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Path Conditions on Germany's Bicycle Paths

These photographs depict different bicycle path conditions one might encounter while bicycling in Germany.

Gravel path with puddlesIt is important to stress that most of the time we ride on some type of pavement. If we are not on an asphalted surface, the pavement could consist of concrete or any of several types of brick pavers. Nevertheless, for the last several years, I have snapped a photo every time we encounter an unusual path condition. The photo on the right is a concrete path and on the left is a photo of an asphalt path; both mean perfectly smooth riding.

Train, streetcar, tracks: In cities streetcar tracks are ubiquitous. Wherever you go, your chances of crossing train tracks are very high. When crossing any kind of tracks, make sure you cross them as perpendicular as safely possible. By perpendicular, I mean as close to 90 degrees as you safely can. It is very possible for a front wheel to drop into the gap and if that happens, you go down. Over a year ago, while trying to pass another cyclist both of whom were riding between the streetcar tracks, a young Seattle woman swung out a bit to pass and her front tire caught the gap in the tracks. She fell sustaining a head injury that resulted in her death. Even though she was wearing a helmet. I am just saying. One of our family members, an experienced cyclist, temporarily lost track of where he was while watching his child, fell crossing a streetcar track in Bremen. He broke his jaw and damaged his shoulder. We cross tracks every day while riding in Europe. While we do not always cross at 90 degrees, we make the angle as steep as possible. We have never fallen, knock on wood. As of 2018, we have riden over 20,000 Km.

Gravel: The second most common path condition is gravel (photo on right). The gravel is typically tightly packed and can be as smooth as concrete or asphalt but it is subject to mud puddles in wet weather (left). If I were to guess, after over 20,000 kilometers of riding bicycle paths in Germany, I would say that 70% oft the time, the paths are paved with either asphalt, concrete, or some other type of relatively smooth paving like brick pavers. The remaining 30% is mostly tightly packed gravel. But what is not gravel is all the remaining path conditions discussed on this page. These nonstandard portions turn out to be the most memorable portions, unfortunately.

Narrow low traffic road with do not hit the trees signLow traffic street of brickVery low traffic narrow road as part of the bike pathShare the road: Sometimes, the path is not so much a path as a low traffic road as shown on the left. It is asphalted (in this case with brick pavers) but you must share it with the occasional automobile or truck.

I found some dark humor in the sign in the photo on the right. It seemed to be warning motorists of the danger of hitting a tree. I thought there should also be a warning about the poor bicycle riders in the far distance too. Actually, one of the fun things about bicycling not just in Germany but all over Europe are the tree-lined lanes, the Germans call them Alleen one Allee, two Alleen.

Back when Napoleon was on his rampage, it is said he took a moment to feel sorry for his marching soldiers who were sweltering in the summer sun. He told his Chief of Staff that trees should be planted along the road so his troops could march in the shade. The General said,

"But sir, that would take months to plant and 20 years to grow large enough."

"Then you had better start right away." Napoleon replied.

Car accident along the pathOnce, we came upon an automobile accident. No one was hurt but we were somewhat thankful that the accident happened before we got there.

double track dirt pathDirt: Dirt Paths occur occasionally. The photo of the single track on the right is one such path but as most dirt bicycle paths, it is well-packed and quite safe in all but the wettest conditions. There are several short stretches of dirt paths we have experienced. single track footpath but part of bike path tooSome are double track paths like the one on the left. Others are a bit dicey to ride because they are narrow foot paths but nevertheless signed as part of the official bicycle path. An example is one we found in a bird reserve (also on the left).

Path parallel to sandy roadAlongside a road: Occasionally, bike paths parallel a road. It is not uncommon to find a Bike path next to busy streetpath that is alongside a busy road but separated from the traffic by a concrete barrier (think Jersey wall). The photo on the right is one example of a packed gravel path next to a very deep sand double track road in a forest. On the left is an example of nothing but a white line separating the bike path from traffic (this is in front of one of the old gates of Lübeck).

cobblestone bike path, former auto roadCobblestone or Kopfsteinpflaster: Cobblestone is another experience that I would rather have in an automobile rather than on a bicycle. In the former East Germany, we came upon about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of a cobble road. During the DDR times, they were proud of the nearly full employment situation in their economy. Construction workers were asked to build this road. Cobble roads are made of rocks, or in this case granite blocks chiseled into uniform sizes and set in a sand base by workers on hands and knees.

Short steep paver and stone wayRegardless of how a cobblestone road or path is constructed, it is a darn rough ride on a bicycle. For short distances, it is no problem but for long distances, you think your teeth will be damaged from all the vibration. The photo on the left is one such short stretch. It leads up into a castle courtyard in the village of Creuzburg on the Werra. I would say that the stone and flat rock cobblestone is rough as a cob but in rural America, "cob" means the inner part of corn on the cob.

