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Two more awesome Berlin frame builders<br>Cicli Bonnano & Wheeldan

If you’re a fan of locally-made, bespoke bicycle frames, you could live in far worse cities than Berlin. As a follow up to last year’s five Berlin bike manufacturers feature, we recently visited Daniel Pleikies and Nico Bonanno at their Berlin workshops for an insight into how they started frame building, their philosophy and the creative process behind their work.

Cicli Bonnano

Italian Nico Bonanno’s passion lies in building steel frames. Moving to Germany from Milan around 8 years ago, Bonanno got into frame building after learning bike mechanics at different Berlin bike shops and through help from fellow young Italian frame builders. For the last two and a half years, Nico has been building his own frames under the Cicli Bonanno brand.

What’s your story?

I come from a family of bike riders. My family are all cyclists and we had many bicycles. My father rode a racing bike, like a typical Italian Papa! My mother is German, and designed engines for BMW. I did a little bit of tinkering and building stuff as a kid, but I didn’t grow up as an engineer. I was always practical, but not like a real Handwerker in Germany. Sometimes I feel like all German children grow up with their hands on a machine.

I researched frame building for years, and wondered how everyone from this new generation of frame builders does it: there are very few older people who can actually show you how to build a frame. At first I wanted to find an old master who could show me how to do it, but it’s very difficult to such find people in Italy. My interest in building frames started in Italy, but I had a different job – as a stage builder and sound technician, for big events. I started frame building in Berlin.

I was already interested in bikes before moving to Germany and had already seen quite a bit. In Milan I was working with single speeds in my garage learning how to fix bikes converting old classic racing bikes to fixies, that was 2007. With two friends.

Then you moved to Berlin…

Yeah. After I came to Berlin I tried to work in various bike shops. I knew that I wanted to do more with bikes, but I didn’t exactly have a goal in mind, yet. At the same time I still had this other job – as a stage builder and sound technician. That was about 8 years ago. Then I got a job at Pedal Power. I did everything I could there, all kinds of bike mechanics. I also did some brazing there in the last couple of years, bottle cages or whatever. I’m very thankful to the guys there. After about three years working at Pedal Power, I wanted to start doing something new.

I’d seen frame builders in Milan, online, young guys – one was Legor Cicli, one was Dario Bice, and eventually I got to know these guys after I moved to Berlin. I was then often back to Milan, and they showed me some stuff with frame building. There were a lot of journeys back to Italy to learn stuff and meet people, and this contact really helped me.

I was in contact with Dario from Bice Bicycles online – I asked him if I could check out his workshop? He was really nice to me and showed me some stuff, really helped me. At the same time I also met Simone D’Urbino, another young frame builder.

My story isn’t one where a master showed me the way…I learned a lot from different people, tricks and stuff. This contact to other people, other frame builders, is very important. This is the new way to learn, because there aren’t so many old masters around anymore – many of these (older) guys are at the end of their career and so not really able to help you so much.

After working at Pedal Power, I did a course and learnt TIG welding. I went to the job centre and said to them: I’m unemployed, I’ve worked as a bike mechanic. They said to me, you have to learn tig-welding. So they sent me on this course. The machines were not the kind of machines I work with now. You had to hold everything in your hand, and when you wanted to weld something very small it was very difficult. I met a guy there, the ‘master welder’, Manfredd, and I explained to him what I wanted to do, to build frames. It was funny because we always had to weld really these thick tubes together, but I took some Columbus tubes with me and showed them, told them I wanted to learn frame building, and also started working on those.

Then I started the first workshop. At the beginning, it really started as a hobby and went from there.

Around the same time, I got in touch with Tom (Meerglas), who I had met while working at Pedal Power. He had just finished his master bike mechanic course. I said to him, let’s start a workshop together. We have the same goal. So we started here together in the old workshop.

We didn’t have so many machines, so we shared them. Thomas found the first machine, the lathe, which is no longer here. In the beginning we weren’t really sure if we were going to work together or not, if we were gonna start a firm together or whatever. We worked together for a bit, but in the end, we started out own companies.

So Tom eventually moved out and I founded Cicli Bonanno. That was almost exactly 2 years ago in 2016.

At the beginning, I was very connected with the bike messenger community. In about 2009 or 2010 I had a track bike and totally fell in love with that style of riding. I built a guy called Johannes (Killisperger) – the bike messenger world champion – a frame. Johannes had my third bike. There was a criterium at the Berlin bike show and he asked me to build a bike for him for it. It took ages – nobody can really show you how to do it, and I underestimated how long it would take. It was a bit of a ‘last second’ frame – I was still working full time as a mechanic in Rad Spannerei in Kreuzberg. Johannes came 10 days before the criterium and asked me where he frame was. I said: I thought you were joking! He said, no, I have the components and whatever, build me the frame! It wasn’t my best bike, but we did it. Johannes came with pizza and coca cola, and we had to work through the night, but we got it done. We put it together the day before the criterium. He rode it for a couple of years and then gave it to a colleague. I then built him another one.  

After building three bikes, it wasn’t really Cicli Bonanno yet. It was only after my sixth I started calling it that.

What’s really helped me advance in my career as frame builder is having connections with Italian friends who are also frame builders. It’s a community. Everyone’s in more or less the same boat. There are people who are really good, and people who have just started. But really, once you reach a certain level, you all have the same problems.

Problems like what? Finding customers?

No. I think for the younger generation, marketing isn’t really such a problem with social media and whatever. I’ve had luck.

In my case, perfect TIG-welding is hard for me. That’s something that takes a lot of practice. You can’t go back with it, you have one chance to get it right, and if you make a mistake you have to start from the beginning. This is what I’m really fascinated by.

You’ve just moved to a new workshop.

I moved in July. Here I have heating. The problem with the old workshop was that in Winter, it was really cold…this workshop is ok when you come here twice or three times a week, but when you’re there every day in Winter…

Roughly how many bikes do you build per year?

Ideally, my goal is 30 per year. I’ve built 43 bikes so far in the last two years. Hopefully with the new workshop I can do 30 per year. That’s a lot though. You have to work a lot.

