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Friday, December 19, 2014

Berlin Bicycle Culture

Over the past decade, Chicago, Illinois has become a much more bike friendly city.   New bike lanes, a bike sharing program, improved paths, more places to lock and store bikes, have all helped Chicago bike riders.  Personaly, I put in about six miles per day biking to and from work. However, it is still a relatively new culture for Chicago.   The Bicycle Culture in Berlin is much more established.  There are bike lanes everywhere, some are even built in as a part of the sidewalk.  There are light, signs and traffic signals just for bike riders.  There are bicycle repair shops all over my new neighborhood.  There might even be more places to lock bikes here, than there are parking places for cars.   Upon my arrival to Berlin, my father-in-law even gave me a bike.  My wife and I both enjoy riding.  It's cheaper, cleaner and often faster than public transportation.  And, it's fantastic exercise too!  While we were out enjoying only our second journey via cycle, I ended up (due to my own fault) flipping over the side and bouncing on the pavement.  I was probably more embarrassed than actually injured, but it's almost a month later and my knee still looks colorful.  

I have noticed that many Germans are very skilled cyclists!  Many times, I have witnessed riders at breakneck speeds cornering on a dime on cobblestone streets with baskets overflowing with groceries and bottles.  Germans not only use their bikes for basic transportation, but also for taking their children to school, shopping, delivering mail, and doing a variety of other services.  Bikes are very much a part of life here.

If traveling (locally) through Germany in cities like Berlin, I highly recommend traveling by bike.  But, there are some things you shoul know, do, be aware of before heading out.

1) ALWAYS wear a helmet! This is a no brainer anywhere, unless you're planning on not having a brain!
2) Make sure your bike is in excellent condition!  Check the breaks, chain, frame, make sure it's sturdy and adjusted properly for your height, weight.  Always have, and double check to ensure they're working, front and rear lights.
3) Bring at least one, even better two, bike locks with you!  Bikes, sometimes even pieces from bikes, tend to disappear if not properly locked.
4) Know your route!  Riding on cobblestone streets, through construction zones, near canals, over paths is common for Germans, but might take some time getting used to if you've not done it before.
5) Be aware of, and follow traffic laws!  Many of the same laws apply for both bikes and cars here, but there are also some differences.  It is important to know, read and follow the "bicycle specific" traffic signs, signals and laws as well as those for the autos you will be sharing the streets with.  It is possible to get a traffic violation for breaking the laws here, but more importantly, following them will keep you safe and ensure that cars are aware of you (provided that they too are playing by the rules)
6) While not riding the bike, locking the bike, standing near the bike, walking with the bike, etc... NEVER stand in a bike lane!  You will get yelled at and possibly even mowed over! Seriously! 

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