Archives for category: Bike Friday


This weekend’s adventure was supposed to be a visit to the Rheinhafen, Karlsruhe’s Rhine River harbor.  We rode our bicycles out there on Sunday, which was good because the city traffic was minimal but was bad because the harbor takes Sunday off like everyone else.  Hence, not much to see.  We wanted to see all the big ships unloading and the enormous cranes lifting the containers but no such luck.  The harbor is said to provide much of the raw materials for local industry and it is quite a large facility but we got to see little of it because the gates were closed and the ships weren’t moving.  

Holland may be the bicycle-friendliest country in the world, but Germany holds bicycles (and tricycles) in high regard too.  Most mail, for example, is still delivered by bicycle in Germany.  Here’s a photo taken from our apartment window of our local letter carrier:


It makes a lot of sense I think. When you’re stopping at nearly every house along a street, a bicycle is as fast as a van and a lot cheaper.  One way this is born out is the fact that Deutsche Post, a private corporation, earned a profit of 4 billion dollars last year while the U.S. Postal Service lost as much.  

Some of the postal bikes here have electric motor assist – something I’m sure the workers appreciate. That big hub on the bike in the photo above is an electric motor.

Another German innovation is the beer bike:


This thing roams the university district of Karlsruhe on warm days, powered by up to twelve pedalers who drink mugs of beer as they loudly sing their favorite songs accompanied by a blaring stereo system.  It has an on-board tap for dispensing beer and a bartender who doubles as a driver (not simultaneously).

Our two-month stay in Karlsruhe is winding down.  I’ve put over 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) on my bike pedaling back and forth to class each day.  I have one week of classes left and then we face another ordeal on the Deutsche Bahn.  Our train ride to Amsterdam includes four transfers which we are dreading.  Our baggage hasn’t gotten any lighter during our stay.  We hope that by stowing the wheels and hitches of our Bike Friday trailers inside the Samsonite cases we will be able to find space for them on the trains (see the September 2, Freiburg Fiasco post to this blog).  Fingers crossed.



We threw a dart at the map and chose the town of Bretten, some fifteen miles distant from Wilferdingen, for our Saturday ride this week.  Twisted streets and half-timbered houses such as those in the above photo would be considered kitsch anywhere else but they are authentic German here in the state of Baden.  Of course we lost our way once or twice before we arrived in Bretten but that was no great problem because the fields and forests and little villages along the way were sights to behold in their own right.

The weather cooled substantially by the time we got to Bretten and we ate our lunch on a bench in the village square wearing every piece of clothing we had packed.  We had expected the temperature to rise in the usual manner as the day progressed and so had packed thirst quenching Gatorade instead of hot chocolate – big mistake.

Absent a thermos of hot chocolate, the solution to our sudden hypothermia was to hop back on our bicycles and pedal back up the substantial hill we had descended into Bretten.  And, indeed, the exertion worked like a charm.  Half way up the hill, we shed our outer layer of clothing.

On the climb we met this fellow cutting firewood using a saw and splitter powered by his tractor:

Firewood is often to be seen stacked in fields here.  I had wondered why it is cut in 3-ft lengths, which would be too long for all but the largest woodstoves, and now I know the answer.  The farmers use these handy rotary saws on the power takeoffs of their tractors to cuts it into shorter pieces.

Something else unique to Germany are “kindercars” like this boy’s tractor.  They come in many varieties and are of the highest quality, in typical German fashion.  He had towed a load of branches and leaves in his little wagon out of town to dispose of them near this tree.  I asked him if his tractor had an electric motor and he proudly told me that his legs did all the work!

Something not unique to Germany are “fartin’ hounds” but at least we don’t glorify them in America like this poster in Singen seems to be doing:

And finally, I leave you this week with a photo of this devoted couple that I pass every day on my ride to school.   They share a small pasture along the bicycle path and it is not uncommon to catch them affectionately nuzzling each other.  On this particular morning the male goat had his head resting on the female goat’s butt.  “Just as it should be” was Mary’s comment.  “The male pursuing the female.”