What style of bike do you build the most of?

The most popular style of bike at the moment is our gravel bike, the Stay Loco. But I also love building the Futo Maki, a slightly oversized racing bike. It has thicker tubes, making it very stiff. It’s for people who want to ride really fast. I offer 6 models: a track bike, two gravel bikes, two racing bikes and a randonneur.

Do you paint the frames here?

No, we send the frames to Robert at Velo Ciao, in Lichtenberg.

Do you assemble the bikes here?

Yeah, we build the bikes here, and the wheels by hand. I want as much as possible to be done by hand.

All of your frames are steel. Why?

I’ve always been fascinated by steel. It somehow feels more alive to me. I also like the look of aluminium and would like to build a frame one day, but I guess I’m just more interested in working with steel right now. I have to master it first. But I’m interested in anything to do with metal, so in the future why not? I’d also like to try and build from titanium. But carbon and plastic, no.

What do the frames cost?

The frame sets cost about 2000 euros, with fork. Painted. For a complete bike, it really depends how it’s built up…for a high-spec bike, it could be seven or eight thousand. But it could just as well be three and a half thousand. For around four and a half thousand, you have a really good bike.

What kind of riding do you like the most?

In Berlin, I like riding gravel. Obviously, there are no hills here. In Italy I rode a lot with my Dad near Milan, and I miss the mountains. I do ride on the road with friends, early in the mornings, but often only a quick round around the local area, along Havelchaussee near Grünewald and back again. I’ll jump in a lake then ride back, just to keep fit really. But gravel really is a lot of fun. You can do more cross type stuff in Grunewald or here in East Berlin it’s a little more flat. You can also go on longer rides.

Plans for the future?

Building more frames, or at least trying to. This is a job when you never stop learning, and that’s the best thing about it. Every day you’re working on something new, and that’s why you do it. I don’t think there is a single frame builder who knows everything. I think only after 10 years of doing this job can someone really say “OK. I’m a frame builder.” Before that you’re still a student. That’s my personal opinion. I’m sure it’s seen differently from other frame builders, but I personally don’t think it’s right when someone says after two years “I’m a frame builder”.

(pictures taken a Nico’s previous workshop).

bonanno workshop 1
bonanno workshop 2
cicli bonnano workshop
cicli bonanno bike
cicli bonanno workshop 4


Former architect Daniel Pleikies, who builds under the Wheeldan moniker, builds his bicycle frames exclusively from titanium. While most cyclists stick to bikes built from aluminium, steel or carbon, Pleikies is only really interested in using titanium. Yet it comes at a price.

I only build from titanium. It’s the best material to me – it’s timeless and it never rusts. It’s super durable. It’s lighter than steel, in the middle between aluminium and steel. It has very thin wall thickness, but the tubes are a little bit bigger than on steel bikes because of their flexibility. If you want a rigid bike with strength in the stays, you need slightly larger diameter tubes.

Did you start building frames with titanium or with steel?

I started with titanium.

How did you learn frame building?

As a young guy, I learned how to build stuff from steel – construction works and buildings, architecture, welding and so on. Later I became fascinated with the idea of riding a titanium bike. I was never really interested in working with steel. At first, I was in Italy, on a frame building course, learning to build with titanium. After that I thought about it a lot. Should I really do this? I thought about it for half a year. Everything’s so expensive – even trying something out in titanium, you have to buy all the tubes, and they’re not cheap…

How long have you been building bikes now?

I started this about 7 years ago now. I’ve been slowly progressing since then, learning by doing, making mistakes.

Do you usually build randonneur or gravel bikes?

Not really, it depends. One of my first bikes was a fat bike, because I wanted to ride in the winter and through the snow, I did it for myself. After that I started properly, and people asked me to build this and that and this and that. Later people starting asking about fat bikes, but in the first few years not so much.

Do you build everything here in your workshop?

Yeah. I also build the wheels myself. But as you can see, I have pretty limited space, so the wheel building equipment is at home and I do it at the evening. But everything for the frame building, I have here. I cut the tubes here and do the fine-cutting here on the mill. The jigs and everything are on wheels here, so I can move everything about.

Is the idea that titanium is more durable than steel?

Yes, it’s very durable, but there are not so many differences between the materials themselves. The titanium tubes I use are only grade 9, and it’s not so with steel – you have hundreds of different types of tubes. With titanium it’s not like that.

It’s also about the aesthetic. I think most of my customers want this look. I’ve built a few frames painted, but most people like the frames raw. I don’t use any coatings on the frame.

Do customers bring parts to you?

No, mostly I do the complete bikes. I order all of the components.

Is everything custom or do you have a range of standard models?

I’m always thinking about having standard models, and I started to do a prototype for such a thing, but not really… It’s always on my mind, but right now everything’s fully custom. It’s not so easy for me to start from scratch with everything, it would take a lot of time.

If someone orders a bike from you, how long does it take to get that bike?

Something like 6 months, or just over.

How much does one of your bikes cost?

For a bike like this (pictured) with extra-light everything… about 12,000 euros. But even all of the screws are titanium, and you pay about 300 euros for the screws alone. The titanium is an expensive material. It can be 10 times more expensive than the equivalent steel.

What do you think about riding in Berlin? Is it safe?

Mostly, when I ride, I’m looking to ride away from the city streets. I don’t ride around the city so much. I often take the s-bahn. It’s not so fun riding through the city, but there are some nice places to ride – Planterwald, along the river, Treptower Park, the Mauerradweg.

Are you always busy building? Is it easy to find customers?

It’s a long road. At the beginning, there were a few people who came in and wanted various different things – racks, forks and whatever, made out of titanium. A few even asked for a complete bike. I’ve been busy since I started. But earning money from this, that’s a different thing. It’s so much work, and it’s very niche. To build a whole bike is about three weeks’ work alone. So much of it is learning by doing.

wheeldan bike 1
wheeldan workshop
wheeldan frame jig
wheeldan workshop
wheeldan workshop

Thanks a lot to Nico & Daniel for their time.

