Eurobike 2017 gallery – or the storm and the calm


This gallery contains 11 photos.

It has been one long, intensive and ultimately very satisfying week at the global cycling show Eurobike in Germany. Podiums, politics, presentations, workshops, rides – we increased our programme again this year and got great feedback from the bicycle industry … Continue reading

Five years of “I do not despair” – revisiting our favourite posts


This gallery contains 1 photo.

On January 1st 2012 I published the first, tentative post on To celebrate my fifth anniversary I have gathered together a small collection of favourite posts. Firstly your top 5 – the posts that have gathered the most visitors,some … Continue reading

The unprepared tourist – a morning cycle ride in Friedrichshafen


This gallery contains 3 photos.

I love bike hire, indeed any bike whatsoever if it gives me the chance of an unplanned ride in a new city. That shows up in “The unprepared tourist”, the title of one of the most visited posts on this … Continue reading

The chilly cycle tourist – a short winter cycle tour of Munich


This gallery contains 16 photos.

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 … Continue reading

When asked “what’s hot in sport?” never for one moment did I imagine the answer to be “bobble hats”. Makes sense really.

A small diversion away from cycling on my travels, and a tribute to my Nan’s knitwear output.

I have written numerous times about my visits to bike shows around the world, but this week I have taken a detour to one of to one of the world’s most important sporting goods shows, ISPO Sport in Munich.

I am actually here to attend meetings and events on the side of the show that have been extremely useful for learning about trends in health and physical activity and the business climate in which the global bike industry is working.

But of course I went for a walk around the show. It was enormous, bigger than all the bike shows except maybe Eurobike. There were no specific bike exhibits but lots of familiar outdoor brands and many of the companies that make outdoor and sports gear also cross over into cycling.

Photo by Kevin Mayne Photo by Kevin Mayne

But inevitably my eye is drawn to the unexpected. This is especially true of trade fairs where the major purpose of the show is to convince manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers to take a particular range, not really to reach the individual consumers.

Photo by Kevin MayneWhen I first went to Taipei Cycle Show I was drawn to the booths that just exhibited a single item like bells, or a huge display of carefully colour coded bolts, there so that assemblers could order just the right part to match their bicycle designs. No reason why they should not be there, but the care and attention to detail put in to displaying the humble washer just caught my imagination.

So what was it at ISPO?

Bobble hats.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Walls of bobble hats.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Fields of bobble hats.

Photo by Kevin Mayne


Colour coordinated bobble hats.Photo by Kevin Mayne

The biggest bobble hat I have ever seen.Photo by Kevin Mayne

Who knew? If you want to convince the winter sports buying community that your product is the height of technical achievement you top off your display….with a bobble hat, lovingly designed and created by people who have invested a great deal of craft in their product.

Maybe it’s because I don’t come from a winter sports country, but somehow I was highly amused by the status given to the sort of clothing that represented the height of uncool in England because it was knitted by your grandmother in strange shapes and colours. The only exception was your football supporter’s hat that you wore on a Saturday.

Good luck to them all, if colour coded bolts matter to someone then why not bobble hats? My Nan would have seen it as a challenge to turn out another batch from her extraordinary selection of leftover wool.

Impressions of Eurobike 2014 – cycling with style


This gallery contains 11 photos.

Fortunately I am not a cycling writer, at least not one who has to write about bikes and bits for a living. There are over 1300 exhibitors at the world’s biggest bike show so it is hard to get an … Continue reading

My Eurobike hotel room – in Weingarten Abbey, Church and Shrine of the Holy Blood, Weingarten, Germany

One of the great pleasures of travel is when you are given a totally unexpected treat.

I have just spent the week at Eurobike, the great bike industry frenzy at Friedrichshafen on the banks of Lake Constance. That in itself is a bike lover’s indulgence of which there will be more later. But this year I got a bonus.

As far as I knew our German colleagues had booked us into some sort of college near Ravensburg which was offering a good package for the week. I thought no more of it, and I had certainly not checked anything other than the directions when I arrived at Ravensburg train station.

