Choosing a bicycle is a decision that deserves careful consideration. There are many styles available on the market, and you should think about what you want from the bike before buying one. Is it for short journeys to the shops? For getting from the suburbs to the centre of the city as fast as possible? Riding around Tempelhofer Feld on the weekend? Or is it simply an accessory to help you look as cool as possible?
We’ve compiled a shortlist of some of the different styles available together with their pros and cons to help make that choice a little easier.
The Dutch bike
Dutch bikes and bikes inspired by them offer a relaxed, upright riding position, built-in mudguards/fenders and chain protectors. They also often have built-in dynamo lights. These bikes’ ‘step-through’ frame geometry also means you can get on to them without having to throw your leg over a top tube, which could be impractical, depending on what you’re wearing. They’re also much easier to get on and off for less agile or elderly riders.
On the other hand, the step-through geometry means the frames have to be reinforced with thicker tubing and can be very heavy. There are also fewer places to mount accessories on the frame and a limited range of gears available.
Racing bike/fixed gear/single speed
You’ll see plenty of people riding racing bikes, single-speeds and fixed-gears around Berlin. These bikes are attractive in their sporty elegance, especially vintage examples. They are fast and light, and with a racing bike, you have the opportunity to ride longer distances (fast) for fitness outside the city. In lycra. In the case of single-speeds, maintenance is simple as there is simply not so much to go wrong when you only have one gear.
These bikes have their drawbacks: they are usually better suited to dryer conditions, although mudguards/fenders can sometimes be fitted later, depending on clearance between tire, fork and chainstay. The riding position also puts the rider low, making them less than ideal for city riding where it’s helpful to have a good overview of the street and traffic ahead of you. Not all racing bikes can accommodate racks, so if you want to carry stuff on your bike, one might not be the wisest choice. They are also very desirable for thieves.
Perhaps the most popular type of bicycle in Berlin is the venerable German ‘trekkingrad’, seen absolutely everywhere in the city. These are sturdy, heavy bikes, perfectly suited to taking a beating year-round on city streets, whatever the weather. They usually come equipped with mudguards, dynamo lights and a rear rack. The riding position is usually quite upright, but depending on the bike, can be sportier. They are eminently practical, yet not particularly inspiring. Still, if you’re looking for a practical bike that can take you all over the city, (and much further) one of these might be just the ticket.
In our opinion, folding bikes are under-utilised for city riding. They can be stowed away, brought into the office or house, folded up, and can be put on trains and planes with a minimum of fuss.
The smaller wheels take slightly longer to get up to speed and can affect ride quality, sometimes resulting in a bumpier ride. The frames aren’t as stiff as non-folding bikes, and the bikes tend to be on the heavy side due to the extra weight of the hinges. A ‘good one’, like a Brompton can also be very expensive.
If you need to move stuff or little people around, then you might want to look at a cargo bike, or Lastenrad, auf Deutsch. There are numerous styles available, from bikes designed to carry one or two young children (from the likes of Babboe) to rigs that can carry loads of stuff weighing up to hundreds of kilograms (Omnium, Pedal Power, Larry vs. Harry Bullitt).
Finding a decent cargo bike for less than a thousand (or even two thousand) euros might be a challenge, but one could be the best way to move whatever you need without resorting to buying or renting a car. Think of the environment!
Cons: they’re not cheap. So, weighing up whether you actually need one is the first thing to consider. Secondly, they are big old things, and riding one isn’t like riding any other bike, so be sure you have the confidence to ride one before you commit to buying it. Remember that many are also available as e-bikes.
Mountain bikes might not be the obvious choice for a city bike, but plenty of people seem to enjoy riding them, especially older ones without suspension. Newer mountain bikes with suspension forks and disc brakes might be a bit over the top for riding in the city, but whatever works for you.
You can usually find a good condition older one cheaply, they take bigger tires, can easily be fitted with mudguards and often with rear racks. They make perfect commuter bikes. They are super sturdy and can be customised to pretty much exactly how you want them.
You have probably noticed that we promote practicality and pragmatism as the key virtues for a city bicycle, so to conclude, we will reiterate that having a bike that is suitable for a variety of weather conditions, comfortable and sturdy is the kind of bike you should be looking to ride in Berlin. As always, eBay Kleinanzeigen and your local bike shop (LBS) are your best friends when looking for a bike to buy, so get out there, have a look around and try a few bikes.