Find more info at www.cicli-bonanno.com and www.wheeldan.de

10th February 2019 0 comment
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The Candy B Graveller: a gravel ride with history

The allied nations’ response to the Berlin Blockade, the Berlin Airlift, kept West Berliners alive for over a year between June 1948 and September 1949. Flying along three twenty-mile-wide air corridors, pilots flew in thousands of tons of food and fuel to Tempelhof airport every day to keep West Berliners alive. With planes stopping at incredible three minute intervals, the allies were able to sustain a whole city by air alone, after the Soviets cut off all other supply routes as a response to the introduction of the Deutsche Mark.

Moved after talking to forlorn children standing outside Tempelhof airport, USAF pilot Gail ‘Hal’ Halvorsen decided to start dropping off packages of candy via handkerchief parachutes out of his plane just before he landed. Halvorsen’s idea gained momentum, soon becoming an official operation: Operation ‘Little Vittles’. With USAF pilots dropping candy off every other day, all children in West Berlin were soon able to have chocolate and chewing gum, supplied by American confectionery companies. Halvorsen’s legend was cemented, and he became known by the nickname of the Berlin Candy Bomber.

For Göttingen resident, journalist, author and all-round cycling expert, Gunnar Fehlau, the southern airlift corridor represented a great opportunity to marry his love of adventure cycling with a poignant historical story: offering ambitious cyclists not only the chance to challenge themselves by riding 650km of gravel but also by delivering a symbolic care package. The ride would take cyclists along the route of the former southern airlift corridor from Frankfurt to Berlin – the same route the Candy Bomber once flew.

Gunnar was kind enough to answer our questions about the story and format of the ride:

This year was the second Candy B Graveler. How did you come up with this idea?

So in about 2007, there was a 5-line-long news item in a bike magazine here saying that the mechanic of the magazine would take part in this crazy ride called the Tour Divide. I saw this and thought ‘hey, that sounds crazy!’ and started looking online to find out what it was about. So I thought, hey this is great, but doesn’t really work for me in my circumstances: I have kids and a full time job…

So you wanted to ride the Tour Divide, but couldn’t…

Yeah. There was no way to cut off 5 weeks to get over to America and ride the Tour Divide. So the idea was ok, if the preacher can’t come to the church, bring the church to the preacher. So in 2009, I did the Grenzsteintrophy, which is a self-supported mountain bike ride following the former iron curtain trail: East Germany/West Germany: 1300kms, a lot of climbing and a lot of weird terrain. Of course, the border doesn’t follow the way you would build a street, just like the Berlin wall.

So it’s similar to the Berliner Mauerweg…

Sure, but that has no climbs! But yeah, it is similar, just with a lot of climbs, going through Germany. This was probably the first European bikepacking race. I don’t know about anything that happened before this: the idea of it being self-supported and so on. And then, finally in 2013, I at least started the Tour Divide. But I only made it to Butte. Anyway, it was great fun. That was about 500 miles. There are three groups of people on the Tour Divide: people who don’t make it to the start, people who don’t make it to the finish and the smallest group: the people who finish. So I feel pretty good about that. So with a delay of 7 years, I finally made it to Banff to do the ride.

Nevertheless, the Grenzsteintrophy continues to happen every year…but it’s pretty hard, because of the terrain – steep uphills and downhills of 25-30%, mud with tank tracks still on it. It’s not this ‘Montana-cruising-average-speed’ thing of the Tour Divide, but something totally different. So every year they have a very high percentage of ‘do not finish’. A lot of people underestimate it. They can’t imagine something like that in the middle of Germany.

So I thought, let’s do a small sister race or a smaller, more convenient, less tough ride. The GST is tough by itself. It’s not the speed that makes it tough, it’s just tough because it’s tough. With a lot of rides, it’s the old idea that ‘speed kills’ – that if you go slow, it’s not that hard…with the GST, the climbs are incredibly hard and the downhills are so tricky and slow, and so risky that it’s not a question of fitness.

So I was thinking of doing an event, or doing a ride, where the toughness is closely related to the speed you take – something a little less difficult. I was riding off traffic a lot with my road bike, anyway. Now they call it gravel biking. In German I always called that bike my ‘Breitreifenrennrad’ because it’s about the tire width and not about the surface. I was previously totally into long distance endurance road stuff: I did Paris-Brest-Paris, randonneurs and stuff like that, then I did a lot of bikepacking mtb stuff, but right now by favourite bike is my gravel bike: I have a Stolz, which is from a custom frame builder in Switzerland: a custom-made titanium gravel bike with S&S coupling. I love it.

So I was thinking, what would be a nice route to ride? And I like things with historical connections, like the GST, but I was thinking, these were bad times: I don’t wanna have a story about war and blood, I want a story that’s about hope and humanity and about help. And for some reason, this Luftbrücke came into my mind. I thought ok, let’s do the air corridor where they flew, and just ride that route. And there was the idea – I don’t wanna take money – for me these kind of rides aret a non-organisational and non-budget thing. On the other hand, if it’s free, a lot of people sign up but don’t actually show up, so what I said was – ok, everybody gives a donation to charity that’s somehow connected to the idea of the Luftbrücke. So everybody has to give a donation, I want to know who’s taking part so everybody needs to send a picture and a short letter of intent. So these three things get you on the starting list.

I didn’t wanna have a really huge ride so I limited the number – pretty simple rules. Last year it was limited to 69, because the Luftbrücke started 69 years ago. So this year it was 70 and next year 71, just to keep the numbers limited for organisational/back office reasons. And If the numbers are limited, it also makes the ride somehow seem more attractive. The riders make sure to sign up on time for that reason.

Then we had this idea that because the Candy Bomber flew stuff over to Berlin and brought some candy, we should do the same. So everyone carries a small care packet to Berlin. So we had a mission. It’s not only about taking part, but getting the mission done.

I dropped an email to a couple of folks I knew living close to the corridor and they did the route scouting. I asked my freelancer who does a lot of graphic work for me, and who’s also a cyclist – I said this is voluntary charity work – would you like to take part? This is the main reason I go to all this effort – for the charity aspect of the ride. That’s what I like about the project.

