Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Le tour d'Autriche

As a saying modified after one of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poems (famous German writer) already suggests,

"Why wander around in the distance, when good things lie nearby?"

I'm going to check out local bicycles before getting lost in the international market.

KTM Univers 7 Lite
Simplon Kagu R8
Krafstoff Sissy
Kraftstoff Sissy
Steirerbike Holzbike
Steirerbike Holzbike
Unfortunately, Austrian bicycle producers are more on the sporty side and don't offer a huge variety of urban bikes -- most of them being either not well-equipped or simply ugly. There are exceptions though. Let's just have a look..

In fact there are only two internationally relevant bicycle producers in Austria nowadays:

KTM builds beautiful road and mountain bikes, but their city bikes are rather ugly. Well, they are quite cheap though, and well-equipped.

Simplon at least has the Kagu that has refreshing colors and balloon tires, but imho the ladies' version looks rather clumsy. The standard version doesn't have lights, fenders nor a rear rack, but it can be attached easily. Simplon bikes are far more expensive, but the quality is excellent.

Beside these two, there are smaller brands like Kraftstoff with their lovely monarchic series -- but again nice bikes without lights, fenders and rack (except the male Siegfried balloon bike). Otherwise I would definitely go for the Sissy although it is pricy.

And there's Steirerbike which builds a wooden bike and some relatively cool, well-equipped and fairly cheap trekking bikes. But I really don't need suspension forks and fat tires in the city..

Steinbach, Newton, Capo and Hrinkow produce mainly road resp. mountain bikes.

Furthermore, Team Schmidt builds customized bikes and also recycles second-hand bikes. They make refreshingly many different types of bikes -- road, mountain and urban bikes, fixies, tandems and cargo bikes ;-). MeinRad does a similar thing and rebuilds your own old bike to a new (single-speed) bike.

Ok, I know this sounds like a lot, but most of the companies I only know because I did some research for this article. Unfortunately none of the bicycle producers focuses on urban bikes although there is a high demand for cool such bikes here. I have the impression that after Puch went bankrupt nobody built useful and elegant bikes for the masses anymore :-(.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What do you mean by 'cycling'?

Some of my friends, like D., don't have a car on their own. Cycling and public transport are their modes of mobility. Talking to them about cycling is talking about rain trousers, bike lanes and commuting routes, transport solutions for D.'s cello.

Talking about cycling to my stepfather is about carbon frames and aero spokes, personal records for Alpine passes, and the latest doping scandal in professional sport.

Talking about cycling to my mother is about Sunday afternoons riding a bike instead of going for a walk for half an hour in the countryside. It's about loveliness and fine weather and wellness.

In my opinion most cyclists fit in one of these groups. While D. sometimes goes for a recreational ride, most recreational riders like my mom wouldn't go to work by bike. My stepfather wouldn't even think about it.

I really wonder why these groups hardly mix. Two different surveys on everyday cycling in Linz suggest that sportive and recreational riders underestimate the transport capability of bicycles as motorists do. I think that's true, but is that all? And, what do you mean by 'cycling'?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Saddle up the horses

As you already know from an earlier post, I want to buy a new bike as at the moment I only have a rather unsuitable mountain bike for my city rides. There are many similar types of bikes -- city bikes, cruisers, comfort and commuter bikes etc. To keep things simple:

I'm looking for an urban bike.

Electra Unisex Amsterdam Girard Madonna
Gazelle Basic

I love old bikes, in particular the old Puch bicycles. But I also want new technology, e.g. hub dynamos. I don't know if I want a retro bike though. However, this is a discrepancy. And maybe I will end up buying a cool second-hand bike first before I settle for a robust new bike because I can't resist the temptation ;-). For sure I want fenders, a rear rack and all the other good stuff.

Parking space is limited though -- actually not available. In my house there is no dedicated space to park bikes and therefore most bicycles are illegally parked in the hallway. That's why I procrastinated the need for another bike. And it's still an unsolved problem. Even parking my bike in the flat is impossible because I live on the 5th floor and the elevator is too small to fit a bike in there. Maybe I will disassemble the mountain bike and put it in our small compartment in the basement, but that's not really a satisfactory solution. I also want to have a second bike so that I can lend one to guests -- and not to collect dust :-(.

But I will just go ahead now and find a solution later. You must know that I'm really an indecisive person, though settling for just one bike will be a tough choice anyway. I will keep you informed about the bikes I look at and I'm of course grateful for any advice.

Today I had a look at Bobbin Bicycles from Britain. They sell some nice retro bikes with up to 5 gears that I definitely need if I don't want to push my bike uphill every day. Unfortunately some bikes only have a bottle dynamo and a rear battery powered light. The bikes in this post are from Electra (California), Gazelle (Holland) and Pashley (Britain). By the way, the Bobbin bikeshop sells great accessories too.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Listen carefully ... kkrkkrkkrkkr ...

Can you hear it? It's spring time!

