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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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Stories: Journalist Rachel Loxton
The first time I saw my bike I fell in love. A German man in his 50s, wearing a navy boiler suit, was riding it out of a garage near Prinzenstraße U Bahn station. I saw its purple fade design rolling towards me and I knew I would take it home with me that day.

It sometimes seems like everything in Berlin is a challenge of some sort. There’s always something that goes slightly awry, whether it’s ordering the wrong coffee or setting up an appointment to de-register from living in Berlin (Abmeldung) instead of registering (Anmeldung). I did eventually manage to become a legal citizen but I’m still wading through bureaucracy trying to figure out tax numbers and how much profit I’ll make in a year. (Answer = very little, sorry, Taxman).

These hiccups are what you have to expect when you move to another country.

So it’s not surprising that it took me the best part of six months to buy a bike. Literally the first night I was in Berlin my German flatmate Julia was telling me I had to get a bicycle: 

“You can’t live in Berlin without one!” she said, as I nervously unpacked my pants and socks. At this point my only aim was to make it through a week without breaking down and wailing that I’d made a terrible mistake and could the UK/full time work with holiday pay take me back into its comforting arms, please?

A couple of months went by without a full-on breakdown but there was still no bicycle:

“You don’t know what you’re missing out on, you can see the whole city on a bicycle,” said Julia, who is the chirpiest morning person I’ve ever met and I found her cheerfulness quite infectious.

“I’m used to traffic on the left side,” I squirmed. “I wouldn’t know how to cycle on the right, don’t want to cause an accident.”

Julia assured me it would be fine and I’d get used to it.

I watched people cycling on the pavements, the roads, in the cycle lanes. I felt them whizz past me, getting to wherever they were going with purpose. I think I was just happy to be dawdling along at this point, with not very much of a clue where I was going, in Neukölln and in life.

I didn’t need a bicycle to get to German class. Was there anywhere else I really needed to be? Not really.

BUT THEN spring crept in, all cutely and blossomy, and I started thinking about taking my jumper off. This was, of course, about two months earlier than the Germans, who insist on wearing winter coats all year except summer. And scarves. They really love their scarves.

It was time for a bike. But how could I get one if I couldn’t even organise my own registration? It felt hopeless.

A streak of determination struck me at the beginning of June when I began my teaching course. The school was a 30 minute walk from my house, but a bike could do the trip in half the time.

I logged on to ebay kleinanzeigen and scanned it for bicycles. I was warned that most were stolen bikes being punted off by thieves. Then I came across my future bicycle, near my place in Kreuzberg. Perfect! I messaged the seller and we arranged to meet on Saturday at 12 noon. I thought about the meeting the day before and was so nervous in the morning.

I already knew I was going to buy the bike even if there was something wrong with it because I’m too polite and panic in these kinds of situations.

The German man spoke some English and said it was his wife’s bike but she only used it for shopping trips. “She doesn’t want it anymore,” he said. Detecting a Scottish voice, he quizzed me on the state of affairs in the UK. “What’s wrong with that blond man and the woman beside him?” he asked about Boris Johnson and Theresa May.

Before I’d picked up the bike I’d taken out 120 Euro in cash at Hermannplatz, because I hadn’t worked out where the banks were near my new flat in Bergmannkiez. I just wanted to do the deal because I couldn’t believe I was so close to achieving the deal.

I handed the money over, the German man adjusted the saddle and it was done. I cycled off, ecstatic, my heart fluttering, back up to Bergmannkiez on my new wheels. I carried it inelegantly up the stairs to my flat and admired it. I took photos of it and messaged people as if it was a new baby.

Now the bicycle stays outside my flat, locked to a lamppost and I use it every day. We get to work in 12 minutes, sometimes 10. I’ve taken it all round the city on mini tours. It comes to the pub with me. Sometimes I take it out of Berlin but it’s got such thin wheels that it struggles on bumpy terrain. And the gears don’t really work.

We cycle up and down Kurfürstendamm, snaking in and out of the bus lanes, almost being brushed out the way by impatient taxi drivers. I wonder if this is how David Bowie felt when he said he went to Berlin to recuperate and lead a normal life. He used to talk about how good he felt cycling round old West Berlin.

It’s fun shooting down Bergmannstrasse when there aren’t many cars on it, watching people eat, drink and socialise. There’s a sense of freedom you feel with a bike and it’s partly down to not having to rely on public transport.

AND TEMPELHOF. It’s pure joy cycling down the old airfield’s runways and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Berlin.

There’s one thing that scares me. Every morning I go to get my bike and I wonder if it will still be there. I know I shouldn’t think about crime (otherwise life would be a constant worry) but bicycle theft is so common in Berlin that most people I know have been affected by it at some point. I feel I need to be prepared for it.

