS18: Brooks England & Tortuga Cycles gravel ride

‘Gravel grinding’ is a fashionable term in the cycling world at the moment, conjuring up images of epic adventures riding through beautiful and remote landscapes, the only sound being the crunching of stones underneath your wheels. Riding dirt roads bridges the gap between road riding and mountain biking, and also offers a chance to ride swiftly and safely without being surrounded by cars.

Then there are the bikes: resembling racing bikes to the untrained eye, the difference is in the rugged tires, designed to tackle different types of unpaved roads and paths. Powerful disc brakes are also considered de rigueur for such riding, where being able to stop very quickly is essential.

I would be lying if I said that the hysteria surrounding ‘gravel grinding’ (or whatever your preferred name for it is) hadn’t rubbed off on me. I have a bicycle designed to be ridden both on and off road, and I was keen to explore the unpaved roads surrounding Berlin. For this reason, after seeing it advertised on facebook, I was very keen to get involved.

Tortuga Cycles is a bike shop in Prenzlauer Berg which caters less for pure road riding and more for gravel/touring/adventure cycling pursuits. Brooks is a prestigious British company renowned for its high-quality saddles, some of which have stayed more or less unchanged for over 100 years.

The event was organised by Brooks and Tortuga, using the shop as the starting point. We arrived just after 9am, and were greeted by Luca and Mirko from Tortuga with a welcome espresso. Bregan from Brooks was already on hand, fixing riders up with Brooks saddles to try out for the ride.

By about 10am, around 30 riders had assembled, my girlfriend unfortunately being the only female rider in the group. There were a variety of beautiful bikes both inside and outside the shop, most set up with heavy duty tires for the day’s muddy course. One brave rider had even brought along a fixed gear.

The idea for the day was to have two separate rides: 50km at an average of 20km/h and 70km at a 24km/h. After separating the men from the boys (and girl), the group was split into two, ourselves wisely deciding to ride the shorter, slower route.

We set off together, riding north out of Prenzlauer Berg through Malchow, then Blankenburg, then Karow. After about 10km, the two groups split off from one another, with the faster guys embarking on a slightly longer route including a short race, the winner of which winning a free Brooks saddle.

The ride was mostly off-road, covering everything from canal towpaths to dense, smooth gravel and muddy forest single track. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and wet, making what would have been a relatively straightforward ride a lot more taxing, due to how slippery the course was. Although my bike has pretty capable Clement X’plor USH tires on it, something a little chunkier would have been more suitable.

The highpoint of the ride was a loop around Schönower Heide, a nature reserve north of Berlin, where we had the opportunity to ride near wild horses, buffalos and deer. The route eventually looped back down to Berlin again, before finishing in a Pankow cafe for food and drinks compliments of Brooks.

With supportive guidance from Jambi, the ride was a pleasure, and a great opportunity to meet some other local riders. It was also great to see just how much gravel/track stuff is available right on our doorstep here in Berlin. I will definitely be riding these routes again, albeit next time in slightly dryer weather.

If you want to ride these for yourself, you can find the 50km route here and the 70km route here.

Here are a selection of photographs:

25th March 2018 0 comment
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Visiting Berlin’s DIY bike workshops

As much as I love cycling, I have to admit that my bicycle mechanic skills leave a lot to be desired.

My commuter bike – not that my commute is particularly taxing – was in need of a few tweaks and a bit of general TLC. I had also recently purchased a set of fancy new Schutzbleche (mudguards) to install, sick of constantly having a wet backside at the merest hint of rain.

I foolishly believed I could do the above jobs alone. My first attempt to install the mudguards in my apartment was wholly unsuccessful, leaving me not only with dirty hands and a dirty kitchen floor but also a distinct feeling of pessimism, doubting that I’d ever be able to accomplish any kind of true bicycle modification at home.

It was a happy accident then, when I subsequently discovered a website with a list of Berlin selbsthilfe Fahrradwerkstätte (self-help bike workshops). There are quite a few places on the list (published July 2013) dotted around the city, usually operating on a donation-based payment system. I decided to take myself, my bicycle and its new mudguards to two of these workshops to see whether I’d have more luck with their tools and expertise than I’d had at home.

Regenbogenfabrik, Lausitzer Straße 22, Kreuzberg.

Enlisting a friend, the first place we visited was the bike workshop at Regenbogenfabrik (translated as Rainbow Factory) on Lausitzer Straße in Kreuzberg, a squat started in the early 80s that also includes a hostel, cafe, woodshop, bakery and cinema.