Another PlattenwegPlattenwegPlattenweg: Plattenweg (a path made from Platten) is another instance of using less than ideal material for a bicycle path. OK, I understand that these paths were originally built for farm equipment or military vehicles and was not built for bicycles. However, they are not uncommon in the former East Germany. A "Platten" is a concrete plate with two or four indentations for handles. They vary in size but typically are about 3 feet wide and 6 feet long. To build a road, they are laid side by side, 3-foot section after 3-foot section, until the road is finished. Each joint is designed to loosen a filling in your teeth and there are joints every 3 feet, don'tchaknow (this is a term I picked up living in Montana). See the picture on the right show a path of double Platten. The Plattenweg shown on the left is of a different design and is becoming slowly buried. Good! The dirt path alongside is smoother than the cement Platten.

Bridge stairsAnother bridge stairsBridges and stairs: Speaking of things that are less than ideal, consider bridges. You find them infrequently but they span over canals, railroads, and the like. I am pretty sure they are there to keep bicyclist young and strong because strength and patience are what you need to cross one. They may have steep stairs both ascending and descending. Sometimes, the stairs are narrow which means that you cannot push your bike and have to carry it instead.

Luggage conveyor in train stationNow that I have mentioned stairs a little elaboration is required. Most train stations have stairs but some also have elevators or escalators. Elevators are great for moving bicycles up and down and escalators are can be handy too, if you know how to use them. Older stations in smaller towns frequently do not have either escalators or elevators. This means that you must carry your bicycle up the stairs. Carrying a loaded bicycle up train station stairs requires strength and balance. If you have to climb stairs and find a loaded bicycle too heavy, unload it can carry the bike and the panniers up in separate trips. Maxa and I leave one person as a security guard with the largest pile of belongings while the other climbs or descends the stairs.

Escalators: These can be a bit tricky. One of my sisters-in-laws discovered that taking a loaded bicycle on an escalator requires not only some knowledge of brake levers but also some strength and balance too. The result of not having the necessary knowledge, strength, and balance at the time she needed them meant some bruised ribs and a very sore butt. As she stepped onto the escalator, she fell backward with the bicycle on top of her while the escalator continued to run, bump-bump-bumping her body along. She was not strong enough to lift the bike off herself. Someone finally hit the emergency cut-off and we were able to get both her and her bicycle back into an upright position. The trick that she did not know is that on an escalator one must brake each of the wheels separately as soon as that wheel leaves the non-moving part at the start of the ride up the escalator and keep the wheels braked until you get to the end and roll the bicycle onto the other non-moving part.

German language detour signflooding along the Fulda bike pathDetours: There are many anomalies to be found on almost any multi-day tour. The photo to the left is a detour sign (Umleitung) directing riders away from the signed bike path but hopefully reuniting them with the path after whatever was the reason for the detour. In the case of a flooded bike path as shown on the right, the detour took us several kilometers out of our way before we could cross the river that had flooded its banks.

Horse drawn wagonSheep greet us at gatePed gate without animalsYield to commercial traffic: Even on bicycle paths. Farm animals and farm equipment cause less serious problems and make for up close and personal interactions with both hazards. Farm equipment and maintenance equipment have the right of way of course. You can argue but they are bigger than you are so you will probably lose the argument. Animals do not understand English so you will probably lose that argument too.

Too narrow a gate for panniersGates: Many gates along the cycle paths are designed to allow pedestrian passage but not quadruped passage. Speaking of gates, we found a challenging gate that was too narrow for Maxa's saddlebag panniers and we had to take the saddlebags off, go through the gate and then reload.

Sandy pathDirt pathSand, especially deep sand: By far the worst path condition is deep sand like the photo on the right. The German state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, is infamous for sandy soil but that is not the only place in Germany that has sandy soils. The northern lowlands around Mecklenburg-Vorpommerm has a lot of sandy deposits but is not sandy all over.

Normal Conditions: Least I leave you with a nasty taste in your mouth discussing the downside of path conditions, I want to reiterate what I stated at the beginning. By far the majority of our experience over the last 13 years of bicycling in Germany has been exceedingly positive. Germany has thousands of miles of dedicated bicycle paths. You will find bike paths on major bridges crossing rivers, even if alongside busy roads and occasionally even an Autobahn. Alongside canals, the old-fashioned toe paths have been paved and allow for a wonderful cycling experience. Even in towns and villages, the narrow streets are not only scenic but safe for cyclists. One of our favorite things is to take one of the hundreds of ferries that ply the many rivers of the country. Another magical experience is using the covered bridges we occasionally find along the way.Path next to a busy road

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