Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Puch Clubman

Puch was an Austrian company located in Graz, Styria. Since 1889 they produced bicycles, scooters, motorbikes and cars. One of their most famous products was the Puch Maxi scooter. They had to shut down in the late 1980s due to financial problems. The name has been sold several times afterwards. That's why you can still get Puch bicycles, but there is no connection to the old ones whatsoever - so I don't know if their quality is still as good.

I just know the old bicycles. My mum owns a Puch Cavette, and my dad a Puch Clubman. Both have this nice metallic blue color that I like so much. By now the bikes are more than 20 years old. My mum stores hers at the attic (it's a little bit broken and she never got it fixed). My dad still uses his Clubman although some parts are not original anymore, e.g. the shift levers and the saddle. I quite liked to ride the Clubman cause it has a dropped bar and small tires, but still fenders, a (rear) rack and all other essential parts of a city bike. The gear levers are (as usual for old bikes) mounted to the down tube.

As I mentioned in the previous post, there is also a Puch Clubman parked in front of the university building where I usually park my bike. It has been there for months now with a flat rear tire. But all the rest of it looks quite ok since the parking space is canopied. It's not in such a bad condition as other abandoned bikes that spent the winter outside. Well, it is a little bit rusty too of course.. I want that bike! Well, I can't steel it and I'm not a person who would ever think about doing this. But it is a pain to see it every day knowing that nobody uses it anymore and I still can't have it. I think I will leave a note there next week, asking whether the owner would sell it to me. But unfortunately it's not very likely that s/he turns up there ever again..

The left and right pictures show the Puch Clubman in front of the university, the middle one is my dad's.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What happened to the blue bike next door?

I've already mentioned earlier, that probably more bikes get trashed rather then stolen. Did you ever wonder what happens to those abandoned dying bicycles? I have the answer. Well, at least one answer for a quite common procedure in Vienna and also the rest of Austria. Maybe you can tell me how city councils get rid of those bikes elsewhere..

Let's start with a story about my little friend, the so-called “blue bike”. The blue bike is/was a kiddies bike parked at a bike rack in Vienna that I passed every day. Actually, the bike rack is right in front of a school, so it's quite likely that it was used by a pupil there. Can't remember, when I spotted it the first time, but I think it was already quite dead at the time. As the winter passed by the bike became less and less (e.g. the rear wheel and the saddle went missing and a few minor parts too) and also more and more rusty. The bike was a Taifun bike, a nice one actually. Unfortunately, it was quite obvious, that nobody cares about it anymore. I was just a matter of time when it would disappear.

I think it was only two weeks ago when I passed it for the last times. And then I also spotted it – the little white note that guarantees an honorable last journey. A last glimpse of hope too, if you wish. It says

“Dieses Fahrrad ist für die nächste Entfernungsaktion der MA48 vorgesehen. Tel.: 760 43 E-mail:"

which in English simply means “This bicycle is designated to by removed by the MA48 [the garbage collectors in Vienna] at the next waste disposal.” with some contact details. Well ok, that's it then with the blue bike. Dead and gone. This week it wasn't there anymore, most likely collected by the MA48 and not by the owner. Sad, isn't it?

I've also seen similar notes in other places, e.g. at train stations. The yellow note I saw on a perfectly well-functioning (but probably unused too) bike at a bike rack at the train station in Bludenz. It is much longer (sorry, horrible translation):

“Dear bicycle owner!

We want to provide you a clean and well-kept transport depot and also need your assistance for that. Your bike is parked at a spot not designated for that or is not in a roadworthy condition. We therefore ask you to remove your bike yourself, because otherwise it will be removed three weeks after the attachment of this note with costs by us and stored for three months. In case your bike has to be removed and stored by us, then you get it back after the payment of the incurred expenses and proof of identity after an arrangement over the phone with the team of the management of the transport depot. We ask for your understanding!

Yours, the ÖBB infrastructure company”

Sorry, for this negative post this time. Next time I will talk about a bike that is still there (although abandoned too) and that I would quite like to get - an old Puch Clubman :-).