When the taxi driver pulled up on the forecourt of a huge church complex overlooking the neighbouring town of Weingarten I was quite convinced I must have misread something, until I was warmly welcomed at the Conference Centre in the Benedictine Abbey and Basilica of Weingarten, the largest Baroque church north of the Alps and an important religious site for over a thousand years.

Photo Kevin Mayne

One wing of the former Abbey is now a training centre and conference suite for the Diocese. So that is why I found myself throwing open my room window to discover I had a view over a courtyard and the great dome of the Basilica, nicknamed “Swabia’s St Peter’s”. It may have been a bit cloudy and gloomy but the setting lifted me up after ten hours of train travel.

Photo Kevin Mayne

The next evening after work I was able to wander the grounds and discover more about where I had ended up, especially with the help of a little guide book I bought in the Basilica.

Photo Kevin Mayne

It was hard to step back far enough to get a clear view of the buildings because they were constructed on a huge scale and the Basilica itself was flanked by two large wings, each around a courtyard which would have formed the cloisters of the abbey when it was at its peak. From ground level this inner perspective was of one of somewhat severe and austere walls, probably not what it was like before its final phase of building in the 18th Century.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Photo Kevin MayneThe only way to see its original style and scale properly was looking up from the town below. Unfortunately ugly restoration work and grey weather deprived me of that view this time so I had to rely on the image from the guide book to help me imagine it.

Looking out from that viewpoint at the front of the church I did have an excellent view down over the town itself, looking from a terrace that has been planted with vines to recognise the town’s name – “Wine garden” in English. At dusk groups of young people gathered here to chill out, have a beer and watch the sun set.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Photo Kevin Mayne

Inside the Basilica there is a totally different perspective. Firstly I could really sense the scale which I had found it hard to identify from outside. Apparently it is over 100 metres long and the dome goes up over 60 metres.

Photo Kevin Mayne

And there was certainly nothing plain about the inside, the white masonry made it seem light and bright and contrasted with the splashes of gilding and paint in all the alcoves and up onto the ceiling.

Photo Kevin Mayne

I have no particular religious affinity with any of the churches and temples I visit when I am travelling but particularly in Europe these buildings are a vital part of our landscape and heritage, it was a rare treat to be able to say I was staying in the “spare room” at the Weingarten Abbey.

There is however a footnote to my tale.

One of the nice features of my first night was to see the courtyard in front of my room being used as an outdoor cinema for the town, a great setting with a nice atmosphere, towers above and bats flitting around. It is apparently a summer season feature of Weingarten and a nice symbol of the multi-functional use of the complex by the regional government who now own it.

Photo Kevin Mayne

But the volume was incredibly high and I did wonder to myself just how long they might be going on when I wanted to go to bed. It was nice when it stopped, but only then did I appreciate that the cinema sound had to overcome the church bells which rang out every 15 minutes. We had a discussion later amongst our group whether they actually continued all night; the lighter sleepers were convinced they did. From the third floor, not so far from the bell tower itself I can categorically say they chimed 12 times at midnight and for sure they were going again at 5.30am.

I think we have to assume that the bells are part of the setting. Personally I am not complaining, but I am not so sure about some of the others!

Further post-script – last year’s accommodation wasn’t bad either – this is a great area to visit. Click here for more about my stay in Ravensburg.

Charming Ravensburg, Germany

Ravensberg Blaserturm

Ravensberg leather house

One of the pleasures of this year’s Eurobike was further discovery of Ravensberg, the town we stay at in the Allgäu region of southern Germany. 

I stayed there last year and found it was charming town with an attractive car free town centre and a lively bustle of restaurants and bars. However because we only use the town as a dormitory I didn’t realise that there was much more to it than the streets between the station and the main central Marienplatz.

This time we stayed in the delightful Hotel Obertor which is actually built into the city walls and the Obertor (upper tower) itself. A few morning photos don’t quite do it justice but it is a great location.

Ravensberg Obertor and Obertor Hotel

And just beside it was another tower, known unusually as the Mehlsack or “flour sack”. Great name, especially as it had a much more imposing name of the White Tower at St Michael when it was built but locals nicknamed it because of its shape and colour and the name stuck.

The Flour sack Ravensberg

Apparently the town almost completely avoided war damage because it was of little strategic importance which is why it is so well preserved. Another time I must try to have enough time to do it justice and I recommend it you might do the same. Good restaurants and hotels too.