Ok, maybe you don't know what I mean by this kkrkkrkkrkkr sound, but I'm quite sure it's familiar. It's the cyclist in front of you. The one who thinks that cycling in the winter is not possible and parked his bike for a few months either inside or outside (sometimes you can even make that out by the volume of the kkrkkrkkrkkr).

It's the chain, of course. The chain that is a bit rusty now, but has neither been cleaned nor greased after reviving the bike with love, ehm air.

"Chain" by Huw Pritchard

Please guys and girls, I'm begging you. Look after your chains. I hate that kkrkkrkkrkkr sound. I don't mind if you don't want to cycle in the winter. I'm happy for each and everyone that cycles (ok, in secret I already think about how I can convince you to cycle on in fall, and then winter too).

But: Look after your chain. Clean it and oil it and your life will be much easier (also talking about the power you need for pedaling). And quieter.

And: Look after your chain. Cleaning and oiling is not enough. I had to learn that the hard way when my chain was torn apart while cycling. It happened in fall, hence it wasn't a "start cycling in spring" thing. But it was one year after I had checked my chain the last time. You know, chains stretch continuously. If they are too long, they do a lot of harm to your (relatively expensive) sprockets.

There is a gauging tool to check whether the chain has lengthened too much, but you can easily do it yourself without that. I found this how-to and an even more useful video about chain wear on BicycleTutor.com (highly recommended). Read all about chain maintenance on Sheldon Brown's homepage if you want to become omniscient. And since we are just at it, here's a chain length calculator in case you need to replace your chain. By the way, well-looked-after chains may last for 5000km or even more. And also new chains are a steal (starting at 10€).

If you don't want to do all this yourself, it's worth to pay a mechanic to check your bike. I dislike kkrkkrkkrkkr people, thus better not be among them. Look after your chain and you can be my bike buddy :-).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Windy Wien

Finally, the sun is here. Hurrah! Well, it's also quite windy and that's both a blessing and a curse. They good thing about it is that the air in Vienna isn't all that bad, cause the wind blows away most of the air pollution. Tailwinds are welcome anytime of course. And a light breeze is always refreshing in the summer.

The bad thing is the hard work against the wind, especially uphill. Sometimes it's very difficult to balance the bike. Flying objects (e.g. paper, leaves, trash, small branches, dust) have to be avoided. And it's much colder -- at the moment we have about 5°C, but the windchill factor is still below 0°C. Anybody else struggeling with head and side wind?

Anyhow. Although rain and snow is forecast for this week, I still believe in spring. The blue Oma bike with the daffodil has told me so :-).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Velos and public transport in Switzerland -- a perfect synergy

Last summer I worked in Zürich, Switzerland. Of course, I took the train to get there (from Vienna to Zürich there are three direct connections each day, it takes about 9 hours) and of course I took my bike with me :-). Unfortunately, I couldn't use the night train, cause one is not allowed to bring a bike there. I also couldn't bring my bike on the first train in the morning, cause that was already booked out for bicycles more than one month before my travel. Luckily on the last train there was still some space available for my bike. The bicycle transport is quite cheap -- only 12€ for one way. On the way back I shipped it via rail cargo which was a bit more expensive -- 30 CHF (~20€).

In Austria, the new highspeed trains (the so-called ÖBB railjets) don't carry bikes at all. Actually that's against a guideline by the EU, but they don't care. Read more about it in an Austrian newspaper or on Radlobby.at (both in German). Moreover, in most other trains it's also either forbidden or complicated to transport bikes.

In Vienna, you're allowed to bring your bike in the subway at certain hours (not in the rush hour) for the cost of a half-fare ticket. Bicycles are completely forbidden in trams and buses though.

In Switzerland, public transport is great. I absolutely love it and I could talk about it for hours ;-). But I will focus on the bike-related stuff for the moment: bicycle transport in buses, trams and trains (mostly also on boats and funiculars) is allowed, cheap and easy. On the SBB website (Swiss national railway company) they also promote the transportation of bikes as hand-luggage in special bags ("Velotragetasche" in German), which in particular is free of charge and always possible.

When I lived in Switzerland, I thought about buying one of those bags, but in the end I didn't cause they are quite expensive (100-150 CHF) and because I'm probably not allowed to use it in Austria. If you're interested, you can download a review in the Velojournal here (in German, 2005).

But there are also other easy ways to transport bikes, e.g. the "Veloselbstverlad" in trains (for loading and unloading at the luggage vans no conductor is needed). Besides you can rent bikes for free in all major cities (but only for one day) and almost everywhere with Rent a Bike. Have a look at the map regarding self-service loading and bike rental.

Public transport and biking go quite well together in Switzerland and I think it deserves to be a role model.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

BiCiNg or the cycling boom in Barcelona

Barcelona 2002. Barcelona 2009. The city has indeed changed. Not only in new buildings like the AGBAR Tower or the Fòrum de les Cultures and its never-ending works, but also in its new means of public transport: first the tramway, which reappeared in the city in 2004 and then, since 2007, a great cycling initiative called BiCiNg.

