Tuesday, July 28, 2009

DIY guards

Yes, I know. We are not really famous for stylish bicycles in Austria -- neither the bike produces nor most of the riders seem to have heard much about elegancy. But hey, we use our ugly trekking bikes to get around! I could think of worse things :-).

A few weeks ago I came across some -- as it seemed to me -- quickly knocked together mud- and chain guards. Well, actually it's a very creative and easy way to create something that answers the purpose. Functionality first, loveliness later. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder anyhow. Personally I consider DIY to be quite fancy.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Overtaking ships, eating bugs

Well, overtaking ships is certainly not something I do every day, but today I cycled from Vienna to Stockerau (and back) to meet some friends. The easiest way to get there is along the Danube bike trail (Velo Route 6), a very famous and popular bike route among tourists. Beside fully loaded tourists from basically all over the world, one rides along families on their weekend bike trips, sporty road cyclists and old ladies on their shopping trips.

It took me about 20 min to get from our flat to the mighty river and another 1 ½ hours to Greifenstein. There I met up with my friend D. and his wife F. for lunch. Later we cycled together to their home in Stockerau. That's very easy cause there is a river power station and cyclists and pedestrians are allowed to cross the Danube there. To get to Stockerau itself one cycles through a floodplain forest – that's where I ate my bug (well, I spat it out and continued cycling with my mouth closed ;-)).

Cyclists in Stockerau

Stockerau is about 30 km upstream from Vienna and a few kilometers away from the Danube. On the way there I had to cope with strong headwind, but on the way back I could overtake some ships, because I also benefited from a light tailwind. Almost back I got caught by a short shower as I went onto the Danube island (but it was already finished when I left it).

All in all I spend a lovely day on a lovely bike route in Europe. If you got interested you can read more about it on Wikipedia, the EuroVelo 6 website (by bicycle from the Atlantic to the Black Sea) or the official website of the Donauradweg in Upper Austria (German). Or have a look at more personal impressions by the Cycle Tourist or by Filigree from Lovely Bicycle.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reviewing car-free estates

In Vienna Floridsdorf there exists a car-free estate since almost 10 years. Due to the absurd parking regulations here, they had to get a special permit to be able to build less car parks and safe that money for something more useful. Earlier I've posted a video by the Greens about this particular project (German with English subtitles) which explains very well how it works and what it looks like.

Car-free estate in Floridsdorf, Vienna, Austria

Recently I stumbled again across Christoph Chorherr's blog and read that they did an evaluation among the residents to find out what they think about their estate and community. The main results are summerized in these three files (in German): short version (2 pages), medium version (5 pages) and full version (96 pages).

So far I haven't read all of the full version myself, but here are the parameters and main things they found out:
  • 244 flats (11.400 m²) but instead of 244 car parks only 25 [according to the Viennese building law the rate "car park:flat" of 1:1 can only be reduced to 1:10 with a special permit]
  • build between 1997 and 1999
  • concept: people that move in have to resign from owning a car (that's even stated in the rental agreement), ecological measures and green areas, no decrease of building costs (which would have been possible because of the fewer car parks) but rededication of the capital
  • right before moving in about 24% did own a car
  • for 53% it was very important and for 21% important to live in a car-free estate when moving in
  • car-sharing is available but only used by 28% for shopping, about 1/3 of the residents don't use this service at all
  • 88% already owned a bicycle before moving in, 7% bought one later
  • the bicycle is used up to 10 times more than in an average car-free (!) household in Vienna [about 1/3 of Viennese households are car-free]
  • 56% of the people living there use a bicycle to get to work or school
  • per household they calculated bike storage for 2.5 bicycles which turned out to be far-off (they actually need storage for 1.5 bicycles per person!)
  • the residents are very happy with their estate, which mostly results from joint projects that were carried out from the money that wasn't spend on parking lots: public areas, saunas, gardens, kindergarten, gym, garage etc.
  • the communication among neighbors and other residents works well (something which elsewhere is basically nonexistent)

Actually I've applied for a flat in that estate one year back, but it's basically impossible to get hold of such sought-after living space. In view of that overwhelming demand the Greens are planning a similar project called Bikecity at an old train station in the north-west of the city. Hope that will work out.

