A German Cycling Adventure

Bike lane in Berlin - separated from foot traffic by a fence and motor traffic by trees and parked cars.  Yes, there is a pedestrian walking there...

Bike lane in Berlin - separated from foot traffic by a fence and motor traffic by trees and parked cars.  Yes, there is a pedestrian walking there...


Dateline, Berlin, January 2017

I hear it’s been cold in Chicago, and maybe you are one of the hardy ones here who cycle all year, or maybe you are taking a breather and commuting by bus or “L”, on foot or by car. I hope you were able to take advantage of Winter Bike Challenge—the other WBC—and track your rides.

In the meantime, I have been traveling outside of Chicago—to Berlin, with stops in Bremen and Leipzig—visiting friends. I am here to personally report what it’s like to commute by bike.

Disclaimer: I am only reporting what I saw. If there are other experiences, I just didn’t see them.

First of all, yes, there are a LOT of people on bicycles, and yes, there is extended infrastructure, and yes, I did see cyclists from eight to eighty years old out there. Really. (And it's also winter in Berlin - temps are a few degrees below zero Celsius.)

Other things I observed: 

In Bremen, in the western part of the country, only one cyclist I saw had a road bike. Ninety percent of everyone else has the upright commuter style, and 10 percent are hybrids. In Berlin, it’s more like 80-20 upright to hybrid. 

The mountain bike I borrowed in Berlin came in handy because many side streets are cobblestone (Also better for erosion and flood control). On this side street, I was not exactly sure where to ride since the cobblestone was bumpy and the sidewalks were narrow. On one side street, I rode slowly on the sidewalk behind a couple of people on foot. Another woman called out to me in German that I was supposed to ride on the street (I believe that’s what she said—she spoke fast!). So that answered that. 

Yes, it’s true, people don’t wear helmets here (generally; except children, the one road cyclist, and the food deliverers). The infrastructure is so good that it’s no more dangerous than walking. By that I mean, few potholes, and on major streets, there is a clear separation of where to ride, walk and drive.

Waiting at a stop light in Berlin.  Notice how the bike lane veers a little right to be back on the sidewalk - completely separated from both motor traffic and foot traffic.  The small triangle just to the left of the bike lane is a left turn holding lane for bikes. 

Waiting at a stop light in Berlin.  Notice how the bike lane veers a little right to be back on the sidewalk - completely separated from both motor traffic and foot traffic.  The small triangle just to the left of the bike lane is a left turn holding lane for bikes. 

The infrastructure includes specially marked parts of the sidewalk and painted streets. There are zero parts of the bike lane that just disappear into a motor vehicle lane. When there is no room on the street for the bike lane, it’s merged into the sidewalk, which is still wide enough for foot traffic. There is usually a separate bicycle traffic signal where there is a specific bike lane, at eye level of cyclists.

In Bremen’s city center, in the plaza in front of the city hall (“Fußgängerzone”), cyclists, walkers and motorists (I saw only delivery vehicles) all share the space with trams. You just gotta watch where you are going, go slow and wait.

According to my friend, there is no right turn on red ever. According to the internet, you may if there is a specific sign. This made me feel much safer because drivers never crowded me into the right lane.

I also want to note that it’s not perfect everywhere. Near the end of my trip, my friend and I borrowed bicycles from our B&B while visiting Leipzig, in southeast Germany. We rode from our B&B into the city center and also farther out into a neighborhood and a park. It was not easy cycling. I saw several of the Right Turn on Red signs mentioned above on a busy street shared with cars, trams, and bicycles. Here the bike lanes do disappear into motor traffic lanes. Drivers often park in bike lanes and I slipped on wet pavement as I rode around two of them. (Yes I am OK. We were going very slow.) Later, I was cut off by a driver turning right onto a side street. I saw a cyclist yell at a driver for being too far right at a stoplight, when there was plenty of room toward the middle of the street. 

The cycling environment in Germany definitely varies among regions. Mostly it really is safe and convenient and fun, and something I know we in Chicago are working toward.  

Happy Pedaling!
- Susan

Car in the bike lane in Bremen.  Sigh.  An annoyed cyclist riding by.

Car in the bike lane in Bremen.  Sigh.  An annoyed cyclist riding by.

Welcome to fall!

Welcome to fall, bikers!

In anticipation of the gift giving season, we at WBC have gathered some of our favorite bike gifts, treats, and gear. 

If you're in the mood for something shiny and eco-friendly, the folks at Chainspirations upcycle old bicycle chains into fun jewelry. From earrings to bracelets to key chains, Chainspirations works with local bicycle shops to keep chains out of the landfill.

Since 2009, Maria Boustead has produced fun and versatile bicycling bags through PoCampo. The line includes bags to take you from work to the gym to a weekend away. Our favorite is the Uptown Trunk Bag in the lovely mosaic print. Best of all, every time PoCampo sells 50 bags through their online store, the company partners with World Bicycle Relief to provide a new bicycle for a school girl in Africa.