What is BiCiNg?
BiCiNg is a bike rental system which forms part of the public transport network in Barcelona. It doesn't work with the usual combined ticket for bus, train, subway and tram, though. To rent bikes, you have to pay an annual fee and then you are sent a BiCiNg card which you use to unblock the bikes in any station you find in Barcelona. This annual fee, it only costs 30 € this year, which makes a total of 2.5 € per month. It is cheap because Barcelona city hall partly subsidizes it through the new really expensive green parking area (it's like the usual blue parking area but more expensive).

How does BiCiNg work?
BiCiNg is controlled by an electronic system and its mode of operating is easy. Once you are sent your BiCiNg card, you get to a station and there you find a standpoint where there is a screen -available languages Catalan and Spanish- and a magnetic card reader. You show your card to the reader and the systems assigns you one of the parked bikes. You take it, check it is OK and then go. If there are no bikes free at the station, you show the card to the reader and it will tell you the nearest stations.
From the moment you get your bike, you can ride for half an hour at no extra cost. Every ten minutes you surpass this initial 30 min, is at the additional cost of 0,50 €.
When your commute is over, you only need to park the bike at a station and check it is well parked. If the parking lot is full, you show your card to the reader and it will show you a station with free slots to park the bike at it will give you ten extra minutes to get there.
This cycling system, however, is thought for city dwellers, but not for occasional visitors or tourists, as you can only pay per year and not for occasional rental. To cover this gap, there are bike rental shops in different areas of Barcelona, but I guess that at a rather different fee.

Where to find a BiCiNg station?
There are several BiCiNg stations in Barcelona, some areas being more populated with stations than others depending if it is an strategic area or not, or if the green parking area has arrived there yet (no green parking area means less BiCiNg stations). To know where these stations are, and if they have free slots or bike, as well as for administrative issues like inscribing of uninscribing, you can visit the website: http://www.bicing.com (only Catalan and Spanish). You can also make use of Barcelona's city map options to locate them.

This system, of course is not free from its own problems, but it is very practical and it has incredibly increased the number of cyclist in the city: in 2002, there wasn't many people cycling, but now it is usual to find lots of people cycling. There is still much way to do, like writing a proper legislation for city cycling, building proper cycling lanes and, above all, teaching the whole population of Barcelona: cyclists (it’s true some people cycle out of snobishness in Barcelona or only because it is supposed to be “cool” now), pedestrians, motorcyclists and drivers to respect each others and behave.

BiCiNg has indeed changed Barcelona and people’s habits in moving throughout the city but what it cannot do is telling us how to act. It is our responsibility to be civic and peacefully cohabitate with the rest of users.
As a BiCiNg user, I’m glad this system exists. Of course I sometimes get mad or angry when there are no bikes at the stations or I cannot park or the bike is halfbroken or the people doesn’t behave. But still, I feel we are at the right track and this will lead more positive changes to the city.

Anna from BCN

Anna (Vienna), send me this article, which appeared in the New York Times, about BiCiNg.
Zoom the image by clicking it and feel free to read it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let's not talk about spring yet.

When I looked out the window this morning it was snowing. The good thing about it? It will be easy to find a place to park my bike ;-).

View from my window

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Critical mass, n.

The term "Critical Mass" has different but similar meanings, e.g. it's widely-used in physics. According to the Free Dictionary we have the following definitions (only a small selection):
critical, adj.
forming or having the nature of a turning point; crucial or decisive

mass, n.
a grouping of individual parts or elements that compose a unified body of unspecified size or quantity

critical mass, n.
an amount or level needed for a specific result or new action to occur
As a cyclist you probably also heard about critical masses. On the worldwide Critical Mass site you can read where the term comes from:

The name "Critical Mass" is taken from Ted White's 1992 documentary film about bicycling, "Return of the Scorcher". In the film, George Bliss describes a typical scene in China, where cyclists often cannot cross intersections because there is automobile cross-traffic and no traffic lights. Slowly, more and more cyclists amass waiting to cross the road, and when there is a sufficient number of them - a critical mass, as Bliss called it - they are able to all move together with the force of their numbers to make cross traffic yield while they cross the road.

I sometimes come across such critical masses of cyclists in the rush hour in Vienna too (unfortunately only in the summer). It's very comfortable to ride in a critical mass cause it's much safer, although you shouldn't be in a hurry but just ride along with the crowd in a comfortable and slow speed.

My first (and so far only) "critical" mass this year

But then, there is also the other meaning of it -- the event, which we will refer to in the following:

Critical Mass, n.
a bicycle-centered social movement
Critical Masses take place in many cities all over the world. Generally it's a monthly "random" gathering of cyclists who ride around town together. It all started in San Francisco in 1992. Read more about it on Wikipedia, the Critical Mass wiki or simply search the web. Have you got one in your town? You don't know? Ask your local bike advocacy or start a Critical Mass yourself.

In Austria we currently have Critical Masses in Vienna, Graz, Linz, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Vorarlberg and Wr. Neustadt. Read more about it here. Hurrah! The next Critical Mass in Vienna is already this Friday at 4.30 pm at the Schwarzenbergplatz. I look very much forward to meet some friends I haven't seen in a while. What's better than cycling around town with friends and chatting all along? I can't think of much.

