Sunday, July 23, 2006


Köln-Niederkassel-Hennef-Eitorf-Wissen-Siegen.

Trip dist: 158 kms. Trip time: 9 hrs, 16 min. Tot dist: 4,262 kms.

Stereotypes.

So. This is a sight-seeing biking trip, not a sports-cycling gotta get there as fast as I can trip. So which route does Elisa choose to Berlin?

Not only that, I also decided to try to ride on the bike paths, especially because to Siegen, they followed two appealing looking rivers, the Rhine southwards from Köln, and then the Sieg eastwards to Siegen. The problem is that to catch the Siegtaler Radweg, which is the bike path on the Sieg, you need to head southwards almost all the way down to Bonn. This was a 36 kilometer detour (or, "indirectour", since a detour implies a waste of time or at least going in wrong direction). But I wasn't sorry. The ride along the Rhine was well worth it, and I would very much recommend it. Would be nice to ride even further south all the way down to Switzerland this way. Next trip. Or the one after the Mosel trip. ;)

Catching the Siegtaler Radweg was tricky though. At around the junction between the two bike routes several other bike routes (and as I said Germany is chock-a-block full of them) intersect as well, and having only a roadmap, not a bike map, I predictably got a bit lost. Took an extra 5 kms and a lot of asking passing riders for directions to sort out the correct route. But the Siegtaler route was kind of neat: there are parts of it that look just exactly like the hiking paths at Castle Rock (on Highway 9 near Saratoga, California), the ones near Goat Rock, with all the rocks and cliffs to one side. Definitely a technical mountain biking section, that was. Imagine me having to pushwalk through these rock and root infested 1-person narrow pathways with 30 kgs of panniers and the river 10 meters below. (!). Luckily that section was rather short. ;)

Another funny encounter happened to me today. I was biking along the bike paths in one of the little villages, when I quickly approached a young family, husband and wife in their mid 30s, and two 4-7 year old children leisurely riding along the bike lane in front of me. I reduced my speed and started riding right behind the leftmost and last person of the party, the husband, and patiently waited until someone would hear the sounds of my bike and either move to the side or turn around wondering what the noise was so that I could ask for permission to pass.

The wife, finally, did see me, and motioned to her husband to move away, to which I said, as I started pedalling a bit faster in order to pass them, a quick "Entschuldigung, Danke!" ("Excuse me, thanks!).

No sooner had I said this, that the woman said after me (I still had to pass one of the little kids in front, so I was still close by): "Wenn sie ein Klinger hätten, wäre es natürlich wunderbar." ("If you had a bike bell, it would be wonderful.").

By this point I had just finished passing the little kid, so I lifted my hand palm up and shrugged to convey a meaning of "Oh well, pity," as I turned and gave her a crooked smile.

"Sie kosten nur drei Euros. Sie sind nicht teuer.", she said after me, a lot louder this time, as I was already farther along the path ("They cost only 3 Euros, they are not expensive").

I couldn't supress a laugh at that one (by then I was far enough away they couldn't hear, I hope).

Yup, my friends. Life would be better if only those crazy foreigners would just buy the silly bike bell. After all, they only cost 3 Euros!

You know, the thing about Germans being a little bit too obsessed with rules has a little ring of truth, I think. Nobody jaywalks. Nobody (not even bikes or pedestrians!) ever run red stoplights. There are never any bicycles on the main roads, only on the bike paths. The correct way to address a stranger on the street is by starting with an "Entschuldigung" ("Excuse me"), otherwise, there is absolutely no response or acknowledgement of having been heard (no, my friends, a "Hello" doesn't seem to cut it!). One must start conversations, otherwise they won't start. They have 4 different bins for recycling and 3 different ones just for glass (white, brown, and green). Empty plastic bottles must be returned and to encourage this there is a returned bottle deposit of 15 cents (you get them back if you return the bottle. But carrying the bottle is, at least to me, more of a hassle than the 15 cents are worth--it seems to me that encouraging plastic bottle recycling would be much more easily, effectively, and cheaply accomplished by simply scattering more plastic recycling bins on street corners), one "drives with a bike", not "goes with the bike", as a gentleman I was conversing with in the Youth Hostel in the morning pointed out to me....20 minutes after I made the grammar mistake, only after the conversation had reached a lull, and there was an uncomfortable silence to be filled (The French, you see, correct you quickly and immediately and then continue as if nothing had happened, thus minimizing the error's importance. They simply repeat your phrase correctly without going through the whole uncomfortable business of having to explain the obvious "One does not say 'so and so' in French, one says 'this instead'", and thus remain charming even when subtly pointing out your mistake. My interlocutor, on the other hand, had very politely tried to ignore my garish error for a full 20 minutes, but it was clear that it had bothered him, for the correction could not have been done without and had to be taken care of, obviously, and what's more, only during an uncomfortable lull--so as not to interrupt the ongoing conversation, presumably--, where it had no choice but to be explicitly clarified, that "By the way, one does not say...." etc, because there was nothing else thought of to say by way of real conversation instead), and finally, if one is riding (or more correctly "driving with", as I quickly learned) a bike, one needs to buy one of those bell ringer thingies that only cost 3 Euros.

