Photo by Jason Harrell
Berlin's most beloved form of transportation hasn't changed much in over 100 years. But that doesn't mean it's not getting tech boosts at the same time: from apps to the sharing economy, biking is thankfully part of the future too. Part two of our bike series; don't forget to check out part one.
Charting the course
Tired of getting lost whenever you ride your iron horse somewhere new? Sure, you can just use Google Maps, and it will – eventually – take you wherever you want to go. But plenty of cycling apps, all available in English, promise to do the big G one better.
Our hands-down favourite is the GPS-tracking and route-planning app KOMOOT. With it, you can plan everything from small inner-city routes to treks abroad, all of it recordable for use offline. You can pause and restart a route and, if you’re the bragging sort, post your trip on Facebook and Twitter straight from your phone when you’re done. The app is reliable, versatile and also offers stats like altitude and speed and guided tours of Berlin and beyond (with Brandenburg it will cost you €6.99, and all of Germany €14.99).
Second place goes to BIKE CITIZENS, recent winner of the Apps for Europe 2014 Award. It’s pretty much the same as Komoot, but designed exclusively for urban areas – your €4.99 gets you offline navigation within Berlin, adjustable for your personal speed. It also has insider tours (mostly created by local bike messengers) of various neighbourhoods. Try the 30-day free version before you decide.
The ADFC also offers its own app, ADFC KARTEN, but it’s basically just an old-school digital map that you can zoom in and out of. Uncovering the Berlin area costs €1.91. If you feel like finding your inner scout, then this is the app to use, but really, you should just stick with Google Maps over this one. Let’s ride! PJØ
A recent rash of start-ups connects people seeking a bike to rent with those who have one to spare. Berlin-based UPPERBIKE, launched last year, currently has around 150 listings in this city. To rent a bike you can use Paypal or bank transfer on the website, or pay in cash at the time of pickup. You'll also need to bring some extra cash to pay a deposit determined by the lender, usually equal to the cost of the bike. But because you won't be paying a service charge to the website – that's the lender's responsibility, along with the cost of insurance – the prices are competitive with those of a traditional rental shop, and there are plenty of decent bikes on offer in the €5-10/day range.
Meanwhile, American SPINLISTER has been described as the “Airbnb of bikes,” and it's true that if you're familiar with that holiday rental platform you should have no trouble navigating this site. A smartphone app with a chat feature allows you to communicate with your prospective bike lender or haggle with them over price in real time. Spinlister isn't as popular in Europe as it is in the US, and in the Hauptstadt there are still only about 20 bikes listed, ranging from a $5/day beater to a $45/day cargo bike (prices are all in US dollars). Making your payment will require a credit card, and expect a 12.5 percent service charge on top of the rental fee for using the site.
If you're strapped for cash, or just opposed to the profit-making focus of the above options, check out BIKE SURF BERLIN, a free service that Irishman Graham Pope set up in 2012 in the style of the Couchsurfing platform. Simply sign up via Google Calendar, receive an email with a location and lock combination, and you can use your Fahrrad for free for up to a week. But book early, because demand is high for the small fleet. AB