So in 2017 there were 69 riders?

It was limited to 69, and I think 68 started.

How many people finished?

I don’t know exactly, because we didn’t do a proper data file about that. Not everybody kept to the codex (planned route), some of them went off the track or did whatever. I guess ¾ finished, and keeping to the codex around 60%.

What kind of people ride it?

It’s totally mixed. That was surprising. The GST is pretty much just hardcore bikepacking folks. But the candy attracts a lot of different people. Of course, there are really competitive, fast endurance road-riding types.

Are there any rules?

In 2017, on every road long-distance bikepacking event, a cyclist died. So I was thinking – it’s not because it’s risky, it’s because the people underestimate it, and there are cars. In the woods, there are wild animals, but there are no cars. So most of the accidents are car accidents. So what we did is, just to make sure that people get at least a short break, we specified that you have to do a 5 hour break every night of the event. It’s your decision: but between 9pm and 9am you have to take a 5 hour break. I don’t mind if you go to the cinema, or have dinner or go and play pool for 5 hours or if you sleep for 5 hours. But either way, your blue dot needs to stop moving for at least 5 hours. This had three results: it kept out all these I-ride-the-whole-time-and-I-don’t-want-to-sleep type people – mission completed – we wanted to keep some types of cyclists out of the ride. Secondly, you have some kind of tactical strategy idea of where and when to take the break, which gives another dimension to the ride. And thirdly, it keeps the thing awake in every sense of the word: people are more awake because they’ve slept, and it kept the momentum of the ride going. I like that idea, and we’ll keep it.

How long is the ride?

Around 640/650km.

The average time?

I don’t know. I don’t want to do a ranking or anything like that, because I don’t want to do a race! The fastest person this year did it in 38 hours. He took one break, so his strategy was to complete the ride just before you have to take the second break. So he cycled the maximum, took the first break and then cycled the maximum again. The last rider did it in 6 days, or 5 and a half. I guess the average – 80% of the riders – make it within 2 or three days.

Is it a requirement to ride a gravel bike, or can you ride a road bike or a mountain bike?

You can even take a shopping cart if you want. I don’t mind, as long as it’s human powered, take whatever you want. You can walk it if you want!

How much of the ride is off road?

The scout had a tough job, to find ‘off traffic tarmac’ – sometimes you have these tarmac roads in the woods which are not for cars. 2/3rds is in the woods, whether it’s tarmac, gravel, soil, or single track.

Does the route go through big towns?

We start in Frankfurt next to the airport. We go through the outskirts of Darmstadt. Then we go right through the centre of Fulda, touch Dessau and then finish in Berlin. So it goes from urban area to urban area but in between it’s pretty much just in the middle of nowhere.

Do all of the riders take tents?

We have all sorts. There is no rule to sleep outside, but sleeping outside makes you faster. We have these ‘I go for a hotel every night’ folks, and these ‘I just need a summer sleeping bag’, the ‘I don’t need a mat because I’m a tough guy’, and everything in between. We have people who use tarps, hammocks, bivy sacks and everything else. This year on the second day was quite rainy, and a lot people got pissed off. It was really a tough section.

Did you ride it this year?

Yeah, but just for a day.

So the ride finished this year at the VELO in Berlin?

Yeah. We planned it because that was right next to the Luftbrücke Denkmal (memorial) in Berlin, so it was perfect. We planned it backwards – I knew most people would take about three or four days, so we started it on the Thursday morning.

Is next year already planned?

We don’t have a date or a strategy for next year. I don’t know if everything will stay the same, or if we’ll change something. So, no plan. But it will happen next year. The web page will be alive again late summer, and everything will be on the page. There will be an announcement of the date, and there will be an announcement of when to send your three-part application.

Do you have international riders?

There are some international riders. But it could be attractive, especially for Americans, y’know: ‘my Grandpa flew it, and now I’m riding it’ – that could be an idea. This hasn’t happened yet, but that would be a great story. I’d love to get some more international attention.

Cheers, Gunnar.

17th June 2018 0 comment
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Cargo Bikes: The Next Wave of Urban Mobility in Berlin

Until recently, many Berliners could only identify cargo bikes as those bright yellow tanks pedaled by hard-working Deutsche Post employees. Today, cargo bikes can be spotted hauling everything from packages to children just about everywhere in the city. The rise in cargo bike popularity across Germany is the result of eco-conscious efforts to cut back on smog emissions as well as combat increased traffic congestion in major cities. As the highest populated city in all of Germany, Berlin has wholeheartedly embraced cargo bikes—a trend that shows no signs of slowing.

According to Gaya Schuetze, co-owner of Fahrradladen Mehringhof in Kreuzberg, cargo bike sales have seen an uptick in recent years. “In the ’90s, we were happy to sell one a year,” she says, “then we noticed more interest, first from families and then companies.” Today, the exact number of Berlin bicycle shops carrying cargo bikes varies, but thanks to the advent of online retailers, many Berliners have greater access to them, and are now considering the benefits of cargo bikes as their primary mode of transportation.

bike taxi at brandenburg gate, berlinTraditionally, cargo bikes were used by tradesmen to transport necessities such as milk and bread, and were instrumental in delivering mail as far back as the 1870s, though their original designs were awkwardly heavy and required considerable leg strength to pedal. Cargo bikes fell out of favor after motorized vehicles came into vogue in the late 1880s, and remained on the fringes of bicycle culture until well into the 20th century. However, their popularity remained in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where flat roads and a strong cycling infrastructure made them a popular choice for many car-less families and small businesses.

Seeking to emulate the cycling culture of the Netherlands and Denmark, Berlin-based company VELOGUT rented out 150 cargo bikes to small businesses free of charge for a period of 1–3 months beginning in May 2017. VELOGUT joins other cargo bike initiatives such as the ADFC’s Die fLotte free cargo bike rental program, with the aim to raise awareness for cargo bikes as “a modern, economically sensible and environmentally friendly means of transport,” and to influence how commercial enterprises strategize their mobility in cities like Berlin. Some of the businesses who signed up included: photographers, coffee baristas, florists, chimney sweeps, beekeepers, and Christmas tree deliverers.