A few pictures of the last Critical Mass in Vienna, February 2009 (not mine)

I see the Critical Mass as a social event, but of course also as a way to promote cycling in a very easy and peaceful way. Well, not all about it is positive and easy-peasy. Dave Moulton (famous ex-framebuilder) writes about some negative aspects of Critical Masses in the US on his blog, and I also see some minor ones myself.

Well, just come along and form an opinion yourself!

By the way, the biggest Critical Masses are very close -- in Budapest, Hungary. But they are completely organized and take place twice a year. Last time an estimated number of 60-80.000 riders took part. Read about it on Greg Spencer's blog. In Vienna there are around 500 Critical Mass riders in the summer and around 100 in the winter, slowly increasing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Public space to the people!

I have complained many times about poorly designed bicycle infrastructure in Vienna. But it's not only the traffic planners that should be pointed at. Usually as a traffic planner you have more than one solution to a problem, you work out all the positive and negative aspects of various designs and then present it to the decision makers. It's their business to choose cheap and good solutions for everybody without being influenced by different lobbies.

All the more important it is that there are people that got the big picture. There's for example the Viennese traffic planner and Prof. (emeritus) Hermann Knoflacher of the University of Technology in Vienna. He thinks differently. For example, he walked along the streets with his so-called Gehzeug (walking thingy, a rip-off of the German word Fahrzeug for vehicle) to show how much space one person in a car needs and how unnatural that actually is. Knoflacher also claims that cars just sit around 99% of their time and therefore rather refers to them as Stehzeuge (standing thingy).

Hermann Knoflacher and his invention - the Gehzeug

Hermann Knoflacher can be proud of many things he achieved for pedestrians, e.g. the pedestrian zone in the city center of Vienna (soon after that the shops that previously where against it have increased their profits and in 2001 the historic center became Unesco world cultural heritage). Back in the 60s till 80s traffic planners had cars in mind and not people, and luckily many things have changed ever since. But the car lobby is still very powerful and politicians are mostly not courageous enough to follow the slow movement approach (which at the end of the day doesn't actually mean that one is slower).

One of Knoflacher's most famous statements is that people have to be cured from their car addiction. He says by putting one's car as far away as the next stop for public transport, people wouldn't always simply take the car but reconsider their choices. That would certainly also increase bike and foot traffic.

I don't completely agree with everything that Knoflacher says, but he recognizes problems that others don't see as we are all trapped in a car-focused society. Therefore he's very controversial and often attacked by car advocates. On the other hand it's good that he appears in public, because this gives me hope that others will follow and work for a more human way of transport.

For further reading I recommend:

  • The fairkehr website of the Gehzeuge project (in German).

  • An interesting interview "Warum das Auto uns verrückt macht" (Why cars drive us crazy) in the German newspaper "Die Zeit".
  • The same interview "Autofahren ist schlimmer als Drogensucht" (Driving cars is worse than drug addiction) in the Austrian newspaper "Wiener Zeitung", including further discussions.
  • The recent documentary "Der Abschied vom Auto" (Good-bye to cars) in the TV program "Zoom Europa" on Arte which can be downloaded here (in German).
  • Many books (in German and English).

Of course he also published a lot of articles in scientific journals.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

WUK bike rack project

The WUK (Werkstätten- und Kulturhaus) is a hot club in Vienna. Especially nice for us cyclists is that they run a non-profit DIY workshop too. They provide tools, assistance (if necessary), and (used) spare parts at moderate costs of 3,00€ per afternoon. Opening times are Monday to Wednesday, 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Beside that, the WUK people run several projects and the latest is a really nice one.

As WUK member Jasper Kühn tells us, over the past years an increasing number of newspaper deliverers has been using the repair service. It is to say that it's common in Austrian cities that bicycles are used for this purpose. Most common failures are broken racks and problems with the rear wheel. Newspaper are a heavy loading, so carrier bikes would be a fine choice. Well, carrier bikes are quite expensive and hard to find.

The WUK people developed a prototype for cheap but stable bike racks instead. They are planning to give the racks away for free (being a newspaper deliverer is a job one hardly can live from here). Donations and manpower are welcome, so maybe I'll join them to install those heavy duty racks.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why the heck am I riding a mountain bike?

Well, this is just a rhetorical question. Of course I know the answer. But it's probably not so obvious to other people since I nowadays only commute in the city and a mountain bike actually isn't the right mode of transport for that. And that's also one of the reasons why I think about buying another bike, a proper city bike..

My bike doesn't have a name. I have it for more than 12 years and it never had one. By now it's already like a part of me (or the other way round), like in "The third policeman" by Flann O'Brien as Maff would say. So if I would have to name my bike I would just call it "Anna's bike" or even just "Anna". Ok, it's not so cool as others have great names for their bikes like Elisa M's Mick Jagger or Dottie's Smurfette, but I can live with it. Maybe I will name my next bike.