For more about the cycling in the area too see last years’s post here

Ravensburg morning Germany Allgau Ravensburg weigh tower

Not despairing at Eurobike 2013 – the cycling industry’s family gathering

Eurobike Bike ShowLuggage bound for Eurobike

This year’s reflections from the world’s biggest bike show. No, not the Tour de France or the streets of Copenhagen where cycling itself is on show. This is the biggest show of bikes, bits and all the associated services that go with them in the world and it attracts an enormous range of visitors and companies to Friedrichshafen in southern Germany. (Keeping the rough rule that my professional work stays distinct from the blogging my work at the show can be seen over at ECF’s news pages here.)

Eurobike display BH

I have to be honest, am not someone who can get excessively excited by the promised benefits of a new carbon weave or the relative merits of some enormously expensive braking system over another. There are many cycling bloggers and journalists whose raison d’etre is bikes and bits so I have to leave judgement on the merits of the products to them. This year I was even so busy I didn’t even get a single test ride which was a little bit frustrating.

My “Do not despair” thoughts are all about people and atmosphere with the occasional showstopper moment thrown in. I do like bikes as art or design and to be fair to our industry colleagues there are plenty of occasions when the exhibits have some “wow factor”, but to me that is aesthetic as much as technical. (Not all bike show exhibits are eye catching for the right reasons – remember this moment of madness from earlier in the year?)

It is essentially a trade show, business to business, so its primary target is manufacturers, bike shop owners and their wholesalers who come to sort out what bikes they will be selling in 2014, what the components will be and where the trends are. On the Saturday it also opens its doors to around 20,000 cyclists, mainly from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

The overwhelming impression you get from Eurobike is just how big the bike industry is when you see it on a global scale. This year Eurobike had 1400 companies, 2000 journalists and 45,000 trade visitors putting well out ahead of the other two main shows at Taipei and Interbike in the US.

It is also home base for Europe’s biggest cycling market Germany so there is a lot of focus on how cycling in Germany is going in any given year. As my regular readers know I am very excited about how cycling in Germany is growing, I think their cities and cycle touring have a formula for success that is bringing results.

Eurobike opening 2013Now it is very clear that this importance has the highest level of political endorsement in Germany because the star of Eurobike this year wasn’t a piece of technology or even one of the celebrity riders like Tour de France breakthrough star Markus Kittel. They were all swamped by the appearance of “Angie”.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. With respect to our French, British and Italian friends she is almost certainly the most powerful politician in Europe and in Germany she has superstar status. Various coincidences of the German election campaigning season meant that Eurobike fitted her schedule but the overwhelming mood of the show was that this was a breakthrough moment for cycling in Germany. Nearly 18 months ago I wrote about President Ma of Taiwan coming to open the bike show at Taipei and declaring himself to be Taiwan’s number 1 cyclist.

At the time I was able to reflect that this couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world, it was entirely due to the business clout of the Taiwanese bike industry.

How wrong I was, and how pleased I am about it too because it is a real coup for cycling in Europe, not just in Germany. I was very pleased to get a place in the room for the opening because it was a bit of a superstar moment for us policy wonks too.

Angela Merkel at Eurobike

Angie herself was somewhat of a surprise package as well. One of our journalist colleagues said she “stole the show”. I think I have only every seen this rather sour-faced, serious woman who is set on bashing her own and other people’s economies into shape. So when she got up on stage, smiled a bit, relaxed and told a few modest local jokes she had the whole room in her hands. It even worked through the rather overwrought translator who was breathlessly trying to keep up through our earpieces in a horrible monotone.

She did apologise for not being a cyclist, explaining that when she was 15 the Russian soldiers in the forests around her home stole her bicycle, but apparently that wasn’t the reason she had a political reputation for not liking the Russians!

As well as the political clout the other stars of a business event are of course the business leaders, however their presence is much more low-key. It isn’t the impression I get from reading about other industries like cars or IT where the CEOs are put on a pedestal. No Steve Jobs moments at Eurobike, Here you are quite likely to bump into the CEO of the world’s biggest bike company casting a paternal eye over his company’s display (Tony Lo of Giant) and the others are out and about on the floor.