I’ve often thought about naming my bike but I don’t want to get too attached to it as a material object. I think of it in the same way Holly Golightly does with cat in the Truman Capote novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Cat doesn’t have a name because Holly says she doesn’t have the right to give him one. They just came across each other, she says:

“It’s a little inconvenient, his not having a name,” Holly says about cat. “We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other: he’s an independent, and so am I.”

My bike and I are just two drifters. But we’re having a wonderful time drifting together right now.

Rachel Loxton is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. 

Read more from her at https://rachloxton.wordpress.com/

18th February 2018 0 comment
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Stories: Yorkshireman and musician Nathaniel Forrester

One man’s quest to have a normal bike ride in Berlin.

The first time I set out cycling around Berlin with a helmet on, I felt as if I had achieved a death-defying feat of bravery. Indeed, almost as brave as its alternative, cycling around Berlin without a helmet on. It is not a decision taken lightly, and one that grips every self-respecting Berlin hipster with an agonising sartorial choice. On the one hand, I would be forced to remove my baseball cap and adorn a hideous bulbous shell, facing potential sneers from my vintage Peugeot-pedalling peer group members. On the other hand, I could potentially be hit by a taxi door and die. It was a tough call. The moment a child no older than ten stood up and saluted me as I cycled by I realised that not only are people wearing helmets a rare sighting here but also potentially intimidatingly militaristic in appearance. Even middle-aged sensible-looking parental types who could pass as my own mother seem to belt round the city with no regard for their own safety, and who can blame them? No one wants to arrive at work with their hair sweat-matted onto their forehead. So why was I?

Fortunately my fashion conundrum had been brought to a satisfyingly simple conclusion when a hapless taxi driver piled into me from an underground carpark, sending me hurtling over my handlebars in one of those slow-motion moments in which I could have probably sung a little song to myself before smacking my head on the tarmac. Luckily the bodily damage amounted to little else than some minor grazing, but the shocked expressions on the driver and two besuited businessmen who flung the doors open immediately afterwards suggested it could well have been curtains.  Attempting to re-mount the bike to get to a lesson I was supposed to be teaching at a company ten minutes later, I realised I wasn’t going to get far down the road when I looked down and saw that the front wheel was in fact facing in a different direction to my frame. At this point the driver, who was actually incredibly apologetic, offered me a lift and we sat in awkward silence for what seemed an eternity while I tapped along to some lively Turkish music on the radio on my bruised thighs.

Fast forward a couple of hours and not only has the driver redeemed himself by slipping me two hundred euros for a new bike, he has taken me to a nearby kebab house, where we sit heartily tucking into halloumi im brot and attempting to conduct a conversation in broken German and English respectively, struggling to move the topic beyond the one thing we have in common, our shared experience of being on two sides of the same car accident; ‘So, erm, how long have you been driving a taxi?’, ‘When did you, erm, pass your test?’, and so on.

To be fair to the driver in question (who actually turned out to be quite a nice gentleman), it’s easy to take your eyes off the ball in Berlin, what with its carnivalesque atmosphere, its unique opportunities for people-watching and the sheer amount of other things to point those eyeballs at. I discovered this first-hand myself a few weeks later when, cycling back with gleeful abandon in the bright sunshine of a summer’s day following an afternoon swimming in Plötzensee, my wet towel wrapped around my neck, my wind-swept swimming shorts barely concealing my genitalia, I became entranced by how beautiful the leaves looked swaying gently next to the white-washed tenement buildings beside me, and ploughed directly into the back of an old woman who had been keeping up a leisurely pace in front, sending her flying in much the same trajectory I had taken during the taxi incident. ‘Tut mir leid, tut mir leid’, was all I could offer as the woman got to her feet and began screaming at me in German. With luck she was completely unscathed – though the same could not be said for my bike, which had been bent to an awkward angle and now let out a cringe-inducing screeching sound when I attempted to continue my journey.

So, onto bicycle number three (bear in mind I had only been in Berlin around eight months by this point) and I am now on first name terms with the man at the bike shop down the road, who I suspect is starting to think that I am a bit of an idiot. Perhaps to demonstrate that I am not, I wisely invest in the cheapest helmet there is on offer, a ten euro deal that looks like something a child should wear. Aware of the two accidents I have already had, gone are the days of no-hands-on-the-handlebars exhibitionism akin to the victory lap of the Tour-de-France. Now my children’s helmet is firmly strapped under my chin and I am cycling around, as my friend disdainfully put it, ‘like (his) grandma’. So what could possibly go wrong? Well, this brings my story conveniently to the part in which my next bike, a beautiful retro city bike, which, I have been reliably informed – by those who believe in such binary gender constructs – looks like ‘a girl’s bike’, gets stolen. Truth be told, I had been out enjoying the hedonistic excess of an all night lock-in at my housemate’s restaurant, and when I emerged from under the shutters into the thin light of a Saturday morning, I couldn’t entirely remember what mode of transport I had taken upon my arrival nevermind whether I had locked said bicycle to a lamppost properly. When the realisation hit me after the tenth time of stumbling up and down Oranienstrasse mumbling ‘must be here, must be here’, I had the distinct impression (which may well have been accentuated by intoxication) that my world had in fact come to an end, resulting in a flurry of melodramatic text messages to friends and a slurred monologue into my pillow ‘it’s the only thing I have in the world…’ etc.