To protect your head and add a little bit of style to your ride, check out Nutcase Helmets. You'll love the easy-to-use magnetic buckle, removable visor, and adjustable fit.  Check out the In Bloom print. The fun floral print is sure to brighten up even the grayest end-of-year ride.  You can try on the helmets in person at BFF Bikes at 2113 W. Armitage.

Finally, if you'd like to gift a new experience to a biking friend (or to yourself!), consider a bike maintenance class at The Recyclery. Located just north of the Howard Red Line stop, The Recyclery offers regular classes covering basic tune-ups and complete bike overhauls.  Get your hands dirty, improve your mechanic skills, and meet some new friends.

What are your favorite bike-related gifts and gear?  Share a link with us on Facebook.

See you on the trails!

Head of Communications

WBC - Fall Taco Tour!

On a bright, early Sunday morning in September, I (Susan) and two hearty women on bikes joined WBC founder Jennifer James, her husband Doug and youngest son Pele on a delicious tour of Pilsen. Gina and Shay, friends who both work in community health, live in the neighborhood and were excited to learn more about their community, including the best places for cheap eats.   

Our first stop was a church basement. We are not at liberty to share the exact coordinates for fear they will get overrun with customers (since WBC has a huge following! To find the location, you'll have to join us on our next tour.)  We split a bean taco - we didn't want to get full too soon on this tour.  

The next stop was a corner stand, Shay had a strawberry enchilada - basically strawberry-colored and flavored corn meal.  Gina had a meat taco, and I had a Mexican-style hot chocolate.  We stood on the corner and enjoyed them all in the shade.

There was another stop at another corner umbrella stand, but unfortunately they were out of what Jenn wanted to introduce us to. This is why the ride needed to start at 9 AM--these vendors run out of the good stuff early!

Fortunately, across the street was el-popocatepetl, a tortilla factory storefront, where we stocked up on various packages you normally see in grocery stores, but the freshest you can get.  

Next stop:  Don Churro, with our choice of chocolate, strawberry, cream cheese or plain churros. Delicious!  Also ate them standing on the sidewalk. 

En route to our next stop, we rode by a series of murals on the walls of the elevated rail tracks.  Pilsen is known for its large-scale public art painted on all kinds of buildings.  

One more stop to a full service restaurant on Ashland near 18th, where we could taste a sample of goat.  I think it was barbecued.  It smelled tasty, but, being a vegetarian, I declined.  Jenn ordered a large meal called a huarache that was all the toppings on a sandal-shaped tortilla. 

Our last stop was the Pilsen Weekend Market, with one more place for tacos.  We were all so full from all the other stops, that we mostly just wandered and looked at the other stalls.  The last adventure before we split was Shay testing out Jenn's Bakfiets cargo bike.  Once she got the hang of it, she said it changed her life.   

Want more exciting adventures like this one?  e-mail info@womenbikechicago.org and let us know!

WBC + WTB Fix a Flat Class!

Emily & Danni & the rest of the West Town volunteers at West Town Bikes were gracious enough to teach ladies about everything there is to know about fixing a flat! If you haven't checked out West Town Bikes before, it's a great shop that offers Women & Trans Open Shop on Wednesdays, if you ever want to work on your bike. Great non-profit with great people! Check them out!

Photography courtesy of Lura Meisch

WBC - Trio of Events Recap!

Thank you all SO MUCH for a great weekend of bikes, women-power & amazing things. 

We love the opportunity to meet, socialize with, and ride with women of all backgrounds and skill levels and move the ball forward for women who ride for transportation and for the pure joy of it. Because it was a joyous weekend.

Our Scaredy Cat session was a huge success! (One scaredy cat even came on our North Side Ride and did FANTASTIC).

After our Scaredy Cat Session, we rode over to Jak's Tap (Thanks for letting us host our event!) where all our awesome vendors had some great stuff! Fantastic people with fantastic ideas all coming together for the love of biking.

We ended our weekend with a +30 mile ride up to Hackney's in Glenview, which ended in burgers & good times. Many of you guys joined us and it was a beautiful day for it! Only one flat happened and we all learned how to remove an internal hubbed wheel, something new for everyone.

We don't think we can say it enough, but thank you to everyone who supports WBC by showing up, riding with us, donating their time, hanging out with us, dancing/biking/eating/drinking/whateversuitsyourfancy & everything else that we may ask of you! Looking forward to a great 2016 summer!
Photography by Lura Meisch

First Spring Ride of the Season!

14 of you joined us for our first spring ride of the season! We started strong, had an impromptu fix-a-flat clinic ;), and rode our way down south through Hyde Park to our lunch destination of Ancien Cycles & Cafe! 

It was only cold in the shade and the winds were with us on the ride back up the Lakefront Trail. Gorgeous sites & great comradery happened! Check out some of the captures that our photographer, Lura Meisch, got for us.