Since I moved to Berlin in 2012, I started using a bike as my main mode of transportation and, for most of the time, I love it. For those watching from the bike lanes, Berlin might seem like a piece of heaven for bikes. But I don’t believe cycling in Berlin it is even close to what was promised it would be.
Like every other city, Berlin has problems when it comes to adapting to a world where cars and bikes live together. And it doesn’t stop there. The one thing that scares me the most about cycling in Berlin are other people on bikes. And there are a lot of them. For every 10 people in Berlin, there are 7 bikes and there are around 500,000 daily bike rides through the city. This accounts for a lot of unprepared people on the road which can be scary from time to time. But, let me tell you my story with cycling in Berlin.
At first, I thought Berlin wasn’t a classic cycling city. I mean that because Berlin has a public transport system that works really well. So, why would you buy a bike in the german capital? I will tell you why.
First, Berlin is almost completely flat which means that you don’t need a bike with gears. And that is amazing. I come from Belo Horizonte, a city in the middle of the Brazilian mountains, where cycling is pretty hard. Berlin is as close as I can get to heaven. At least when it comes to how flat it is.
Second, most apartments and offices here have places for storing your bike. Which means that it is really easy to park your bike anywhere in Berlin. You don’t need to spend some time searching for a place for your bike, there is a lot of places everywhere.
Third, the streets are wide and the drivers expect you to be there, most of the times. We live in Neukölln and Karl Marx Strasse is a great place to bike with wide lanes everywhere. But it is not even wide when you compare to the streets of East Berlin. Karl Marx Allee is so wide that tanks could drive down on both sides and you would still have space for you bike. That is amazing!
But enough about the good things about cycling in Berlin. Like I said before, Berlin can be a piece of heaven but, it has its share of problems. Let me tell you some of them.
I will start with one of the things that i hate the most and it’s bikes without lights at night.
I really don’t get how people even have the courage of taking their bikes at night through the streets of Berlin without any lights or any other way of telling people and cars where they are. It’s even worse during the colder months of the year when it gets dark in the middle of the afternoon. That way, everybody that took their bikes to work will have to cycle home in the dark. And a lot of them don’t have any lights on their bike. Why?
Since I hate when I stumble upon bikes without lights, I try my best to be seen with my bike. That is why I decided to use a proper flash light as the front light on my bike. I do that because I don’t trust this small blinking lights that they sell everywhere. If you are in a dark place or crossing a park, you need to see in front of you as much as you need other people to see you. This is why I have EasyAcc LED Flashlight Torch with me all the time and you should do it too.
For the back of my bike, I use something even more flashier than a flash light. I use what I like to describe as warning lights for trucks. Really. It blinks like crazy and it does it in different patterns and there is no way people are not going to see you there. Some people might see it as a little bit too much but I love mine as you can see on the picture above.
Something else that bothers me a lot about cycling in Berlin is the lack of safety for cyclists, from cyclists.
If you’re on a bike, don’t try to send a message on your phone. If you’re on a bike, don’t try to wear your headphones! They will block your ears from the cars around you and the other bikes that are going along you.
This is why I really hate cyclists in Berlin. They go over red lights without even looking if there is a car coming or if there are people trying to cross the street. They cycle on the wrong side of the road, sometimes riding their bike straight into you. Some of them cycle next to you, trying to push you to go faster but not allowing you to go on your own rhythm. There are others that just block the entire bike lane while they talk to another person on a bike next to them. Why? If you want to talk to your friend, stop and talk. Don’t block the bike lane because you felt like sharing that gossip you heard somewhere.
Another thing: wear a helmet. I know most people here don’t do it but I think they should. It took me a few years to wear one but every time I read about a bike accident in Berlin that ended up with somebody dying, I think about my helmet. I feel safer with it and I can’t think about the time I wasn’t wearing one without thinking about how stupid I was.
