Sunday, June 27, 2010

Radfahren in Wien -- a review of Vienna's new bicycle guide

"Radfahren in Wien" (Cycling in Vienna) is an extensive handbook with a lot of useful information about cycling. Although it is strongly related to Vienna, I can highly recommend it for a general German-speaking audience (in particular, if situated in Austria). This is, because it is an exhausting and wittily written, smart and neatly designed handbook on almost anything you ever wanted to know about cycling.

"Radfahren in Wien" by Alec Hager and Johannes Pepelnik

Both authors, the jack-of-all-trades Alec Hager and the lawyer Johannes Pepelnik, are well-known and highly appreciated in Austria's bike scene. Among others, Alec Hager is chairman of the Viennese bicycle advocacy group IG Fahrrad, co-founder of the free bicycle magazine Velosophie and brought the Bicycle Film Festival and many other bicycle-related events to Vienna. Johannes Pepelnik is not just a bicycle lover but also offers a profound knowledge on traffic regulations. He also published the guide "Rechts-Berater für Radfahrer" (unfortunately already sold out). If you ever have a bike-related law problem in Austria, he's your man.

By the way, the publisher Falter Verlag offers Holland bicycles and Ortlieb bike bags along to newspaper subscriptions. Better than a road tax vignette for free (the usual give-away in Austria,) isn't it?

It's hard to describe what kind of information the book contains. Simply because it's almost anything. The obvious beginning is a purchase advice with an extensive discussion of the various types of bicycles available, including their parts (and how to maintain and repair them!). Including, of course, a long list of bicycle shops and other useful addresses in Vienna. I was pleasantly surprised about how much effort they put into the comfort of cycling (what position to choose, what to do when something hurts etc.). I think it's this kind of avoidable discomfort that most people ignore when buying a bicycle (and than maybe completely stop cycling because it's no fun like that). Necessary and useful accessories are also considered.

So once you have a bicycle and know everything about it, they continue to teach us about bicycle-related traffic rules. Most of the research on this I have done by myself (by directly reading most of the StVO) before, so I know that it is a pain to find your way trough the jungle. This book does not just tell you the rules (which are by no means well-known), but also offers useful information about "invisible guidelines".

A very valuable chapter is the about the safety of cycling. Various typical situations are sketched and explained. Of course, they also describe how to not even get into critical situations. It's this knowledge that helps to avoid accidents, and makes beginners more confident about moving in traffic. In fact it contains useful information for everyone who moves in traffic (thus, simply everyone). Their main advice is "cycle outwardly offensive, but inwardly defensive". I completely agree.

Another big section of the book is about advocacy. They explain Vienna's traffic history and the rise of various bicycle advocacy groups. A very useful and informative part is the collection of pro and contra arguments to certain never-ending discussions (helmet laws, compulsary use of bicycle infrastructure in Austria, number plates for bicycles a.s.o.).

Finally, after all these hard facts, the suggest some tours in and around Vienna. But do not be misled that all of them are peaceful and easy family tours. They also consider interesting mountain bike paths and ambitious tours for road cyclists. Just another proof of their goal to make every cyclist happy (which I think they do).

Useful sketches and explanations for dangerous situations

Layout and Style
The book is a color print with a lot of lovely photographs and extremely useful sketches (e.g., of dangerous situations for cyclists). I particularly like their "10 ..." collections at the beginning of the chapters, e.g., the 10 mostly used excuses for not cycling, the 10 most popular bicycles, the 10 most important rules for safe cycling etc. The book is very well structured and charmingly written. It's obvious that the authors know what they are talking about.

Moreover, it's important to note that the book -- although full of useful information -- is actually quite small and easily fits into a handbag. Another feature is a loose small map of the inner part of Vienna (inside of the Gürtel) with smart choices for bicycle routes, certainly very valuable for newbies in this area.

I believe that everybody should have a look into "Radfahren in Wien" -- be it an "old" cyclist or a newbie, or even a person that doesn't own a bike yet. In fact, even people who spend a lot of their time in/on motorized vehicles can profit from its detailed descriptions of critical situations with cyclists (and how they can be avoided). With its 16.50 € is certainly not the cheapest book, but it's worth every cent and an investment for a long and happy bicycle career :).

On the other hand, it is certainly not a "tourist guide". For tourists with an ambition to go on small sightseeing or long scenic tours in and around Vienna I recommend to look at the bikeline guide books (they are also not limited to Austria).

"Radfahren in Wien" by Alec Hager and Johannes Pepelnik
publisher: Falter Verlag, 2010, 2nd edition, paperback, 320 pages plus folding map
price: 16.50 €
order the book online

This review contributes to the LGRAB summer games. For more reviews on English literature on cycling, have a look at their website and other cycling blogs.

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