By the way, I remember that last year there was an article in the newspaper Der Standard about a guy that had left his bike outside during the winter and when he came back to start cycling in the spring, it was gone because it got removed. It is called Die Physik des Abschleppens by Roman David-Freihsl and quite entertaining. It's one of those nice little Viennese stories. There are many others by Thomas Rottenberg. I've picked out some of his bike stories from 2003 till now (sorry, all in German): Tolerranzzone, Survivaltips für Radfahrer, Klassik anders, Der Bike-Funpark, Fahrradabstellblues, Aus Freude am Fahren, Das Wunder, Fahrraddiebe?, Radleiche, Ministerrad, Freirad, Radschlossmysterium, Fahrradrückkauf, Porsche, Das Rad fällt um (ok: auseinander), Ein Fahrradbeauftragter and Gelbe Bügel.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What's different in Innsbruck?

Last week I attended a workshop in Innsbruck, Tyrol. Innsbruck is a real mountain town in the alps. It is named after the river Inn and a bridge (Bruck means Brücke in the Tyrolian dialect and bridge in English). It is situated in a nice valley and surrounded by very high mountains. Innsbruck is 574m above the Adriatic sea and has ~120.000 inhabitants (~200.000 in the agglomeration). Many tourists go there for skiing in the winter.

Coming back to my first question, what's different in Innsbruck? Well, firstly it is much colder than in Vienna. Last week the temperatures went down to -15°C (even below -20°C in some other parts of Tyrol). And whenever it wasn't freezing, it snowed heavily.

Still, there were incredibly many people around cycling. Within 5min I could see more cyclists in Innsbruck than I usually see in Vienna within a whole day (ok, I usually don't spend all day cycling around, but still). Nobody would say that cycling in the winter is impossible or just something for weirdos. Many people cycle in the winter in Innsbruck. They probably wouldn't even think about leaving their bikes at home if the temperatures are far below -10°C and if there are a few decimeters of fresh snow on the roads. The latter actually even was the case when I was there, as I already mentioned.

In my opinion, cycling in Innsbruck isn't more or less dangerous than in Vienna. In fact, there are hardly any bike lanes or paths, and the cars are much faster because the roads are wider and there are no traffic jams that slow car drivers down. But it's just a different mentality. Cycling in Tyrol generally, even in the winter, seems as normal as having a coffee for breakfast. They don't wear helmets nor any particular cycling clothes. They simply cycle because it's practical and fast.

By the way, Tyrol itself has the second highest percentage of cyclists in the modal share in Austria - around 8%. Only further west, in Vorarlberg, it is higher with approx. 15%. That's where I originally come from :-). In comparision, in Vienna there are only 4% cyclists. On average, we have around 7% cyclists in the modal share in Austria, which is quite low compared to other European countries (this numbers were published by the VCÖ in the beginning of 2008). To me it's really strange that the parts with the highest percentage of cyclists in Austria are the west and most alpine ones, where it is much colder and where there is much more precipitation (both rain and snow). Plus, there are also more hills and mountains. It's similar in Switzerland, where there are even more cyclists although it is an alpine region. Hopefully one day this miracle will reveal itself to me.

As you can see I took many pictures of cyclists in Innsbruck – enjoy!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wien fixiert

Do you know what Fixies are? Fixie is a short form for fixed-gear bike, meaning that these are single-speed bikes that have no free-wheel mechanism. The faster you pedal, the faster you are. If you pedal backwards, you also ride backwards. You can't stop pedaling though, cause otherwise the rear wheel is blocked. Stopping and slowing down is much more difficult than on a usual bike, mostly done by skidding.

"Fixie Clemenso" by Philipp C. Jahn from Berlin

Fixies first appeared in track bicycle races. Then bike messengers picked them up. Nowadays everybody who is particular about one's appearance wants a Fixie. It's state-of-the-art, although not really practical for most people. But if you still want one, you should check out Fixie Inc. (cylces for heroes) or pay the Citybiker a visit (Bobo bike shop in Vienna 1070).