The bike workshop is housed in a colourfully painted shed towards the left of the central courtyard. As we went in, we were welcomed and shown to a free space with a stand to clamp the bike to. Another room adjoins the main workshop, filled with hundreds of wheels, forks and other assorted spare parts. Tools line the walls, and every inch of space is filled with some kind of bicycle paraphernalia.

With some trepidation, I clamped the bicycle, removed the wheels and started to trying to work out how on earth to install the mudguards. A kind, middle aged man called Mattis was on hand to help, one of three volunteer mechanics circulating to assist if we needed anything.  

After about an hour of sweating and swearing, we came to the conclusion that the front mudguard and my bicycle were in fact completely incompatible. Being a racing bike, the limited clearance between front tire and fork wouldn’t allow installation of the mudguard without hindering the free spinning of the wheel. Nonetheless, Mattis was extremely helpful throughout, doing a lot of the work while I took pictures and let my friend get her hands dirty instead.

On to the rear mudguard. It went on without a hitch, although the small part which clamps it to the brake mount was rubbing on the wheel. It might temporarily work without this part, said Mattis. Indeed it did, and was enough to get us out of Kreuzberg and to Mitte where we could see if the folks at Hubschrauber could help with a more permanent solution. The fee for our 2 hours at Regenbogenfabrik? A paltry €6. That seemed a little low, so we tipped them and also donated the incompatible front mudguard.

Hubschrauber, Geschwister-Scholl-Straße 7, Mitte.

Hubschrauber is a bike workshop at Humboldt University, housed in an outbuilding within the campus at Geschwister-Scholl-Straße. The workshop is bright and clean, the walls again lined with every tool you can imagine and there are two bike stands available in the middle of the room to clamp your bike to. Similar to Regenbogen, Rat und Tat (help and advice) from mechanics is also available, and donations are welcomed. Humboldt University provides the space; the staff work as volunteers.

We arrived at Hubschrauber on Friday evening and mechanic Chris wasted no time helping us fix on the rear mudguard that we hadn’t quite been able to attach at Regenbogen. It turned out that we needed instead a metal clamp to bend into place, fixing the mudguard to the rear brake mount without any rubbing. Despite my complete lack of ability, it was surprisingly easy, given Chris’s expertise. He also showed us how to perfectly adjust the placement of the mudguard to ensure optimal, non-rubbing fit.

Additionally, Chris showed us how to dial in the brakes on the bicycle, one of which hadn’t been working well for a couple of weeks.

At the time we visited, Hubschrauber was busy with bike fans young and old, working together with the in-house mechanics to solve their various bike-related problems. An older gentleman learning how to build a wheel told us that Hubschrauber had been around since the early 90s . The staff were cordial and knowledgeable, the atmosphere friendly and social. There was a definite contrast between the grittier, slightly more alternative vibe at Regenbogenfabrik, which was similar in atmosphere and appearance to many of Berlin’s well-known squatted housing projects.  Chris asked us for €5 to put in the donations box. 

I’m really happy that I decided to explore this side of Berlin’s bike scene. Not only did I meet some great people, but I actually came away having learnt something and got my bike fixed for a very modest outlay. If you have something that needs fixing on your bicycle, visiting either one of these workshops could be a truly invaluable experience.

If you’ve used the ADFC’s workshop at Brunnenstraße or the Technisches Universität workshop, let us know how you got on.

20th March 2018 0 comment
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Die fLotte: free cargo bikes to rent in Berlin

The ADFC (allgemeiner deutscher fahrrad-club) has recently started Die fLotte, a new initiative to provide free cargo bike rental to people in Berlin.

According to the Flotte website, Berlin is one of over 40 German cities offering free cargo bike rental, often with support from the local ADFC.

Why a cargo bike?

Whether you want to move your children from A to B, haul a load of heavy shopping or even move your belongings to a new apartment, cargo bikes offer an environmentally-friendly, cost-effective and fun alternative to using a car. They also mean one less car being used: less traffic, safer streets, cleaner air and less climate pollution. Riding a bike also keeps you fit and healthy and looks cool!

Getting hold of one of the bikes

There are currently 7 cargo bikes in the fleet: (names including Lotte, Luise and Walte) with some being better suited to transporting children, and some better for hauling stuff.

If you want to use one of the bikes, the registration process is simple. Simply register here, check the bike you’re looking for is available (you can use it for up to 3 consecutive calendar days) and click ‘book’. You will then receive a confirmation email and code word.

Next, go to pick up the bike with your personal ID (which is photographed or copied) and code word, fill out and sign the form and the bike is yours. A lock is also provided.

When returning the bike, chain it up to something unmovable and ensure you hand it over in person to someone at the rental station.

Although the service is technically ‘free’, donations are welcomed.

What bikes are on offer?