According to the European Cyclists’ Federation, cargo bikes could feasibly replace fleets of delivery vehicles across Europe by accommodating upwards of 50% of all light deliveries within cities. Beyond their potential in the business sector, cargo bikes are now becoming more accessible to individuals in the private sector. Cargo bike sales in Germany are on the rise, with some industry figures claiming over 21,000 cargo bikes were sold in 2017, a 42% increase over the previous year, with expectations that number will increase in the near future.

cargo bike with two dogs in berlin

However, as anyone who has ridden a cargo bike can attest, their size does not make them easy to navigate down roads without safe bicycle lanes, and finding secure parking is no easy feat in a city where bike theft is rampant. Finally, not all bike shops are equipped (or willing) to service cargo bikes, meaning a mechanical issue could become a major obstacle to your mobility.

Nevertheless, the German government is keen on encouraging citizens to consider cargo bike transportation, even going so far as to offer financial incentives for e-cargo bikes. With price tags ranging anywhere from €1300 to €5000 depending on the model and its features, government subsidies are strong motivators for parsimonious buyers. The federal government currently offers rebates up to a maximum of €2500, while the Berlin government offers subsidies between €500 and €1000.

Even with cargo bike prices considerably higher than the average bicycle, many cycling advocate groups are actively integrating them into the Berlin cycling zeitgeist. In April 2018, the International Cargo Bike Festival—traditionally held in Nijmegen in the Netherlands—relocated to Berlin as part of the VELOBerlin bicycle festival at Tempelhof, which brought together more than 50 cargo bike manufacturers to promote their models for demonstration, and to put them through their paces in a cargo bike race.

Berlin continues to pushing for greater sustainable transport in the city, with cargo bikes now the latest trend in the city’s constantly evolving cycling culture. While the hefty cost and considerable size of many cargo bikes limits their accessibility among cash-strapped and space-conscious cyclists, manufacturers are producing more models comprised of lightweight alloy tubing and custom build options at a variety of price points. Expect to see more cargo bikes taking over the streets of Berlin, ushering in the next wave of eco-friendly transportation throughout the capital city.

10th June 2018 0 comment
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Goodbye, Keirin: boss Mortimer talks cycling, gentrification, bikes and Berlin

Gentrification is a word frequently dropped into conversations in Berlin, often by privileged expats bemoaning rising rent prices or how their Kiez’s authentic vibe is gradually being eroded due to trendy businesses opening up.

It’s no secret that Berlin is seen by many as an attractive and affordable place to live and work. While this influx of new people and ideas is beneficial to the city, the accompanying economic growth means that people suffer: squeezed out of their apartments and forced to close their shops by greedy landlords who know they can get double the rent from the next tenant.

Mortimer’s much-loved Kreuzberg bike cafe, Keirin, recently suffered a similar fate. Having finally closed its doors after 14 years at Schlessiches Tor, the shop is another unfortunate victim of Berlin’s fast-rising rent prices.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mortimer as he reflected on the years at Keirin, cycling, bikes and Berlin.

So, what happened with the shop?

I closed it end of March (’18). The build up was the move (to the smaller unit). We used to be a shop that was 140 square metres – the main shop where the Ramones museum now is, and a little shop next to it that was our storage room. When it was the busy season and we were repairing 20 bikes a week, we stored the repaired bikes there.

We moved into the little shop in 2004, and then in 2006 the big shop next door became available. After 10 years the contract ran out. Half a year before it ran out, (the landlord) said he would have to increase the rent. We thought, yeah ok, after 10 years maybe 10 or 20 percent would be ok. I asked him how much he wanted and the answer was 4000 euros per month. We were paying approximately 2,000 per month and he doubled it. I said I couldn’t really pay this and asked if there was another option, maybe he could sell it to me. He came back and asked for 350,000 (to buy the shop).

I thought, that’s a lot of money. I went to the bank and after a few days they came back to me and said we could do it. I went back to him and then he said: 450,000.

I still had the contract for the smaller shop, so we gave it a try there. We did a ‘save Keirin Berlin’ thing, and we thought about doing Kickstarter, but in the end didn’t do it. We had a party with 3 punk bands and a DJ. We moved into the little shop and gave it a try.

People say the little shop was a prime location, and it is, but it’s 30 square metres. We put in the coffee machine first – that was important to me – we were the first cycle culture cafe that I know of, worldwide. We put in the work space – but my mechanic was complaining that I couldn’t pay him on time. Then he left. We had replacement mechanics, that worked ok, but if we had three cargo bikes come in at once, that was it, the shop was full.

The idea was always not to be just a bike shop, but to be more a place where people meet and talk and maybe to see that the bike as art – to have exhibitions. In the bigger shop there was a coffee area with art on the wall, magazines and books. Next to this was the area with used and new bikes – classic Italian racing bikes and Japanese track bikes. In the back was the workshop and bike parts. There was always some kind of bike related culture – a Keirin (Japanese track cycling racing) exhibition, a 6 day race exhibition or something like that.

Unfortunately when we moved into the smaller shop, it looked a bit like a club, a lot of bike messengers were hanging out and the normal people didn’t dare come inside. The other shop had big windows, a coffee machine. People walked by, saw the bikes, came in for a cappuccino and bought a cycling cap. I would sell 10 cycling caps a day. That went down to maybe 5 a week. We always said cycling caps paid the rent!

How did you get started?

I was a bike messenger for quite some time. I started in Berlin in ’93 – there was the cycle messenger world championships. In ’95, I went to Toronto – to the world championship, and there was this coffee shop, Jet Fuel. The shop was started by this guy, John ‘Jet Fuel’ Englar, who actually invented the alleycat. He decided to open a coffee shop – I wouldn’t call it a cycling cafe, but it was a coffee shop with a bike theme: he had two or three track bikes hanging on the wall. We saw this and thought, wow, this is pretty cool: a coffee shop with bicycles where friends and messengers meet. We can do some food, but we can also repair and sell bikes, and do exhibitions.

