These photographs depict different bicycle path conditions one might
encounter while bicycling in Germany.
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.
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.
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.
we came upon an automobile accident. No one was hurt but we were somewhat thankful
that the accident happened before we got there.
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
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).
a road: Occasionally, bike paths parallel a road. It is not uncommon to find
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.