Since my first bike trip in France in 2003, I’ve biked (solo) about 8000 miles in Europe, mainly in France. My most recent trip, which included about 1000 miles in Germany, prompts me to share some thoughts about what makes a country or community bike-friendly.
Among the countries I’ve biked in, Germany ranks 3rd, with Holland and Denmark 1st and 2nd. I love biking in Belgium and France, where I know the language, and bicycle lanes and separated paths are nearly always provided where needed, but the attitude of German drivers puts Germany ahead in bike-friendliness. In Germany, as in Holland and Denmark, biking is an accepted and respected means of transportation, evident not just with all the bike paths and bike signals at crossings, but in motorist behavior. Especially in cities, which most often have bike paths as part of the sidewalk, drivers always stop for cyclists.
They even anticipate a cyclist’s arrival and stop ahead of time. I became so accustomed to drivers stopping that I barely slowed down at the crossings, and when I entered Belgium I quickly noticed I’d better switch back to my Montana defensive biking habits!
German drivers expect cyclists to follow the rules of the road, and one of those rules is that if there is a designated bike path, the cyclists must use it. If there is no bike lane or separated path and biking feels dangerous, and especially if a few motorists have sounded their horns, a careful perusal of surroundings often reveals a separated two-way path on the other side. Many of the in-city or in-town paths were too much just part of the sidewalk, which often meant dodging pedestrians and otherwise having to slow down on poor surface and watching for pedestrians, and I noticed that some of the super-cyclists were out on the road regardless. On the few roads where there were no lane markings or separate paths, motorists, including big trucks, waited until it was safe to pass me, even on hills where I might be going less than 10 mph.
Germany has many beautiful places to bike through the forest and by rivers and canals. Not all bike paths were paved, and I biked on everything from mud to cobblestones, but most were worth the extra effort. I’ll be doing a BWAM presentation in October about the ups and downs of biking in Germany and possibly a few comments on the neighboring countries. One commonality for sure — you meet the nicest, friendliest people in Europe when you’re riding a bike!