Slow bikes are an issue to me as well. Mostly because I use my bike to go to work and I work close to Alexanderplatz, a place famous for the number of groups of bikes going down the bike lanes as fast as a snail. This doesn’t happen that often during winter times but summer is here and I changed my way to work because of that.
Learn how to fix your bike or, at least, how to make it run without making weird noises. You’re taking your bike on the road with cars and trucks and they can kill you if your bike doesn’t work really well and something happens. There is no safety belt when you’re on your bike. If something happens to a bike that is not well maintained, there is nothing between you and the street below. It will hurt you and you can avoid it by taking good care of your bike. Do it, don’t be that person with the shitty rusty bike on the bike lane.
But, one of the worst thing about cycling in Berlin is when you are not walking on the sidewalk and a guy comes on a bike ringing his bell and telling you to move. I often wonder why are they on the sidewalk if the street is a few centimeters away. At first, I moved and made the sidewalk clear to them. But I gave up on being friendly and I just hear the bell and don’t move. Bikes should be on the streets and on bike lanes, not on sidewalks.
I hate the bike lanes around Berlin. As often as I can, I take my bike on the streets and pay attention to the cars and everything else around me.
If you are wonder why I do that, I have to explain to you that the bike lanes in Berlin don’t make much sense. For people that don’t cycle, they look like a piece of art and it’s amazing to see them everywhere. But… They’re not as good you you think they are.
What bothers me the most about bike lanes is the lack of signalization to the people that are walking around it. I complain a lot about tourists on the bike lanes but I understand they perfectly. The bike lanes in Berlin exist in places that don’t make much sense. Some times they are on the sidewalk without anything telling people that there is a bike lane there. If you never been to Berlin before, I bet you will walk over a bike lane and get some killing stares from people on bikes, like me. But it isn’t their fault. The bike lanes need to be better signalized throughout the city.
The video below tells the story as it is and you should take a look.
But this isn’t everything that they need. They need to be placed in the right part of the road, they need to have better maintenance, they need to be spaces free of cars and trucks and they need to follow where people go by bike.
Your bike will be stolen. I guarantee that it’ll happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.
If your bike is on the streets, something will happen to it. But you can try to make it safer by placing inside your building but I heard so many stories about bikes being stolen from inside buildings that it would take me too long to share them all here. If you want to keep your bike safe, bring it to inside your flat. That is the best way.
But, one day, you will have to park it on the road. You know you will. And you might be wondering if there is any way of making it hard for thieves to steal your bike. I don’t know about that but I do have my tricks.
The first thing you have to do is to get a good bike lock. And the second thing you have to do is to get a second bike lock.
If possible, get different styles of locks. Try to have a chain and a u-lock. Or steel cable and one of those folding locks from ABUS. I advise people to do that because it makes it harder for thieves to have the proper tools to break two different sets of locks. And, because the other bikes around you might have only one lock, why would anybody spend more time trying to break it to get yours if there are other bikes around? This won’t work if your bike is an expensive one but you can always try. And don’t forget to lock your wheels as well.
Another tip that I always give to my friends is to look for a good looking bike and park next to it. If anybody wants to steal a bike, they will go to the expensive looking one and not to yours.
Don’t forget that if somebody is trying to sell you a bike for less than 50 Euros, it might be a stolen bike. I don’t support crime and I don’t think anybody should.
Cycling in Berlin can be fun but it isn’t the piece of heaven everybody believes it is. If you take care of your bike, follow the rules of the road and learn how to cycle safely on the streets, Berlin can be an awesome place to cycle. But, if you don’t do any of those things, you will become a threat to other people and to yourself. Be careful and don’t forget to lock your bike in the right way.
Some of the complaints and problems that you read here came from some of our friends on Fotostrasse’s facebook group. You should join us there. Also, I use strava when I cycle around Berlin. If you need more friends there, just follow me there.
If I forgot to mention any of the problems you see from your bike, don’t forget to leave a comment with it. I’m looking forward to learn what people see as issues when they go through Berlin by bike.