Tony Lo Giant at Eurobike

Product wise the E-bikes remain the place where the biggest buzz is happening, especially in Germany. Bernhard Lange, President of the German manufacturers’ association ZIV was even able to tell Angela Merkel that cycling has delivered her target of 1 million electric vehicles on Germany’s streets although the ferocious political leverage that the car industry has here meant that she quickly had to tell him that they hadn’t meant that.

One of my favourites was actually British, the GoCycle is a very stylish folding E-bike which I am actually hoping to test in Brussels in the next few weeks.

As I whizzed around the booths there is always room for some stylish carbon and huge arrays of mountain bikes but fortunately right in front of our booth was the Eurobike award winners’ section so I was able to sneak over and take a look at some trend setters.

Among them my first look at a Surly fat bike which was a pretty eye-catching. I have seen increasing mentions in US blogs about them and in the winter of last year I could almost have done with one in Belgium.

Surly at Eurobike

Surley Fat Bike

Eurobike Award WinnerVery, very stylish cloth coated saddle from Brooks. Since the company was saved by Selle Royal I think they have done a great job bringing Italian creativity to this most traditional of British icons. It is cotton set on vulcanised rubber – pretty much unique.

Eurobike award winnerHäse’s recumbent cargo bikes were very popular in the bike tryout area and were a distinctive sight all over the expo..

Unfortunately the scale of Eurobike does provide the other overwhelming impressions of Friedrichshafen show and an almost permanent talking point amongst the attendees. Once inside the Messe (exhibition centre) it is busy, but well run and efficient. Outside is chaos. There are not enough hotels so people stay up to 30km away, but this in turn means they largely need to drive to get to the show. Some of the veterans have booked the same hotel for about 15 years to keep a place and other experts from the mountain bike festival scene enjoy the camp site instead. However most just drive – on Thursday the queues to the West were over 20km long.

It would be nice to think we could all ride in on the great network of cycle paths or get the plentiful shuttle buses but even the cycling advocacy world knows that getting your way in and out from the countryside in good shape to stand and meet people all day isn’t practical for everyone. Many try to avoid driving, including me. However even with a relatively straightforward journey I managed to mess up one day and required 3 stages of public transport to get back to my hotel at 10.30 pm. Instead of rich Swabian cookery I had a burger from a well-known fast food brand at Friedrichshafen station which really did not sit very well. Not my finest hour.

However bad it gets it seems Eurobike is an addictive draw for the global bike industry and it looks likely to remain the key show of the year. Increasingly it is growing on me. I genuinely believe we have a very special business, I like the personalities of that community, even the most battle hardened CEOs of stock market listed industrial conglomerate seems to smile more when engaged in the bike world. But at Eurobike they are also surrounded by thousands of company owners for whom running a bike company is a multi-generational passion which has been passed on for as much as 100 years. From bike shops to giant companies like SRAM and Shimano we still see the founders intimately involved in many companies, still bringing the energy they had when they started out.

It never feels like that when I work in any other sector, long may it continue.

Kevin Mayne, Tony Lo, Patrick Seidler, Jeroen Snijders Blok, Stan Day, Ton Van Klooster, Tony Grimaldi, Frank Bohle, Manfred Neun

And the world didn’t end – more cycling lessons from Germany

Shared use bridge over Rhine CologneHaving a chat DomplatzShared use DomplatzKoln Germany

I have just had to kill an hour between trains in Cologne.

As it is a lovely day I wandered outside the Hauptbahnhof to the Cathedral Square (Domplatz), up onto the pedestrian cyclist bridge over the Rhine and looked back at the leafy path car free route along the river bank.

Disgrace. Unacceptable. Impossible. Out of control. Can’t be done. What do they think they are doing?

Cyclist on bridge over Rhine CologneDomplatz cyclist and pedestriansRhine bank cycle access KolnCyclists Domplatz Koln CologneRiverside cycling Cologne KolnGermany cycling

Yes hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians are inhabiting the same space. Politely. Without conflict. Without the world coming to an end. And its official – this is a major corridor across the river for all users.