The reason I was so upset, of course, is because, well, yes, I was pretty wasted, but having a bike opens the door to so many liberating experiences in Berlin that you can’t have otherwise (unless you’re cycling down Karl Marx strasse, in which case it is just terrifying). I knew at that point that I would be consigned to travelling on the UBahn, to being harassed by crazy people, to listening to people pumping their crap music out of wireless speakers and to having my face caressed by a stranger’s armpit. Sometimes when I am cycling – shortly before I get hit by a vehicle – I just look around me in awe at the dynamo lights flickering around in a pretty procession, or the trees all bursting with Autumnal colours, or the hipsters all sipping on their Club Mates by a glistening canal. This is what I was doing the other day whilst cycling (with bicycle number 4) down by the Landwehr when for no apparent reason, a man walked up to me, punched me in the face and then walked off.

I guess the helmet is pretty useless after all.

18th February 2018 0 comment
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Stories: Bike In Berlin head honcho Ben Lubin

As I mentioned somewhere else on the site, it was after moving to Berlin in 2014 that I got really into cycling. In fact, that’s not strictly true.

It may be controversial to say this here, but If I’m being 100% honest, for almost a year after I arrived in Berlin, I didn’t even own a bike; I was perfectly happy exploring the city on foot. My newly-made friends would constantly tell me: “you’ve got to get a bike, Ben.” “I will soon”, was my stock reply.

Eventually, as the next summer rolled in, I gave in, and went to buy an old, reconditioned single-speed from a store (though it could’ve also been an art gallery or coffee shop) in Kreuzberg. It was a revelation. Now I could really explore the city. The first ride I did was on the very same warm summer evening I bought the bike, way out into the far east of Berlin from Friedrichshain. I had never explored Marzahn, Lichtenberg and Hellersdorf before. It was fascinating to explore Berlin’s plattenbau bedroom communities from the new bike. After this, I started to go everywhere by bicycle.

Soon I augmented that bicycle with a touring bicycle, after an old university friend suggested that we cycle from Berlin to Prague (and beyond). The idea of crossing country borders on a bicycle for a nascent (British) cycle-tourer like myself was completely new, yet undeniably exciting. This ride opened my eyes to another facet of cycling that has since become a passion: bike touring – a brilliant amalgam of two of the most worthwhile pastimes, cycling and travelling. Never before had I ever cycled distances like that day after day. As anyone who has ever done a bike tour can attest: it’s great. I was hooked.

I soon became acquainted with one of the uglier sides of Berlin’s cycling culture: bike theft. In fact, I was relieved of both of the aforementioned bicycles within quick succession of each other. The first was a result of pure naivety on my part: the single speed was locked wheel to frame, unattached to anything else, leant against the wall in the hallway of the Neukölln apartment building I lived in at the time. Of course, it was just a matter of time before it got pinched: but at this point I wasn’t really aware of quite how endemic bike theft was in Berlin.

I came downstairs to unlock the bike one afternoon, and it was gone. Incredulously, my flatmate called me an hour later to say that he had spotted my bike around the corner, leaning up against a tree. It seemed bizarre that the thief would just give up the bike after stealing it. Perhaps it was waiting to be picked up by someone with a van. Either way, I got it back. That particular bike would sadly eventually end up out of commission, after the seatpost decided to permanently bond itself to the frame.

The second theft happened a couple of weeks later. This time, it was textbook bike theft. The brand-new touring bike was outside work, chained to a bike post. I came down from the office one evening to find it gone. At first I thought: no, I must’ve locked it up somewhere else and made a mistake. But I hadn’t made a mistake; the remains of the lock were on the floor, and the bike was gone.

I’ve bought and sold a few more bikes since, and manage to continue to use the bike most days to get from A to B (and C, D and E), come rain or shine, without being killed (although it seems many drivers have tried).

In fact, there have only been a couple of falls. Perhaps like you, before I mastered the art of gracefully circumnavigating the bike around tram-tracks, there was more than one occasion when I unceremoniously came a cropper, as my front wheel found itself sucked into the gulley usually reserved for tram wheels.

