Thursday, April 30, 2009

The bicycle is a great invention!

As the Red Hot Chili Peppers already sing in the "Bicycle Song"
How could I forget to mention the bicycle is a good invention
a lot of people really do forget about that and completely underestimate the transport capabilities of bicycles.

But GEO (a publishing house in Germany for popular scientific magazines) did not forget to mention the bicycle in the list of the 100 most important inventions in the GEO Kompakt magazine, number 18. According to them, the French mathematician Jacques Ozanam was the first to ask in 1694 for "a carriage that can be driven without horses". It took a while though, until the first bicycle was realized -- and the first ones didn't have pedals. In 1817 Baron Karl von Drais introduced his "Laufmaschine" (in English "running machine" or dandy horse). They say that it is controversial who invented the first bicycle with pedals. Apparently it was Pierre Lallement, who was cycling through Paris in 1863.

But well, who cares who invented the bicycle? Nowadays about 1.4 billion bicycles are in use (compared to about 800 million cars and trucks). You guys know why the bicycle is so successful, others yet have to rediscover that again ;-).

It doesn't really fit in here, but as I just read it: The fastest cyclist so far was the Canadian Sam Whittingham in 2008 -- with his recumbent bicycle he reached 132.5 km/h (82.33 mph). Isn't that amazing?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Better late than never – cycling season opening in Linz

The general esteem of cycling in my hometown can be concluded from bicycle-related events. Last Monday was the official "cycling season" opening. To me, this was almost four months too late. Since I only found it out that day, I didn't have my camera with me when I went there. Well, I didn't miss much. Some speeches by city representatives, and short bicycle tour through the city, where last year's improvements as well as planning for this summer were discussed: some one-way-streets opened for cycling in both directions, parking facilities, and new bike lanes. Nothing really exciting. Almost.

A really nice idea (I already knew from other cities) is a block of notes to be left as just a friendly reminder to motorists illegally parking their vehicles in bike lanes.

Do Not Park In Our Lanes!

Your vehicle is parked on a bike lane and/or footway! This is an offense against the road traffic regulations and can cause an administrative penalty up to € 726 and a towing with cost. In case of repeated disorderly parking you can reckon with a complaint.

I had this dialog with the nice lady in the town hall who was giving away the blocks.

Lady: How many would you like to have?

Me: Two or three, please.

The lady began to tear three sheets from a block.

Me: No, I mean three blocks?

Lady: But this' very much!

Then she gave me one block á 20 sheets.

Me: Thank you so much! This will do for a week!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The long tradition of the shared Citybikes in Vienna

Well, so today's the day. I will for the first -- but surely not last -- time tell you something about the shared bike system in Vienna. Of course I cannot cover everything in this first post, but if there's something you're curious about just leave a comment and I will consider it in further investigations. For this time I will just stick to the main operating details but not yet discuss them. You may want to compare them to BiCiNg in Barcelona or other bike-sharing systems.

Why the horrible name?
I don't know. I guess there is no more uncreative name for a shared bike system than Citybike Wien. Of course, the name should be somehow connected to bikes and also kind of international, but why do we have to give up our identity for the most boring name? Why not ViennaRad or WienRad or Radln (would mean both "biking" and "bikes").. But hm, we might as well have to live with Citybike now ;-).

Why long tradition?
The Citybike system is one of the oldest ones of its kind. It was launched in 2003. There was even a forerunner model, the so-called Viennabikes, that started out in 2001 resp. 2002, but it was stopped due to vandalism and return problems. Sometimes, however, good ideas need more than one go and I'm glad that they started all over again with the more settled Citybike system.

Currently Vienna has 60 stations, most of which are located in the center -- inside the Gürtel (Vienna has a ring structure, the Gürtel is the outer ring) and the 2nd district. Each station can hold about 20 bikes. Informations about available bikes (and empty slots) can be found on the homepage and the terminals at the stations. Since the previous winter the bikes are available all year round, 7 days a week and 24 hours a day (earlier they had a winter break).

