17 June, 2015

Mediterranean Scene


Having now returned from a couple weeks worth of globetrotting, I can reflect on the experience enough to whip up an overdue blog post. Sadly, this trip was exclusively as a pedestrian, and the places we visited were probably the least bike-friendly I’ve ever seen. No kidding, I should title this post Top 3 Places To Die On A Bicycle. Nevertheless, there were still cyclists in each city, proving that… well, proving that even the worst odds can play in your favor every so often.


The first destination was Istanbul, (not Constantinople… thanks, Amelia). Spending a few days here we visted many of the historical places they’re known for like the Turkish Bazaar and a couple of the Mosques. Istanbul is really an amazing place, but it’s also gigantic, spanning two continents and several districts. Also, the traffic is frequently approaching absolute gridlock at any given time, which means if you’re on a bike you’ll have to hop some sidewalks. Granted, there are probably areas of the city better suited to cycling, but where we stayed in the historic section, you’re better off taking the metro.


We boarded our cruise in Istanbul and set off for a number of stops on our way to Rome. Malta was one place I could see being suited for bike travel, being an island and all. According to their official tourist website, they’ve got "over 1,000 kilometers of new cycling routes“, though from what I saw, "cycling route“ means, "normal, narrow Maltese roads that cars have trouble navigating through, so why not ride a bike instead?"


Finally, after a couple visits to Italian coastal towns, we reached Rome. Now, while there have been some improvements and initiatives to the cycling scene in Rome, it is still, altogether, an awful place to ride your bicycle. The traffic is egregious, the congestion is outrageous, and the entire transit situation is most oftentimes dangerous. Clearly, the mopeds have rule of the road here in Rome, but even riding in a car is stressful. The infrastructure is lacking, even for pedestrains, as we witnessed first hand by walking along raised shoulders in place of sidewalks just to get to where we were eating dinner. Sure, when you’re in the cobblestoned city center just across the river from Vatican City, it’s easy to get around on foot, but that’s where the entitlement ends. Italian traffic is insane. The cyclists there are also, probably, insane too, because I saw not one but several riding on what we tend to refer to as “highways“ where the speed limit is 100KPH. Not to mention some of the routes that are glamourized by the Giro d’Italia that any other day of the year are populated with tour giant tour busses passing other tour busses.


So you can imagine the serentity we felt flying into Eindhoven in the Netherlands and seeing the peaceful roundabouts and the segregated bike lanes, all flowing beautifully in stark contrast to the abysmal chaos of Italian traffic. It was like having a nightmare and waking up to the reality of everyday life, except that the Italians are forever stuck with these narrow, crowded streets, and they’ve given up hope of anything better several hundred years ago. So to anyone that complains that cycling infrastructure in the U.S. is bad, I invite you to visit southern Europe and I’m certain you’ll find you’ve probably got it much better where you live.


The vacation was a good time, and it was great to see some of the most ancient places on Earth, but at the end of it, I think we were all ready to get back to Germany. And I was as eager as ever to get back to riding my bike.

- Bicyclist Abroad

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11 May, 2015

The Future Lies in Bike Travel (Copenhagen, DK)

Residential Building
I saw the future, and it was filled with bike lanes, free education, and free healthcare. It was also filled with cigarette smoke and broken glass, but you can’t have everything, right? This past weekend, the Mrs. and I took a transcendent trip to the cycling city of Copenhagen.

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In Copenhagen, half of the population commutes by bike, and even 63% of the Danish parliament cycles to work. In fact, there are more bicycles in Copenhagen than there are people. Much like it is in Amsterdam, parked bicycles cluster up, clinging to poles and fences, overflowing out of designated bike parking. It really is an incredible sight for people who’ve never seen so many bicycles in one place. 
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Forgetting where you park your bike here is like forgetting where you parked your car at the mall, except every car is roughly the same make and model and there’s no key fob to press that will make your bike beep back at you.

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We had scheduled a bike tour of the city with a Danish man by the name of “Bike Mike”. Mike’s a one-man operation, taking tourists around the city to see both the expected tourist spots and also the places he deems important himself, which is to say, important to Denmark. He is fiercely nationalistic-- and quite a character.

