What to Expect on a Tour
What should you expect when riding your bicycle in Germany? This section
will take you through a typical tour, discuss reasons
for going into churches and some tips on
guidebooks and maps, talk about
hills and stairs, explain who you might
meet on the cycle paths, provide some ideas about
renting a car and finally a short collection of
other things typical on a bicycle tour.
a typical tour we ride most of the time on asphalt (tarmac for you United Kingdom
folks). However, during a typical day, a rider may encounter many different surfaces
including pavement, gravel, cobblestone, and even dirt footpaths. Until I discovered
deep sand, I used to think that cobblestone was the worst of all road conditions.
Cobblestone roads are dangerously slippery when they are wet. Narrow tires (1 1/4
inch or narrower) make all but the best paved surfaces more dangerous. Check the
special page of path conditions that shows photographs of different
path conditions we have encountered.
may take riders though small villages and larger population centers. In these centers,
you may cross railroad or streetcar tracks that can be dangerous, especially for
narrow tires. When riding on cobblestone, the gap between one row of stones and
the transition to the sidewalk or a streetcar track could be wide enough to grab
Only recently has Germany passed laws similar to the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA) that calls for curb cuts and other accommodations for the physically challenged
segment of the society. If you ride on the sidewalk, be prepared to go off the curb
at the end of the block. Even when there are curb cuts they can be bumpy. Sometimes
the marked bike paths may take riders to what seems like the wrong side of the road
at times but that is normal.
solution to some of the problems endemic in large towns and cities is to take public
transportation like a bus or streetcar through town. You can bring your bike right
into the bus or streetcar if there are no bike racks in the conveyance. Normally
the bikes ride free on buses and streetcars but you have to buy a ticket for yourself.
Just do not try to use public conveyances during the rush hour. Bikes may be prohibited
on busses and streetcars during rush hour.
Bicycles usually go into the spot where baby carriages and wheel chairs go. If
you see someone with one of those, you have to yield your spot; even if it means
getting off the bus. And when you catch the next bus, you have to purchase another
ticket, there is no such thing as a free transfer. It is a risk, I know. However
in 18 years of cycling, I have never had to yeild my spot to a baby carrage or a
wheel chair, though I have offered and been told to stay where I was.
Do not plan to use buses or street cars with more that two or three riders -
you may overwhelm the capacity to handle bikes and the driver will refuse to let
some on board. Fortunately, the routes in the guidebooks are designed to keep cyclists
away from heavy traffic highways and arterials. Most of the riding for our tours
are on bike paths where there is light or no automobile traffic.
Why visit a church if you are not going to a service? Well, maybe you just want
to mumble something only One can hear, or perhaps just light a candle for a loved
one. On the other hand, maybe you want to see some fantastic art that may be museum
quality and painted during or before the Middle Ages? Art can be painting, murals
(frescos), sculpture, or woodcarvings. We go into many churches for the latter reason.
Sprinkled throughout our tours are many pictures of art
inside churches. Churches are usually but not always open to the public during the
week. Some of the older churches may require an advance appointment to view but
if so, then it might be especially instructive to the student of art or architecture.
: Route guidebooks
are available in large bookstores and some bicycle shops. You may even find a couple
bike guidebooks in English, like the German and Austrian Danube routes. These English
additions are rare I will warn you. If you want English versions, contact the printers
directly. They are listed in the Links page of this website.
the guidebooks in German are useful even if you do not speak a word of Deutsch.
A map is simply a picture so language is unimportant. In the back, a list of overnight
accommodations and bike stores is also pretty much self explanatory in any language.
Guidebooks list the name, address, and phone number. Sometimes there is an inaccurate
listing of price category too. (See also the purchasing guidebook section in
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: Every community has established
their own signed bike routes. You can frequently obtain free maps from these communities
or at many of the hotels. In addition to the plethora of community bike routes,
there are the mapped and signed long distance routes. Information on these can be
found by contacting the German Bicycle Club, the ADFC
(Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad Club). One can buy maps from
Amazon.de too. Just type in “cycling maps” in
their search window and you will have several links to follow. Most of the time,
we use the bikeline series from Esterbauer
Cycling maps vary in resolutions from 1:125,000 to 1:25,000 and you can purchase
them at almost any bookstore or train station news kiosk. For my purposes, the most
useful scale is the common 1:75,000 but I met some Dutch riders once who had been
averaging 250 km per day and they wanted smaller maps that covered a much larger
area. More power to them.
The beauty of maps is they seem to be an international signal that you might
be lost and may need help. It seems that whenever we pull a map out and stare at
it, someone will stop and ask us where we want to go. They will then give you advice.
Unfortunately, sometimes it is not 100% accurate advice especially if the giver
has not ridden a bicycle in years. On the Kocher River,
we were told to take a route that involved long steep hills when if we had stuck
to our map, we would have avoided the hills. On the other hand while riding down
the Lahn, we were offered direction by the driver of a big
black Mercedes Benz, he said we should follow him and he led us – driving at our
speed – for half a mile to our destination. Most of our experiences in getting directions
or help have been positive, even fun.
So, if you hear someone ask, "Wo wollen Sie hin?" you are
not being sworn at, you are being asked, "Where do you want to go?"
In the countryside, the routes are likely to use paths that designed for farm
vehicles and/or hikers. You can expect a variety of surfaces as described in
Path Conditions mentioned above. In addition,
mopeds and low power motorcycles (such as are sold in most bicycle stores) may be
able to use some of the bicycle paths.
: Hills are common on
many routes but the steep ones are marked on most good bicycle maps and guidebooks.
Pushing your bike uphill is not an embarrassment – it may be a necessity. If, like
us, you belong to the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees Club, you will push up a few hills.
