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Tim's Tips

These are our tips for a successful bike tour in not just Germany but in Western Europe as well.

Tips on riding bikes in Germany. Click on these links to go directly to discussions of any of these topics: German Holidays,credit versus debit cards, cash, do's and don'ts, Showers, towels, sheets, soap, school vacations, packing light, how to launder your clothes, short cords, first aid kits, balancing your load, ergonomics and tips on bike riding, polite behavior, Tools, fixing flats, proper tire inflation, riding in groups, length of daily rides, guidebooks and maps, how to properly wear your helmets, and finally room reservations. In short, a hodgepodge of acquired knowledge that you do not have to follow.

Hotels and Zimmer, Ferienwohnungen (FeWo), and hostels are covered completely in our page titled Overnight Accommodations.

German Holidays: As in any country, not all holidays are celebrated by everyone in every state or province. This link will take you to a website that lists all the holidays and school breaks. If you want to look at different years, there are options on the website. Keep in mind the format for dates is European, Day/Month, rather than American of Month/Day. So, May 7 is expressed as 07.05. If you plan on being on an unsupported bike holiday or bicycletour, consider making advance reservations.

Money and Credit Cards: Credit versus debit cards: From personal experience we know that Visa and MasterCharge credit cards are not much good in Germany. Instead, bring your debit cards and remember your PIN number and make sure you have enough money in your account. Most hotels will take credit cards, including American Express but only a few Pensionen or Privat Zimmer take any cards and if so, it will be a MasterCard. Individual people who advertise Zimmer Frei (vacant rooms) take only Euros in cash (bar Geld).

Cash: Do not bring non-Euro bills to Euro Zone countries. Banks will not cash them for fear of counterfeiting. If you bring Euro bills larger than €50.00 they too may be only a little more easy to cash, again because fear of counterfeiting. Perhaps you will be sent to a special bank that can be found only in larger cities. It is best to bring your debit card instead (remember to have some money in your checking account and know your PIN). This advice is valid only in Germany; France, we are told, is quite different.

Some do's and don'ts: Do expect to have fun and do not bring an attitude. You are probably in a foreign country unless you are a German in Germany. We foreigners attract attention because we look and talk funny. Be polite, accommodating, and observant. Let me repeat, be polite, accommodating, and observant - it is important. You want to be invited back, right?

For example, observe the local table manners and eating habits; try to emulate them. We have observed Americans who make Dagwood sandwiches out of German Kaltteller instead of eating things separately on a slice of bread like the natives. And hamburgers, unlike a Hamburger (a citizen of Hamburg or a product originating in Hamburg), are not native to Germany. If you want one go to McDonald's or Burger King; they aren't native either but they are readily found. OK, some restaurants do serve hamburgers but mainly for the kids.

If you use the trains, study, do not just skim, my German Trains page; it contains important tips and information. Also, check out the German Bicycle Laws page.

Showers: I do not mean rain showers, I mean the type of shower you step into to soap off. Several years ago, the standard was to have the showers and toilets (WC) in the hall, not in the room. As time past, tourists began paying more for the rooms with one or both of these conveniences in the room. The industry responded by accommodating these wishes where possible. Today, it is quite easy to find rooms with both in the room or at least exclusive use of the facilities. Private rooms are frequently advertised, “Zimmer Frei mit Dusche und WC.” Dusche is sometimes abbreviated as "Du."

In the last few years, rooms that were too small or impossible to plumb for a shower have installed an ingenious self-contained shower/water heater/pump device. These are beautiful for the property owner because all you need to install them is a cold water supply line and a small drain line that does not have to go through the floor, in fact the drain line can go back up to the ceiling.

These devices unfortunately require an advanced degree in electronics and mechanical engineering to operate. Or a little experience will suffice too. One must turn on the mechanism about 5 minutes before use to heat the water. Just before use, turn on the pump. Step in and fiddle with the handles. On one model, one handle will control the temperature; the other will turn the water on or off (after a few seconds delay). On another model – undoubtedly made because few of us were smart enough to operate the first type – the handles work like we have come to expect, one hot, the other cold and the more you crank them, the higher the pressure. However, in both cases, pressure is low.

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Towels, sheets and soap: Only in Youth Hostels (Jugendherbergen) do you need your own towels and sheets nowadays. And in the hostels, you can normally rent or purchase them (a few hostels provide sheets and towels but you may have to make your own bed). Hostels sell paper sheets good for one or two uses.