I don't have a Fixie. I'd love to try and ride one though, just to know what it's like. But it wouldn't be really useful for me since I live on a hill (Vienna is quite hilly in some areas) and I would never make it up and down there with a fixed gear. Well, uphill wouldn't be such a problem (I've even done this with one-gear Citybikes although it was a pain), but downhill would be because of the braking thing.

Wanna see a short movie about Fixies in Vienna? Well, then check out "Wien fixiert" (in German). You also get some impressions of Vienna itself. Enjoy it!

By the way, I've seen the premiere of this movie at the Bicycle Film Festival in Vienna last October. The festival was really awesome. I'm already looking forward to the next one :-). If you get a change to see it somewhere close to your place (it's a worldwide festival), don't miss it! Otherwise, check out the website for a few movies. They also sell some of the filmlets on DVD, don't know if online though. There's even some time left to submit a movie yourself - for this year's BFF the deadline is on the 7th of March 2009.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sidewalk cycling and bicycle infrastructure

I never cycle on sidewalks. Not only because I'm not allowed to. Even more, because I think it's way to dangerous. Firstly, it is dangerous for pedestrians cause cyclists are much faster than them. The speed of cars on the road is much closer to the one of cyclists than the pedestrians' speed is (<5 km/h). But it's also more likely for cyclists to get hit by cars. Why, you ask? Well, car drivers don't expect cyclists on sidewalks and easily overlook them when they turn. And even if everybody would watch out, sometimes it would still be impossible to see each other (e.g. if there is a line of parked cars in between). Turning cars are a threat, no matter if they come from ahead or behind. You can only avoid such accidents if you ride really slow and completely stop at each intersection. But that's not very energy efficient and slow. So why cycle on a sidewalk in the first place? Just don't do it. On the road you are much more visible to car drivers - hence safer - and also much faster :-).

Well, as I already mentioned, in Austria we are not allowed to cycle on the sidewalk. But we have bike paths (one-way or both ways) on sidewalks. And there are also a lot of so-called "combined foot and bike paths" that are for both pedestrians and cyclists (either separated by a line or not). And some of this constructions are just as dangerous as cycling on sidewalks. Unfortunately I'm forced to use them (if one has a road bike s/he doesn't have to cycle there, but I don't have one). Sometimes they are an advantage, e.g. if it is a short cut that I couldn't use otherwise, but they are a huge disadvantage and risk if they are just built to keep the road bicycle-free.

Combined foot and bike paths: The left picture clearly shows a short cut. One has to ride slow and watch out for pedestrians, but it might be an advantage. It's in Linz, where many combined foot and bike paths exist. The right picture shows a combined foot and bike path in Vienna (just the little bit where my bike stands). What you don't see is that cars have 4 lanes in each direction! And cyclists have to share a space with pedestrians that's even so small, that two pedestrians can't get by very well. The tragedy about it: due to our traffic regulations I have to use this combined foot and bike path and can't cycle on the car lanes! And this is an arterial road in the middle of Vienna (Gürtel at Volksoper, for those who know it). It's a real shame to call something like that a bike path and add it to the ~1000km of bike lanes in Vienna that the city council is so proud of. I don't know who plans bike paths like this, but it surely wasn't a cyclist.

A lot of accidents between cyclists and cars/trucks in the city happen on bike paths and bike path crossings because cyclists are not visible to car drivers there, but still feel safe (although they aren't). In addition, most car drivers don't shoulder check, what makes it even more risky. For truck drivers it's even more difficult to see you since they can only use their mirrors - never ever stop right beside a truck at an intersection! Last year many cyclists have died this way - overran by a turning secondary car/truck on a bike path (crossing).

Don't get me wrong. I do like bike paths out of the town, but generally not in the town itself because there are way to many dangerous junctions. Ok, it's not a natural law that they are dangerous, but due to bad traffic planning, dense housing and illegal parking a lot of them are. In the city I prefer sufficiently wide (!) bike lanes on the road because there I'm visible to car drivers and much safer. Or even better, low speed limits and many restricted areas (30 km/h zones, residential streets and such) with no bike lanes at all. And a few bike paths beside busy and important roads with a lot of (heavy) motor traffic. Appropriate bicycle infrastructure meets the hierarchy of the road.

