Summer is coming to Berlin, and on the warmer days, you can almost feel the number of bikes getting larger and larger around the streets. For me, this time of the year is always kind of weird since a lot of seasonal cyclists go out and it seems that they need to learn one thing or more. This is why I have been thinking about writing about some of personal Berlin Bike Rules.
Last Sunday, I was cycling around Britz when something happened to me, and I realized that I needed to write down these rules. I was cycling on the bike lane when I saw a guy on his bike crossing the street. For a brief moment he disappeared and the next thing I see, he is cycling straight into me, going in the wrong direction on the bike lane. He hit me, and we both went to the ground. We both got hurt, my knee still feels weird today, and his shoulder didn’t look like It would get better so fast.
After we both checked out if we were ok, I continue my bike ride with some pain and anger. I kept thinking about all the times I had to ring my bell while complaining about people cycling in the wrong direction on a bike lane. I kept thinking about all the people I see crossing a traffic light while other people on bikes wait. I kept thinking about all the times I was walking on a sidewalk, and I hear a ring, and there is a bike going crazy between people. These experiences were some of my points of reference to write this down, and I hope it makes sense to people.
I believe I think a little bit better when I cycle. Maybe I get into a zen-like state, and good thoughts come to my head. During the last couple of days I have been thinking about my personal Berlin bike rules and, maybe, they make sense to somebody else besides me.
Without further delay, here are my own Berlin Bike Rules.
Wear a helmet and always have lights
I only started wearing a helmet after I read a story about a woman that was hit by a truck and fell to the ground and passed out when her head hit the asphalt. I remember reading about this, and my research leads me to my examples of people going through something similar and even with some deaths. That day was the day I bought a helmet, and I have worm one every day I cycle since then. The one I have even has lights in the back!
For me, a helmet is a way of making my cycling experience a little bit safer. I know some people that say that a helmet is not a necessity, but I continue using it. And the scratches I got on it, this past Sunday, work as proof that I should wear it all the time.
Bike lights are even more necessary. But it seems like a lot of people like to ignore it and ride through Berlin without any way of making people know there is a bike on the road at night. It’s even worse during winter since the days are shorter, and it gets darker earlier. I keep seeing people with those disposable lights that don’t also work well enough and others without any light, and I wonder If those people know how dangerous this can be.
Bike lights are something essential to everyone that wants to cycle through Berlin and, I believe, it’s required by law as well. So, don’t make this mistake and let cars and people know where you are while you cycle at night.
When you take your bike to the streets, pay attention to where you are and to your surroundings. Pay attention to the cars and buses that might be coming from behind you, try to keep a look to the people walking next to you and to the other bikes that might be cycling next to you. If the guy that hit me last Sunday were paying attention to his surroundings, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.
I see this all the time when somebody decides to join the bike lane without looking if there is anybody there. I see this when people try to cross the street behind cars and straight into bikes. I see this when people on vehicles open doors without paying attention to whoever is coming next to the car. This is why you should be paying attention to your surroundings every time you’re on your bike.
Pay attention to your surroundings
No cellphones and no headphones
Since I believe you have to be paying attention to your surroundings all the time, you shouldn’t be wearing headphones or talking on the phone. Let’s start with my problem with headphones first. Headphones block you from the street noises making it harder for you to see cars coming by on the street. Headphones make harder for you to listen to the bikes and the people around you. And, there is always a cable somewhere that can get entangled and ruin your bike ride.
I completely understand that you want to listen to music while you cycle. I get that, and I listen to music on my bike all the time, I don’t do it over headphones. I have a Bluetooth speaker that I carry with me and play music. I can still hear what is happening around me and listen to the music at the same time. Maybe you should try this as well. Remember that this music is for you and not for everyone around you. Keep the music to yourself and to be the kind of asshole that wants everybody to listen to their music.
A couple of weeks ago I was cycling on my way to work when I saw a woman in front of me dropping something from her bike. She suddenly left the bike lane and stopped. A few meters after, I saw that she dropped her phone and I couldn’t be happier to see something like this happening finally.
Yes, I was happy to see a woman break her phone because I don’t think you should be cycling, holding a phone and talking to people at the same time. If you do this, you’re not paying attention to where you are, you’re not in full control of your bike and become a hazard to everyone that is cycling next to you. If you need to take a call, stop your bike and talk to whoever is calling you. Simple as that.
I understand when cyclists go to the sidewalk when there is a cobblestone street, but I don’t get when they cycle fast and ring their bell trying to make people leave where they are walking. I didn’t get when cyclists decided to go over the sidewalk when the road and a bike lane are available. You need to follow the rules and understand where is your place in traffic.