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Mike took us around to several of the local government buildings, all of which were impressive in their architecture. Many sculptures adorn the city, from famous philosophers and government figures, to Greek gods and little mermaids. We probably saw a dozen on the tour without really going out of our way to see them.

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bike tour opera house
Although Mike preferred to ride through non-standard (and non-recognized) thoroughfares, we also had the opportunity to utilize some of Copenhagen’s world-famous cycling infrastructure. Copenhagen has been expanding it’s non-car roads for several years now and continues to push vehicular traffic outside the city, giving those roads back to pedestrians and cyclists. Towards the end of the tour, we approached a bridge that I instantly recognized, in spite of having never been on it in person: the Cykelslangen, or “Bike Snake.” Connecting two separate parts of the city as it spans over the water, I was very excited to ride on it.

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velorbis 

There is a very delicate balance between the historic and the contemporary here; what is classic and what is modern both occupy the same spaces, yet it seems to work. The bicycles people ride on the streets exhibit this same principle. The basket-clad utility bike, in service for almost as long as bicycles have been around, is rode alongside the newest, technologically advanced bikes. The most striking example is the city’s very own bikeshare program, which are known as GoBikes.
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Like New York’s Citibikes, London’s Boris Bikes, or any other city with a bike share program, the Copenhagen GoBikes are located in various spots around the city, available to check out from their kiosks. These, I should note, are mammoths compared to any of those, however. They have solid, puncture-proof tires, GPS and turn-by-turn navigation on an integrated touch-screen, and electric-assisted pedaling (which you need, considering how much each one weighs.)
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As gimicky as most of the locals seem to find them (how successful an idea is bike share in a city where everyone already owns a bike?), I really wanted to test one out. Unfortunately, they were near impossible to find for some reason, and as universal as they are engineered to be, were too big for the Mrs. to pedal comfortably, even with the seat lowered all the way down. (She’s really not even that short!) So it was a very abbreviated hands-on with the GoBike system. Thankfully, if you’re visiting Copenhagen and you need a bicycle, there are many local bike shops and hotels that will let you rent a normal bicycle by the day.

wet bike
We ended our trip with a visit to Tuvoli Gardens, the second-oldest amusement park in the world, for some music and ice cream. Altogether, I enjoyed Copenhagen very much; I would recommend it to anyone looking to visit somewhere incredibly bike-friendly. There’s so much more to see than we were able to squeeze into a single weekend there, and there's so much more to say than I can fit into a single blog post. If you do go, and Bike Mike isn’t away on an adventure somewhere, definitely book a city tour with him at http://bikecopenhagenwithmike.dk.

- Bicyclist Abroad

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25 April, 2015

Weak In The Knees

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I had finished a rather lengthy ride in some pretty brutal wind, got off the bike, and carried on with business as usual. The next morning, I couldn’t bend my leg without feeling some rather intense pain. Stairs were a problem. Kneeling to tie my shoes was not fun. I couldn’t understand what I had done that was causing me so much discomfort. It’s not like I haven’t ridden a bike long-distance before.

After a couple days of the pain persisting, I thought I’d attempt to get on my bicycle. Surprisingly, the range of motion while pedaling did not affect me in the slightest. Dismounting and everything else however, yup—still hurts.

A full week elapsed with no lessening of the pain, so I decided that I’d see a doctor about it. Then, mysteriously, the pain went away. I had no problem bending my leg, which was great, if not a little awkward to explain to the doctor. I expected him to tell me it was all in my head or to stretch more and send me home. But instead, he prescribed me a few sessions of physical therapy. “Hmm.” I thought to myself. “Not really what I had in mind.”

But I indulged the doc and went to physical therapy. The prognosis was something about the kneecap not being well enough supported, and thusly causing discomfort as it jostled all around in there. To put it one way, I was writing checks my knees couldn’t cash.

Thankfully, the physical therapist suggested that in addition to some light leg work to strengthen the area, I should also look into riding a bike. “Convenient”, I say. “I rode one to this appointment!”

And now all is well again. The moral of the story is, if you’re like me and your primary source of fitness is riding a bike, make sure to throw some squats or lunges in for good measure.* Your knees may thank you.

The End.

- Bicyclist Abroad

 

* I am not a medical professional and my advice should not be taken as such. Please consult your own primary care physician.BA Post Footer

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