Citybikes can be rent using Maestro cards (i.e. Austrian bankomat cards), credit cards and special Citybike cards which are -- in a modification -- also available for tourists. Preregistration can either be done online or at a terminal. The one-time registration fee is only 1€ and this will even be credited to future rides. So if you're in Vienna the next time, simply take out your credit card and get yourself a bike!

Once at a terminal one simply has to choose a bike, put the card in the slot and type in a password. And off you go.. This process makes it slightly slower than e.g. the BiCiNg system, but it's very safe.

Left: large Citybike station in front of the Votivkirche in the center Right: blue and yellow bikes with ads

As already explained, everybody can easily hop on a bike. While a lot of tourists use the system in the summer, the majority of the users is Viennese.

Apart from the tiny registration fee there are also small running costs. The first hour is free of charge, the second one costs 1€ for the commenced hour, the third 2€ and all further ones 4€/hour. If the bike is not returned within 120 hours, the loss of the bike costs you 600€. After a break of 15min the clock starts from scratch.

Why is it so cheap? The system belongs to an advertising company, Gewista, that puts up ads on the skirt guard, the wheels and the basket. The city of Vienna also sponsors the systems by e.g. paying for new stations.

According to the chief of Citybike Wien, 98% of the journeys are within one hour and are therefore completely free of charge. The average borrowed time is about 20min.

My dad enjoys his ride on a yellow Citybike

The Citybike is a supplement to the public transport system and not meant for long-term use. Although I have my own bike I often use it to get to and from train stations and when my bike is at the mechanic (the next Citybike stations are around 2km away, but as a bike addict I don't mind walking there ;-)). It's also practical if I have guests that couldn't bring their own bikes.

So, why not? Check out their website for more information: (in German and English)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Vienna promotes cycling in the rain

Earlier I always had my rain pants and -- depending on the weather forecast -- also my rain jacket (or even overshoes) with me. Well, this is not so practical, because in fact it very rarely a) rains and b) rains so heavy that I need that. Including the winter that probably happens five times a year although of course a lot of people never cycle "because it might rain".

And that's exactly where the city of Vienna hooks in. At the previous bikefestival I got this:

"Fürs Radln im Regen!" means "For cycling in the rain!"

And this is for sure the best give-away I ever got! No pencil, ballpoint pen, magnet nor water bottle (not that I ever got one) can compete with that. What is it? It's a transparent, small and light one-way poncho for cycling. It has a perfect size for carrying around all the time. And that's what I do. No more rain pants and rain jackets. Just this tiny packet of plastic. And it works -- I've already thunderstorm-approved it in Barcelona :-). Although it's meant for single use I just let it dry, folded it and could even fit it in the small bag again. It got three packets (call me greedy if you want) which will probably last for years. Afterwards I will just buy a proper poncho.

Unstylish? I don't think so (unlike you choose the grandma model I suppose). Moreover, a poncho is light enough to carry around, cheap, easy and quick to put on and take off, can be worn with everything, covers the backpacks or other bags too, waterproof but pervious to air (no more sweating in rain pants), can serve as a picnic blanket and so on.

Agu cycling poncho

And for those who are still afraid of rain, let me tell you that you're not made of sugar and that there's nothing funnier than cycling in all kinds of weather. Sunshine and warmth is of course nice, but boring. You are just being lazy if you stick to only that -- and you probably haven't experienced the happiness after a ride in pouring rain yet. Or as we tend to say here:

There's no bad weather, just bad clothing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My first bike video

So this is the video I did when cycling in Barcelona (see an earlier post for my overall impression):

About the video
It contains material about cycling along the harbor and seafront. The second bit follows a few women cycling along the Diagonal (one of the main roads in Barcelona).