There was another memorable occasion in Winter 2016, where a gentleman decided that I should spontaneously interface with the door of the taxi that he was trying to exit, totalling my front light and smashing my hands and handlebars through the rear window of said taxi. And of course, there was the memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons slip on the ice at Strausberger Platz in December 2017 which resulted in two stitches in my chin and two expensive new teeth. (read more about that in the blog).

But aside from the less-than-ideal cycling conditions and the bleak winters, there are far worse places to ride your bicycle. I can’t think of too many other capital cities where it’s so easy to get out of the smoke and into ‘the nature’ (as the Germans like to say). Where you have unlimited flat cycling territory, umpteen accessible lakes and hundreds of great bike shops and where cycling isn’t just the preserve of the athletic middle-classed young man, but truly something for everyone.

18th February 2018 0 comment
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Berlin’s bike flea markets

The Berliner Fahrradmarkt are periodically-held bicycle flea markets, held on Saturdays and Sundays.

Where are the flea markets?

​The locations vary: markets are held in Kreuzberg, Moabit and Schöneberg. Check their facebook or google to find the next location and date: there are usually two per month between March and November.

Important to note: there is more than one group organising these flea markets.

Tips​

It’s worth getting there early to find the coolest bikes. Prepare to haggle, the bikes sold are often listed at inflated prices and you can usually pay significantly under the displayed price if you’re prepared to bargain a bit.

It’s also worth bringing someone along who knows a bit about bikes if you intend on buying something.

What’s on offer?​

As well as bicycles, you’ll usually find a selection of accessories: helmets, locks, baskets, tires and spare parts. Pop-up bike repair shops are also often on hand.

​As you can see in some of the photographs, some of the vendors attach a document to the bicycle: this contains information pertaining to the original seller of the bicycle so as to give you peace of mind that the bike hasn’t been stolen. It’s unlikely that a vendor would risk selling a blatantly stolen bike at a Fahrrad Flohmarkt: the police are often also in attendance.

​These markets are a good place to find a vintage Rennrad (racing bike), although we feel that you can definitely find a better deal if you invest some time looking on eBay Kleinanzeigen, especially if you want something with a clean frame. However, for the sake of convenience, or purely just out of curiosity, checking out a Fahrradmarkt is not a bad idea.

​Here are some photos from one of the Fahrradmarkts at Winterfeldplatz in Schöneberg.

11th February 2018 0 comment
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5 Berlin bike stores you need to visit

Berlin has a plethora of bike stores, ranging from poor to truly excellent. Here are 5 you have to check out.

Stadler: various locations.

OK, so it’s not exactly the hippest bike shop in the city, but any true cycling fan should at least poke their head into one of the three Stadler locations: there are branches in Friedrichshain, Pankow and Charlottenburg.

They stock a decent selection of bike brands, with particular emphasis on their in-house brands; but there are occasionally some more interesting bikes in stock. If you want a typical German-style ‘trekking Fahrrad’, this should be at the top of your list of places to visit. You’re also able to cycle around the store on their indoor track to test your new bike without ever having to go out into the elements – also really good fun for your kids.

The range of accessories, bags, parts and clothing is truly impressive – there’s nowhere else in the city where you will find anything close to such a selection. The chances are, if you’re looking for a particular bike bag, pannier, set of handlebars or tire you will find it here. Spend some time annoying other customers by ringing as many bells as you can.

Stadler stores also incorporate a large, open-planned repair shop. By all accounts the staff are friendly and professional.

The Gentle Jaunt: Simon-Dach-Strasse, Friedrichshain

A type of cycling particularly close to Bike In Berlin’s heart is bike touring. There’s now a shop in Berlin which caters specifically for ‘laid-back cycling’ (as they put it on their website) and all other kinds of bicycling that are more focused on the journey than wearing lycra and cycling as fast as you can in a loop.

You’ll find the store on Simon-Dach Strasse, one of Friedrichshain’s main shopping and entertainment streets. The bikes and equipment on offer focus on what you would have in yesteryear loosely described as ‘touring’ – the nomenclature has started to change in recent years, with newer, more fashionable terms such as ‘bikepacking’ ‘adventure biking’ and ‘gravel biking’ starting to gain popularity.

Either way, there is a truly impressive range of stout, chunky-tired, mostly steel-framed bikes on offer from a range of leading manufacturers: Salsa, Genesis, Marin, Soma.

The Gentle Jaunt also stocks a range of accessories geared towards such adventure cycling pursuits: bikepacking bags, rucksacks, parts, tires, as well as clothes and shoes. You can also get a nice coffee in the store.

Gentle Jaunt’s sister store is Gold Sprint in Alt-Treptow, focusing on single-speed and fixed-gear bikes, with a similarly impressive range of stuff on offer.

