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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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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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Want to rent a bike? Check out our guide to bike rental in Berlin

Bike rental in Berlin.

Deciding to rent a bike is not always as straightforward as it seems, given the sheer number of options available to you. Berlin has a plethora of different bike rental schemes and systems available, and the choice of bikes runs from humble, well-used bikes to high-end dream machines.

(Disclaimer: this is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the bike rental options available).


You might be visiting the city for a few days and keen to explore on two wheels, or you might be hosting people who want to get out on a bike, but don’t have a spare one to lend them. Either way, even if you’re in the city for only a couple of days, cycling is the best way to explore and Berlin has a range of options for bike rental.

Luckily, the days of crappy rental bicycles are (mostly) gone. Our guide to bike rental in the city will show you a range of options together with some tips to make the whole process easier.

(One thing to note: Berlin doesn’t have an ‘official’ bike sharing system similar to London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ – now sponsored by Santander – or Paris’s Vélib’).


​1. Ask at your hotel/hostel:

Price: free to very cheap

These days, the majority of decent hotels and hostels have a fleet of bicycles available for their guests. At more expensive hotels, the bikes are often pretty good, and invariably free. Obviously, the quality and number of the bikes on offer varies massively depending on where you’re staying.

If you don’t see the bikes parked outside your hotel or hostel, ask if they have any available or can recommend a good rental shop.

​2. Bike rental shops:

Price: between €5 and €15 for 24 hours

There are hundreds of places offering bike rental: from dedicated shops, to the bikes available to rent from outside your local Späti (booze/cigarettes/snack shop). Googling ‘Berlin bike rental’ or ‘Berlin Fahrradverleih’ will provide you with a long list of companies. If you walk down any busy Berlin street you’re also bound to come across a rental shop. We cannot personally vouch for any company, so your best bet is to read reviews on google and find somewhere near where you’re staying.

Prices can be very cheap: we’ve seen them for as little as €5 for 24 hours and very rarely more than €12. Bring your ID to the rental shop. Most firms have their own policy for returning the bikes, but you usually have to drop it off during shop hours.

3. Deutsche Bahn Call-a-bike/Lidl bikes:

Price: €3 annual registration fee, then the first half hour €1.50, each additional half hour €1 upto a maximum of €15 for 24 hrs (€12 for concessions)

The cheap and cheerful discount supermarket giant Lidl has recently started offering bikes for hire, partnered with Deutsche Bahn’s Call a Bike system. The bikes are more or less the same robust and heavy machines that you see in bike sharing systems the world over.

Disappointingly, no English information is available on Lidl’s (or DB’s) bike rental website or app, so here’s how it works: to rent a bike, download the app and register. Find a nearby bike on the map and when you get to the bike, enter the unlock code provided.  You have to return the bike within the Berlin S-bahn ‘ring’, otherwise you’ll be fined €10. You also get a 50 cent bonus for returning it within 25 metres of one the 350 designated return zones – you can find these zones on the map.

​4. Nextbike:

Price: €1 for the first half hour, €1,50 for each additional half hour minutes up to €15 per day. Alternatively, a €3 daily pass with unlimited 30 minute rides free and every additional 30 minutes €1.

Another similar system is Nextbike, offering sturdy bikes available in many cities around Germany (and Europe). You can access your Nextbike in 4 different ways:

One, use the app to locate and access a bike. This works much the same as Lidl’s system: download the app, enter the bike number, get the 4-digit access code and unlock the bike. Two, send off for a customer card and unlock the bike by touching your card to the sensor. Three, phone their customer service for the unlock code and four, enter your customer information on the Nextbike terminal and get the unlock code.

You can return the bike by either slotting its front wheel into a lock at the terminal, locking it manually on a main street or at a ‘station’ by slotting the lock cable into the front hub and confirming the return via the app.

5. Donkey Republic:

Price: €10 per day.

A start-up founded in 2015 in Copenhagen, Donkey Republic offers yet another spin on the familiar bike sharing template. Their easily-recognisable orange bikes have started to become more commonplace around Berlin and they are available in a handful of European cities.

The system works something like a bike version of car2go: download the app, register, find a bike on the map. The lock will then be remotely unlocked after you enter the unlock code on the app and remotely locked when you return it at a drop-off location.

Donkey Republic have partner bike shops you can visit should you have a problem with the bike.

6. Mobike/Byke/other station-free bike sharing systems:

Price: Mobike: deposit then the first 30 minutes free, subsequently charged in 30 minute slots, price depending on frequency of use.

Byke: no deposit, 50 cents per 30 minutes. For €3, you can use the bike 12 times of up to 30 minutes within a 24-hour period.

In recent months, there has been a proliferation of colourful, station-free rental bikes appearing around the city. The bikes work in a similar way to aforementioned systems: download the app, reserve a bike, get a verification code, find the bike, unlock it and use it, simply locking it and leaving it somewhere within a designated zone when you’re done with it. ‘Best practice’ guides available on the companies’ websites advise you the best way to go about ‘locking up’ the bike once you’re finished with it.

​7. I want to rent a really good bike. What are my options?

Not everyone is content tanking around the city on sluggish, ugly 15 or 20kg rental bike. Luckily, help is at hand, although at the moment it seems you only have a few options.

Starting at €50 per day, Berlin Racing Bikes offer high-end Canyon road bikes for rental if you want to explore Berlin and its surrounding areas in your lycra.

