This was the cycling excursion that was never going to happen. It was the result of a three day process that went from “no way”, through “maybe” and “what the heck” and ended up as “that was good”. A chilly but enjoyable two hour spin around Munich by bike.
When I set off for Munich I had resigned myself to no cycling for three days. Long work days were scheduled and the temperature was forecast as low as minus 10 degrees. I promised myself that there are many more weeks to come and I could afford a few days off.
When I got there I congratulated myself on my wisdom. The cycle lanes around the station were completely unwelcoming, heavily gritted but threading through mounds of un-melted snow with patches of treacherous looking ice glistening dangerously.
There were a lot fewer cyclists than usual and those I did see looked …… unenthusiastic. Many were moving cautiously, especially on the corners which made me suspect that they were not entirely confident in the conditions either.
So what changed my mind?
The first step was some unexpected free time that meant I could ride in daylight, because I was not going to wobble round unknown icy streets after dark.
Secondly curiosity. This is Munich, home of perhaps the biggest cycling revolution in Germany. The home of BMW cars has seen consistent growth in cycling in the last ten years, supported by a very cycle friendly Vice-Mayor, Hep Monatzeder. I had last ridden here properly in 2007 when the city hosted Velo-city, a time when it could be said the cycling revolution was only just kicking in to gear. Subsequent visits had been single days so I felt curious about what was going on with the cyclists, because I could not relate to the state of the infrastructure and the relatively infrequent cyclists I was seeing.
The mental transition to “maybe a ride” was further prompted by the prospect of easy bike hire. I have used German Railways “Call Bike” system a few times and it works OK. I couldn’t see the bikes at the Munich main station, but waiting in a prominent position just outside were two bikes from Nextbike, standing freely by the bike parking.
I knew the Nextbike system can work through a combination of mobile phone reservation and location without fixed docking stations, and I had tried their fixed system in places like Warsaw where it worked well. “Maybe” becomes “just possibly” if the system was easily bookable by a foreign mobile.
And lastly – just why not? It’s what I do. What sort of pathetic temperate climate cyclist have I become that I was going to miss the chance of a spin round a city because it was a bit chilly? If I dared tell any of my cycling friends from countries that have proper weather I would be laughed out of town. I must be getting soft. “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” said John F. Kennedy, and I had to remind myself, it is just a simple bike ride.
The deal was sealed when the supporters of cycling in Munich proved just how simple and easy it can be to help someone onto a bike. If only every city in the world was so well organised.
The city’s cycling web site was a great portal that sent me to three easily navigable cycle tours with a choice of culture, pleasure or nature themes.
And the Nextbike booking could not have been smoother. I downloaded a thingy to my phone (you know, an App thingy, those things the young folks talk about to intimidate the rest of us). I paid a €9 deposit and all I had to do was put the number written on the bike into the app and I had immediate hire. Wow that was simple.
But for the first twenty minutes I was really not sure that I had made the right choice.
But the centre is largely pedestrianised and I am not sure bikes are officially allowed on the roads I was following. Therefore I proceeded very carefully through the shoppers, which was just enough speed to chill me and not enough exercise to warm me up. By the time I got to Marienplatz central square I was absolutely frozen.
I decided that I just had to get moving. I had picked out the “Pleasure route” from the city maps which meant heading to the banks of the River Iser and following its cycle paths north. That all seemed very fine until I watched a cyclist in front of me loop off the road onto the river bank path on a surface of packed snow, not something I felt comfortable on riding a city bike.
That was it, not just for the river bank but for the next hour or more. Mostly hard packed snow, often ice and occasionally clear asphalt, but rarely entirely ice free.
It worked because the paths were spread with grippy gravel chips whole way, including all the parkland tracks. I really didn’t trust it at first and adopted a style that can only be called “English tentative”, slow round the corners and no sudden movements.
But the stuff seemed to work and before long I was bowling along the river bank and enjoying the tranquillity, and perhaps more importantly I was warming up nicely. And even better I was heading for a town called Freezing which made me smile.
After about 5 kilometres on the river path I crossed over one of the many bridges and headed into Munich’s famed Englischer Garten or “English Gardens”, the huge area of parkland to the north of the city centre. I had only been here in the summer when it was a thronging public space but today it was absolutely deserted apart from the occasional dog walker. I carried on north and it was like I had my own personal network of treated cycle paths out in a snowy wilderness, just glorious.
By the time I reached the turn in the path to head back to the city I was 7km from the Marienplatz, far further than I had expected to go on my winter tour.
The last time I was in this park I was with over 1000 cyclists riding to the Chinese Tour beer garden for an evening beer in late May 2007. This time it was the building that was chilled, not the beers.
From the park the immaculately signposted routes threaded me through the streets and great buildings back to the Marienplatz and on to the station to return the bike with just two clicks on the mobile phone.
I am so glad I did that, it was real unexpected bonus for a mid-winter visit. It was good to revisit Munich in a different season and I avoided falling into the “foreign softy” trap. I am sure if I rode those surfaces every day I could even move on from “English tentative”!