I was cycling with the BiCiNg bikes all the time and therefore used my small and robust (but poor in filming) Olympus photo camera. My gorillapod (the small version) was handy for the quick mount and release I needed, but on the other hand this tripod shakes quite a lot too because of the flexible joints. As a Linux user I used kdenlive to cut the videos. This program is much more powerful, but I'm just a beginner so for this time I took it easy. I changed the video to black&white due to the horrible color abberation and blurring of my camera.

Feel free to criticize, I'm grateful for any advice. I know that the quality isn't great and that I probably would have needed more material in order to create a more lively video. But well, it's just my first try.

By the way, does anybody of you know a proper tripod that can easily be mounted to handlebars and that can safely hold DV camcorders (mine weighs around 600g) or SLR cameras?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Last weekend a special bicycle race took place here in Upper Austria. It is called Kirschblütenrennen (cherry blossom race) and I think it is one of the oldest races still run in my region.

In 1984 it was the first bicycle race I had ever seen. I must admit that it didn't impress me much. I was rather bored by standing around at the road side, watching colorfully dressed men riding up a hill. Albeit it was a very steep hill, so what?

Years later, in my first season of bicycle racing, I happened to enter the race with the scope of experience of two or three races earlier that year, and I was ill-prepared for this one: To my surprise the hill had to be crossed twice. I fell back behind the peloton in the first climb and abandoned in the second. On Sunday I had a kind of flashback, especially when watching 12- to 15-year-old boys and girls merely flying up to the mountain standing with amazing speed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A question of balance

Actually, on the trains from Spain to Vienna I couldn't cut my videos cause all the trains (except the night train) didn't have sockets and my laptop was shortly dead. Instead, I read my new book again, "Das Geheimnis des Fahrradhändlers" (the secret of the bicycle dealer) by the cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé. It was masterly translated to German by Patrick Süskind whoose book "Perfume" you might know. The original French title of Sempé's book is "Raoul Taburin". I don't know if it's also available in English and other languages, but I guess it is.

Anyhow, the book is about a famous bicycle dealer that can repair all kinds of damages and is therefore highly regarded in his village. He has a secret though -- he can't ride a bicycle. First he tries to avoid bicycles and comes up with all kinds of excuses, but at one point he can't keep out of harm's way anymore..

I won't tell more in case you want to read it yourself. It's a nice little book though, more like a fairy tale with lovely cartoons and therefore also suitable for children.

It made me think too. I have many friends in Vienna that don't own a bicycle and who, according to themselves, can't ride a bicycle. Maybe they learned it as a child, but they never cycled in their teens and later.

But it's not a problem if you can't ride a bicycle, cause you can always learn it!

There are two simple steps:
  1. cycling as a question of balance
  2. cycling in traffic
The first is just a matter of training. I remember that I had training wheels on my bike when I learned it at the age of 3. Nowadays, this seems to be not the preferred method anymore. Here, the Puky learner bike is state-of-the-art for children. Choose a park or a quiet area where cycling is allowed. Sometimes it's handy to have a second person that can hold you in the beginning and give advice. Read also how to ride a bicycle (but please don't consider the things they think you need -- they only constrain you).

For the second step, make sure that you know the traffic regulations well, especially if there are exceptions for cyclists. It's generally not enough to hold a driver's license, cause for that you only had to deal with car-related regulations. As there's much less traffic on weekends (especially on Sundays) it's advisable to start riding in traffic then. Assure that you already feel confident with braking and hand signaling before you hit the road though. You may also want to read an earlier post of mine about positioning on the road.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Anna cycling in Barcelona

Hola, this is actually anna from Vienna. I'm currently visiting Catalonia. It's a surprise visit for the other Anna, organized by her boyfriend Xavi. He also ensures that I do a lot of bicing and sightseeing while Anna is busy at work :-). I've been to Barcelona before in 2002, but only for one day. I think many things have changed the face of the city ever since, especially the cycling boom that has started with BiCiNg (Anna was damn right about that). So here are just a few of my impressions and comparisons to Vienna:

The vast majority of the cyclists here use BiCiNg bikes, second probably being folding bikes (quite unusual for me). BiCiNg bikes have three gears (the new Citybikes in Vienna will also have that), pneumatic tires (compared to solid rubber tires in Vienna), a refreshing red color and all the good stuff (fenders, chain and skirt guard, front rack, lights). In Vienna borrowing the city bikes is more involved, but you can choose the bike yourself. Here, the system chooses it for you and sometimes you have to repeat the procedure if you catch a broken bike.