So remember this next time you're packing, kids. Don't forget the bell. ;)

Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm sure she was trying to help. Maybe she really did think that this silly foreigner didn't know bicycle bells existed. After all, she couldn't have known, that I deliberately don't buy bike bells because I prefer to slow down and wait for people to hear me and silently move on their own, or if that doesn't suffice and I get impatient, that I think a quick "Excuse me, I'm on your left" suffices. She couldn't have known, that I think a ringing bell insulates you from the others, takes away the necessity to speak, to greet and say thank you, as if the pedestrians blocking your path were simple obstacles, not even worthy of a simple "Entschuldigung."

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Elisa, you misunderstand. The bike bell is a mandatory component of a correctly fitted out bicycle since it promotes orderly cycling. It is required that you ring the bell when within 10m of slower bicycles. You must not ring the bell when further than 10m from another cycle, since that would represent excessive exuberance and promotes chaos on the bicycle paths.

Anonymous said...

There appears to be a Fahrradglockegesetz as part of this. Have fun in Germany.

Elisa said...

Hmm...it appears to me that I would also need to purchase a laser range-finder so that I know exacly when I am within 10 meters from the next bike, then? Cuz I'm a horrible judge of distance by eye, you see...

;)

Anonymous said...

Someone else's experiences with bike bells:

http://andrewhammel.typepad.com/german_joys/2006/01/the_awesome_pow.html

Anonymous said...

Yeesh. I made up comment #1 but a search shows that not only most of Europe, but also Manhattan and New Jersey in the US have bike bell laws.

Sorry, I'm not doing absurd very well today.

Torsten said...

Hi, Elisa,

so, I finally want to ad my comment to the entire bike bell episode, too. Since we Germans are so orderly, our bikes are frequently well oiled and very silent, so silent that you can not hear it when one approaches you from behind. If a bike suddenly and unexpectedly appears next to you on a narrow bike line, it might cause the thus surprised person to startle, resulting maybe even in an accident. So far you are with me I guess.
To avoid startling and maybe even accidentally injuring someone, it is not only prescribed by law, but also by custom that you warn people ahead. You could do so by shouting at the people ahead of you (hey, get out of the way there), but shouting at strangers is considered very rude, not only in Germany. Plan B, the one you practise, is to lower you speed and approach silently from behind, until finally the people in front realize you are behind them, maybe helped along by a little "ahem". This, again, might result in startling the people in front of you and is thus considered rude, especially so in more rural parts of Germany and on bike lanes. It startles people, because the expect to be alerted by bell, as is the custom.
So, to summarize the important bits, especially in rural parts of Germany and on bike lanes (standards of behaviour are lower in cities), it is expected that you alert people ahead of you of your approach on a bike by ringing a bell. Not doing so is considered extremely rude, so rude that the behaviour of the women you describe was quite restraint. As to the 10m, nobody has ever been reprimanded for ringing the bell at 5m, or 15m, and if you are not sure about the right distance, feel free to ring several times. The effect will be amazing: people will immediately and without complaint move to the right, enabling you to pass without endangering the life of a little child, for example. They will also smile at you instead of scolding you, and not fail to notice what a considerate biker you are!
Have a save trip!