So I got the idea in ’95, then in ’98 I went to New York and worked there for five years as a messenger. I met this girl – she said she always wanted to go to Berlin, so we came back to Berlin. She used to say to me, do you want to be a messenger for ever? We were living on Pannierstrasse in Neukolln back then, it was 500 euros warm for an 80m2 apartment. This was in 2003.

I had always wanted to do a coffee shop with a bike theme. The idea was never really purely a bike shop. We never wanted to deal with all kinds of weird cyclists, you know? I never actually considered myself a cyclist: to me a cyclist is someone who makes money cycling, who trains, you know?

So, we opened in 2004 with the little shop. We had maybe 10,000 euros together between us: me and my friend Gary, who was a long time messenger. He had also been working at (Prenzlauer Berg bike shop) Ostrad for maybe 8 years by then, so he was a pretty good mechanic. He was also in Toronto in ’95.

We were searching for a shop for one year. Originally we were looking around Potse (Potsdamer Strasse) – this was my perfect idea of Berlin – it’s not west, it’s not east – it’s a little bit shady, a bit posh – it’s almost like the Lower East Side of NYC.

We bought a coffee machine for 3500 euros, ordered some bags from our friends Bagjack, bought some old cycling jerseys. We bought a lot of track bikes on French and Belgian eBay – at this time the track bike thing hadn’t really taken off: the shipping was more than the bikes! I once bought 11 track bikes from a velodrome in Paris for 30 euros each. They were all Campy Record (high end Campagnolo components) equipped. People just laughed at us. We put them together and then it seemed like – boom – all of a sudden everyone wanted track bikes. There weren’t really even parts available yet. It went really crazy in around 2007/8. It was already crazy in New York since about 2003/4.

It got so crazy. Then the (bigger) shop next door became empty. We thought, fuck, should we really make this move and pay approximately 2,000 euros a month rent? Can we survive this? At this point the rent was 1400, even 15 years ago.

The UPS guy used to leave packages for people in the building with us and tell them “we left your package in the bike store”. We used to say “We’re not a bike store!”. Then more and more we became a bike store. We got the bigger shop, we were concentrating on wheel building. Then the whole trend for colour with fixed gear bikes started: green saddles, orange rims. We did a little bit of that, but not really, we thought it was really only a trend. I still have white deep V rims. We ordered 50 and sold maybe 20. We became a bike shop.

We went to Japan twice a year, to Keirin races, we bought Keirin bikes – in the beginning for around 50 euros and sold them for 200 or 300. We were stupid, could’ve earned more, but Keirin was never about money. It sounds a little cheesy, but we wanted to bring the bicycle to people in a different way – the bicycle is the future, and that was the idea with exhibitions and art. For example, if a couple came in, and she was into bikes, and he wasn’t, he can drink a cappuccino and read Zitty. Maybe then he would think, ah, this red bike is actually really pretty.

We were never really making loads of money. We made enough to pay rent, to pay us and to pay a mechanic, but we had fun.

When did things start getting difficult?

It got a little bit difficult in 2009, when the police suddenly started focusing on track bikes. They figured out that people were riding without brakes. I personally think that this whole ‘no brakes’ thing – it was a big mistake in the fixed gear scene to call it no brakes, trying to sound all punk rock: ‘no brakes!’ – but there is a brake on the bike. The police thought that no brakes meant ‘keine Bremsen’. I remember my ex-girlfriend, she was working as a bike messenger, riding a Schwimm Paramount with Campy Record and the police stopped her and said she had no brake on her bike. She said, no, there’s a back brake on the bike (the bike’s fixed gear). The policeman said “I didn’t know there were Campy Record back brakes”!

They let her off. I’m not sure that anything ever really happened – like somebody on a track bike hitting somebody – but I think there are a lot of people in the fixed gear scene, just like any scene, who don’t behave, who ride like assholes and act like assholes. I figure that maybe something like that happened with a policeman. They went into all the shops, but didn’t come to our shop. They stopped people, at first they said 90 euro fine, and you have two weeks to go to the police and put bells and lights and brakes and whatever on your bike. Then the second time they busted you, they confiscated the bike. My friend had two of her bikes taken away, and never got them back.

They claimed these bikes were like weapons. I can kind of understand that, because there are a lot of people who can’t ride these bikes and a lot of people who can’t ride bikes in general, but the thing is with track bikes, or fixed gear bikes, or – terrible word – fixies, most people know what they’re doing – but there are still assholes.

Did this affect the popularity of track bikes here?

It made people think: I’m gonna get a classic single speed. It wasn’t really what we wanted to do. Also, many other shops suddenly opened up, like Create bikes and Einzig, and good track bikes – with Campy Record or Dura Ace parts – got really expensive, because there was nothing left on eBay, everything was gone. Other shops opened, but just sold cheaply-made stuff. All of a sudden, track bikes weren’t eight or nine hundred euros anymore, but five hundred. Then Amazon got big, web shops got big. It became all about money, and that doesn’t fit to the bicycle for me. A lot of firms are just about numbers.

Do you ride brakeless?

I mean, I’ve never ridden with brakes and I never will, because I feel like I know what I’m doing and it would be more dangerous if I had a brake and had to rely on one. Same thing with helmets. There are studies that say that car drivers tend to be more aggressive toward cyclists when they wear a helmet, they get closer to you. Of course, a helmet can help you survive, but not always. If you feel safer with one, you should wear one.

What are you plans now the shop is closed?

I’m doing this trip, cycling to (on a track bike) Japan. All my friends were telling me I should hang on and stay at the shop, but I’m not in the mood anymore, to struggle with the shop. To think every day, how am I gonna pay this bill and that bill? I decided, I’m closing the shop and going on a trip.

Do you have a lot of stock left?