Me bicing at the seafront this morning
By the way, can anybody explain me the sense of a smaller front tire?


Last Saturday I entered and finished my first Brevet over a distance of 200km. Brevets are long distance bicycle rides from 200km up to 1400km. Despite they're not races, Brevets are bike sports. There is no winner and for the most entrants the ride time comes second as long as they finish in time (e.g. 13 hours for 200km, which is easily to achieve on a road bike under fair conditions). Famous European brevets are Paris – Brest – Paris and London – Edinburgh – London.

66 entrants waiting for the start.

In Austria brevets over distances from 200km up to 1000km are held, start and finish are near my hometown Linz (about 20km south of my home, so I can easily get there by bike). The routes of the Austrian events are quite challenging, leading through the lovely landscape of the Salzkammergut and over several mountain passes.

Salzkammergut – a nice region to relax in your holiday. Or to take pains on your bike.

The weather was fine that day, so I am beginning to look like road cyclists use to when being tanned while riding in the sunshine. So you may call me „Streifenhörnchen“ (chipmonk; "Streifen" is the German term for "stripe").

Soon I'm gonna look like this.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Customized bike

On Saturday I saw this lovely personalized bike in front of the Weltcafé. I guess it belongs to a huge soccer fan ;-).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Quantifying cyclists

How many percent of cyclists do you have? How many kilometers/miles do people cycle on average per year? In Austria these numbers are around 7% and 176 km/year.

But how to obtain this information and what does it mean? Is there a difference between people walking/cycling/driving to a train station to take a train? Does it tell you why people go somewhere, e.g. for shopping, to work or simply for leisure? How to take into account the distances and time spend on traveling?

It's not always easy to read statistics and one has to be very careful what has actually been measured and what hasn't. One of the most important numbers in traffic planning is the modal share (or modal split) which describes the percentage of travelers using a particular type of transportation, generally presented in a pie chart or graph.

Development of the modal share in Vienna:
ÖV = public transport, MIV = individual motor traffic,
FUSS = pedestrians, RAD = bicycle

But how to actually obtain these numbers? There are many different ways of counting depending on the information you want to get. There are long-term automated ways of counting (e.g. using built-in inductive loops) and short-term but representative manual ones (e.g. people sitting at the road doing tally sheets). I did a lot of these tally sheets and license plate tracking myself when I was at school -- partly because of interest, and also to earn some extra pocket money.

It's not only about counting though. Sometimes you have to stop people to ask them where they are actually coming from and where they are going. That's how one obtains the purpose of the trips (shopping, work, school etc.). For some surveys questionnaires are also send out by post, telephone interviews are done and so on.

For more general information on traffic counting see chapter 9 of the very interesting book "The Geography of Transport Systems" (freely accessible online).

And how to count cyclists? Most of the intrusive methods don't work for bicycles, e.g. because they are not heavy enough. After I saw a radar box at the ring bike path, I searched the net and found several surveys carried out by Snizek+Partner in Vienna here. It turned out in interviews that most cyclists between the age 26 and 55 use the bicycle to get to work although overall the leisure factor is the highest (especially for people older than 55). The abnormally lowest aims for cycling are education and shopping. It's also uncommon that there are far more men than women cycling in Vienna. The average cycled distance is 3.7km (cities with more cyclists generally have less). According to their numbers from 2006, the percentage of cyclists in the modal share in Vienna is only 4.1%, but lately I heard about 5.1%. The city council probably won't reach its goal of 8% in 2010.