Steel Vintage Bikes, Mitte.

An impressive store in Mitte, right near Potsdamer Platz, Steel Vintage Bikes specialise in, you guessed it, vintage steel bikes. They mainly focus on reconditioning and selling classic vintage racing bikes, parts and retro clothing. If you’re into vintage bicycles, this place is simply a must-visit. Find the vintage Pinarello or Colnago of your dreams, that elusive vintage Campagnolo derailleur or simply pop in and have a coffee and some cake at their cafe.

SVB is also an official partner with Eroica (https://eroica.cc/) – an organisation which organises amateur rides in different parts of the world with strict rules that participants ride vintage (pre-1987) bikes and wear vintage clothing. SVB is the official online shop for Eroica-approved bicycles and merchandise.

As we cover in our bike rental guide, SVB also rent out racing bikes.

Keirin Cycle Culture Cafe, Schlesisches Tor.

An institution for fixed-gear and track bike fans, Keirin has been around since 2004. Definitely a place to check out (and drink a coffee) if you’re a fan of such bikes, Keirin is an integral part of the Berlin fixie/messenger scene and was founded by bike messengers, all those years ago.

Pop in and have a look around. They usually have a cool selection of fixies, frames, accessories and clothing and are really passionate about their coffee. They can probably also tell you some interesting things you never knew about Berlin and its bike scene.

Radspannerei, Kottbusser Damm.

Steel is real! If you’ve got your finger on the pulse, bike-wise, it probably won’t have escaped you that steel-framed bikes have been enjoying a period of renaissance over the last few years. Radspannerei is a cool store in Kreuzberg that specialises in steel-framed bikes. Centrally located a stone’s throw from Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn station, this is definitely a place to check out if you’re in the market for a durable, classic-looking bicycle.

Radspannerei sell a range of desirable brands: Kona, Surly, Salsa and Paripa, their own brand. Additionally, on offer is a wide range of accessories from such high-quality brands as Brooks, Nitto, Rohloff, Miche and Sugino.
Pop in to the store to check out the range of built-up bikes they have on offer. There are usually a few fixed gears, a few city bikes, a few touring bikes and some mountain bikes too.

Boxbike, Prenzlauer Allee.

Folding bikes offer a different, yet practical solution to urban cycling. While thought of by some as uncool, we personally think folding bikes offer a great alternative to a ‘conventional’ bike for getting around town. Best of all, they are extremely compact – a breeze to bring onto a train or pack into a car, and you can even put them on a plane with a minimum of fuss. The other huge plus to owning a folding bike is that you don’t have to lock them up outside. And as you probably realise, in Berlin with its endemic bike theft, that could be a huge benefit.

 The guys at Boxbike are die-hard advocates of folding bikes and their enthusiasm when advising you on the various models available is infectious. They offer an extensive range of folding bikes, from traditional the English designs offered by Brompton and Moulton to wholly more contemporary cycles from Gocycle and Strida. The store also has some cargo bikes available, should you be interested in transporting more than just yourself.
 Anyone with more than a passing interest in folding bicycles (and who is able to read German) would definitely enjoy reading the company’s informative folding bike blog.
10th February 2018 0 comment
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Bicycling, bicycles, bike building, Otaku and obsession.

I’m building a bike.

Here’s the frame, when I bought it. It’s from Brother Cycles, in London.

So, I’m building a bike. What that really means is, spending most of my waking hours obsessively researching the minutiae of each bike part I want to buy, spending 99% of my disposable income on said parts before (see below) finally, hopefullyat some near mythical point in the future – taking them to an (apparently) certified professional to be assembled.

 

Well, that point in the future mustn’t be too distant, because as I mentioned in my last post, we’ve recently booked a holiday to Japan for some summer cycling. Four weeks cycling in the Land of the Rising Sun, altogether, with at least two weeks dedicated to cycling the mountains of Hokkaido: the most northernmost of Japan’s large islands – probably destined to become the Land of Raging Leg Pain for this particular cyclist.

Planning the trip has sent me far down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and had me reading all kinds of crazy-yet-fascinating stuff about Japanese culture. One thing that resonated particularly with me was reading about Otaku. For those of you who don’t know, Otaku is a facet of Japanese culture that can loosely be defined as ‘a (Japanese) term for people with obsessive interests’. It stems from anime and manga but, as Wikipedia says, “in modern Japanese slang, the term otaku is mostly equivalent to “geek” or “nerd” and can probably be applied to anything.

I have no doubt that anyone Japanese would quite comfortably label me ‘Otaku’, and although now the object of my obsession is bikes (and has been for some time), it’s been other things in the past, most notably spending literally years and years of my life studying and drooling over photos of electric guitars, effects pedals and amplifiers.