Soaps are a hit and miss thing. To be belt and suspenders safe, bring your own soap, shampoo, etc.

School Vacations: Like in the USA, the tourist industry revolves around school vacations. If you are headed for a vacation spot during a school vacation, it might be wise to make reservations. To give you an idea, here is a sample schedule for some schools (OK, OK, so it might not be for this year - I know, but with a little interpretation, you can apply it to this year): Note: The following dates are in Europe Speak. For example April 3, 2011 is express thus in the USA 4/3/2011, but in Europe they will write 3.4.2011. These are the main holidays but there are of course others too numerous to mention because they are not always celebrated and if so, differently by different German states.

Pack light and prepare for rain: All paths have hills, at least small ones. So, the lighter you pack the better the hill climbing. Ladies, no one will fault you for not bringing along a hair dryer (unless you can get your partner to carry it).

In Germany, it rains. That’s why the country is so green and beautiful. On average, it rains at least once a day on twenty days a month. Sure, in the wet months it rains (or snows) as much as 23 days a month but even in July and August, it rains 18 days a month. With that fact established, you should know that it may only be a short shower and it may occur at night. We have ridden thousands of miles in Germany and I can count on one hand the number of times we have been thoroughly drenched. (OK, sure, we have been sprinkled upon many times but if I don’t put on a raincoat, it hasn’t rained.) But we both carry raincoats and even rain pants. I think the rain pants are overdoing it but they also work as a windbreaker when it gets cold. We have been known to ride as early as May and as late as October. It is possible to get into some chilly weather where gloves, ear protection, and windbreakers are nice things to have.

Laundry hanging to dryLaundry: Take along a clothesline type cord of about 15 to 20 feet, a few clothespins and a small amount of laundry soap. Wash your biking clothes every night if possible. If not possible, that is why you should have two sets of bike wear. Wash your clothes in the sink without splashing too much water on the floor. Rinse twice in lukewarm water (depending upon the fabric instructions) and wring dry in a dry towel. Hang on your clothesline. Be careful when stringing your clothesline not to attach it to something that can be pulled from the wall or damaged with the pressure from the loaded clothesline - tie both ends to something solid. If you have a balcony and if it is not raining, clothes will dry best outside. You might ask your host or hostess if they have a clothesline or a Wäscheleine or a drying rack a Wäscheständer.

Use of short cordsAnother use of short cordShort cords: Short cords frequently come in handy on the train or other public transportation. You can tie your loaded bike to almost anything to keep it from tipping over in a curve or when the conveyance stops suddenly. They don’t have to be anymore than ¼ inch in diameter and not more than 10 or so feet long. It has many uses. One is to extend your clothesline if necessary; you never know how long you will need to stretch between anchoring points. Also, before I purchased a rain cover for my panniers I carried a large plastic garbage bag and draped it over my panniers in wet weather and secured the bag with my cord.

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First aid kits: I am a klutz. I keep falling over. I fell one day while traveling over 18 mph just because my front tire slipped off the side of the pavement briefly. I was avoiding a shallow rain puddle. If you are like me, you will need a first aid kit and some extra large Band-Aids for “road rash.” Consider carrying some spray-on disinfectant, some Benadryl or some insect bite treatment. We also carry a little aspirin or similar in case we have pain or swelling.

Balance your bike’s load: If the load is balanced front, rear, and side-to-side, handling your bike will be much easier and safer. I know some experienced riders who swear that front panniers are a necessity (I do not use them all the time even though I think they have a good point).

More on balance: A reader wrote me that she broke her leg stepping down from a rental bike that was a bit too big for her. The problem of balance is exacerbated by using backpacks instead of panniers. The problem is the center of balance with backpacks is probably just below your shoulders, while the center of balance with panniers is at your knees. So, two lessons to be learned; use a bike that fits you, and use panniers rather than backpacks.

Ergonomics of bicycle riding: This is the same in Taiwan as anywhere in the world. (The idea to provide this item came from a reader from Taiwan.) Those of you in the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees Club probably prefer upright riding positions. Quite different than the guys in the Tour de France who are so bent over you can count their vertebrae. Some of us older folks have bellies that just will not allow us to bend over like that. I do not like to bend over any longer than it takes to tie my shoes in the morning.

Tips on riding: Adjust the saddle so it is tilted ever so slightly forward. That will take some of the weight off your reproductive organs (interior and exterior and for both genders). Have a slightly forward upper body, which transfers a little weight from your butt to your hands. If you get tingly hands (from pressure on your carpal tunnel nerve) you can sit vertical for short distances and shake your hands. Maxa is always shaking her finger at me and I just assume she has carpal tunnel syndrome in her index finger. (I am lucky that she does not have it in her middle finger.)