​The impressive Steel Vintage Bikes store on Wilhelmstrasse near Potsdamer Platz also offers a range of more luxury bikes from fixed gear to steel and carbon road bikes. Prices start from €17 per day. More here: (https://www.steel-vintage.com/bicycle-rental-berlin/)

​You could also pop in to 8bar bikes in Kreuzberg, who we featured in our 5 Berlin bike manufacturers feature. They have many of their cool bikes (single speed, urban & adventure bikes) available for rental, starting at 20 euros for 24 hours. So, if riding a stylish, well-made bike is important to you, check them out: (https://8bar-bikes.com/rent-a-bike/)

What do we think?

The more traditional process of going into a shop and getting a bike in person appeals to many: you will, theoretically, be provided with the ‘right bike’, fitted to it while also having the pleasure of interacting with someone in the process. These shops usually offer the cheapest bike rentals, although spend a little time reading google reviews of various bike rental shops and you will read dramatically different feedback regarding the quality of the bikes, often extremely bad: pick wisely.

It seems that every other week a new bike sharing system appears, often with the bikes discarded, lying on the floor somewhere. The more modern app-based bike sharing systems can require a little more brain power when accessing and returning a bike, and are often not so simple nor intuitive for less technologically au fait individuals. Support is usually available in case of problems.

11th February 2018 0 comment
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Choosing a bike to ride in Berlin: what are my options?

Choosing a bicycle is a decision that deserves careful consideration. There are many styles available on the market, and you should think about what you want from the bike before buying one. Is it for short journeys to the shops? For getting from the suburbs to the centre of the city as fast as possible? Riding around Tempelhofer Feld on the weekend? Or is it simply an accessory to help you look as cool as possible?

We’ve compiled a shortlist of some of the different styles available together with their pros and cons to help make that choice a little easier.

The Dutch bike

Dutch bikes and bikes inspired by them offer a relaxed, upright riding position, built-in mudguards/fenders and chain protectors. They also often have built-in dynamo lights. These bikes’ ‘step-through’ frame geometry also means you can get on to them without having to throw your leg over a top tube, which could be impractical, depending on what you’re wearing. They’re also much easier to get on and off for less agile or elderly riders.

On the other hand, the step-through geometry means the frames have to be reinforced with thicker tubing and can be very heavy. There are also fewer places to mount accessories on the frame and a limited range of gears available.

Racing bike/fixed gear/single speed

You’ll see plenty of people riding racing bikes, single-speeds and fixed-gears around Berlin. These bikes are attractive in their sporty elegance, especially vintage examples. They are fast and light, and with a racing bike, you have the opportunity to ride longer distances (fast) for fitness outside the city. In lycra. In the case of single-speeds, maintenance is simple as there is simply not so much to go wrong when you only have one gear.

These bikes have their drawbacks: they are usually better suited to dryer conditions, although mudguards/fenders can sometimes be fitted later, depending on clearance between tire, fork and chainstay. The riding position also puts the rider low, making them less than ideal for city riding where it’s helpful to have a good overview of the street and traffic ahead of you. Not all racing bikes can accommodate racks, so if you want to carry stuff on your bike, one might not be the wisest choice. They are also very desirable for thieves.

Trekkingrad

Perhaps the most popular type of bicycle in Berlin is the venerable German ‘trekkingrad’, seen absolutely everywhere in the city. These are sturdy, heavy bikes, perfectly suited to taking a beating year-round on city streets, whatever the weather. They usually come equipped with mudguards, dynamo lights and a rear rack. The riding position is usually quite upright, but depending on the bike, can be sportier. They are eminently practical, yet not particularly inspiring. Still, if you’re looking for a practical bike that can take you all over the city, (and much further) one of these might be just the ticket.

Folding bike

In our opinion, folding bikes are under-utilised for city riding. They can be stowed away, brought into the office or house, folded up, and can be put on trains and planes with a minimum of fuss.

The smaller wheels take slightly longer to get up to speed and can affect ride quality, sometimes resulting in a bumpier ride. The frames aren’t as stiff as non-folding bikes, and the bikes tend to be on the heavy side due to the extra weight of the hinges. A ‘good one’, like a Brompton can also be very expensive.

Cargo bike

If you need to move stuff or little people around, then you might want to look at a cargo bike, or Lastenrad, auf Deutsch. There are numerous styles available, from bikes designed to carry one or two young children (from the likes of Babboe) to rigs that can carry loads of stuff weighing up to hundreds of kilograms (Omnium, Pedal Power, Larry vs. Harry Bullitt).

Finding a decent cargo bike for less than a thousand (or even two thousand) euros might be a challenge, but one could be the best way to move whatever you need without resorting to buying or renting a car. Think of the environment!

Cons: they’re not cheap. So, weighing up whether you actually need one is the first thing to consider. Secondly, they are big old things, and riding one isn’t like riding any other bike, so be sure you have the confidence to ride one before you commit to buying it. Remember that many are also available as e-bikes.

Mountain bike

Mountain bikes might not be the obvious choice for a city bike, but plenty of people seem to enjoy riding them, especially older ones without suspension. Newer mountain bikes with suspension forks and disc brakes might be a bit over the top for riding in the city, but whatever works for you.

You can usually find a good condition older one cheaply, they take bigger tires, can easily be fitted with mudguards and often with rear racks. They make perfect commuter bikes. They are super sturdy and can be customised to pretty much exactly how you want them.

You have probably noticed that we promote practicality and pragmatism as the key virtues for a city bicycle, so to conclude, we will reiterate that having a bike that is suitable for a variety of weather conditions, comfortable and sturdy is the kind of bike you should be looking to ride in Berlin. As always, eBay Kleinanzeigen and your local bike shop (LBS) are your best friends when looking for a bike to buy, so get out there, have a look around and try a few bikes.

 

10th February 2018 0 comment
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