For those of you who don’t speak German, here is a list of the bikes currently available with a note about their specifications and suitability. To see the locations and pictures of the bikes, click here.

Bella is a 3-wheeled Bakfiets Cargo Trike Classic Wide and can house up to 4 small children on its two folding benches. The box can handle up to 100kg of weight and the rear rack another 50kg. 8 gears and powerful hydraulic brakes complete the package.

Inge is another Cargo Trike Classic Wide form Bakfiets.

Lukas is the fleet’s third Bakfiets Cargo Trike Classic Wide.

Lotte is a Bakfiets Cargo Trike narrow.  This bike is 10cm narrower than Bakfiets’ Cargo Trike Wide.

Lisbeth is a Pedalpower Long Harry, the oldest and most experienced model in the fleet. Lisbeth is a two-wheeled cargo bike and has a platform instead of a box, making it unsuitable for carrying children. It has 5 gears. (Pedalpower is one of Berlin companies we met for our 5 Berlin bike manufacturers feature.)

Luise is a Bakfiets Cargo Bike Classic Long, and the fastest bike in the fleet. It has a collapsible bench for up to 2 children and can carry 80kg in its box and a further 50kg on the rear rack. Despite its length of 2.50m, it is agile and quick to get up to speed.

Walter is a PFAU-tec Jumbo. The box can carry up to 60kg, but has no benches for children to sit on. The maximum rider weight is 100kg.

If you use one of the bikes, please let us know how you got on.

 

11th March 2018 0 comment
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A tale of two cities: London vs. Berlin

Having grown up in London and done a lot of cycling in and around the city, every time I visit home I am keen to see how the cycling culture there is developing.  While travelling around London, I often find myself reflecting on how the burgeoning cycling culture in Europe’s largest city compares to Germany’s capital, after spending almost 4 years as a citizen of Berlin. Here are a few key observations:

1) Cycling has become really, really popular

I haven’t lived in London for a few years, but I’m sure that when I did nowhere near the amount of people were riding bikes as do now. Since the introduction of the congestion charge in 2003, bike use has grown exponentially, and seemingly at an even more accelerated rate in the last four or five years. A new report claims that cycling superhighways are “moving five times more people per square metre than the main carriageway.” According to official statistics, morning cycle use will soon overtake car use, if cycling’s popularity continues to increase at its current trajectory.

2) Commuting in London is serious business.

Riding your bike to work in London isn’t like riding your bike to work in Berlin. In Berlin, most people seem happy enough riding along at a normal pace, minding their own business, with those who ride as fast as possible being the exception, not the rule. It’s a normal part of everyday life, just like going to the bakery in the morning and buying 15 Schrippen (Berlinerisch for Brötchen) or starting your morning sitting on the U-Bahn with a bottle of Sternburg. In London, on the other hand, commuting is a fiercely competitive sport, with each athlete trying desperately hard to outdo the other. The speed people ride at is quite frankly, terrifying.

3) Londoners have fancy, fast bikes.

If you want to ride from your trendy East London apartment to your trendy East London office, and you want to do it fast, you don’t want to ride a sluggish old bike. No; you need the most modern, most expensive and most fashionable bike you can afford. Fast, light, racing bikes seem to dominate the bike-commuting landscape in modern-day London. As we reflected on bike culture over pints, a bike mechanic friend mused that the racing bike has become the modern day urbanite’s status symbol, just like a flashy car once was. I wouldn’t disagree. Things feel really different in Berlin, where most people ride pretty ordinary bikes and where it’s a lot rarer to see somebody on a super high-end bike.

4) Cycling Superhighways.

The redesigned London Cycle Superhighways (google for images) are a revelation, and cycling along London’s busy roads is obviously so much better than it used to be. They are wide enough to accommodate a considerable volume of cyclists, often totally separated from car traffic, and most importantly, a lot more visible to motorists and pedestrians. Berlin could really take a leaf out of London’s book to improve cycling safety on some of its busy roads.

5) Londoners shop in fancy bike shops.

It’s no secret that London is an expensive city, populated by plenty of people with plenty of cash. Bike shops reflect this. As well as ’boutique’ stores such as Brick Lane Bikes in Shoreditch and Cloud 9 Cycles in Bloomsbury, the chain stores also seem to offer an extensive range of high end bikes, especially in comparison to the average Berlin store.

6) Cycling is primarily a younger man’s game.

It seems middle-classed young men virtually dominate London’s cycling population. I saw many fewer women, hardly any older people and almost no children riding in the city. I’d love to know why. Is it more dangerous? Is there less of a cycling culture? Thankfully, in Berlin cycling demographics seem a lot more equal.