Yeah. A lot. I have a storage space and my apartment – I still have track bikes in my apartment right now. They were hanging on the wall in the shop – World Championship bikes and Olympic Games bikes. People would ask me – aren’t you selling these? Don’t you need the money? I’d say, aren’t you into culture? Or are you into hanging it in your apartment as a collectors item?

I decided to make an exhibition in Japan about my trip. End of October I hope to have a little exhibition in Tokyo to show my photos and sell t-shirts. I still sell stuff online but I plan to close that down soon. I got some sponsors for the trip – I contacted a few people and told them I wanted to do this trip – can you give me some cranks? Can you give me some wheels? So a lot of folks helped with putting a bike together. The frame is titanium from Kocmo, in Stahnsdorf – they’ve been making titanium frames since 1994. Continental is supporting me. I’m waiting to put this bike together, then I’ll go.

After that, I’ll come back and see what happens. Right now, I can’t imagine ever doing something like Keirin again, but if I do something like that it will be just a couple of times a week, but wholesale. And maybe have once a month an exhibition – sell t-shirts and drinks, and maybe go more into the cafe direction. But right now, I’m a little bit over Berlin. It still has cool parts, but Kreuzberg- I like it, but it’s become like Brooklyn, it’s like East London. It has something, but in a way it’s losing it. You know, Manhattan also used to be a cool place…

Do you think Berlin is a good city ride in? Is it safe?

Unless you don’t go to Neukölln, or Wedding, it’s safe! That’s the funny thing – they have critical mass here – and when they do it, they kind of miss the point. When they started doing it here, cycling wasn’t so big, but now it’s really big, so in a city like Berlin, we don’t really need a critical mass anymore – because cycling here is so visible. It’s more of a political thing. If you do critical mass, you should have banners saying ‘we need more bike lanes’ or whatever – but don’t meet up and be 5000 people for three hours just to annoy car drivers. In New York, when they do critical mass, they’re nice to car drivers…

Do you think the infrastructure here is good enough, or should it be improved?

It could always be better. I think what they should do is what they have in London, where car drivers have to pay to get into the centre of town. Or in New York, where there has to be two people in each car. There’s definitely too much traffic here, and too many cars. Now they’re building a new autobahn. Bike lanes should also be green or yellow or blue, not red.

Is cycling getting more popular here?

It’s getting more popular. What’s missing are the mountains!

Do you think Berlin has a strong cycling culture?

I don’t know if I would call it a culture, really. A lot about this is because it’s cool. That’s the funny thing, I mean in New York, you have the messengers and ‘alternative transportation’ geeks, but they mix. In Berlin, you have the cool fixed gear riders – which maybe I’m a part of too – and you have the geeks at ADFC, but they don’t talk to each other! And that’s so Berlin. I think people should do more together. I think 8bar, or the She36 girls, those are the people who have really good ideas about making it more fun, and not so serious.

I think the big, big problem with the cycling scene is the lack of women. And I think that’s because of the attitude of the men. For the men it’s a fucking competition: I’ve got the nicest titanium frame with Campy Record, and SIDI shoes, and I’m faster than you, and I did 289km yesterday. And for the women: they meet in the park, they drink coffee, and do tricks on a fixed gear bike and have fun, they connect. We need more women in this scene. If you focus more on women, more women will come, more guys will eventually come and it’ll be more fun for everyone. If you have a race like Fixed42, with 600 men and only 80 spaces for women, naturally not every male cyclist will be serious, but of those 80 women, every woman will be really serious. So the women who just want to have fun don’t even think about registering.

Thanks Mortimer.

Follow Keirin on Instagram

All photos courtesy of Mortimer.

21st May 2018 0 comment
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Project Radbahn: Transforming Berlin’s U1 Into a Covered Bike Path

Since 2011 the Copenhagenize Bicycle Friendly Cities Index has been the leading global ranking index for bicycle friendly cities around the world, and last year it ranked Berlin in the top 10 for the first time. This was thanks largely to efforts from coalitions like Volksentscheid Fahrrad (Cycling Referendum) pushing for greater sustainable transport and more bike-sharing programs in the capital city. Among the activist groups currently working to improve Berlin’s cycling infrastructure is paper planes e.V., a non-profit organization responsible for planning and designing the ambitious project “Radbahn”, Berlin’s first covered cycle path.

The proposed path stretches 9 kilometers underneath Berlin’s elevated U1 U-Bahn line, from Zoologischer Garten in the city’s west to Warschauer Straße in the east, and connects the districts of Charlottenburg, Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, and Friedrichshain. The Radbahn concept briefing released by Radbahn Berlin (a division of paper planes e.V.) outlines plans to transform the cycle path into a public space not just for urban mobility, but also for eco-innovations and leisure.

A majority of the sections beneath the eastern portion of the U1 U-Bahn line are derelict spaces used for makeshift car parking. The potential of this unused space inspired Finnish entrepreneur and cyclist Martti Mela to first pitch his idea for a protected cycling path to architect Matthias Heskamp in 2014.

While biking to work Mela rode past the rows of parked cars beneath the U1 line when inspiration struck. “I realized the lane was wide enough,” says Mela, “and I wondered why this hadn’t been thought of before.” After talking to Heskamp, the two assembled a group of architects, cultural managers, geographers, and business strategists to quickly set upon the task of capturing “a piece of Copenhagen in Berlin.”

For the newly formed Radbahn Berlin team, it made sense to study the cycling infrastructure in Denmark’s capital for inspiration, as Copenhagen continues to claim the number one spot on the Copenhagenize Index year after year. Though Berlin is quickly advancing in the rankings, the German hauptstadt still requires years of civic development before it can compete with other top-ranked cycling cities like Amsterdam, Strasbourg, and Antwerp.

To that end, Heskamp sees the Radbahn as an experiment that will set a strong precedence for urban planning and transportation innovation in cities across the globe. “The rapid development of mobility issues will lead to a revolution in the next 30 years,” he notes. “Not only as a consequence of climate change, but also a change in values.”

