Monday, June 29, 2009

Cycling and walking in pouring rain -- the differences

Since more than one week it rains more or less constantly in Austria. There is a lot of flooding in many parts of the country going on. Fortunately Vienna has a good flood protection -- the Danube island, which is also a great recreational area and hosts the Danube Island Free Festival each year. This year it was, well, wet. And it is still raining and will be for a few more days.

Remember, when I wrote about the cycling poncho that I once got from the city of Vienna? Last week during cycling it was pouring with rain, and the poncho was not sufficient. The problem was that it is only a very short poncho and didn't cover my legs. I should really buy a proper cycling poncho that extends over the handle bars and also protects my legs. By the way, I do have fenders on my bike, but that should be self-evident.

Out in the rain. Boring picture but lovely weather.

My jeans got completely soaked (expect a little strip on the back). Luckily I was on my ride home and it didn't matter. Otherwise I probably would simply have waited for the heavy rain to stop. But I don't do it if I don't have to as I love to practice my rain cycling skills :-). I'm not a person who would avoid so-called "unpleasant" weather unless it's perilous.

So what about the title of this post? Yes, I got also caught by the rain when walking from a Citybike station to home on Saturday night. Luckily my backpack has a rain shield. Apart from a jacket I didn't wear anything waterproof though and my trousers got soaked again. I noticed a slight difference to the previously mentioned rain cycling experience -- my trousers got more wet on the back.

Cycling vs. walking in rain

Conclusion: Even if you don't have proper rain gear you will stay drier when you cycle, because you're exposed to the rain shorter and have an advantageous posture that keeps the hollows of your knees and behind dry :-).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bike vs. car: a short alleycat race in the rush hour

Mr. E. Wagner is a publisher of city maps, hiking guide books and other things of this kind. Last fall I worked for him to revise the new edition of the "Eco City Traffic Map Linz" which features bike lanes, bike paths, one-way directions, secret paths for pedestrians and more useful information.

Last Thursday Mr. Wagner asked me to accept the challenge of a short alleycat race through Linz, bicycle vs. car. My competitors were the editors of the local online newspaper, Mrs. G. Winter and Mr. C. Savoy. Checkpoints were at a drugstore in the northeast of Linz and a post office in the center, the endpoint was a bookstore near the center too.

Since my opponents relied on their navigation system, I could take the lead from the start. I must admit, I went a little faster than I usually do when I go to work or the like, therefor I sweat a little more, but my opponents weren't able to gain the lead again. The traffic of the afternoon rush hour did the rest. After 7 kilometers (a little more than 4.3 miles) I won with a clear margin of 10 minutes.

After the heat: maff, Mr. Wagner, Mrs. Winter
(by courtesy of

german article and more pictures can be found here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vintage bike store vs. car park

In Vienna there is an old regulation that requires new houses to have a certain minimum amount of places to park cars (e.g., for each flat at least one parking space). Whenever old houses are rebuild or get extensions that law has to be applied as well. This time it hits a vintage bike store in Mariahilf, one of the central districts of Vienna and a busy shopping area. Since the house gets a roof extension, the bike shop has to be removed in order to build a garage. From next week onwards the Radlager will be history. By the way, there already is a nearby car park that is never full, but law is law. A very sad story. This parking regulation actually goes back to 1939 and Hitler's plan of a car-centric society – and yes, it is still called Reichsgaragenordnung and in use (and not only in Germany and Austria). Even nowadays most politicians don't yet see the need to abolish this law.

Good-bye lovely bike store. Hello car park :-(.

Apparently, and that is sad too, there is no quite as powerful regulation for bicycle parking. Although new houses need to have a “sufficiently big” room for bicycle and buggy parking (see §119 (5) of the Viennese building law) the “sufficiently big” is yet undetermined and a very elastic term. While the car parks that have to be built are mostly empty, the rooms for bicycle parking (if existent) are hardly ever big enough.

Just that you get an idea – these pictures show how “sufficiently big” was interpreted in the house I live in (18 flats). Do the math yourself to see how many people have to store their bikes and buggies elsewhere. And yes, that stupid column in the center prevents from easy pulling in and out (note that the door opens inwards too). In fact, one can only store two bicycles for everyday use in there, the rest is trapped.