Young ruffians on BMX bikes. Lycra louts. Parents setting a bad example. Old and young; male and female.

Oh, and you know what – that bridge rail isn’t specially raised to stop the lemmings with pedals throwing themselves off. So that bridge will have to be closed off immediately. The signs industry can celebrate as hundreds of “Cyclist Dismount” signs are ordered and the economy is saved.

Enough cynicism Englishman. Just because you come from a country that is frequently clueless about creating great cycling places doesn’t mean you have to infect the whole of Europe!

In fact it is a wonderful sight as the quiet German cycling revolution continues. Personally I am convinced that the large areas of car free permeable city and town centres that people actually want to walk and cycle in are as big a contributor to the growth in cycling here as many other measures. I must get round to posting the photos I took in Leipzig recently that showed just the same pattern as I have seen throughout the country.

In fact the more time I spend around Germany’s cycling stories the more I do not despair for the future of the human race. To my long suffering cycle campaigning friends in Britain can I just offer a suggestion that there is far more to creating a cycling culture than going Dutch, and there are fantastic examples right here.

PS Some things are however crimes against nature. I have saved them to last, to avoid upsetting the sensitive among you.

Segway Tour Cologne

Cycle touring revolutions – Cycling in Lower Franconia

Franconia Germany

River Main cycle route Germany

I was in Schweinfurt visiting the German training and development centre for SRAM recently.

My main reason for being there was to talk about cycling advocacy to SRAM’s urban cycling event. However at the end of the two day event we had a few hours before I had to get my train back to Belgium so we were offered a social test ride for a couple of hours. As the weather was delightful and spring-like it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? So this was an opportunity to take in another region I knew nothing about – Lower Franconia, almost in the centre of Germany.Franconia Germany

My recent cycle touring in Germany has been limited to a few sessions around the Bodensee (Lake Constance) where I had seen the evidence of the boom in leisure cycling in Germany. But here I saw other dimensions of that boom that had been less apparent in the summer holiday throngs in the south.

We were taken a short distance out of Schweinfurt into the countryside to a delightful area around Gerolzhofen and the popular rural area of the Steigerwald which has attractive villages and delightful countryside.

Germany cycling

Gerolzhofen Germany

Cycle touring Germany

Lower Franconia Germany

Cycling Franconia GermanyFrom there we were able to sample the impressive network of  segregated cycle tracks and minor roads for a couple of hours until we ended up crossing the River Main by ferry and enjoying a snack in a terrace café overlooking the river and its busy cycle route in Obereisenheim.

I was hugely impressed by the number of cycle tourists I saw and the facilities we used but on a working day the people who were out were almost universally older (let’s say seniors to be polite). I had heard about Germany’s grey cycling revolution but I had never seen it personified, it was extraordinary that a busy cycle route could be 90% one demographic.Germany cyclingGerman cyclists in Volkach 2Cycle touring Germany

And the next revolution was what they were riding. I have blogged before about the way E-bikes have taken over at the German trade shows and I know that in the last couple of years they have taken a huge slice of the market, but I hadn’t seen where they were being used. Now I could see it writ large – nearly 50% of the bikes we saw were E-bikes, often in pairs. And the lovely little town of Volkach had adopted it so much they had put an ugly E-bike charging station in the middle of their attractive town square.Cycling bikes Franconia Germany

Franconia Germany

It seemed a bit incongruous, a glorified luggage locker in a medieval square, but it further reinforced the point that if you want elderly German cycle tourists that means catering for the new E-bike phenomenon.

Cycling Franconia Germany

Volkach Franconia Cycling

In fact the café we ended up at down on the River Main only had one customer type the whole time we were there. Cyclists. I know numerous studies have been done showing the economic value of cycle tourists in rural areas but if we could count the percentage of turnover for the Gasthof zum Schiff in Obereisenheim it would indeed be impressive.Cycling Franconia

All in all an excellent afternoon out, great scenery, nice company and the chance to see a number of cycling trends all brought to life in one place. There is little wonder that cycling is growing solidly in Germany, they really have so many positive things happening they all seem to complement each other.SRAM Urban days cycling group

Hidden reasons why cycling in Germany is on a positive track

By river Main

I am in Schweinfurt, just about as close to the centre of Germany as it gets visiting the European education and product development centre for SRAM.