Number of cyclists at the Argentinierstraße in 2008

Unfortunately, there are not many numbers about cyclists in all of Austria. According to an article in derStandard (in German) the last half reasonable statistics are from 1995 -- we only had 5% cyclists in the modal share back then -- and the numbers are mostly extrapolations from a few regional surveys. Although visually the number of cyclists has increased, the government doesn't even know if their goal of 10% is already reached.

Profound knowledge is important though, because it's easier to convince politicians and citizens to invest in bicycle infrastructure if there are many cyclists. Numbers are also necessary to dimension bike facilities correctly and to learn how to increase the number of cyclists by mobilizing unused potential. So let's start counting. Hard facts should be on hand in two years, they claim.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cool town, evening in the city..

There are more and more cyclists on the road these days. It's lovely -- sunny and warm. And sometimes I don't even have to ride up that hill on my own. Today I followed that woman in a flowery shirt and skirt. She did ride a bit close to the parked cars and her chain was crunching, which tells me that she's only on the bike for a short time. But well, good to be out, riding into the evening sun, isn't it? ;-)

More cyclists? More about how to count cyclists this weekend..

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Curious pictures with bicycles

I would like to share some curious paintings with bikes with you, I hope you enjoy them! :)

1- This image was painted by the famous painter Salvador Dalí. Dalí had the genius to paint really good surrealist pictures, and this is a good example. Should you happen to go to Figueres (north-East Spain, bordering France), were he was born, visit his museum. And pay visit to me as well ;)

2- This is another picture from the Catalan Modernist painter Ramon Casas. Have you ever thought of trying a tandem? Since I saw two people riding one when I was a child, I want to try. Who want to "tandem"? By the way this image is very famous around here ;)

3- I do not know whose that image from. But it is a curious bike. I think it is also a modernist (or art noveau) painting.

4- The last image is dedicated to a very well-known character. At least for certain in Spain everybody knows about him (I learnt the first lines by heart when in highschool). I do not know who had the idea to paint this, but is very original. Though there weren't bikes in Spain up in the 17 century...

Anna from BCN

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Take a ride on the wild side

I had been against riding in skirts since I can think of it. My friends didn't, and nobody in my family did. Mum used to tell us that cycling in a skirt is vulgar because it might ride up. Another reason not to do it is that I almost always ride on men's frames with high top tube and I thought that it would be difficult to get on the bike.

Only now my blog mates Anna from Barcelona and anna from Vienna encouraged me to try it.

Last weekend I spent in Vienna to visit the bike festival (anna wrote about it). I just had my KONA racer with me, but Sunday afternoon on the Danube island I gave it a go.

It's not too hard to get on the bike, although it feels a little strange to pull the leg over the top tube instead of just to swing it over the saddle. The skirt did not ride up (well, it was a rather long skirt borrowed from anna) to show my private parts but it was quite chilly between my legs. And the skirt got entangled in my rear brake quite often, so I would say that it is still improper to ride with a skirt on a road bike.

maff's rocking hard in a skirt (German: Rock)

Well, it could be deemed to be improper to ride in a skirt for men.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Women and transport

I can only talk about my own experience, but have you ever noticed that there are no women doing BMX (at least none that I know of) and that women road cycling is little-noticed in the public? There are hardly any female bike mechanics or frame builders too (actually Trisha already investigated that). Even among civil engineers and traffic planners are far less women than men. There are also fewer women driving buses, trams, subways and trains..

What about everyday life? I read that in Austria there are more women than men who use public transport and bikes to commute or simply walk, although generally women have more trips per day and have to carry more things (because in families there are still more women who look after the children and do the shopping). Hence women move much more complex than men and therefore have more "experience" with transportation systems.

But as I already said -- traffic planning in Austria (and probably also worldwide) is mostly done by men who drive their cars to work in the morning and back home in the evening. Can you see the discrepancy?