Sufficient bike parking? Left: an older picture before the big "muck out", Right: after the "muck out"

Old houses don't even need to have a dedicated area to park bicycles and it's often forbidden to leave the bikes in the staircase or inner courtyard. Most people living in one of those (and most houses in Vienna are in fact old) just have to drag the bikes upstairs and store them inside the flat. Elevators are of course rare too, so that is really a pain.

Please guys, wake up. Here's something going completely wrong!

There's an interesting article in Die Zeit called "Fahren, um zu parken" (driving to park) from 1995 dealing with some of our homemade problems I mentioned above. And here's another German text called "Verkehrssytem und Wirtschaftsstrukturen" (transportation system and economic structures) by the Austrian traffic planner Hermann Knoflacher, who I already introduced in an earlier post. If you know English literature dealing with parking problems, please post it ;-).

Monday, June 22, 2009

1 out of 100

After I left the peaceful Bike Ride on Friday, reality just again bit me. Am I asking for too much, when I want cycling in Vienna to be relaxed and safe?

Well, I was riding along a very narrow one-way street (of course only narrow and one-way because cars are allowed to park free of charge on both sides of the road). As I heard a car approaching from behind, I already started to watch out for possible gaps to pull in to let it pass as I don't like cars following me and it's also not comfortable for them. But before the car even caught up to me, the lady already pushed the horn continuously and shouted “Get fuckin' out of the way!”. Sorry, but that was it for me. I'm generally giving way to cars if possible, but this time I just couldn't. I pulled back in the middle of the lane, gave her the finger and shouted “I have as much right to drive here as you have”. She continued pushing the horn, shouting from the window, and I got really petrified that she would try to hit me. She simply didn't get that there was not enough room to overtake and that I didn't block her on purpose.

People along the road already started looking and some came out of a bar. I don't know whether they recognized the hysterical lady behind the steering wheel or thought that I'm just a stupid cyclist blocking traffic (the “real” traffic of course, the one with cars).

When the road got a little wider (already after 20m anyway) she accelerated immediately, overtook me and cut me off. Apparently she didn't notice that I had slowed down cause there was a junction where we had to give way to the rest of the traffic. She ignored a pedestrian waiting at a crosswalk and nearly crashed into the car coming from the right. So now that guy started honking at her... In fact there is a ban on honking in Vienna, but nobody really gives a shit. Very annoying and yet another needless sound source from motorized traffic.

Honestly, what's wrong with some people? How is it possible that such maniacs are entitled to drive a car and thereby threaten other people? I know, only something like 1 out of 100 persons behaves like that when trapped in a car, but it's still too much.

Unfortunately, such experiences get me steamed up. I need to calm down. I can live with the honking itself by simply ignoring it. But as soon as somebody starts bawling at me, I'm close to lose my poise. Cycling in this city already requires a high frustration tolerance and such incidents are just the last straw. How do you handle such a situation?

honk if you love bikes"Honk for bikes" by Dave O

Friday, June 19, 2009

Just some pictures ...

... from the so-called World Naked Bike Ride in Vienna. Well, the police asked people to put their clothes back on right from the start and several times afterwards. Many people weren't naked or even dressed lightly. Unfortunately the weather wasn't great -- pretty cold, cloudy and later on even raining (and it still is). Anyhow, here are some pictures for you to get a taste of the atmosphere ;-). By the way, there were about 600 people joining the ride.

Filigree, who I briefly met at the Schwarzenbergplatz, has pictures of some truly Lovely Bicycles and cyclists on her blog too (and also here). There are also plenty on the Critical Mass Austria website.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Yehuda Moon is back!

Finally, after a few months of absence, Rick Smith continues his great daily comic strip on A must for every city cyclist! Welcome back Yehuda, Joe, Tistle, Fizz, Bike Ninja, Fred (well, he's probably not coming back), Councilman, Carbon Rider, Shakers, kids ... I missed you guys a lot. You definitely make my days.