Another bad example of a bike path in both (!) directions. How small might it be? 1-1.2 meters? Do you think that two cyclists can pass each other? Compare it to the car lanes next to it and form an opinion yourself. There are 4 of them in each direction - the location is close to the previous picture. At this particular spot you can even see 5 lanes. Well, space has to be saved somewhere, doesn't it? I just don't get why they built a bike path there in the first place. To get the road bicycle-free I suppose.. Also note that cyclists and turning car drivers have to be really careful at this bike path crossing to not interfere with each other. Such designs bear extra potential for conflicts rather than avoiding them.

If you want to see some good examples of bike paths you must go to Copenhagen or Amsterdam etc. Maybe I sound a little bit to pessimistic - but in Vienna there are hardly any. But ok, I will take some pictures of well-designed bicycle infrastructure in the future too, I promise ;-).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Positioning on the road

Where am I supposed to cycle? Actually, this question is not so easy to answer. Our "Straßenverkehrsordnung" (austrian road traffic regulations) says that it's not allowed to cycle on sidewalks, that one has to use a bike lane/path if there's one and furthermore this, §7(1):
"Der Lenker eines Fahrzeuges hat, sofern sich aus diesem Bundesgesetz nichts anderes ergibt, so weit rechts zu fahren, wie ihm dies unter Bedachtnahme auf die Leichtigkeit und Flüssigkeit des Verkehrs zumutbar und dies ohne Gefährdung, Behinderung oder Belästigung anderer Straßenbenützer, ohne eigene Gefährdung und ohne Beschädigung von Sachen möglich ist. [...]"
which translates to "The driver of a vehicle must, if not stated otherwise, drive as far on the right as it is possible concerning ease and liquidity of traffic but without endangering, constraining or harassing other road users, without putting oneself in danger and without damaging things." Ok, I'm a bad translator, but well, I guess you get what it's about.

The thing is, most beginners mistake this regulation with "you have to drive as far right as possible to let cars pass easily". And that is really dangerous. Why? This is what I'm going to explain in this post. So I don't tell you, what distance you have to keep from the right edge or where you have to ride on a bike path. The thing is: You have to feel safe! Where would you ride if there was no other road user around? That's where you should be riding anytime, even if there are a hundred honking car drivers around you. Of course, the busier the road, the more careful you have to ride (shoulder check etc.), but it shouldn't change anything about your position. And, even more important, don't overestimate the lines that divide the bike lane from the rest of the road. I'm not telling you to ignore the traffic rules, but you should be able to tell when a bike lane is actually more dangerous for you than the rest of the road (e.g. if it is only half a meter wide and directly beside a line of parked cars).

I'm now going to make you feel unsafe in order that you can estimate the dangers on the road better - and to find a good position for yourself :-). Plus, if you are self-confident enough to take the space you need, also car drivers will respect that.
  • Opening car doors: Whenever you pass a parked car, be aware that there might be somebody inside, driver or passenger, that wants to get out of the car the minute you pass by. And unfortunately, some people don't check if it's safe to open the door before they do so. And even if you manage to swerve around, there might just be another car overtaking you that can't.
  • Empty parking spots: If you don't stay in your track, cars will overtake you and cut you off. Have you ever seen a car following wiggly lines when they want to drive straight on? Don't swerve in and out of the parking lane!
  • Pedestrians: Some pedestrians don't look before they cross a road, especially when they "hear" that no car is around. If you can't observe the road edge well (e.g. because of parked cars, bushes, walls etc.), stay away from it.
  • Tram rails: There are two options where you can ride - right of the right rail or in between. With rails it is even more difficult or dangerous to swerve, especially when they are wet. That's because it is not so easy to cross them, i.e. much easier to fall off.
  • Manholes, potholes, speed bumps etc.: Well, they are not that dangerous, but certainly uncomfortable if you hit them.
  • One-way and small streets: It mostly happens in one-way streets and on bike lanes that cars squeeze by letting hardly any space for you. If you don't feel safe in such a situation cause the road is not wide enough, don't allow it and ride in the middle of the lane. They might honk, but be aware that it's not your fault. In the end it's the width of their fat cars that prevents them from overtaking and not your small bike.
There's one basic rule that you can apply if you're on a road without bike lane and don't know where to cycle: don't ride further right then the right wheel of the car in front of you is. And stick to your track.