Nothing wrong with being such a geek, is there? Well, no I guess – and the bicycle is about as harmless and fantastic as anything ever created. In fact, as current Instragram cycling demigod Ultra Romance (look him up) said in a Specialized promo video he made recently “(the bicycle) is probably one of the only things we’ve invented that could actually help humankind, rather than put us forward just to put us back”. Well said.

So, as I wrap up the latest bike building project, and prepare to take all of these nice-looking boxes and pieces of steel and rubber to the local bike shop (LBS), I reflect on how sometimes I might obsess a bit too much over all of these objects instead of just getting out there and riding my bicycle, or playing my guitar, as it were. Still, there’s worse things to spend your days reading about and…check out this bike store in Tokyo!!!!  

14th January 2018 0 comment
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Interviewed: 5 Berlin bike manufacturers

…Often hidden away in old warehouses and deep in hidden courtyards exists a secret culture of talented manufacturers making all kinds of sexy bikes and bike accessories in Berlin.

We met a few of Berlin’s best bike builders young and old to get a feel for what they do, their thoughts on cycling in Berlin and much more.

Ostrad

I’m not sure how many concentric courtyards we had to go through to find Eckbert Schauer’s Prenzlauer Berg workshop, but I’m glad we eventually found it. Directed to the workshop from Ostrad’s well-stocked bike shop around the corner, we were excited to get our first glimpse of a Berlin frame builder in action. Ostrad’s modest workshop, with steel tubing covering every available space, may not be the most cutting edge bicycle manufacturing facility, but it’s clear that each hand-built frame made there is produced with precision and passion.
Schauer was keen to explain Ostrad’s history: “we started in 1991, just after the Mauerfall, and I’ve been here from the beginning. In the DDR times, it was very hard to do something like this. In fact, in the beginning it was just me.”

“I learned frame building from an old master, Heinz Paupitz, who’s now dead. He was a very famous frame builder in West Berlin, born in the 1920s and told us all the secrets of frame building”.

Ostrad offer bespoke, fitted steel frames: “All of our bikes are made by hand from steel with Reynolds tubing.”

“We build mostly racing bikes, randonneurs and touring bikes.”

“We build around 50 to 70 frames per year”, says Schauer, “and a new frame with fork costs around 1200 euros. A complete bike is between 1800 and 3000, but it depends on the parts”.

We asked Schauer about his views on cycling and cycling safety in Berlin:

“When I came to Berlin in the 80s, it was a dangerous time to ride a bike. Since then, it’s got so much better. You have space for bikes on the roads, separate traffic lights for bikes. There’s still a lot to do, I know, but it’s so much better than 30 years ago. I ride every day around 30km from my home in Kaulsdorf to the shop and back”

Check http://www.rahmenbau-berlin.de/fahrradrahmenbau/rahmenbau.html for more information about Ostrad’s beautiful custom frames.

8bar

The next day we found ourselves in Kreuzberg talking to Max & Norman at 8bar, a company that started online in 2009 offering customisable fixed-gear and single speed bikes.

8bar’s shop is unadulterated Kreuzberg cool. Minimalist looking frames hang from the ceiling and cool bikes populate every available inch of the store. There’s a ton of cool other swag for sale: cycling clothing, accessories, merchandise and high-end parts to further customise your ride.

Max and Norman were happy to give us a detailed insight into the 8bar story.

“The company started in 2009. Stefan’s (8bar founder) father had a small workshop and Stefan started building bikes for friends and figured out that people had issues buying the correct parts for their bikes…you buy something online and the parts don’t quite fit together. He had the idea to offer a complete bike that you can customise, as you want it, on the website. You could choose all the parts separately.”

“We had a smaller shop round the corner before this, from about 2011, and we’ve been in this shop (in Wrangelstrasse) for three years.”

“We develop the frames here, and the production is in Asia. We always get prototypes here and decide what we want to change before putting the frames into production. We build the wheels here and assemble the bikes sold online in our other Berlin workshop. We assemble bikes in this shop for our customers in Berlin.”

“(The store) started during the fixed gear boom, which was pretty big in Berlin. We were all into fixie riding. Then along the way, we got different interests, so the next frame was a single-speed cyclocross frame. Then the road scene got bigger. We realised we wanted to train on road bikes. Then we all got a little older and thought travelling with the bike and bike packing would be fun. Our customers are changing. Before most were in their 20s and 30s, now many are in their 40s and 50s”

8bar offer a small range of different models. As Max says: “single speeds are still the most popular bikes now, but the fixie scene is getting smaller and the Mitte bike is getting more popular. You can use it with fenders, racks, lights, as a travel bike or as a road bike, it’s a 3-in-1 bike and you can set it up different ways, with different forks”.

