Berlin is home to a rich tapestry of different types of cyclists. Here are five of our favourites:
The Bike Hipster
The bike hipster often rides an impossibly impractical bike, better suited to the velodrome or Tour de France than a busy city. Vintage racing bikes, fixed gear or single speed bikes reign supreme for this type of rider, their super-low riding position carefully engineered to see as little of the road and traffic ahead as possible.
Members of this clan would rather die than wear a helmet or have mudguards on their bike. Any kind of traditional bike portage is strictly frowned upon, apart from the semi-ironic use of a front basket, usually carrying some kind of craft beer or perhaps a bag from Bio Company.
The Fat-bike Rider/Urban Mountain Biker
If you thought ‘fat bike rider’ was a comment on the weight of the cyclist, think again. We mean ‘fat bikes’ as in, the kind of bikes better suited to the landscape of Mars or the Mojave than Mitte.
There you are, minding your own business, cycling along at what you consider a decent speed, when along comes a gentleman (or rarely, a lady) on a mountain bike or fat bike, roaring past you. Here they come, effortlessly pedalling along in the hardest of gears, huge calves bulging, riding faster than you could ever dream of, annihilating everyone in their path. Extra points if they’re drinking a beer while riding. Double extra points if they’re carrying a mobile bluetooth speaker blaring antisocial music.
The Typical German Cyclist
For many people who cycle in Berlin, cycling is just a way to get around. For this reason, they ride normal bikes, blissfully unconcerned with making any kind of fashion statement with their ride. Heavy frames, mudguards, upright riding position, dynamo lights, rear racks and sometimes front suspension forks. Ortlieb panniers always installed. Practicality, anyone?
The Urban Armstrong
Usually commuting from the suburbs, or riding in groups on the weekend, this type of cyclist is a rarer breed in Berlin than some other European cities (read: London, with its commuting-as-olympic sport), but keep your eyes peeled and you might spot one or two. Usually riding a ludicrously expensive racing bike, fully clad in Rapha lycra and riding faster than you could ever dream of to or from some remote Brandenburg suburb that you’ve probably never even heard of.
The Cargo Bike Rider
The cargo/transport/freight bike (that’s Lastenrad auf Deutsch) commands the bike lane like a Hummer commands the road. Members of this unique cycling subculture include punky bike couriers, transporting all kinds of bulky items around the city; people transporting their little ones to and from kindergarten, often with two children riding blissfully in the ‘cargo’ part of the bike; people with food delivery businesses delivering burritos or quinoa salads or something to start-ups, and people who would rather not drive a car but still want to move stuff about.
If you’re thinking to yourself “does anyone actually ride one of these things?”, keep your eyes peeled – they’re not quite as niche as you think: there is a Berlin company building them and also a shop dedicated to selling them.
These tough, over-engineered bikes are not cheap: it’s usual to pay several thousand euros for one. If you’ve ever ridden a critical mass in Berlin, it’s not unusual to see people on cargo bikes carrying whole crates of beer: cool. Just don’t get hit by one.
all illustrations by Wilm Lindenblatt