As it is my first time here I before I came briefly asked a couple of German friends about the place and took a quick look on line.

SRAM are here because this is the home of the Sachs bicycle parts business that they bought some years ago, and in turn Sachs is here because this is the absolute heart of German ball bearing manufacturing. A proud industrial heritage, a real engineering based city.

For those of us who are used to old industrial areas being indistinguishable from words like “grim”, “grimy” and “rust-belt” it comes as something of a delight to bike from the hotel to the SRAM site along beautiful water meadows beside the River Main, completely car free almost all the way including the access roads with good cycle paths.

Yes the factories are there, but commuters are mixing with groups of cycle tourists also passing through on longer excursions in a great environment.

There is much here to learn for the industrial towns of many other countries. It is little surprise that German cycling levels continue to rise year on year if even the most unexpected towns can be small slices of cycling delight.

When I see a postie on a bike I do not despair for the future of the human race

Just over two years ago I was involved in a series of protests about the UK’s Royal Mail deciding to give up on its 14,000 cycling posties and go over to cars and foot trolleys.

I always believed that the arguments they put up at the time about security, capacity, speed and safety were complete rubbish, but rather they (and unfortunately some of their union leadership) had a deep seated prejudice that bikes were part of a backwards postal service.

So it always gives me the greatest of pleasure to see a proper, efficient, modern postal service that really understands the potential of the bike.

Take a bow Deutsche Post.Deutsche Post Berlin

The unprepared tourist – an afternoon cycling in Berlin

Brandenburg Gate Deutschebahn call bike

Last week I paid my first visit to Berlin. Fortunately around my schedule of meetings I had a few free hours to myself for an afternoon and the freezing rain relented just enough to make sightseeing a realistic opportunity.

I was horribly unprepared to be a tourist having done almost no prior reading. When I checked my usual source on such matters Tripadvisor’s main recommendations were all places that needed at least an hour each to do them justice. Given that my knowledge of Berlin is entirely made of fragments from spy movies and occasional news footage, not the soundest of starts.

Solitary woman cyclist Berlin

So it should come as no surprise to any reader of this blog that I hired a bike and pottered about with my camera just trying to get some impressions of the city.

I was able to top up my knowledge by chatting to colleagues the following day so I was at least able to answer some of my immediate questions, but here is a brief snapshot of thoughts and feelings from a first afternoon cycling and sightseeing in central Berlin.

First orientation issue – am I in East or West Berlin? I am starting from the middle (Mitte), but checking the map tells me I am in the former East because the Berlin Wall actually encircled the old centre like a bump in its alignment. Not obvious to my eye which was which or that the East had been the poor half because my walk down Friedrichstrasse to hire a bike passed parades of shops and offices indistinguishable from any modern city.

Once a bike was obtained from one of Deutsche Bahn’s many bike hire stations I realised that the layout was very compact and it was a matter of minutes to turn down the main street of East Berlin Unter den Linden and head for the must see monument, the Brandenburg Gate. (above)

Not only an impressive monument but important for my orientation because this was one of the symbols of divided Berlin and I could follow the former line of the Berlin Wall from here, especially as so many tourism landmarks appeared to be along its route.

It turned out to be quite an odd ride, as if the city doesn’t quite know what to do with its legacy, or indeed it’s cycling. Heading south from the Brandenburg Gate towards Potsdamer Platz the road was obvious but almost all suggestions of the wall’s existence were gone. Instead the first landmark was the Holocaust Memorial, a sombre grey feature of large blocks laid out in a grid, completed in 2004. A moody place in the overcast sky and slushy snow.Holocaust Memorial Berlin

At PotsdamerPlatz I encountered my first evidence of the wall with some retained segments placed on the square covered with interpretation materials about the wall and its legacy. This explained more about what I was, or indeed was not seeing. In the transition after the wall came down many sections were demolished leaving the wide open spaces that used to be the former killing zone, the space left for the guards to see anybody trying to cross. Some are still undeveloped over 20 years later and appear as waste land, some quickly got developed or incorporated into road schemes and a few make the site of memorials and museums.