One will rarely encounter stairs or steps (except in train stations where steps
are common – but sometimes there are elevators too).
On any trip that includes train stations, you may have to navigate stairs.
More and more train stations are adding elevators but there are many without elevators.
In some stations, you may find a suitcase helper alongside of the stair steps. If
there is no elevator, you can put your bicycle on these and hold the brakes tight.
You will walk up the stars as the machine carries your bike along. We have even
found stairs in the middle of nowhere to get up to a bridge crossing a river or
a canal. for pictures check out our Path Conditions
There is an interesting cross section of the society on
any given weekend on the bike paths. There are many young people doing exercise
rides in tight spandex. (I have observed that good tight spandex suits are interesting
but darn hard to keep up with.) There are also a few long distance riders. You can
spot the long distance riders easily because their bikes are loaded with panniers,
tents, sleeping bags, etc. (We have found that carrying a few bike clothes and some
cash and a credit card is much lighter than tents and sleeping bags.)
I sometimes think the largest population on the bike paths is the over 60 crowd.
Bicycle clubs with people (of all ages) wearing some type of uniform are also a
common sight. Adults will frequently combine a bike ride with a social outing. Getting
together with friends and riding a few kilometers to a restaurant for Kaffee
und Kuchen is a frequent form of socialization. You will see sixty-something
and seventy-something women wearing dresses and sporting earrings and bracelets
riding happily along at 7 kph. Chances are the seventy or eighty-something men just
behind them are trying to think of opening lines to use to meet these young chicks.
We have met several seventy-something people with fully loaded bikes on bike tour
vacations as well. There may be a limit to physical ability but there is no age
limit. Heck, if I told the truth, that could be us now.
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And just how friendly is bike riding in Germany? In parts of the USA, red
necks driving pick-up trucks try to force bikers off the road. (I hate them for
their arrogance and ignorance.) In Germany by contrast, nearly every vehicle will
cross the centerline to give bikers a wide berth. I cannot count the times cars
and trucks have slowed to my speed for a block or more when passing me would have
crowded me to the side of a street or road. This is because the streets are narrow
and drivers are used to sharing the road with bikers, parked cars, pedestrians,
or people on in-line skates. Yes, you will have to ride on some streets in Germany
but it is much safer than riding on streets in the States.
around Germany by rent-a-car is easy too. If you brought your own bike and plan
to rent a car, you will have to solve the problem of how to carry the bike on or
in the car. There I cannot help you much except to say that very few rental agencies,
if any, rent bike racks. The laws concerning bike racks in Germany require the tail
lights to be clearly visible. Thus, many bike racks are car top racks. Those racks
that do hang off the back of the car have a second set of lights outboard from the
bikes. These need a trailer hitch to mount on and cost between €250 to over €500.
Of course, you get what you pay for. The more expensive racks are sturdy enough
to hold a heavy e-bike (electric bicycle).
Getting to the start of the trail is very simple but what do you do with the
car while you are on the road? I suggest you work out an arrangement with your first
overnight accommodation. You may be able to leave it in the hotel parking lot or
on the street in an appropriately signed area – but check first. Another option
is long term parking at the train station. Again, you will have to confirm this
option before leaving your car. The last option (which I do not recommend) is to
take it to the place to which the police will have it towed when you park inappropriately.
At least you will know where to find it when you return - the impound lot.
Here is a brief explanation of the photographs below, which depict things you may
encounter on your tour.
If you bicycle in late April or May, You might notice maypoles in small communities.
They will display a mayday wreath atop the pole and signs depicting all of the guilds
active in that community. Additionally, you will notice that
is available in every market and grocery store. This is a seasonal
delight called Spargel that the locals love. It is a close cousin to green
asparagus but grown inside a mound of dirt over 12 inches deep. It is harvested
by hand by slipping a knife into the mound and slicing the shoots before extracting
them one shoot at a time. In fields these mounds are arranged in long rows and sometimes
covered with plastic sheeting.
Also in May you can expect to see fields of bright yellow all over Europe. These
fields are canola in bloom. Later in the year, long after the flowers have dropped,
the canola plants will dry to a dead looking brown, then they will be combined for
their seeds, which will then be pressed into canola oil. The German name for these
plants is Raps. During the bloom, they not only exude a distinctive odor
but the yellow spoors settle on every surface, even miles from the fields.
When we ride, we enjoy using covered wooden bridges. These bridges are frequently
decades old, sometimes more than a century old. They are mostly too narrow for today's
automobiles but great for footbridges and bicycles. Only rarely will they be used
In our page on what to bring with you on your
tour we discuss raingear. While we use it, sometimes we take shelter under an overhang
or a bridge. If you are a close couple like Jerry and Anne, we will huddle in a
tires happen too. One should always have the necessary tools, patch kits, and tubes
to repair your tire on the bike path.
decorations a common sight. In this photograph, someone has allowed a decorative
whim to become an obsession.
Public markets also abound. Even if they are a little more expensive than similar
produce in grocery stores, the produce will be fresh and typically sold by the person
who grew or raised the product. Markets are a great place to acquire the makings
of a lunch along the path.
Many of the bicycle paths you ride along were originally created so tractors
and farm equipment did not bog down in the mud. Seeing farm equipment is common.
In this case, the tractor is mowing the side of the path to make it more enjoyable
for cyclists. It is a Chamber-of-Commerce kind of an activity; it encourages bicycle
The breakfast layout below shows two photographs of the same table, one from
each end. While not typical, we normally encounter great layouts like this once
or twice on a tour.
Lastly, we once came upon a group of men with a wagon walking in the forest.
They were celebrating Father's Day; a day when men get together and hike, or
drink, or as in this case, both. In the wagon is a keg of beer.
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