If you feel comfortable to undertake (that is overtake cars on the right that had to stop at a red light) you can do this with less distance because you're the only vehicle that is moving. But you should still be aware of the dangers above (maybe a passenger wants to get out of a standing car at the very moment).

A taxi half parked on the bike lane. Can you see whether somebody wants to get out? Maybe there is a child or dog behind the cab that wants to cross the road? Might that little bump cause trouble and do you have to reduce speed? Isn't that bike lane to small and too close to parked cars to ride safely? Well, a bike lane isn't safe just because it's a bike lane. You have ride safely yourself.

Would you want to use this bike lane against a one-way street? In such situations I mostly get off my bike and walk on the sidewalk - or don't use this route at all. I certainly can't cycle safely inside of the marked bike lane. Without parked cars it wouldn't be a problem though.

Tram lines: On the street in the left picture I cycle on the small concrete bit in between the right rail and the cobblestones or in the right half in between the rails. On the second street I definitely ride in between the rails.

There's a long list of situations and how to deal with them on "How to not get hit by cars". It also contains some tips about positioning on the road -- e.g. "ride further left" is mentioned in nearly every situation. Apart from that, the most important "tool" for a cyclist imho is a shoulder check. Never forget that.

Hm, I think I wrote quite a lot now, maybe too much. Was it helpful? Can you add something that's important to you?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Day trip to Bratislava

Yesterday Anna and I were in Bratislava. We got there by train from Vienna South Station within 1 hour travelling time to Bratislava – Petrizalka. There is an EURegio – Ticket including roundtrip, public transport in Bratislava (which is very nice, because the Petrizalka station is far off the center), and also bicycle transportation. The ticket costs 14 EUR, which is quite cheap. On the other hand, one could go there by bike. Bratislava is only 60 km away from Vienna which is a nice distance for a recreational ride along the Danube/EuroVelo Route 6.

First thing I noticed in Bratislava was the absence of bicycles. There are no parked cycles, hardly any bike racks, and only a small number of riders although the weather was very nice and warm. Bike lanes seem to be available only in places where it would be impossible to ride otherwise, like the bridges over the Danube. For the most part the old town is a pedestrian area. I don't know if riding a bike is allowed there, but since the streets are paved with cobblestone, it wouldn't be very comfortable.

In the afternoon we watched some trial bikers fooling around at a wall. Anna took some pictures.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cycling the world wide web

There are many things on my mind, I want to talk about. But because today was supposed to be the day of the appearance of the 44th issue of the citycycling magazine, I wanted to devote this post to all the cyclists in the UK. Unfortunately, they lost track of time there, so the magazine won't appear today but on Sunday :-(. Good for you maybe, if you didn't know it before - now you gained some time to catch up on the back issues 1 to 43 :-). If that's too much for you at once but you still want to find out about the things they talk about, you should check out the article archive.
Meanwhile I will impatiently wait for Sunday. The citycycling magazine really is that good! They have so many topics, even bicycle poems. I've listed some of my favourite articles here:
While talking about bicycle culture in the UK, you should definitely do a few awareness tests. I think they are a great idea to make people watch out for cyclists.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Biceberg - a cool underground bicycle parking system

I've found the link to a superb website through one of my favorite blogs,, there. It describes an easy to use, safe and automatic bicycle parking system. And the best - it is in Europe, more precisely in Spain. Congratulations to you there! See the Biceberg website for more information. As far as I could see it is meant for short-term parking, less than 24 hours. Unfortunately I couldn't find out how much it costs. If one of you has more information on that please post it here.
Btw, I quite like the name of the thing cause it contains 'bicycle' and 'iceberg'. And like at a real iceberg you can also only see the little top and most of it is under the ground (resp. under water). Maybe you want to see a promotion video (in Spanish) to understand how it works.