Twelve years ago I was still a teenager. Till the age of fourteen I commuted to grammar school with my old and very heavy city bike and a ~10kg schoolbag in my rear bike basket. And all that on a ~8km round-trip with a long and steep hill in the middle. It was quite hard, but I enjoyed it a lot cause running to the school bus and squeezing into that (there really was a lot of squeezing involved - once a schoolmate of mine was jammed in the back door for quite a while until the driver realized it) wasn't very relaxing. Cycling -- even on a federal road without bike path -- was a lot of fun. Especially since a few girls of us rode together.

Ok, why a mountain bike? The city bike was just crap. I hated it because it was so heavy and I had to work so hard to get up that hill. And I wanted to be cool which in the 90s meant that I needed a mountain bike. At that time aluminium frames became popular, but they were still thick and ugly so that I decided to buy a steel-framed bike, namely a red Kästle Degree. It was my first (and only) adult bike and I had to pay half of it from my own pocket money. Unlike contemporary mountain bikes mine only has a short suspension fork in the front and no disc brakes. Of course I had to buy all the additional stuff extra (lights, reflectors, fenders, bell, stand). I still don't have a rear rack, but I could attach one to it if I wanted to. As I started to attend a secondary technical college ~25km away I stopped cycling to school anyway and commuted by train. I mainly used my bike to meet up with friends or for recreational rides. And since I did a lot of off-road biking at the time, a mountain bike was actual the perfect choice.

Myself and my bike at the Danube Island

When I moved to Vienna I took my bike with me. In the beginning I had everything within walking distance so I didn't use it regularly, but e.g. on the weekends for some trips to the Danube Island (a very popular recreational area in Vienna). It was in 2005 when I moved to a flat further outside and started to ride my bike every day to get to the university. Of course as a student I used to hold a cheap public transport ticket, but the trams were slow and no fun. Nowadays I also do my shopping by bike, and it would sometimes be useful to have a rear rack. Other than that I'm quite happy to have a mountain bike in the winter as I have a much better grip on the snow with the fat tires. They are also practical if I can't avoid the horrible cobbled pavement in the city center.

The last time I used my bike for real mountain biking was in the previous summer in Switzerland. There are quite some mountain bike tracks in and around Vienna too, and I might try some of them this year. But besides that I already think about my new city bike (that yet has to be found). One bike isn't enough to meet all demands anyway :-).

Friday, March 13, 2009

What an honor.

Many thanks to Mikael Colville-Andersen for mentioning this blog on Copenhagenize.com. It's a great honor as his blogs actually got me interested in the business of so-called "bike blogging" and are probably a shining example for many others too.

German links

As Tad from Minneapolis Rad asked me about some German sites, I'll present a small collection of interesting blogs and websites here that I know of. It will always be incomplete, but if something else comes up that is interesting, I will post it with a "german links" tag, so that you can find this stuff easily.

Since German is an official language of many countries - Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and also parts of Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg -, there is definitely a lot of interesting material on the Internet that I don't even have a clue about. So in case there is something I completely missed out, please add it!

If you can't speak German, it will of course be impossible to understand what is written on all this websites so there's no need to click on them unless you maybe want to see some pictures (that's why I wrote the titles in English - so that you know what the websites are about). In case you're just missing some words, I highly recommend to use the online dictionaries Leo (it is really good and so far translates German to English, Spanish, French, Italien and Chinese and the other way round) and FreeDic (German to English).

Bicycle magazines
There's Fahrradzukunft from Germany (they currently have a very interesting article about how to transport babies and kids without a car), Velojournal from Switzerland and Velosophie from Austria.

I've already posted Radlust the last time. I don't want to add many bike advocacy groups, maybe just the Austrian Radlobby in case you're interested to see what kind of political discussions go on here.

Not so serious but also not so far from the truth are the more than 50 reasons to avoid a bike path. There's also a short text about the insecurity of bike paths with some interesting numbers that show where accidents on bike paths are likely to happen and how bike paths (don't) work by Bernd Sluka. As you might already have read in an older post, I'm not against bike paths, but there are certain things that one needs to know in order to be able to design and maintain a proper bike path. By the way, here's an interesting study that investigates why so many accidents with right turning trucks and cyclists happen and what can be done to avoid them.

There's the Embacher Collection in Vienna, a collection of many rare and strange bicycles (the website is available in English and German). I should actually go and see that myself..

Here are 10 reasons to ride a bike by Global2000. I also quite like the 25 reasons against a private car by Christian Felber. In Die Zeit (a weekly German newspaper) there was a very interesting interview with the well-known Viennese traffic planner Hermann Knoflacher called "Das Auto macht uns total verrückt". Actually I plan to write a post about him, cause I think he has many intelligent ideas concerning traffic planning.