​​

 

9th March 2018 0 comment
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Tempelhofer Feld

Tempelhofer Feld is the best place in Berlin.

There, we said it.

It’s also one of the best places to go for a ride in the city: central, accessible to all, away from cars and totally, totally Berlin.

The best thing about cycling on Tempelhofer Feld is its inclusivity. Are you a parent, looking for somewhere to let your child safely learn to cycle? Do you have a €4000 racing bike you want to ride at 30km/h? Do you want to have a gentle (or not so gentle) ride to unwind after work? Do you want to hire some bikes and show your guests one of Berlin’s best spots? You’re in luck, because you can do all of those things here. 

Your first impression might be that the field is vast, but from two wheels it doesn’t seem so big. This ride is an easy 11.4km and will take no more than an hour even with several stops.

We recommend starting from the Neukölln side at Herrfurthplatz/Herrfurthstrße: there are several great food and drink options in this cool Kiez to explore before or after your ride. The field is not hard to find, just look to the end of the road and follow the huge void.

Cycle onto the field, pause to have a look at the map, or quickly climb the few steps to the observation deck on your left and gaze out at the vastness ahead of you.

Get onto the path, cycling towards the right past the first block of toilets. Follow the path anti-clockwise as it snakes around the perimeter of the park. After a while, you’ll come to the beer garden. There are also several table tennis tables in this shadier part the field, so pack your paddles and balls before you set off.

Continuing anti-clockwise, you’ll see the huge former airport terminal building looming ahead of you as you come to the tennis and baseball area. This building was designed by Nazi architects and completed in 1941. It was an integral part of the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49 and an incredible place to see if you have the chance to go inside. Tempelhof was an operational airport until 2008.

Stick to the path and continue towards to the terminal. Start edging towards the left, get back onto the main path and continue anti-clockwise directly in front of the terminal.

Cross over the two runways, get onto the perimeter path and start cycling east. After a few hundred meters you’ll spot another observation deck on your left.

On the way to the south-east corner of the field, keep your eyes peeled for the skatepark to your left. It’s worth getting off the bike here and checking out local BMX riders and skaters attempting tricks.

Near the south-east entrance to the field at Oderstraße, you’ll find Picnic, a small cafe where you can pick up a cold drink or piece of cake to sustain you through the next part of the ride.

Continue north, with the unique ‘Gemeinschaftsgarten’ (a community garden of improvised hippy-esque allotments) on your right and turn left onto the second runway, cycling all 2km of it. Look out for kiteboarders!

Once you get to the end, turn left and left again and repeat the process, this time cycling west along the parallel runway. Tempelhofer Feld can be very windy, and it’s fun to see how much difference the tailwind (or headwind) makes to your speed on the bicycle.

After you finish on the second runway, continue past the community garden and turn left, eventually exiting the field where you came in.

If it’s Summer, feel free to bring your disposable barbeque and do some ‘grilling’, as the Germans like to say. Just make sure to take your rubbish away with you!

7th March 2018 0 comment
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My new bike, superfluous rental bikes and other stories.

I talked a bit in a recent post about a new bike I had spend months obsessively collecting the parts for. Well, it’s finally no more just a collection of obsessed-over parts, but rather something that I can actually ride. And ride very well, it does. Still, that’s not quite enough to stop me obsessing about how I can further optimise it.

Here’s a very Berlinesque picture of it, outside my very Berlinesque graffiti-covered apartment building. Isn’t it beautiful? If you see me riding it, say hi. You can’t miss it.

In related news, I came across this interesting story on the internet recently. It talks about a Turkish woman who divorced her husband, claiming that her mental health was been negatively affected by her husbands all-consuming bicycle obsession. She says that her husband abandoned her, instead devoting all of his attention to cleaning and fixing his bicycle. Thoughts? Is this really a valid reason to divorce somebody? Jury’s out on that one.

In other news, I also came across this incredible photo essay of China’s huge bike share graveyards. 1.5m shared bikes on the streets of Shanghai (London, in comparison, has only 11,000 Santander shared bikes) has lead to pavements being literally filled with unused, superfluous bicycles. Consequently, huge ‘graveyards’ of said bikes exist, as city authorities are forced to take the initiative and clear the pavements of them; the bike share companies refuse to do it.

The pictures are incredible, and raise a number of questions. Do we really need so many shared bikes on the streets of our cities? Is it not better just to own your own bike? Will this happen in Berlin? You have probably noticed a huge increase in remote rental bikes parked (dumped) carelessly on the streets of Berlin (Byke, Mobike etc.) What should we do about this? Is it a problem or is it good to have so many shared bikes available?

As always, happy and safe cycling.

Ben

 

 

25th February 2018 0 comment
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