It’s the anguished end of a summer romance. Choking back tears, you’ve shut the door on your beloved and stiffened your upper lip for the next five months. Yes, winter is upon us, and many Berliners are bidding farewell to their bicycles until the elusive Berlin spring blossoms once again.
This may seem overdramatic, but every Berliner knows the dire reality of living a bike-free existence. Braving public transportation is a near-Dickensian predicament: the rush hours, the rank stench of sweat, Schmalz und Bier (yes!) on your early-morning commute.
And then there’s the return ride: the drunks, the nutters, the endless string of cap-in-hand sales pitches, queuing at the sluggish ticket machines – only to see your train fly past by the time you get your ticket. And it’s always you who gets to sit next to coffee-and-onion-breath on your morning U-Bahn ride.
But don’t despair. It does not have to be this way. You and your two-wheeled friend can stay together for Xmas and beyond! All you need to do is wipe away your tears and follow this winter cycle survival guide.
ROAD HAZARDS: MAKE IT SAFE
The cliché is that winter cycling is risky. But by following a few simple rules you’ll be able to minimise those risks to nil.
Choose your route more carefully if there is ice on the ground. Quieter routes with low traffic volume are safer. Check with the Senate Department For Urban Development: www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de. Hit the ‘Traffic’ link, and navigate to ‘Bicycle Routes and Facilities’.
Run low tyre pressure to increase traction and handling. Go for knobbly tyres and a slow, stable, durable bike with steel or aluminium frames. Radspannerei on Kottbusser Straße only stocks steel frames and offers tyre advice. They also have a workshop where they promise to make repairs in 24 hours, and the company’s website conveniently translates into English: www.rad-spannerei.de/en. Or go to berlin.en.craigslist.de/bik for second-hand bikes.
Hydrate! It’s easy to forget in winter, but staying hydrated is important even in the cold. Drinking freezing water is no fun though. Keep your water bottle in the back of your jumper, between the inner and outer layers. The heat you give off while riding will stop the water from freezing.
Before you go out on your bike in the cold repeat the mantra, VIP: ventilate, insulate, protect. Check, check and check!
POLICE HAZARDS: WILL YOUR TWO-WHEELED FRIEND PASS THE TEST?
The police have been hanging around at traffic light points and on street corners waiting to bust you should your bike not be up to scratch. Here’s what you need to pass the winter cycle check: lights, front and back. Reflectors: red on the tops of wheels, white or yellow in the spokes (it may be worthwhile getting a couple of cheap reflector arm bands too). A working bell and mud-guards are required, and they will do a brake check too, so get those babies oiled up.
The police were nice to us on the phone, but we hear they have been hard on people, especially English speakers. It may be worth spending a bit to get a bit as far as lights are concerned: the detachable B&M Ixon IQ (photo) provides bright light and hooks easily onto handlebars. Buy it at Amazon.de for €62.90. Add batteries, charger and a rear light to the package for €84.95.
COLD HAZARDS: WHAT TO WEAR?
About 30 percent of body heat is lost through the head. Get a snood for deep cold, but don’t walk into the bank wearing it. If it’s cold, wet and windy, wear a heavy-duty winter cycling cap that has both a bill and earflaps under your helmet, or go for a lightweight skullcap beanie, available at www.bike-mailorder.de. Don’t forget your eyes: durable cycling glasses will keep them from tearing up. Who said you had to sacrifice style for comfort? Go to Cicli Berlinetta on Schönfließerstraße for stylish retro cycle gear. They’re very friendly and have a full range of winter stock. Visit the website, in English, at www.cicli-berlinetta.de.
OUR SERIOUS SHOPPING LIST FOR KEEPING WARM
Torso: “The big thing to remember is cycling clothes were traditionally made of wool, rather than Lycra,” says Kevin Braddock, a UK-bred triathlete and marathon runner whose winter training regimen keeps him riding throughout the cold months. “A combination of the two is best, for warmth and flexibility, so I wear Lycra running tights and a pair of bib shorts over them, then over-socks over my cycling shoes. Merino socks are good. Then a strong windbreaker on top of this. Rapha, the British company, make the best stuff on the market,” he says. You can buy Rapha gear online at www.rapha.cc or in Berlin at Pasculli Holding.
Feet: Wear thermal socks as a base layer. On freezing days, cut a pair of thick socks and put them over your shoes. If you’re style conscious, invest in some cycling booties: go to C&M Bike Wear. If you find yourself caught out in the cold with inadequate footwear, go into a store, get some plastic bags and place them over your feet inside your shoes. Wind-breaker extraordinaire!
GADGETS FOR THE STOCKING
• Detachable bicycle GPS System: a fancy gadget that will prevent you from getting lost in the cold. The Garmin GPS eTreks Venture HC is available at Amazon.de for €158.99. Another good choice is the Atech Detachable GPS System. You can also find ready-made GPS routes online at www.fahrradfloeckner.de/gps.asp.
• Headphones on a bike can be dangerous, but we all know people who sacrifice safety for the joy of riding to music. This added joy can keep you going in winter! The handlebar-mounted, waterproof Lavod MP3 Speaker provides 2GB of memory and plays your favourite tunes, leaving your ears free to monitor traffic. Buy it online at www.pixmania.de for €52,49.
And if you’re really holding onto your Fahrrad throughout the winter, consider these…
TIPS FROM HARDCORE COMMUTERS
1 Lathering some grease on your skin may make you look like a body builder, but it will also keep in the heat: try Balea’s Melkfett Ringelblume, available at DM stores.
2 Carry disposable chemical hand or toe warmers. They usually cost about €2 per pack. You can buy them at outdoor shops or on Amazon. Try the Mycoal brand.
3 Find yourself a good bike bag with a change of clothes for work, along with tyre irons, a pump and multi-tool kit. We love the Xtreme Rahmentasche easybags from roseversand.de for €7.95-9.95.
4 Fenders (mudguards): These protect your bike from muddy water, and you from getting splashed with dirt (not a good look). They range in cost from €15 to €40 and are widely available.
5 Be bicycle savvy: Buy The Bicycling Guide to Complete Maintenance and Repair on Amazon.de for €1.50 plus shipping, or go to Saint George’s English Bookshop on Wörther Straße in Prenzlauer Berg and they’ll order it in. You can also visit the ADFC on Brunnenstraße and they can teach you. Call 030 4484 724 or go to www.adfc-berlin.de for a list of services.
THIS ALL SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF WORK. WHAT ARE MY OTHER OPTIONS?
U-bahn survival guide: An über-stylish black-and-red latex gas mask! Sold on the dark-site-erotik eBay shop, it costs €24.90 plus shipping. Alternatively, you can always head down to Checkpoint Charlie and purchase one of the many gas masks on sale.
Originally published in Dec 2010. Updated in Feb 2012.