Tags: bike, bike hire, commute, cycling, germany, hannover, train
I had reason to go to Germany on business recently, which entailed staying in a hotel, and then going into the Hannover offices of the company I work for every day for a week or two.
But how to get to the office? Well, the vast majority of my colleagues in the same situation would jump into a taxi, but I prefer to ride. It’s my daily commute that keeps me sane. Well, sort of. So I found a place to hire bikes form in Hannover, which was conveniently located near both the station and my hotel, and borrowed one. It was also a bike maintenance and parking garage, and it was a bustling place, with a steady steam of people bringing in and dropping off bikes.
The offices are not in Hannover itself, but about twenty kilometers away, so I mostly got the train to the nearest station and rode the rest of the way (which, at less than two kilometers, wasn’t really far enough…!). There are a lot of people riding bikes in Hannover, and it’s all setup for it very well. Bike lanes and shared footpaths abound, the the burgers of that city all zip around. Everywhere you look there are untidy piles of parked bikes. I’m not sure if Hannover has more cyclists than is average for Germany, but it was fantastic to see.
Also fantastic is the way motorists treat cyclists. As mentioned, there are quite a few bike lanes, but for the most part they are no Copenhagen-esque bike freeways. Often they are half the footpath, and sometimes weave back onto the road. But motorists are very aware of cyclists, invariably waiting well back from junctions to allow the bike traffic to cross before pulling up to the line, and giving cyclists plenty of room.
Taking the bike on the train was also a breeze, with a special carriage dedicated to bicycles. However, after taking the train for several days, I decided to ride the 20km back to Hannover one afternoon, to get a bit more exercise and see a bit more of the place. I checked the route, made plenty of notes and sketch maps and set off.
And got lost. The office is really in the middle of nowhere, in a rural area. So the route suggested by google was actually a lot of very small lanes, dirt tracks and forest pathways. This made it harder to navigate than expected, but as I rode along salvation seemed to come in the form of cycling signposts. I followed the directions for Hannover, looking out for the small red bicycle route signs as I went, and for some time all seemed to be going well. I passed signs for Hannover saying 18km, 16km, 12km, 8km – this was going really well, and the route was fantastic. Not on roads at all, but following unsealed tracks across open land and alongside fields. There was barely another soul to be seen – just an occasional dog walker or jogger,
And then the signs ran out. The path split three different ways, and there was no hint of which way to go. I had just passed under a main road, and could see a sign for Hannover on the road which headed to my left, so I took that direction.
It was around this time that the bike, a sturdy city bike with a seven speed hub, started to fall apart. Evidently bumping down unsealed tracks for fifteen kilometers was not what the hire place had in mind, as bits started to fall off it; the most important of which was the back brake blocks. Given that the brake levers were connected up the reverse way round to ‘usual’, this meant that when I wanted to slow down and instinctively pulled the right brake lever, absolutely nothing happened. I continued somewhat cautiously, by now realising I was very lost. And then it started getting dark. What to do?
Of course, in times gone by the answer would been to flag down a local, and attempt communication in my third-rate schoolboy German. Or perhaps get out a compass and map, and maybe a sextant to check the stars. However, in this day and age, I simply fired up Google maps on my phone (trying not to think about roaming data charges), found out where I was and navigated to a main road. Form there I was able to follow bike paths that ran along the broad footpaths, and made it back to the Hauptbahnhof without further mishap. A journey that should have taken an hour or had taken me about two and a half hours, and given that the temperature was around freezing, my toes and thumbs were starting to feel quite numb. However, I felt quite satisfied to have made it, and I felt I earned a grosse Bier vom Fass in the hotel bar that evening…