In Austria we don't have something like that yet, but I have hope now. The most modern thing in Vienna so far is a bicycle garage in Margarethen for only 20 bicycles, but that is meant for long-term parking. It costs 13€ per month which I think is quite cheap. There are a few extra costs in the beginning like deposit for the key and such. I didn't have a look myself cause it's far away from my flat, but if you're interested you can find more information there (in German).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Do bicycles really die?

On Saturday Maff and I went to a party of our friends in Linz. Currently they are collecting old and broken bicycles to build some tall bikes. They get the bicycles from scrapyards and such for free. Some of them are still in good condition, sometimes even only have a flat tire as far as I could see that. It's sad that people throw such bikes away.. But well, I'm actually quite happy this time. Usually I don't have a bicycle in Linz. Sometimes I bring mine on the train, but in the new "railjet" train sets bicycle transport was cancelled and I have less opportunities now (very future-oriented, aren't they?). So I saw this bicycle on Saturday in their basement:

Radiant "Touring Sport" (the pink ladies' bicycle in the front)

It doesn't work yet, but it's still in good shape. From what I have seen so far, it only has a flat tire, the rear brake doesn't work and the rear fender is broken. The lights are also demolished. I don't know whether the gearshift is working. We will try to fix it this evening and see how far we get. Would be really nice to have a bicycle in Linz too. Even if it's just for a short time before they continue to use it for a tall bike..

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A few hints for cycling in the winter, part 3: cycling

Let's come to the last part about winter cycling, namely cycling itself. Is it more dangerous? Is it more difficult? That's something I can't answer generally. It depends on the road conditions. If they are dry it is no different to cycling in the summer. If the road is wet, then you could compare it to cycling in the rain. The other possibilities are snow, mud and ice. Snow is not a big deal if it's fresh and less than 15cm. Riding on mud requires more skills – it is slippery, wet and dirty. Ice is a topic on it's own. The biggest problem there is that sometimes it is difficult to see it.
Here are a few things you might want to think about if you cycle on “winter roads” (wet, muddy, snow covered, icy):
  • start your trip a few minutes earlier than usual
  • turn on your lights also at bad weather conditions and not just at night
  • use your brakes with care and mainly use your rear brake
  • be cautious if you have to cross road markings, rails (cross them at a right angle) or cobbled pavement – sometimes I stand up for a better balance
  • be aware that generally you can't see sneaky potholes, manholes or edges underneath the snow
  • ride rather in the middle of the lane but certainly not too far right (that part generally is not so well plowed and there might be manholes and edges you can't see if they are covered with snow) – it also gives you more space to react
  • slow down for turns and try keep your bike upright
  • watch out for cars, even more than in good weather conditions, cause they have also problems operating their vehicle and even less time nor sight to watch the traffic (some of them don't even believe that there are still cyclists out there)
  • don't use bike lanes or paths if they are in a bad condition, e.g. not plowed (unfortunately, in Vienna, snow clearance often clears the car lane and the sidewalk and just shuffles the extra snow/mud onto bike lanes making it impossible to ride there)
  • you may want to ride in lane grooves if the snow is fresh, but sometimes these are the most slippery parts of the road and make it difficult to yield something (try to adapt to the situation, you will find out soon where it is safest to ride)
  • if there is ice on the road, don't brake or pedal there and try to keep your bike up straight – if you see it early enough you can also get off your bike and push it for a few meters – once you lost your balance on ice it is impossible to react, and hitting the ground definitely hurts

A cyclist on a bike lane between two car lanes (to some unexperienced cyclists that might seem dangerous – but actually it is one of the safest bike lanes in Vienna cause car drivers are always aware of the cyclists, plus the speed is low)

Well, it is difficult to tell you some tips about cycling in the winter. The most important thing is to start out slow. You will recognize soon what is possible and safe and what isn't. Don't hurry, that's the main thing. Only cycle at a speed at which you feel comfortable and safe. Don't give in to a honking car driver behind you. You have as much right to be on the road and safe as s/he has. If s/he honks it's actually a good sign, cause s/he is aware of you ;-).

Maff enjoys cycling in the snow in Linz