Diary of an Expat, Part 34
The Biking Life
Last weekend, I bought a bike.

The number of Berliners who have cars is quite small. Cars are expensive, petrol is expensive, parking is relatively hard to come by, and everything is conveniently located to one or more mass transit lines. It lessens the desire that one has for an automobile.

These days, with "light outside" stretching from 5.00 to 21.00 or so, it has seemed like an increasingly good idea to pick up a bike, so that I can get around the city more effectively than I could just by walking everywhere. I bought it Saturday, and then it started raining, so I didn't really get the chance to get out with it until this week.

Some things about Berlin are quite nice for those persons getting around by bicycle. Many streets have bike paths, for example, and parks tend to be nicely bikeable if that's your kind of thing. Also, drivers are remarkably observant — unlike in the US, even in relatively bike-friendly places like San Francisco, I have yet to feel in danger on the roads.

Berlin also has some things that are ridiculously terrible for bikes.

For one, the roads are shitty. There's no real reason for this; the German government takes in a lot of tax money, and if they wanted to they could damn well give us some proper roads. But, as it's cultured and old-European-ish to have terrible roads, so Berlin has embraced this mentality. So you need to be careful, particularly if you are riding a bike whose tyres don't have a great deal of grip.

A lot of streets are cobblestoned, and that is absolute madness to ride on. It will destroy your hands and wrists, and your spine if you have one. You had, needless to say, better hope that you don't have anything fragile in your front basket or panniers, because those will also be completely destroyed. Hey, it happens.

Oh, and all of this is just when things are dry.

Cobblestones, already uncomfortable on the best of days, gain the consistency of ice cubes with the slightest moisture. It's bad to walk on them, and it's even worse to bike. They're uneven enough to send your bike into the air a bit, which generally imparts some sideways motion; they are not, however, uneven enough to arrest the bike's translation, and so you wind up losing control.

Pedestrians, unlike cars, also could care less about your biking ass. Somebody pushed a stroller in front of me yesterday, and when I swerved to avoid them I wound up in a tram track, which needless to say then immediately put me on my side, sliding forward at about fifteen miles an hour. So far, I have removed the skin from both my palms, my right forearm, and both my knees. It's pretty pleasant.

I am still not entirely inclined to give it up. Berlin is flat, and generally relatively light, and the traffic is minimal enough that nobody's ever in so much of a hurry that they want to run you over. As long as it doesn't rain, I think I'll be okay. If it does again, I am unfortunately almost out of body parts to scrape up.

Before you ask: I am, indeed, wearing a helmet. Many (perhaps most) Berliners do not, for reasons that honestly completely escape me. I have yet to see an articulation of why you would not wear a bike helmet that doesn't boil down to "because you're an idiot," and Berliners don't generally seem the types to take their lives into their hands.

But who knows?

I picked up the helmet from a shop down in Friedrichshain. There I was able to explain my precise needs, negotiate for the appropriate helmet, pay for it, and leave without losing any thread of mutual understanding. So I think my German is sort of coming along? Sort of?

Anyway my "I don't speak German" gambit failed when a panhandler saw through me and promptly started speaking English instead. Oh well.
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