In fact, there are not so many German blogs that I read regularly, but here are some I know and like: Das gute Rad by Marianne Lang from Vienna, Autolos by different Swiss people that don't own a car, Rad-Spannerei by cyclists from Berlin, Les Lanternes Rouges (a blog about repairs on bikes) from Berlin as well. Recently I also came across Zweiradler's blog Montezuma D6106307 named after his bike. And there's also the radgefahren blog from Cologne with lovely pictures.. Well, I'd say on all this blogs you can find many links to further interesting blogs and websites ;-).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Different views on cycling in Europe

So far I haven't actually introduced myself, anna (notice the small "a" in the beginning), as all the essential information about me is listed in my profile. Why am I writing this blog? Well, simply because I enjoy cycling and want to share my experiences and observations about cycling (in particular in Vienna, Austria) with others and hopefully convince more people that the bicycle is an ideal means of transport -- especially in urban areas but also outside if spatial planning is done intelligently. I want to spread and share the spirit of cycling, but also point out what good/bad bicycle infrastructure can do (or not do).

In the beginning I was on my own. Later maff from Linz (3rd largest city in Austria and currently European capital of culture) joined in and wrote a few posts too. He's involved in a bicycle advocacy group and an enthusiastic rider himself. Besides he is also interested in road cycling, a somewhat unusual combination. Although none of us owns a car, maff is the only one who doesn't even hold a driver's license.

A few days ago I had the idea to ask my friend Anna from Barcelona, Spain, whether she would like to write a little bit about her cycling experiences too. I know her from a student exchange program in 2001. Anna started cycling last year, but doesn't have an own bicycle yet. I think I infected her with the "bicycle virus" and now it seems that she can't get rid of it anymore. She already writes a blog about Catalonia which is definitely worth reading.

With their approx. 27 km/year cycling distance per person, Spanish people are at the very bottom of the table in Europe (even in the USA it is 33 km/year). Austrians cycle about 173 km/year on average -- where I originally come from it's around 406 km/year, in Vienna only 117 km/year. Still nothing compared to the nearly 1000 km/year in the Netherlands and Denmark (numbers are from 2006, published by the EC -- I found them in an Austrian newspaper).

Although Spain is far off the European middle level, recently many things have changed there and it seems that they really try to get people onto bikes. I'm sure Anna can tell more about it and I'm already looking forward to that.

Well, we are two Annas now, but it should not be difficult to distinguish who wrote what since we are geographically separated. The other Anna will also sign as "Anna from BCN" or so. Stay tuned.

Since September 2009 also Sonja from Turku, Finland, is on board. Read more about her views and ambitions in her introduction.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cycling is the answer to everything.

Is it? Well, it isn't the solution all our problems, but for many of our traffic, health, social, economic and environmental problems, I believe. Here's some easily accessible information that might convince you too (in case you aren't convinced already):

There's a brochure by the European Commission called "Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities" (1999). I have a link to a download in the right frame where it says "Cycling guides". You can download an English version here, a German version here and a Spanish version here. There should be versions of it in every European language, but the link on the website of the EU didn't work so I could only guess the endings of the .pdf-files. Maybe you can write them an Email yourself if you want another version..

Why do I think this is interesting? The handbook contains many successful examples of bicycle infrastructure in Europe, attacks common prejudices and tells us how we can resolve traffic problems by cycling. They describe the handbook in the following words:
This EC handbook stems from the idea that the worst enemies of the bicycle in urban areas are not cars, but longheld prejudices. It therefore corrects some of the prejudices connected with the use of the bicycle as a regular mode of transport in the urban environment. It also suggests some simple, inexpensive and popular measures, which could be implemented immediately.
So if you're a bicycle advocate, you should definitely dig into it. Although it is mainly written for policy makers in (European) cities, it is also worth reading for "normal" people who are interested in cycling. You don't need any previous knowledge about traffic or spatial planning and it contains many illustrating pictures, graphs and examples and isn't even very long (only ~60 pages). In the end you will have many arguments to convince people why cycling is good for them :-).

Since I'm already at it: There is an initiative by some German professors and students that want to promote cycling as natural and positive means of transport by focusing on the joy of cycling. That's also where the German title "Radlust" comes from. You can get all the information and downloads on their website (available in English and German). They started out 2007 with the following observation:
The bicycle is the worlds most used means of transport. Nonetheless there was no development of a noticeable cycling culture in Germany. This is incomprehensible if you consider the wide spread possession of bicycles – diverse potentials and advantages of a sustainable means of transport remain unused.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bike lanes anyone?

The city council claims that we have ~1000km of bicycle infrastructure in Vienna. That's not exactly true, cause sometimes they only put a small green sign beside the road and call it a bike route. No change in design whatsoever, not even lower speed limits. Most other parts of the "real" bicycle infrastructure are bike lanes, more precisely Mehrzweckstreifen which probably can be translated by "multiple use lane" (if anyone has a better name for it, let me know). By definition they are also bike lanes but are separated by a broken rather than a continuous line. That means that cars and trucks in the lane left to it can use this Mehrzweckstreifen if they are too fat. As you can imagine this already leads to problems, because most people don't know (or don't want to know) that cyclists always have priority on a Mehrzweckstreifen, that parking and stopping on it is not allowed etc. That's simply because cyclists have to use bicycle infrastructure if there is one (it's the law). In Vienna cars are parked on both sides of basically every road, and most bike lanes are not even 1m wide. Hence cyclists have to ride directly in the door zone, where cars wouldn't drive anyway because it's too dangerous. I always ride very far left on them, nearly on the line itself. If I have to cross the line (e.g. due to badly parked cars beside it) I shoulder check and signal.