As I left Potsdamer Platz the cycle lane on the pavement disappeared, the road narrowed and I appeared to be on a very ordinary city street with no indication of history. My map said I was following the wall and should take the first left into another very nondescript small side street heading for the famous Checkpoint Charlie and a site called “Topography of Terror”.  It was all very quiet, few cars, few tourist trappings and not unpleasant cycling at all.

I quickly knew I was on the right road because a much longer section of original wall came up beside me. Behind it was a flat plain containing a low grey modern building and some open building foundations. No signs, no obvious clues as to what was going on until I found that “Topography of Terror”  was the site of the core of former Nazi control in Berlin, the seat of the Gestapo and the Propaganda Ministry and the building footings I could see were Hitler’s Bunker and Gestapo rooms. I found out later that the surface buildings had been demolished by Allied bombing during the war and its proximity to the wall meant it was just left as open space for over 40 years. Another uncomfortable memory to be incorporated into the city and the museum was perhaps suitably understated.Berlin wall NiederkirchnerstrasseDisplay Board Topography of Terrors Berlin

Its neighbour across the street could hardly be more of a contrast!Berlin

Shortly beyond was Checkpoint Charlie, the main gateway between the American and Russian sectors which had appeared in many iconic Cold War images and is certainly more of a tourist hot spot now.  visiting Berlin by bike

The motif of the wall was used well to provide photographic displays on the approaching streets which gave the history of divided Berlin in news photographs and information boards.Berlin wall displays

But yet again nearby was one of those ambiguous memorials that really set me thinking – this time the museum of the infamous STASI, the East German secret police.Berlin

I spoke to a colleague later about these many memorials to difficult subjects. He said that because Berlin had stagnated for so long after the war there had been no systematic attempt to “move on” and certainly no civic regeneration programme to remove evidence of difficult subjects. And then after reunification it became recognised that Berlin should not be allowed this past so the city had begun to establish them as part of education and reconciliation. I had the feeling it was a sort of pact – you can become the capital city again but you cannot be allowed to forget.

There is certainly no avoiding the subject of the wall. I had assumed that when I left the central area some of the references would go diminish but later that evening on the S-bahn railway I learned about the ghost stations where North-South trains ran under East Berlin from two sectors of the West but didn’t stop at the pre-war stations. And the sections of that line that ran almost along the wall with platforms only open on the West side.

Back to my ride. Having passed Checkpoint Charlie I had my fill of wall sites so I swung North East to see more of the older city. First I followed a relatively large road across to Alexanderplatz which was a pretty nondescript public space in the growing gloom but I was then able to pick up the banks of the River Spree and circle around the hugely impressive Museum Island. What actually caught the eye here too was the amount of building going on, this looks like a city going though a construction boom.Museumsinsel BerlinRiver scene Berlin

I then used the river bank to retrace my steps back to a building I wanted to see, the Reichstag.  The historic parliament building became the seat of German government again when its modern dome designed by British architect Norman Foster was finally built into the older frame. Reichstag Berlin

Around it I discovered a huge modern civil service quarter built on the river bank and a series of waterways and parkland which looked really nice environment. If I had been organised I would like to have booked a visit to see the inside of the Reichstag because everything I have heard about it looks amazing. But for now the space in front of the Reichstag was vast, open and increasingly cold so I didn’t linger, I needed to keep moving.

From the Reichstag it was a quick trip through the Tiergarten park back to the Brandenburg Gate and the return of the bike to its hire station as the gloom came in.

Fascinating place – so many questions about the attitude to history, to culture, to monuments and a potentially days to spend. That is without touching the arts, culture, nightlife and even some of the suburbs – so many other things form which the city is known.

And what about the cycling?

Well I found as many oddities about cycling in Berlin as I did about the city itself.

I had been told that about 13% of trips in Berlin are made by bike. That’s in line with the German average which means well above the rest of Europe and especially the places I usually ride. But I have convinced myself I am getting the hang of this mode share business, I am beginning to be able to see what the differing levels look like.

empty cycle parking - February in BerlinBut in Berlin I couldn’t. Whether on my ride or looking at the rush hours I couldn’t see the significant flows I was expecting. Cyclists visible on most streets, yes, but not huge numbers. There were lots of bikes parked round the city but in fact much of the cycle parking was empty. So maybe the weather meant that cycling was quite seasonal I asked? Apparently not, but perhaps I was in the wrong place because the levels of cycling are highly dependent on the routes in from certain suburbs.

