November 27, 2013

Berliners Bike

Dutch bikes and other types of practical bikes for transportation are the most common to be seen in Berlin. Several bike shops in Berlin specialize in Dutch bikes. However, this photo collection perhaps over-represents the Dutch bike contingent a bit, simply because they are more interesting to photograph. Although fewer in numbers, distance commuters dressed in bike-specific garb can also be spotted in Berlin, especially if you're out in the early morning hours. Like their American counterparts, these creatures wear bright colors, spandex, clipless shoes, and nearly always a helmet. Only a small minority of the rest of the cycling population wears a helmet.

We found that Berliners on bikes are much more likely to obey traffic laws than Madisonians, specifically in terms of stopping for traffic lights. While bicyclists may act more predictably, so do Berliner motorists, who seem to be on the lookout for bicyclists when stopped at an intersection and waiting to turn onto another street. A number of times I was pleasantly surprised to see a motorist about to cross the bike lane before making a right hand turn, but then come to a stop, look over his right hand shoulder, and wait for me or other bicyclists to pass before crossing the bike lane. - It’s a level of bike awareness among motorists we were unaccustomed to in Madison. Also, what’s strange to us is that there does not seem to be a look of annoyance or impatience on these drivers’ faces, even though they are often delayed by cyclists.
When overtaking other bicyclists, it is not common in Berlin to give a warning. It took a few times of being surprised by a biker passing within about a foot with no warning to be ready for this possibility. It is advised to ride on the right hand side of the bike path/lane in a straight line, as you see other Berliners doing.

While many aspects of Berlin bike culture seem to fit the German stereotype of orderly behavior, the amount of sidewalk riding then comes as a surprise. Although the sidewalk space is typically fairly wide, it did seem a bit chaotic for bicyclists to be weaving around pedestrians. Bicyclists will take the sidewalk if the adjacent street space is too busy or it is simply more convenient to ride on the sidewalk, such as to avoid a one-way street. Also, parents accompanying small children on bikes typically take the sidewalk over the street.

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