But there are also Mehrzweckstreifen that are well-designed. Here's one example of such a bike lane that is ~1.5m wide. It is a bike lane that allows riding against a one-way street. In general I would call this a proper bike lane that should work. Never underestimate human stupidity though. Since I use this bike lane regularly I know of the problems. Here are just a few:

  • The road is cleared of snow, the bike lane isn't. That's particularly nice if the snow freezes.

  • Once the snow is gone, grit is left on the bike lane. That's dangerous and causes many flat tires.

  • Even after the winter there are literally massive problems - illegal parking. Every third time I pass this bike lane, somebody parks on it. I'm so fed up with this. I always have to shoulder check, signal and move into the oncoming traffic that doesn't expect a cyclist to be in that lane (it's a one-way street after all). Sometimes it's even impossible for me to see whether there is oncoming traffic, e.g. if a truck is parked in such a way that I can't see the junction ahead. I think I once read that in Germany illegally parked cars get partially blamed in case an accident happens. In Austria we don't have that. So if I have an accident because I have to leave the bike lane it might be entirely my fault, because I should have used the bicycle infrastructure and otherwise would only be allowed to walk the bike (especially in a one-way street). The police doesn't care about illegally parked cars on bike lanes, even if they accidentally see one. I've never seen a car that got a ticket :-(. And have you ever tried to talk to a person that parks illegally yourself? I could fill a whole blog with such stories, but it's too depressing thus I won't..
  • Another problem are cyclists themselves, in particular cyclists that are not familiar with the road traffic regulations and only ride a few times in the summer. Believe it or not, but some people don't know that bike lanes are only to be used in one direction (the same direction as the car lane next to it, except in one-way streets). We also have some one-way bike paths that work the same way (arrows indicate the direction in which one is meant to use it). It happened to me more than once that cyclists tried to ride in the wrong direction (even on very small bike lanes/paths with many regular cyclists on them) and nearly crashed into me. I don't know if they just don't know the law or deliberately endanger fellow cyclists. I always tell them, but so far it never happened that somebody actually stopped and turned around or moved to the other side of the road. They didn't even apologize. Sad too.

Am I complaining too much? As I said, the bike lane itself is perfectly well-designed. The traffic planners just didn't take into account that some people are stupid and ignorant and that the misuse of the bike lane is too easy.

Friday, March 6, 2009


The two wheels of a bicycle are in one line, right. Well, that's what you always thought, isn't it? Before you met the swing bikes of course. In real life I've only seen one so far. Swing bikes are bikes that swing. Still don't know what's that supposed to mean? Then carefully watch the bikes these cyclists ride in the video.

And here's explained how to build a swing bike.

Both videos are by Ryan Van Duzer from Boulder, Colorado. And there are many other great cycling videos on his youtube channel.

It looks like rain.

Well, it doesn't just look like rain. It actually rains a lot recently. I don't mind rain. My commute isn't that long, so for slight rain I don't even need waterproof clothes. If rain is forecast tough, I take waterproof rain pants with me, just in case. They are quite light and small and easily fit in my bag. People don't cycle with umbrellas here and I think its neither practical nor safe. But in Copenhagen they seem to do it a lot.

By now there is no difference for me whether I cycle in sunshine or rain. I guess that's because I'm prepared for both conditions and can cope with them without even thinking about it anymore. I'm already at a stage where I can't understand why somebody wouldn't want to cycle just because it's raining. Actually I love cycling in the rain! Best explained by that poem that I stole of the citycycling magazine:

Soaked through
Wind whipping
Sky tipping


As the rain falls
And I ignore those plaintive
Warming calls
To accept a lift
I realise
Then eulogise
To anyone within earshot
About the joy of cycling
In the wet

Curious looks
And disbelief
I think of those people on New Year's day
Looney dooks
Rushing into the freezing sea
With looks of glee
Covering insanity
Then I see me

The mirror reveals a sodden lump
I'm drenched to the skin
Happy to be in
But just as happy that I was out
Of that there's no doubt
And I look at me


And there are the comics that goes with it - the one and only Yehuda Moon by Rick Smith:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Be aware -- the shitty bike season starts

Maybe you have noticed that yourself -- it's time for shitty bikes. Lately I received a lot of unwanted fliers by discounters and supermarkets that want to sell me cheap bicycles and cheap bicycle equipment (like lights, locks, pumps, helmets etc.). And I'm sure there are many people out there who decided to start cycling this year or want/need a new bike. Well, if they buy one of those, I feel sorry for them. Some people might actually really want to start commuting by bike. But if they buy one of those shitty bikes, they will lose interest soon. They would probably take it for granted that their gear shift doesn't work well, that their brakes are unsound and that their lights broke after one month. So after a while they will put their bike in a corner and leave it there for the next few weeks or years until it gets stolen. But don't worry, if you buy a lock for 1.99€ your problem will be solved soon, no matter how shitty the bike is. And then you have an excuse to not cycle or can buy another shitty bike :-).