Fixie rider Checkpoint Charlie Berlin

Just like everywhere else in Europe it is the middle classes and intellectuals who cycle the most and in Berlin it is the areas where the alternative cultural movement established itself in the sixties that cycling levels are highest. If this is the case then it might explain why cyclists in the city centre really did feel quite isolated.

However in the city centre what I could see was that other indicator of cycling health. Women on bikes are universally recognised as a sign that the population thinks cycling is safe. However maybe they think they are not quite safe enough because I did notice that nearly all the women wore the dreaded cycle helmets – but none of the men!Friedrichstrasse Cycling Berlin

Cyclist Berlin 1The other thing that will be a bit confusing for many cycling advocates was the lack of segregated cycle routes. The vast majority of cycling I did was on the carriageway – I could have been in Brussels or London. That certainly contradicts the message that you need a big segregated network to get cycling levels above 10%. However I rarely felt worried, the drivers were largely respectful of the cyclist and the cycle lane – now that is a big difference. Possibly my view was distorted by the time of day, I was just before the afternoon rush hour, but even the following morning I felt general traffic volumes in the city were really low compared to most large cities in Europe. Maybe Berlin drivers are less stressed than their equivalents stuck in traffic across the world? I still instinctively believe that cycle lanes are just one way of changing the relationship between rider and driver and Berlin seemed to support the notion that respectful driving is a valuable way to create a cycling environment too.

So Berlin by bike?

Flat, compact, interesting, well behaved drivers, loads of bikes on hire. Something I definitely want to do again. But better prepared and able to use the Call Bike system properly, jumping on and off to visit the main attractions properly!

Bodensee, Allgäu, Southern Germany, bicycles and crimes against cycling

Test ride carbon fibreI am at the Eurobike trade fair for work. Mostly bike fairs involve being plunged into a morass  of competing booths and emerging blinking into the light after three or four days in complete exhaustion. Click the “Cycle Shows” tab below to catch a different flavour of the shows I have experienced since taking on my new job.

SwitzerlandBodensee ferry and bicyclesBut Eurobike has a treat in store. By an accident of history Europe’s largest bike show ended up in the town of Friedrichshaven on the shores of Lake Constance, the Bodensee in southern Germany. The industry types who have been coming here for 20 years or more moan and groan about the lack of access and hotels and the traffic jams because the town isn’t set up for a show in this scale.

But – but, but, but. You have to get here. And in many people’s case this means coming via Zurich. Two hours on Swiss Railways, then the ferry across the Bodensee from Ramshorn or Konstanz. As you cross the ferry you can also see the evidence of the booming cycle tourism culture building in the area, each time I come I see more and more cyclists – much better than my first lonely ride as a student visitor in 1984.

And you get to stay out in the small towns of the Allgäu with family run hotels in immaculate settings with restaurants set out on the traffic free market squares.

And demo day? A 30 minute bus ride up into a tiny town in the Allgäu hills where 2000 bike shop owners, business people and hangers-on like me get to try out hundreds of bikes on waymarked trails.

What’s not to like – especially as this year we were treated to roasting hot temperatures. We took two really nice road bikes from Ritchey out onto the road route which gave some lovely images of rolling hills, beautifuly kept farms and very smooth roads. We also tested two of the new range from Tern which were very impressive, and much more relevant to real life in Brussels!Allgau scenery

Allgau sceneI also noticed that even the smallest settlements had a lot of solar panels – showing just how far ahead of most of the rest of the world this aspect of German life is. All in all a picture of civilised living.

However what is unforgivable is the Australian who conformed to national stereotype and brought only flip-flops to a cycling demo day. (They are called “thongs” to Aussies – please avoid confusion with a piece of string pretending to be underwear, which could in fact be a worse sight on a bike).

Actually an even worse crime was committed here- actually trying to justify the “thongs” by telling the staff on the booth that Cadel Evans dresses like this at the weekend. Sorry – no, Cadel has some class.