8bar’s bikes range from the affordable to the stratospherically-priced: “prices start for a single-speed around 900 to 1000. The most expensive bike would be a carbon road bike, depending on parts, but that could be up to 5000.”

Asked about cycling in Berlin, the boys were mostly positive: “I have the feeling that when I go to work by bike, people in cars watch out for cyclists. Sometimes they’re angry and quite aggressive, but I also drive (a car) in the city, so I see both sides. There are also cyclists who ride like shit”.

Norman echoed Max’s sentiments.“We rent out a lot of bikes too. Most of our customers feel very safe riding in Berlin compared to their cities, especially when you meet people from Eastern-European countries. We have more bike lanes than a lot of other cities. Overall I think it’s pretty good, and it’s flat. It’s really good for fixie riding.”

Why did fixies get less popular? “Mainly because of the laws: you have to have two brakes by law. If you get caught, you have to pay a big fine. It can also affect your driving license. It got a lot stricter because there were some bad accidents people with breakless bikes were involved in.”

8bar see themselves as a true part of Berlin bike culture. “In the very beginning, it was good for 8bar to be in Berlin because there was a big fixed gear scene in Berlin and it was good for us to be here.”

“We host a crit (criterium: fixed gear street race) on Tempelhofer Feld with teams from the UK, Italy, the Netherlands. We want to share something with the city and give something back”.

Be sure to call in to the Kreuzberg store or check out their website if you’re interested in outfitting yourself with one of 8bar’s cool bikes.

https://8bar-bikes.com/

Fern Fahrräder

Fern is a newer company building bespoke bikes in an repurposed old factory building in Lichtenberg. Fern concentrate on building bikes to take you as far away from civilisation as possible. (Fern is the German adjective for far, distant or remote.)

Enough of the linguistics. Framebuilder Florian Haeussler was keen to share his time and let me have a look around Fern’s workshop. Fern is made up of two people, Florian and Phillip. As Florian says: “Phillip is my sidekick, he takes care of management, which I’m not so keen on.”

“I founded Fern 5 years ago, a little bit by accident. I studied industrial design and built a travel bike for the final project of my master’s degree. During my studies I did my first big tour down to Istanbul and discovered a whole new world. By that time it was clear that this was something I wanted to do as a designer, design bikes. I started to assemble my own custom bikes for travelling, but the only thing I could not change was the frame.

After my diploma I worked in the car industry as a designer for a couple of years. A couple of years later I gave a frame builder friend a call, by accident really, just to ask a question about bikes. He told me that he was leaving his workshop in Potsdam with all his tools and he wanted to stop frame building. This was my chance to get started as a frame builder. I thought, this is a once in a lifetime chance, you have either take it or leave it, so I decided to buy everything.”

Eventually Florian moved into a small workshop in Leipzig. “I started there, in the basement, building frames, in about 2009/2010. At the same time I was taking classes in welding and brazing.”

“At some point, I had my two first ChaCha prototypes built up. We went on a trip with them around the Black Sea and ended up in Istanbul. The first two prototypes survived. I was super happy because I wasn’t even sure they would last. The bikes performed well.”

4 weeks after coming back to Leipzig, Haeussler had to vacate his workshop. It was then he decided to move to Berlin: “all my friends were in Berlin, so I decided to move back”. He soon found his current place in Lichtenberg, and clubbed together with some other friends to get enough people to fill the vast space. It was here he started building professionally.

“We make 4-5 main models, but basically they’re more like a starting point. Every bike we build is totally custom. Most people want to buy a 26” wheeled ChaCha, but it’s custom everything after that.”

“The ChaCha is the basic model. Then we have the Chuck, which is more on the off-road side, with bigger tires. Still a travel bike, but more for lightweight touring and bike packing. We also have a bike that is more like a modern Randonneur. Everything is handmade”.

Fern’s bikes are not for penny-pinchers. Asked about the starting price of the bikes, Florian says: “it’s tough to say, because everything is custom. In general, the bikes we sell are in the range of 5000-6000 euros. It’s easy to spend more. It’s also possible to have something for 4000.”

“We sell a maximum of 20 bikes per year. This is the most I can do, since everything I do here is by myself, handcrafted. It’s impossible to build more than 2 bikes per month. I would like to scale it up a little bit and we also thought about having production bikes made for us, but I don’t really want to do that. It would save so much trouble and money, and you could have good quality…but it’s a totally different story to building here by hand”.

Why spend so much money on a bike? “You could buy a production bike and it would do the same thing. You could ride around the world on it, but compared to production-line bikes, what I do offers a completely different level of handling and ride quality.”