But, this is the only rule here that I often understand when people break it, and I do this as well. But I like to keep it in mind and follow that on every option I have.
Remember that streets are for cars, bike lanes are for bikes and sidewalks are for people
Respect the rules and be predictable
Like I said before here, following the rules of the road and the bike lanes are the only way people can cycle without worrying. But you have to be predictable as well. Try to inform the people behind you about your next turn and don’t make sudden changes in your direction. Sometimes those can be the reason for accidents.
Being predictable is something that sounds so simple, but it happens to be why I get pissed off most of the times. There are always people by bike trying to cut short and finding their way around other bikes. If one of those bikes is not paying attention, you know what will happen. This is why I advise people to be predictable when they cycle around Berlin. This is not complicated.
Bike lanes work like roads
Bike lanes work in the same way as roads. The direction of the bike lane follows the course of the road it’s next to. So, don’t go in the opposite direction or else you might get into accidents like the one that made me want to start writing this article.
Also, if you’re in a bike lane, try to stand to the left side if you are going fast. And hold to the right side if you are going slowly. If somebody is going slowly in front of you, ring the bell and wait for them to move to the right side. Pretty similar to how roads work.
Don’t ever block the bike lane cycling side by side to another bike. There are better places where you can talk to your friends, and the bike lane is not one of those. People are trying to get to work, other people trying to get home and there you are, blocking the bike lane because you want to talk to your friend.
Recently I have seen this more and more, and I have to write down here: if your kid is learning how to cycle and you want to follow it on the road, don’t bring him to the bike lane. Your kid will be slower than most people and completely unpredictable. You will be following him and cycling slowly and blocking the bike lane. Think about other people before you consider this to be a great idea. You and your kid are not the center of the world.
Lock it well and lock it right
Berlin is a safe city, but your bike might never be entirely safe here. I don’t ever think my bike is safe and the one I have is not even that expensive. But, since I don’t want to have the experience of going to where I parked it and not finding it, I got some great locks, and I use it every time I need to keep my bike out for an extended period.
My go-to lock is an Abus Bordo Granit X Plus, and it is thick enough to make me feel like my bike is safe. But I often use it with an Abus cable so I can keep both wheels safe together. I carry both of them, pretty much, everywhere I go by bike. But, sometimes, I bring a U lock as well. Most of the times this happens is when I know there will be more people by bike and we might need to lock bikes together.
I like to use different types of locks because you need a different set of tools to cut through various locks. If I’m using different bolts, it might be harder for thieves to get through the locks and my bike will be safer. Also, avoid the cheap locks you see at supermarkets, those are so easy to cut through that you will probably lose your bike.
I think it happened in my first week cycling around Berlin, back in March 2012. I was around Warschauer Strasse, and something punctured my tire, and I had to take it to a bike shop to have it fixed. I didn’t know how to fix it, and I wondered what would happen If I was far away from home and didn’t have a bike shop.
After that, I decided to learn how to take care of my bike: how to change tires, how to keep the bike chain working and everything else that comes with it. By learning this, you can save money by doing things yourself; you can learn more about your bike and think about improvements you didn’t even know were possible. And, the best thing, you start having a connection to your bike at a different level. This happens when you take proper care of something and, of course, you should be able to do that to your bike.
Learn how to take care of your bike
Don’t drink and cycle
Again, this is about you being safe. Don’t drink and cycle. If you do, you will be unpredictable and cycle without paying much attention to your surroundings. If you do that, you become a hazard to anyone around you, including cars and pedestrians. So, if you want to have some beers, leave your bike locked somewhere or take it home.
Sometimes I have some beers after work and cycle home. I know it’s precisely the opposite of what I’m saying here but I feel like I know my limits and I never go over it when I’m by bike. It happened once, and it was so scary that I never did it again. I think this was back in 2013 and I went to a bar in Kreuzberg by bike, and I started having some beers, and I completely forgot that I was by bicycle. A couple of hours later, I took the bike home, and I have no memory of cycling 4 km to my house. I remember waking up and thinking about how stupid I was to do that, and I never did it again.
Here they are, my set of Berlin bike rules. They might be too many but they will keep you and your bike safe, I believe. If you liked what I wrote here, you’ll probably enjoy what I wrote about cycling in Berlin a couple of years ago. There is even an article about what I carry around with me when I cycle.
If you have any other practice you feel like I forgot, leave it in the comments below! And, enjoy Berlin by bike!