German Bicycle Nerds

Yesterday, we went on a lovely bike ride from our house down to the local lake (the Baldenysee, which, much like Town Lake in Austin, is actually a river that has been dammed). It was wonderful weather, and the only downside was the clouds of midges you would periodically find yourself biking through. More prepared people had mouth coverings, we made do with spitting out any wayward bugs. I decided an excellent art project would be photographing the expressions people made as they ran or biked through these clouds, since they were pretty funny.

My other entertainment for the ride was pointing out people who appeared to be on sufficiently “serious” mountain bikes and telling Justin he should ask them where the trails are – every time he goes mountain biking, he finds standard German walking trails (which are wide, paved with fine gravel, and not very challenging) as the recommended route. All of my suggested mountain bikers were deemed either “insufficiently serious” or had “weird bikes”. Right now he’s off again hunting for trails, and hopefully has had more success.

We took the train back (since I’m lazy, and the train is absurdly convenient). Usually the front and back cars on the S-Bahn are bike cars, which means they have a section with fold out seats next to a big area you can stick your bike in. An older gentleman was already there, and I leaned my bike up against his. After the train started moving, he asked me something in German, which I did not quite parse. I replied “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutche, aber mein Mann spricht gut Deutsch.” [Translation: “I speak a little German, but my husband speaks good German.”] He wanted to know why my bicycle did not have caps on the valve stems – so Justin told him it was because we topped it off with air regularly (also, it’s pretty common among US cyclists to get rid of these, but in Germany, apparently not). Then he wanted to know how much my bike cost, where it was purchased. Next, he said it was a nice bicycle, but that the kickstand was cheap-looking. For context, let me explain that the standard German kickstand is a two-sided jobber that looks like it could kickstand the Bismarck. I think the intent is so you can stop your bike and then sit on it, because apparently stopping your bike and stepping over it to sit elsewhere is uncool. We had encountered our first German bike nerd.

This was actually pretty encouraging compared to my German cycling experience earlier in the week. I was bicycling home from my German class, uphill, at a leisurely 4 mph. I was biking on the sidewalk, because that’s where the bike lane on this particular road dumped me about a mile prior, and because this particular sidewalk is about 10 feet wide and usually has no one on it. The road next to it has four lanes, typically heavily trafficked with buses and cars on their way to the autobahn. An old man with a handtruck full of beverages was headed the opposite direction (a genteel 5 feet across the sidewalk), saw me, pointed, shook his finger, and then pointed to the roadway. He did it twice, to ensure I saw. I resisted the urges of my New York upbringing, and did not make a rude gesture, but it was close. Keep in mind, I’ve often seen people cycling down busy shopping streets, and there doesn’t appear to be a consensus as to where bicycles go on streets without a designated bicycle lane.

Anyway, Germany is still full of entertaining complexities – the German customs authority is holding my Kindle for ransom after I left it at a friend’s in the US and he mailed it back to me. I will have to produce a receipt to demonstrate that I’m not trying to smuggle it in to avoid taxes. On the upside, the beer is cheap, the weather is good, and the days are long, and I feel a little less confused when I’m spoken to in German (most of the time).

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