Some people already ask for gender mainstreaming in traffic planning. I found a nice introductory website about women and mobility: "Frauen machen schön mobil!" ("Women make lovely mobility", in English and German). Please tell me if you know more about research in that direction, I'm very much interested in that.

And to round the topic off two pictures of beautiful women cycling in Vienna :-). Keep at it and get involved!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Weird bikes at the bike festival

On Saturday I rode to the 10th bike festival with a friend. It was a lovely sunny and warm day and it was absolutely packed! We got a lot of information about cycling in Vienna (like bike maps and one-way ponchos for free), trips to Lower and Upper Austria, the Neusiedler Lake, Slovakia etc., got our bikes registered by the police, saw some new bikes (e.g. cool e-bikes) as well as second-hand bikes (unfortunately they didn't really have a good catch in my size), watched parts of the Vienna Air King contest (an international dirt jump contest), bought bicycle-buttons of the great Motmot Shop and could try out some really weird bikes: tall bikes, penny-farthing bikes (high wheeler), swing bikes, fixies that are used to play bike polo and some other constructions that I can't even name.

Here are some impressions and us on some of these cool bikes. I can assure you that it was a lot of fun :-). It felt a bit strange to cycle back home on my "normal" bike though..

Handlebar is at the wrong position
In the beginning I didn't figure out how to ride the swing bike, but in the end it somehow worked :-).

Same problem with the tall bike which was even taller than me -- but once I got on it (without anybody else's help!), it was just awesome!

A bike with two gears: 1st -- pedaling forwards, 2nd -- pedaling backwards. Got it?!
Cheap second-hand bikes
Old bike with old bell and old front brake
Actually a bike for three
Amazing jumps
Although I don't want an e-bike, they might be useful to others.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Un-cycling in Oviedo

Last weekend I was on a short trip to Oviedo. Rainy Oviedo. For those who still believe Spain is a sunny country, well, it is not. At least up in the north, where the oceanic climate reigns. Never in my life had I experienced such unstable weather!

Thinking about the blog I observed all people in the street. I saw people driving cars, I saw people walking but I saw no one cycling. How can it be?

Oviedo's cathedral

First, we could appeal to the days of the week. It was Saturday and Sunday, and especially on Sunday there was very rarely anyone in the streets. But this is not a very valid reason.

Then we could say Oviedo is a small city (around 225 thousand citizens) and cycling suits best in big cities or leisure trips in the countryside. Well, this is not a valid reason either.

Finally, what is, in my understanding something more logical to set aside cycling as a way of moving across the city is the weather. Well, sure, thousands of people cycle in the snow, in the cold and in the rain, as many bloggers explain, but I think Oviedo's weather is too unstable. You do not know whether is going to rain or not. At least at this time of the year. These couple of days I stayed there I experienced everything from moist, thin rain, showers, hailstones and sun. Besides the cold. All in the same hour. And all the day was like this. I guess that you can cycle when it rains, but when it is pouring or hailing? And what is more: how can you face this constant-ever-changing weather if you ride a bike regularly?

Oviedo: Plaza del Paraguas (Umbrella square)

For certain, Spain is finally (!!!) changing some of its moving habits in cities. Bikes are filling cities like Barcelona and Seville, but I am not sure it will be the case of the north. Mainly because of this kind of too unstable weather. Maybe I am just making excuses for them or maybe I am totally wrong. If someone live in an area such as this I described and cycles, please tell how you get through ;).

Santa María del Naranco, a preromanic church (IX century) in a hill with
views of Oviedo

Anna from BCN

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ruby Tues... ehm Thursday!

Today I was cycling without gloves the first day! We got more than 15°C (59F) in Vienna, let's celebrate!
As for the title: there was a lot of red involved in my "bike clothing" today, but see yourself..

Did I mention that I love my bike? Maybe I should get another red one, like the Velorbis Dannebrog. But maybe also a refreshing green or light blue. Or simply an elegant black? Oh, life can be so cruel!

By the way, don't miss the bike festival at the town hall square in Vienna if you're around this weekend.