For more reading you can find some information on car-free living on the "Wohnen plus Mobilität" website in German and English (it contains general information and various prototypes in Germany and Austria). Moreover there is a German website on autofrei wohnen and here's an English pendant on carfree cities (with an excellent link list). More on car-free housing estates in Europe e.g. in "Car-free housing in European cities" by Jan Scheurer. Well, the internet is full of information about car-free habitation :-).

Conclusion: car-free is carefree, so enjoy a car(e)free life if somehow possible!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My brave little sis

This weekend I had a visit from far away. My sister came all the way from Vorarlberg to stay with me for two days. She is one of the few people that owns a ÖSTERREICHcard (an yearly network ticket for all trains) because she has to travel a lot. By train it takes about 8 hours from Vorarlberg to Vienna.

Although she only stayed for two days, her bag was huge and pretty heavy. Still, we used the Citybikes to get to the Tunnel for breakfast and then to my place, to go shopping and so on. She actually owns two bikes herself, but both of them are mountain bikes for training purposes. Still, she didn't have problems to adjust to the single-speed and new three-gear Citybikes.

The only thing that caused a bit of confusion was the coaster brake as she generally uses two handbrakes. Well, it wasn't a huge problem. Only once we had a minor accident ...

I was riding in the front and stopped rather fast in front of a crosswalk to let a family pass which my sister (riding behind me) didn't see. Having problems with the brake and sliding as well (it was pretty cold and raining, much different to the days before), she hit my rear wheel and fell. Well, speeds were low and nothing happened. She'll get away with a bruise on her left thigh. Moaning is not something she would do anyhow, she immediatly laughed about her faux pas. Such things happen, nothing to be afraid of. I also fell a few times when braking full on wet/slippery roads, but that's also how I learned how to deal with such conditions :-).

I guess my sister wouldn't consider herself brave just because she cycles in the big city without worrying much. But many of my friends here often told me that they would never cycle in Vienna because it is so dangerous -- even the ones that grew up here and are very familiar with a lot of busy traffic. Well, don't be such wimps, look at my little sis!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Low rider or what men really want

Yesterday in the city center I've seen a guy with a gorgeous low rider or -- as I also like to call it -- a chopper. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, but I was just overwhelmed by that bike (not the man). It was painted in a beautiful metallic red color, the guy wore a strange blue suit. They just matched up perfectly!

Check out these 14 pimped bikes (cool stuff, trust me) to get more ideas on the topic and maybe some ideas of how you could pimp your own bike.

This is really some kind of a new cult and I certainly wouldn't mind if the cars as status symbol would be replaced by some fantastic low riders. These bikes certainly have a lot of potential -- a recently published marvelous German rap video by Skero ft. Kamp proves that too. They sing about cruising around Vienna. Even if you don't understand German it's worth watching because of all the cool bikes involved and the lovely scenery :-). The title "Fuß vom Gas" simply means "Foot off gas [pedal]". Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stylish cycling in the heat

Well, probably some people will disagree that temperatures around 33°C are hot (that's 92 F), but I already don't like that kind of a temperature. Still, I can deal with it...

Generally I wear a lot of wide, loose, thin and light-colored cotton clothes. Cycling in them is no problem as the air flow then constantly cools. Even in that suffocating heat we currently have in Vienna. Well, you may want to carry a spare shirt to change with you if you sweat a lot. Choose good sunglasses. And don't ever forget to ride in style :-).

By the way, it's better not to carry a backpack (to avoid sweating on the back) but to put everything necessary in a basket or on the carrier.

What's the summer like in your place and how do you deal with it? Has anybody got good solutions for handling high humidity?

Summer cyclists in Vienna

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kids on bikes

While for the average kid in Vienna it is normal to go to school by public transport, the "wealthy" families chauffeur their kids around in huge cars. I really don't understand this concept of bringing the kids after a certain age, especially in a city with such great public transport and short ways. This way they don't get to learn how to use public transport independently, loose touch to their schoolmates, put on weight because they don't get enough exercise and so on. Obesity becomes a bigger and bigger issue anyhow, so why make it worse?

And it can't be because the parents are worried about their kids' safety as most of them don't mind to block bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks directly in front of schools -- making it impossible for pupils to feel safe.

