Biking für Anfänger

29 Apr

I’m very lucky that Erlangen and the surrounding areas are so utterly bike friendly that even a beginner (Anfänger) can get around safely. Now I am indeed no expert when it comes to biking BUT a bike is my main form of transport here in Germany and may be yours too, it’s worth doing some research, particularly if like me you hadn’t ridden a bike since childhood (and weren’t much good then either).

Comparisons

In the UK most of the people riding bikes are encased head to toe in garishly coloured lycra and helmets, in Erlangen rolling your trouser leg up is all you need to do (the number of people wearing helmets can be counted on one hand, mostly parents setting a good example to their littlies, wear one, don’t wear one, you’re the grown up you decide).

In the UK new basic bike prices can range from low to high, in Erlangen a new basic bike could set you back a lot of Euros (but it will at least be a decent bike that will last!).

In the UK mountain bikes still rule and I can understand why, potholes? ouch you definitely need suspension. In Erlangen the ‘city bike’ rules supreme, great for commuting and getting around town.

In the UK (at least in the North) cycle lanes are few and have a tendency to end abruptly, meaning that bikes and other vehicles have to share the road. In Erlangen cycle lanes are plentiful, look out for the red areas on the pavement (and try not to walk on there), if you do have to ride on the road there is generally a marked path to use.

In the UK motorists are not always on the look out for cyclists (I’m generalising yes), in Erlangen there are so many bikes, which generally have the right of way, so motorists will look out for you.

Bike parking can be tricky

Bike parking can be tricky

Style

There is no judgement here about whether you ride a mens (high crossbar) or a womens (low crossbar) bike. Choose one that best suits your lifestyle.

If you have to commute in a suit, a low crossbar city bike will result in less wrinkles as you travel in a more upright position than on a mountain bike.

If you need to carry a weeks worth of groceries on your bike, consider the need for a pannier rack (and some panniers) and baskets.

Check out the bikes on the streets of Erlangen, you will see that most of them aren’t new, they are battle scared and well loved. They ride like a dream, need a little care and attention but you can pick one up for 40 Euro, embrace the retro.

Substance

Lights on a bike are non negotiable and a legal requirement, you must have them on if you are riding in the evening, early mornings and night. A lot of bikes use a dynamo to power their lights, no need to remember to change any batteries, but rain can sometimes effect their performance. Battery powered lights which can be removed from the bike also work for some people, especially if your outside house light doesn’t work!

As with anywhere bikes can get stolen, if you have an expensive bike invest in expensive locks (plural) and make sure you get it insured. Now I understand that since you don’t have a car you have plenty of cash to drop on a bike but consider your needs, do you really need a massively expensive bike for commuting 15 minutes to work 5 days a week? If you are an avid cyclist maybe consider getting a run around for commuting and keep your ‘baby’ locked up safe in the basement for weekend outings.

Price is always tricky, it’s a bike, my parents bought me my last bike for my 13th birthday and I have no idea how much they paid. I was very surprised when I got here about the prices of bikes, new and second hand, 500 Euro? for a bike? What I hadn’t thought about was just how much I was going to use said bike, when it went in for a service last time I was bereft, walking is definitely not as much fun! Now that I’ve been here for a while I can appreciate why the prices are the way they are. Pretty much all material goods are more expensive in Germany for a start (compared to the UK) I don’t have a car (no petrol or insurance costs) so I will get a lot of use out of a bike and should I need to resell the value second hand is still good, win win.

Whilst it is tempting to just buy a bike on Ebay (it is perfect if you know exactly what you want and can’t be convinced otherwise) there are so many affordable ways to purchase your bike locally, where you can try it out, check it and haggle about the price that it’s worth looking elsewhere first.

Once you do buy a bike, if it is second (third, forth, fifth) hand it is worth taking it straight to a bike shop for a once over and a service, there is time to learn about bike maintenance but that time is not now. Make sure you get your brakes, gears etc checked by someone who knows what they are doing first.

Check what size you need, the more petite might be more comfortable on a 26 inch than a 28 inch, and the taller may require a larger frame (not just a higher seat position).

Bike parking on a Saturday

Bike parking on a Saturday

Where to buy

Fahrradversteigerung (bike auction). Erlangen and Bamberg both have auctions a few times a year, these bikes are usually the ones which are rounded up from around town that have been parked illegally  and never claimed or that have been left in a public place for a long time. Consequently you can bag a bargain (usual) or find nothing you like (rare). They will usually have an open time before the auction day to see and test the bikes (at least for size). The auction is in German but as long as you concentrate on your numbers it’s not too hard to follow and there aren’t any extra fees to pay on top of the purchase price.

Flohmarkt (Flea market)/Trödelmarkt. As with any kind of flea market sometimes you will find gold, sometimes you won’t, it can be a great place to find a bargain though. The flea market at Bohlenplatz usually has quite a few bikes to look at, keep up to date on all the upcoming flea markets here.

Bike shops usually stock some second hand bikes (in addition to a wide selection of new ones), if you buy here you know that the bike will at least be roadworthy and it will usually some with a year or twos guarantee, so the price may be a little higher than at the auction, but it can be worth it. Fahrradkiste, Fahrradecke in Erlangen and Fahrrad Schreiber in Erlangen Bruck are all places where I have personally had great experiences with purchases, rental and servicing. Freilauf is more on the expensive side but their shop carries quite a lot of stock for bikes and bike riding, not just bikes, so you can check out bits and pieces before you buy.

Larger supermarkets (kaufland, Rewe, Aldi) also sell bikes at certain times of the year, if you only need a bike for a year this may be a good choice, the longevity of their bikes isn’t fantastic but they can be cheaper and pretty.

Ebay, not my favourite place to purchase a bike, I like to try before I buy. Alles.de is pretty much German Craigslist, giving you the freedom to actually see and try before you commit to buying. Many Germans will speak English so don’t let your lack of language skills hold you back, learn some polite basics, take a dictionary and use the internationally recognised hand gesture language if you get stuck.

Tips

  • Get a bell and use it, don’t try to be that uber polite Brit endlessly dodging pedestrians, one day you’ll crash, the bike lane is yours so warn them that you’re there.
  • Buy a decent lock and use it, Erlangen is a student town and some unlocked bikes are used as ‘community bikes’ (or the bike that gets students home from the pub), don’t let it be yours.
  • Wear a long top, please, no one needs to see the crack.
  • Ride on the bike path, it’s there for you so use it.
  • Don’t jump lights, it’s not cool.
  • Cars give way to bikes (and pedestrians) and bikes even have space in front of the cars at traffic lights to gather together, appreciate it and keep on your toes.
  • Whilst riding on a pavement based bike lane can be done travelling in either direction, if your bike lane is on the road you MUST be travelling in the same direction as the traffic.
  • Cycling in snow is not recommended, if you have to, just go s.l.o.w, snow is generally cleared very well here and you can cycle carefully then but it might be worth your time to just buy a bus ticket some days.
  • Drunk cycling is an offence, you can get fined, points or even have your licence taken away from you. The level of alcohol is higher than that for driving a car but I’d recommend not taking your bike to the Bergkirchweih or at least biking there and walking home.

Same place, different bikes and a little more white stuff

That came out a little longer than I was expecting but I hope that someone finds it useful, I really love that Erlangen has made allowed me to enjoy biking as an adult.

Are your hometown and new hometown bike friendly?

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4 Responses to “Biking für Anfänger”

  1. terrimoore65 May 4, 2014 at 4:22 am #

    What a terrific, informative, and detailed post about bikes and biking. I would like to purchase a bike in Germany and use it like the locals do and you provided great insight! Thank you!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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