23 July 2014

Going Places

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Riding a bicycle for leisure is all well and good, but the true test of their utility is in everyday travel, i.e. commuting to work, school, errands and shopping destinations. While an (albeit slowly) expanding trend in the United States, the infrastructure has been in place for several years now in Germany and many other European countries, and it is fairly easy to get from one place to another via the bicycle route system that was developed as part of the National Cycling Plan [wikipedia.org].
I had been eager to try to my hand at navigating from our home to the NATO base, which as the primary place of employment for most of us non-Germans in the area, would represent a typical commute, but I wasn’t certain I wanted to take the heavy, single-speed Avon on the trek. Luckily, our unaccompanied baggage had arrived, and we were reunited with our folding bikes we had shipped out from Japan. Having ridden the Dahon extensively in Mississippi, I knew it was up to the task. I entered the destination in Google to get the approximate duration of the trip (1 hour, 3 min.), but only as a baseline to track my own time. I didn’t use Google’s bike directions (as handy as they might be), because I wanted to see if the bicycle route system was effective enough to rely upon solely.
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Armed with only a cycling map I purchased from a local gas station, I headed out with the goal of an 11:00 arrival to have lunch with the Mrs. on base. Heading South, the trip begins on what is not a bike road per se, but is rather a motor vehicles prohibited road, which is pretty much the same thing. There is an occasional car, but they either have a residence on that road or they are taking their chances with the local law enforcement.
After this road terminates, you arrive in the village of Braunsrath, which hosts a bakery, a church, a hardware store, and not much else. I stopped here to reference my map, because this is where the signage begins and you have to choose between two or sometimes three different directions based on your destination.
Some of the sign posts even include a map (a la mall directory) for you to get your bearings if you don’t have a map yourself. These are placed sporadically, with some—like the one pictured below—in the middle of a cornfield.
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Conveniently, once you begin to follow posted signage, you are unlikely to get lost.  That is, unless you miss a sign or one is uprooted and lying in the grass, which was the case only once on my trip. I picked it up, and spent a couple minutes turning it around in a slapstick which way is which manner before setting it back down and again referencing my map to make sure I picked the right path.

The route varied in terrain, with what I would say was 90% smooth pavement/brick, 7% rough pavement or cobblestone, and 3% gravel. I passed through probably three or four different villages which, although presents the added hazard of vehicular traffic, offers a change of scenery and makes the trip a little more interesting than if it were completely rural.


One village in particular had a pretty nice roadside attraction, that being the Schierwaldenrath railroad depot. Here, a still-operational steam locomotive resides and makes weekly trips through a few of the neighboring villages. There is a cafe there and one of the signs even advertised bicycle rentals.

This depot was about half of the way through the trip. The rest of the route was more of the same, involving fields, farms, one more village, and the actual entrance of the NATO base. I stopped taking pictures however, due to an incident involving me panic-braking and catapulting myself off the Dahon and into a recently harvested wheat field. I was a little too shaken to hold the camera still after that point. Thankfully, I managed to land on my feet which I can only attribute to dormant martial arts training and possibly luck.
After all of that commotion, the base was probably another 10-15 minutes. All in all, Google was right, as it took just over an hour, give or take time for stopping for photos and map-checking. I’m fairly certain I can shave a couple minutes off a certain portion of the route too, but that will have to wait until the next time.
If I needed to, could I do this route every day? Probably. It’s varied enough that it wouldn’t be boring, but I might prefer trying it on my road bike when it arrives to see how much quicker the trip might be. At the very least, it’s a great route to do once or twice a week to clear your head and stretch your legs. In fact, I might just begin the precedent of a weekly commute to the base for lunch, as typically the Mrs. and I will have our lunches separately, hers at the base and mine at home. I’d like to say it can be done all year long, but I’ll have to wait and see what the winter brings this way.
- Bicyclist Abroad

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