I think a city should be safe enough for kids to ride bikes. And I think parents can achieve that by simply not creating unnecessary car traffic in front of schools. So in fact I think the city already is safe enough, but it's the people that aren't ready for a change. Well, car addiction is certainly not easy to overcome, but they could try to get bike addicted instead. And if they still want to make namby-pambies out of their children, they can bring them by bike too :-).

By the way, kids are allowed to cycle on the sidewalks in Austria till the age of 12. But already at the age of 10 they can do a "bicycle license" which allows them to cycle on the road earlier. That's a great thing because this way the children are taught the traffic rules, hand signals etc. and they also have to pass a practical test. Then they can take responsibility for themselves.

I think mobile autonomy is far too underrated. To make a long story short: relying on someone (or something) else to get to and from places is just no fun. But cycling is :-).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Red paint

This is a beautiful mixte I spotted in the city center. It seems abandoned because the rear fender is broken but was not removed (plus, I've passed the bike a couple of times by now and it still looks the same). The bike is all red, except the grips and the saddle. The lock is red, and even the rims and the spokes are! Well, the paint job wasn't carried out very thoroughly though and the color already peels off. But I really like the idea of having a bike in one and only one color. I find the metallic red particularly gorgeous.

Anybody ever repainted a bike? What do I need to consider if I want to do that, and what kind of paint should I use?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Improved Citybikes

A while ago I've introduced the shared Citybike system in Vienna. So far there are 60 stations.

Old bikes
The single-speed bikes have a coaster brake on the back and a hand brake in the front. On the newer models this is a drum brake, earlier it was a rim brake. The dynamo for the lighting turns on automatically when it gets dark, something that I really like. Moreover, there is a basket in the front, a chain guard and a skirt guard (often used for advertising). The bikes are blue and yellow.

New bikes
As announced a few months back there will be new bikes out in summer. This week I've seen the first ones of this kind. All of the 200 brand-new bikes will be exchanged next week.

Brand-new Citybikes, copyright by Gewista

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Commuting in Zürich

Last summer I worked in Zürich, Switzerland. By train that's about 9 hours from Vienna and there are even three direct trains each day. On two of these trains it's possible to bring the bike along so that was what I did. If you're interested in the synergy between public transport and bicycles in Switzerland you can read one of my older posts from March. I think it works perfectly there. But there are also other outstanding things concerning bicycle infrastructure ...

I lived on the very border of the city and the university is in the center. Although Zürich is much smaller than Vienna (only about 350.000 inhabitants), my daily commute was therefore longer than the one in Vienna (about 7 km ~ 4.3 miles). Zürich is a very hilly city too. Basically I had to conquer one steep hill both ways which took me about 40 min once I found the best route. It was fun to see mums with two kids in the trailer passing me on the uphill sections. Well, a remarkable number of people (especially parents and older people) uses pedelecs -- electric bikes where you have to pedal to regulate the motor. It's still only a small minority, but they are visible.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A beautiful ring

What could that be? For my bike it's the bicycle bell. Unfortunately mine is not as beautiful as this one.

By the way, I love this video.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Green Bikes visit Linz

On Sunday at 7 am the Green Bikes Tour arrived at Linz to stay here for a couple of days (I already wrote about the project earlier). Yesterday at noon the tour went on to Vienna where they'll arrive on Saturday. Most of the 25 participants came by bus across the alps, other ones joined the tour in Linz and came from Szopron, Hungary, by bike. After ten days of riding in the rain in Italy and Slovenia, it was rainy in Linz, too. Sorry folks!

My cycling organization helped the tour here in Upper Austria with accommodation, meals, workshop, and all kinds of other stuff. Since I did most of the work I had some busy days (on Saturday, with Anna's help I managed to buy lots of food for nearly 30 people without a car), but I met really nice people, learned some interesting things at the workshops (especially one in a village near Linz on spatial planning, revitalization of rural areas, and re-naturalization of the landscape) and had a lot of fun!

I didn't take any photos by myself, so I may refer to the official GBfP - website. It will be updated soon! And I'm sure Adam, Tomas, and all the other cyclists will be happy about comments!