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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: On 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.

Bicycle tire caught in a streetcar trackRoutes 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 a tire.

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.

Bikes on StreetcarOne 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.Interior of Church 1

Church on Aller RiverChurch Art 1Churches: 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.

Guidebooks: 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.

Aller Guidebook in GermanDanube English GuidebookHowever, 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 Tim's Tips.)

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Maps: 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 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 Verlag.

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: 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).

StairsLuggage Conveyor in Train StationStairs: 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 page again.

Group on PathRiders on bike path AltmuehlOthers on the Path: 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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Bicycle-Friendly: 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.

Renting a Car: Getting 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.

Many Other Things: 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 White Spargelwhite asparagus 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 by automobiles.Jerry and Anne avoiding a rain shower

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 phone booth.

Fixing a flat underwayFlat tires happen too. One should always have the necessary tools, patch kits, and tubes to repair your tire on the bike path.

Garden Dwarfs in yardGarden 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 touring.

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.

Maypole with ChurchCanola FeildCovered BridgePublic MarketOpen Public MarketLunch on a Bench UnderwayTractor on PathBreakfast1Breakfast2Father's Day with Beer Wagon

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