Capitalizing on Berlin’s resurgent interest in green initiatives in recent years, paper planes e.V. presented their idea to the Berlin Senate in May 2017 in hopes of securing a government study to test the project’s feasibility. Despite earning praise and approval for study from the city council, project Radbahn has yet to receive any federal funding, with parsimonious skeptics citing the project’s 13 million Euro cost—to say nothing of the impact on motorized traffic—as a major consideration.

Even with the steep cost, Mela estimates that 80 percent of the infrastructure for the proposed Radbahn is already in place. “Some sections would require repaving,” he says, specifically in sections where diverting traffic and bridge crossovers are required, “but the groundwork has already been done. With minor modifications it could be converted into a bike lane.”

Thanks to its eco-conscious design, some of the Radbahn’s most promising features go well beyond protecting cyclists from rain and snow during their journey. The project designers also plan on incorporating various cafes, food truck stops, e-bike charging stations, beer gardens, and free service stations along the path for public use, transforming the area surrounding the bicycle route into a sprawling urban space that encourages leisurely activities and a more holistic cycling lifestyle across the city.

Additionally, Heskamp sees the Radbahn as the ideal space for testing other public works projects, including smarter traffic management. “We want to stop cyclists from racing and then waiting at the next traffic light,” he says. Instead, overhead displays inform cyclists of the optimal riding speed in order to keep hitting green lights at every intersection. In between these displays the design team wants to integrate an energy-harvesting technology that collects and stores electricity generated from bicycles rolling over pressure-sensitive pavement to power the overhead U1 train.

Though the Radbahn holds considerable promise for the future of urban mobility in Berlin, concerns over traffic interference as well as logistical construction constraints have considerably slowed the project’s momentum. With tentative plans to build a temporary showcase of Radbahn in 2019, the project team aims to boost public awareness and support in the interim so that their vision for a future-oriented cycling landmark in Berlin can be fully realized and enjoyed by all.

15th May 2018 0 comment
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The Relaunch of the Deutschland Tour

For a country that has produced some of the strongest riders in the pro peloton, from Marcel Kittel to John Degenkolb, Tony Martin, Jens Voigt, André Greipel, and Berlin’s own Simon Geschke, Germany has not hosted a national tour in over a decade. Prior to the country’s high-profile doping scandals that rocked the cycling world in the mid-2000s, the Deutschland Tour was Germany’s biggest multi-stage race, attracting pro riders from the Bundesrepublik and beyond since its inception in 1911.

With the dust of controversy now settled, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the organizing body for the Tour de France and other UCI Pro races, is teaming up with Germany’s cycling federation — the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer (BDR) — to resurrect the Deutschland Tour later this year with a new concept: a holistic cycling lifestyle for all. From August 23–26, 2018, the four-stage, 2.1 UCI classification race will snake through Western Germany, from Koblenz via Bonn to Stuttgart over a total of 743 km (461 miles).

Scaled down from its previous nine-stage format, this year’s Deutschland Tour will also host a number of amateur cycling events accompanying each stage of the pro race, dubbed “Deine Tour”. For children and casual cyclists, the Ride Tour and Mini Tour offer the chance to roll down car-free city streets and learn fundamental cycling skills.

For more ambitious riders, the Jedermann Tour will take over the roads in and around Stuttgart before the pros start the fourth stage on Sunday, August 26. With multiple routes of varying distances and difficulties, the Jedermann Tour lives up to its name with offerings for riders at any level of cycling discipline. For the more regimented athletes, the NewComer Tour will test amateur racers’ stamina and grit along the pro course — to the victor go the spoils of fame and glory that only the country’s biggest cycling event can offer.

A contemporary of the original Tour de France, the Deutschland Tour remained the country’s most important cycling event throughout the early 20th century. The 1911 edition of the Deutschland Tour stretched a grueling 1500 km (932 miles) over Germany’s multiple territories and kingdoms. However, with no consistent organization or sponsorships, the tour saw little interest over the next 20 years, with multiple gaps separating race installments until 1931. That year signaled the beginning of the official “Deutschland Tour” and marked the start of its widespread support from the German populace. The tour remained a favored spectacle until European geopolitics at the start of World War II disrupted the tour’s organization.

In subsequent years, the tour’s acclaim was largely dictated by the success of German riders, peaking after Jan Ullrich bested French favorite Richard Virenque to become the first German cyclist to win the Tour de France in 1997. Ullrich’s victory shifted cycling’s popularity into Germany’s mainstream consciousness and brought newfound enthusiasm for the Deutschland Tour in 1999.

Watching the cycling landscape through the pink-tinted lenses of Telekom and T-Mobile’s team branding, Berlin finally played host to the national tour that year, which ran 1227 km (762 miles) to Bonn. The tour’s timing in May and June proved to be an ideal primer for the Tour de France in July despite simultaneously competing with the Giro d’Italia. While Jan Ullrich was unable to crack the leaderboard, his fellow Telekom teammates Erik Zabel secured first place in the sprint category while Jens Heppner won the overall classification.

Berlin would host the tour again the following year, when race organizers flipped the previous year’s course. After 2000, the tour would return to Germany’s western states for its longest uninterrupted run until its cancellation in 2008.

On October 16, 2008 UCI officials announced that the 2009 edition of the Deutschland Tour would be cancelled after doping allegations damaged the sport’s reputation. For German fans, the sense of shame felt most acute when Jan Ullrich, Erik Zabel, and other members of team Telekom/T-Mobile tested positive for blood boosting CERA, a third-generation form of EPO. Multiple organizations pulled their sponsorships in response, and marketing chiefs ultimately declared that they were unable to finance the Deutschland Tour. German cycling, it seemed, was headed for a long winter of condemnation.

ASO now plans to capitalize on Germany’s resurgent interest in pro cycling — particularly after the 2017 Tour de France Grand Depart in Düsseldorf — to usher in multiple new editions of the Deutschland Tour in the coming years. Doubling down on promoting an active cycling lifestyle for cyclists of all ages and disciplines, the revamped tour will either rediscover its footing in Germany’s cultural zeitgeist, or be once again tossed aside like an empty bidon flung from the peloton.

1st May 2018 0 comment
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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 is required 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 particular 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 us 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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