Here's one of my favorite strips:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nude cycling for a better world

It's this time of the year again. It's time for the Naked Bike Ride in Vienna:
time: Friday, 19th of June 2009, 5pm
place: Schwarzenbergplatz at the fountain (Hochstrahlbrunnen)
for more information visit the website of Critical Mass Austria
Be there or be square! It only takes place in Austria once a year and it's neither necessary to be naked nor to own a bike. The motto is "Bare as you dare", everybody is welcome. Just make sure you get hold of a Citybike and bring your swimming gear (end point is the Danube).

The Naked Bike Rides are a worldwide event, so you probably also have the opportunity to take part in such a ride close to your place if not in Vienna. Read more on World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) or watch this short movie (a longer version is available on the homepage).

Well, maybe you're a little skeptical about the whole thing. When I got my first flyer I thought "Well, good intention, but I'm not going to cycle through town naked with a bunch of lunatics". The good intentions for me were the fact that people will pay attention to cyclists, at least once a year. Being naked should also symbolize that cyclists are very vulnerable road users. I guess one could compare it to Naked Fur Protests, except that cycling is more fun.

It was only later that I found out about Critical Mass altogether and became a more or less regular rider. In June it was just natural to take part in the Naked Bike Ride. Well, I wasn't completely naked last year. I wore a bikini and gave away flyers somebody had printed. For this week's ride I thought about some bodypainting and maybe cycling topless, but haven't decided yet. Depends on the weather and my mood ;-).

Pictures from the World Naked Bike Ride in Vienna, June 2008

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bikes on cars

Well, sometimes it is legitimate to transport your bike on your car's roof or back. But many cyclists of the Lycra-fraction are such lazybones! Why do they go cycling by car? I live at the city limit, so I can observe them every weekend (at least when the weather is fine and warm). Parking lots full of cars with number plates of this area, equipped with bike racks to carry those full-suspension thingies around. Linz isn't that big that one couldn't make it out of it by bike. Cycling in the city isn't that dangerous (I would say it is less dangerous than sharing a single trail with a horde of weekend warriors :D ), and particularly on weekends the road traffic is quite low.

Bikes like this I usually put into my backpack.

My parents use to transport their bikes inside the car whenever possible, because bikes on cars increase aerodynamic resistance and fuel consumption significantly. There are always some old blankets in the trunk to avoid messing the interior of the car.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is cycling addictive?

Simplicity is the key to successful living, by Nick DewarI'd say cycling is addictive. Even though I've been cycling all my life the bicycle really only became my favorite mode of transport in the past few years. Before I lived on the countryside and although cycling was quite practical to get around and to the next town, most distances were too far to cycle. I mainly used public transport and it worked fine for me.

In Vienna I realized that the bicycle is really the fastest way to get around in a city. But not only that. It's also the healthiest and most enjoyable one. During the day I just sit around but my bike rides provide me with both, a good start in the day and distance from work in the evening. Plus, it's recommended to do at least 30min of exercise (not to be mixed up with sport!) each day in order to keep well and fit. It's great to feel my body and to feel good in it.

But cycling is more. It's fun. Apparently, although I don't know if that is true, cycling produces endorphins (and exercise in general). And endorphins make us happy and are a boost for our self-confidence. Although I also have my lows, I'm in a much better mood after cycling. Yes, one could say that I'm an endorphin junkie. It might be a myth though, but in that case cycling is a wonderful placebo.

I don't mind cycling in the winter or in thunderstorms, in fact I even love it. It's class to know and feel the weather and to learn how easy it is to cope with basically anything. It happens a lot that I don't dress appropriate if I walk or take public transport, as cycling generally requires less clothes in the winter and more in the summer. By the way, I love to feel the wind in my hair. Nothing compares to that.

Morover, it happens that whenever I do walk I usually walk along my bike routes. Seemingly this also occurs to my cycling colleagues and we laughed a lot about our recent discovery. Somehow I have the feeling that the city is all mine when I'm on my bike. I can get anywhere anytime I want to. In that respect cycling means freedom to me: freedom of mobility (particularly important for children), freedom of space (no search and waste of space for parking) and independence from others (no dependence on fossil fuels from unstable governments or brutal dictatorships). Yes, I also like the environmental aspect, but in fact it's only really a positive by-product.