Sorry for being so cynical today. Well, there might be some good bikes in supermarkets too. But a beginner can't tell the difference, I'm sure. And it will be worse for them if they never experienced what a decent bike is. Over here, you need to spend 700-1500€ for a good city bike that you can use for commuting all year long, absolute minimum being 500€. Of course, it is enough to buy one for 250€ if you only want to use it to cycle 20 km/year in the summer. But such a bike simply won't last long and will not please you. If you don't have enough money to buy a decent bike, I recommend to buy a good and serviced second-hand bicycle -- but never ever a crappy new bike of a discounter. And go to a good bike shop (not a sports shop) to get some advice what kind of bike suits you (type, size, equipment). Be aware anyway!

Here are a few websites that deal with bike shopping: How to buy a bicycle, How to buy a bicycle (wiki), Tips on buying a bicycle and many more (just type "how to buy a bike" into Google :-)).

By the way, a good bike will last a lifetime if it is looked after (well, if it doesn't get stolen or crashed in an accident of course) -- so it's definitely worth spending some money on it and getting it serviced regularly (at least once a year).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Vienna's ghost bikes disappear over night

Ghostbikes, white painted bicycles, are memorials for cyclists who are killed on the street. They shall warn both motorists and cyclists to take care of each other. First ghostbikes were created in St. Louis, Missouri, but the idea is spreading around the world.

Some time ago some people in Vienna started to create ghostbikes too. Sadly, town officials remove them regularly. In the beginning they used notes as Anna described already. I know of some persons who regularly removed this notes from ghostbikes. Recently ghost bikes were removed over night, without having a note sticked to it before.

Alec Hager from IG Fahrrad (a Vienna based bicycle advocacy group) now started a pedition. He demands that the ghost bikes should be left where they were installed.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Funky shoes

First I want to state that I'm not a shoe person. I don't have many shoes and I also don't want many. There are, however, certain times when even I need to buy new shoes. This time it was simply because I needed some shoes that go with my new black&white skirt.

It all started on Saturday afternoon when I rode to Mariahilfer Straße. This is the shopping street in Vienna (unless you have more money and go to Kärntner Straße). Well, it was Saturday and there were thousands and thousands of pedestrians, and also many many cars. With the bike I was faster than both, but I could have been much faster if the street was car-free. Many well-known traffic planers think it should be car-free. And I think that too, especially on a Saturday.

Nevertheless, I went there on a Saturday although I hate crowds. And I saw some nice and also cheap gray ankle boots. But of course they didn't have them in my size :-(.

So I decided to ride to another branch today. At Alser Straße they also didn't have them :-(. Well, but since there are many Humanic shops in Vienna, I finally also rode to the Millenium city (a shopping center at the Danube). Aargh! They also didn't have them there. That's when I gave up and thought I should maybe look out for similar shoes. I didn't find similar ones, but others that I quite liked. Of course they didn't have them in my size either. It's strange because I don't have particularly small or big feet and generally it isn't a problem to find shoes that fit me. Luckily the lady at the counter could tell me where I can find these shoes elsewhere in Vienna, which was pretty much everywhere I had been before.

But since I was so close to my goal now, I skipped lunch and rode to the Mariahilfer Straße again. That's where I got them and also similar shoes to the first gray pair (but in a horrible brown color - the "Funky Shoes"). Well, I decided to buy them both since I'm really fed up with shoe shopping now. And I don't wanna go through all that again soon..

Why is this so interesting for my bike blog? Well, maybe it isn't. But since I rode my bicycle through the city three or more times for these shoes, I think it's ok to post it. It must have been something like 30km. And the weather wasn't particularly nice either - it was gray, cold and very humid (but not raining). Throughout that journey I took a few pictures of cyclists in Vienna. Nothing special, but I'll just post some here.

By the way, never forget rule number 7 of the Cycle Chic Manifesto:

I will endeavor to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle.

I surely endeavored a lot today :-).

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Of course I love the Bicycle Repair Man sketch by Monty Python. Sometimes I would have needed someone like him to fix my broken bike right where it broke somewhere in the country.

Unfortunately there aren't super heroes in real life.

Uhm! Aren't there?

Well, there was Sheldon Brown (July 14, 1944 – February 3, 2008). Brown not only was a bicycle mechanic and technical authority of legendary reputation, he also maintained his knowledge on his website. Many articles can be found, dealing with repairs and maintenance, riding tips for beginners as well as for advanced riders, general information on bikes, lights, bike traveling, and much more. Although the articles are categorized, it sometimes is hard to find information you need at the moment, but it is worthwhile to search the site. As they used to say on the usenet: "AASHTA. As always, Sheldon has the answer."