Even though the big trip to Rome didn’t work out, bicycles are still an integral part of our European Vacation.  Today we did a fifty-miler to the Unimog Museum in Gaggenau.  It was a beautiful fall day.  The Rheintal-Weg, the bike path we followed, was scenic and, thanks to the Rhine River, FLAT!  

Unimog, if you don’t know, is a very special four-wheel-drive vehicle built by Mercedes Benz.  The first time I ever saw an Unimog I was a little kid in Germany.  It was out in a muddy farmer’s field chugging along with the bed piled high with sugar beets.  So strange and stubby with it’s out-sized wheels and a cab perched atop the front wheels.  4WD vehicles were rare back in the 1950s and Unimog was top-of-the-line 4WD.  It still is – they’re not cheap.  The first ones were sold in 1947 and were intended to be used as a farm tractor that could be driven on pavement at highway speed.  In fact, the museum showcased Unimogs with plows and harrows attached.  I think they really found their niche though as military and exploration vehicles.

On a special course outside the museum building, for six Euros apiece, we could have taken a short ride over rough terrain that included one 60% grade.  Mary was game but I was too cheap.  We settled for a photo of some other people going up a lesser slope:

As I said, the ride down to Gaggenau was a scenic one.  We passed though one especially charming town called Ettlingen.  If you want visit a very “German” town, visit Ettlingen.  It puts Leavenworth to shame:


I found a German conversation group that meets on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings.  Because my regular language class meets from 8:45 to 1:00 there is a 5-hour gap between the two.  On Tuesday I rode back to our apartment between classes but that resulted in two 42-kilometer rides (51 miles) in one day – a bit much!  Thursday, I went to the American Library and worked ahead in my German text for the five hours – also a bit much.  I’m looking for a less exhausting alternative.

Mary found a health club (they’re called fitness studios here) just up the road.  She will start Monday with a Zoomba class – some type of aerobic exercise.


In about two months we should be on our way to Amsterdam to begin our ride to Rome.  That being the case, it’s about time we start getting in shape.  We have already taken two training rides on our Bike Fridays and hope to do another tomorrow.  Rudy will not be accompanying us to Europe but he insists on being part of the training rides.  If nothing else, he (plus his trailer) provides useful ballast that approximates the weight of the panniers I will be carrying on the actual ride.  I towed him in his plastic bin yesterday but he was mad with thirst when we returned home and lapped his water dish dry in no time so I rigged up a Connestoga cover to shelter him from the sun (see photo).  I also greatly shortened his tether.  That’s because he saw a doe and her fawns yesterday and leapt from his bin as we were riding along.  Luckily we were not traveling but about ten mph so he only skinned his shin.  Had we been moving at high speed he probably would have been dragged by the neck along the pavement for some distance before I realized what had happened and was able to stop.

Our Dutch friends, the Maiwalds (whom we met on our Great Divide ride), procured us some nifty maps of the Amsterdam-Rome route which they mailed to us.  The maps are very detailed and follow bicycle paths and rural roads so they will be essential.  I’m going to have to brush up on my Dutch, however, because the narrative is written in that language.  In any case, the maps, being maps, should be mostly self-explanatory:

Perusing the map, I see “halfopen tunnel” which sounds suspiciously English if a bit treacherous – does that mean one lane is open or does the tunnel go half way through the mountain and then stop?  “Hoofdweg op” on the other hand, is a genuine head scratcher.  Oh well, there is always Google translator.

In addition to whipping our bodies into shape, we need to take a shakedown ride with all our gear and see how that works out.  I’m thinking the Cascade Loop, which crosses the mountain range twice, would be an appropriate venue.  That should be good preparation for the Swiss Alps.  

Next to the actual ride, I would have to say the challenge of training and sense of anticipation leading up to the ride are favorite activities.  Images of the bucolic Dutch countryside, French vinyards, German castles, Swiss Alps, and Italian lakes entice me as I pedal merrily along through North Central Washington.