So if you still ask yourself why cycling is good for you, then you probably haven't tried it yet. Just do it, it's easy. My personal conclusion is that everyday cycling is addictive and that it makes me a happier and balanced person. What about you?

Monday, June 8, 2009

How to not get stuck in traffic jams

I might state the obvious but: walk or ride a bicycle. The first is actually pretty fast in the rush hour, but riding a bicycle of course is faster for long distances. Public transport is only good if it is separated from the rest of the traffic and therefore doesn't get stuck in the middle of cars, for example subways and trams or buses with their own lanes.

A stylish and fast cyclist on the Alserbachstraße, surrounded by a lot of metal

In Austria, single-track vehicles, i.e. bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes, are allowed to drive past non-moving vehicles wherever they want to, in particular on the right at red lights. That's already quite useful although of course usually not that fast as there is not so much room for so-called undertaking. I use it a lot in the mornings on a certain narrow one-way street where I otherwise would have to wait at least 10 minutes behind someone's exhaust. Well, motorists like to do that -- I don't.

What's it like in your country? Do you have a similar law for undertaking? Actually in Austria this law is “new” (apparently it's allowed for motorbikes since 1997 and for bicycles since 1989) and some people behind steering wheels don't know it and try to block cyclists. It just tend to shout “StVO §12 Abs. 5” then (that's the very passage in our traffic regulations). Of course one has to choose a speed that is according to the available space in order not to damage anything. Sometimes the gaps are so small that I have to stop and lift my handle bar to get past side mirrors. But in fact I enjoy it a lot and it's very efficient too.

Even more useful and also more convenient to bypass traffic jams are bike lanes on the road or segregated bike paths. Well, in Vienna we more or less only have so-called “multiple use lanes” which can also be used by trucks if they are too wide. Such bike lanes are handy, at least when they are not dangerously constructed too narrow beside parking lanes. There are also a few such bike lanes between two car lanes. Although one cycles is in the middle of moving cars it is far less dangerous than cycling beside parked cars and also allows to turn in both directions easily. Anyhow, that's what I can tell from my own experience, but see for yourself. The pictures in this post show such a bike lane on the Alserbachstraße in Vienna.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Valve caps

Well, what's so interesting about valve caps that I want to write about them you might ask. I don't want to talk about the ordinary plastic ones though. On they presented really special ones and I just can't resist to share this catch with you ;-).

They can be bought at (starting at 6.50€ for a pair) and several other shops. I might as well get some although I kind of fear that they will get stolen soon. Well, for the moment of glory!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A cyclist's trunk

Frequently people address my backpack. This appears somehow funny to me, like telling a motorist that he has got an awesome trunk.

A couple of years ago I got myself an Ortlieb Messenger Bag and this is what it says in black letters on orange tarpaulin. Hence many cyclists mistake me for a bicycle courier.

The really loud color makes be being seen and tarpaulin -- in combination with the ingenious roll closure -- makes it water proof (tested under the shower) and easy to clean. With a capacity of 30 liters it is large enough for weekend trips and most shopping tours. Still comfortable to wear when it is fully packed it meets my needs almost perfectly. The only thing I miss is a hand strap. I think that some of the newer models feature one.

What else could one ask for? Anna criticizes the lack of different compartments. I don't miss them, but Ortlieb offers inner pockets, dividers and other optional accessories.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Dotted bicycles

Yes, I must admit it. I'm a bike spotter. I love looking at bikes. I scan my surrounding in view of cool parked and ridden bicycles. It's not about new and high-tech bikes though. That would be really boring, wouldn't it? No, I love to look at customized bikes. And glamorous accessories. Whoever accompanies me around town will occasionally hear an astonishing "Oh, look at that gorgeous [...] bike over there", "Wow, what a lovely basket/bell/saddlebag ..." and so on. I will try to take at least some pictures of such discoveries and post them with a "customized" label.

I already showed you a picture of a decoupage bicycle some time back. Today I present the red white-dotted Puch bicycle. I saw it once at the west train station and then again a few times in front of the math department. Another time I saw a girl riding a different, more modern, glaring red bike -- but again with white dots.

Dots are in, get some yourself!