Before we got out and let Florian get back to creating another piece of two-wheeled art we asked him about his feelings on riding in Berlin: “it’s not good. There’s so much to do, especially about having decent bicycle lanes. It’s a f*cking nightmare. The cycle paths are often super dangerous to ride on, so it’s sometimes safer to go into the traffic than cycle on the cycle paths.”

Helmet or no helmet? “Always a helmet. Always!”

Find more on Fern bikes at http://www.fern-fahrraeder.de/

Meerglas

Occupying the same Lichtenberg space as Fern is Meerglas, a one-man firm also building super high-end, hand-made steel frames and bikes.

“I’ve been making frames here for 3 or 4 years, professionally for 2 years,” says frame builder Thomas Becker.

“I build traditional randonneur bicycles, track frames, or anything really.

“I’m into making self-made lugs and bilaminate frames, which is a pretty special way to build frames – super labour-intensive”.

“I started by studying mechanical engineering, then dropped out. Then I started  an apprenticeship as a bicycle mechanic at a firm called Pedal Power, who build tandems and cargo bikes.”

“I had a dream of being a frame builder, and thought to myself, if I want to be a bike frame builder, it’s not a bad idea to know everything about bikes, not just the frames.”

“I learned everything about building wheels, and a little bit about frame building. Also working on a lathe.”

“Then I travelled around the world with my girlfriend on bicycle for a year, and came back to Berlin and did a ‘Meisterausbildung’ (master apprenticeship) in frame building .

“I came to this workshop 6 months ago from my old one in Friedrichshain. I wanted a better workshop, so here I am.”

“I don’t build many frames, I’m quite slow,” Tom laughs. “One bike could take me one month to build. I even make the stems myself.”

As you would expect from such a small-production one-man firm, Tom’s frames are suitably expensive: “My frames start, for a Randonneur – that is frame, fork, stem and front rack – (with paint) at nearly 3000 euros. I measure how you sit on the bike using a bike-fitting machine, and fit the bike for you. That way I know the exact position you need to have.”

On cycling in Berlin, Tom had plenty to say: “it depends if you know the right routes. You have these special cycle-lanes, next to big streets. If you follow them, it’s good.”

“If you know the cycle-routes or small streets behind the big streets, you can cycle safely, but that needs years of experience…it takes years to learn these routes”. He added that “the feeling between Berlin car drivers and Berlin cyclists is sometimes very aggressive, like war. It’s not only the car drivers, but cyclists too.”

Want some absolute frame porn? Check out http://www.meerglas.org/

 

Pedal Power

Pedal Power is not your run-of-the-mill bike firm: their entire range consists of cargo bikes, tandems and associated accessories.

I visited their facility in a quiet corner of Lichtenberg to get the lowdown on their range and history from founder Michael Schönstedt, also the man who still develops and designs most of their bikes, with help from an international staff of 12.

“I started the firm alone as a normal bike shop, originally, 25 years ago. Then about 18 years ago we started developing and constructing our own tandems and transport bikes.”

The origins of Pedal Power’s cargo bikes is an interesting story in itself. Asked on how they got started with cargo bikes, Schönstedt says: “It was born out of necessity. I was also working as a social worker, working with groups of disadvantaged teenagers, day and night, and we had to buy and move around loads of stuff – food and groceries. At one point we said, let’s build a cargo bike. We had a metalworks we could use, so we built two. That’s how it started.”

All bikes are assembled in their Lichtenberg workshop, and most are built there too, although due to demand, it’s impossible for Pedal Power to build all frames in-house: “We don’t build all of the frames here in Berlin, it’s just too much work. There’s a firm we’ve worked with for a long time in Taiwan who build for us. We’d like to build everything here in Berlin, but it’s sometimes just not possible.”

Pedal Power’s bikes aren’t cheap, starting around 2,000 euros and going up to around 7,000 at the top end. They offer a vast range of bicycles, from ‘simple’ cargo bikes and tandems, to bikes that can carry 3 or 4 people and cargo bikes that can carry up to 300kg of weight.

All bikes on offer are available as ‘e bikes’ with motors to assist the rider: “you can get every model with or without a motor. We’ve also developed a system enabling you to run a normal crank set, and remove it later if you want to and install a motor in its place, without modifications.”

The firm is also involved in some interesting projects that Schönstedt was keen to tell me about, including a self-driving cargo bike being developed in conjunction with the university of Magdeburg and and Pedal Power’s involvement in a government initiative designed to encourage people to ride cargo bikes by offering part-reimbursement after buying one.

He claims that these days the popularity of the tandem bikes has outstripped the tandems, although their range still features a wide selection of both, as well as bikes designed to transport small children. One of the few firms building cargo bikes in Germany, and certainly the only one in Berlin, Pedal Power ship bikes all over the world, even providing cargo bikes for DHL to use at London’s 2012 Olympics.

11th January 2018 0 comment
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