Adjust the seat height so that when your heel is on the pedal and the pedal is at the bottom of its stroke, your leg is fully extended (or you could lock your knee and unlock it with no effort). Ask someone you know to watch your butt as you pedal away from them. You should not wiggle in the saddle. If you do, your saddle is too high so lower it a centimeter and keep lowering it until you stop wiggling.

Keep the balls of your feet on the pedal, not your arches; it gives you some spring and prevents your toes from contacting the wheel in tight turns.

While pedaling, move your knees straight up and straight down - like a piston. Don not let them swing out to the side. That sideways motion wastes energy that you will wish you had by the end of the day.

If you have a handlebar that allows for it, change your hand position frequently to prevent fatigue in your hands, neck, and shoulders. Also, try consciously to relax your neck and shoulders as you ride.

When you stop, unseat your butt. Do not try to be able to put one or certainly both feet on the ground while remaining seated. Straddle the bike forward of the saddle.

Lastly, and most importantly spin, spin, spin! What is spinning? Notice how fast professional bicyclists pedal. They probably average 100 strokes (revolutions or just "revs") per minute, exceeding 140 or more at times. Why? They need to conserve as must energy as possible for the long race. A classic comparison is Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong. Jan won the Tour de France once but Lance won it seven times. Lance spins, Jan does not. It simply takes fewer calories to pedal faster with less torque on the pedals than to slower with more torque. I find if you keep your revolutions at or above 80, you will reduce stress on your knees and reduce leg fatigue. To keep your revs up, shift frequently, especially as you ride up hill. You can easily count your revs. Count each time your right foot goes past the bottom of the cycle for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by four. Less than 60, you have a problem. Over 80, you are almost a pro. Over 95, you will be a pro. I have the hardest time convincing people of this simple technique. Nowadays, I do not even mention it until the third day when they start complaining of sore knees and weak thighs. Then, as politely as I know how (and Maxa says I need work on politeness), I suggest spinning. I get strange looks because it seems counter-intuitive that to save work, you pedal faster. But if they try it for a few days, they thank me.

I mentioned shifting often. A fellow cyclist once told me that he had no problem with his knees just because he always shifts back and forth to maintain comfort and reduce stress on his knees. Another cyclist, a goal setting ex-Marine named Steve, insists that one gear, a high one, is all a person needs. He is destine to have knee problems.

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Polite behavior on the trail: Meeting other bikers or walkers along the way, one frequently bids them a nice day. In German, you would say "Morgen" (short for Gutenmorgen) before noon, "Tag" (Gutentag) after noon until about 8:00PM, "n'Abend" (short for Gutenabend") from then on until morning. "Gutenacht" is for when you go to bed (or home to bed). Other common greetings depend upon where you are in Germany. For example, north in East Friesland, you might hear "Moin Moin" almost any time of the day. In Schleswig-Holstein, you would hear just "Moin" (my brother-in-law says they are too lazy to say Moin Moin). In Bavaria you hear "Grüss Gott" all day long. You also might hear someone wish you "Mahlzeit" around noon in the south; it means about the same as "have a good lunch." Sometimes, you just hear "ein guten," (short for guten Appetit). That is most of the greetings but I keep expanding my vocabulary in this area.

Another tip on polite behavior deals with taverns (Kneipe) and a few restaurants. If you notice an empty table close to the front or way in the back with several seats (more than 4) and it may have a small sign that says "Stammtisch." Do not sit there unless you are invited to do so by someone already sitting there. A Stammtisch is a table reserved for the regulars of the establishment. The regulars are typically a group of friends who have lived nearby for years and have an expectation of sitting at the Stammtisch and enjoying the company of other friends or community members.

Riding in Groups: Even groups of two, always keep the cyclist behind you in site. If the rider ahead of you follows this rule, you will also be able to see him or her too. If all else fails, and someone goes way ahead, the rule is to wait at the sign announcing the name of the next community. Failure to obey this fallback rule means the offender has to buy beer for the whole group.

Everyone is responsible for their own safety. If the rider in front of you calls "Clear" when crossing a road, do not believe them, check for yourself. They may want you to be hit by a car, you never know. I'm just saying.

In 2016 we met Ron, another reader, who was riding through Kassel. He and Noreen were experienced cyclists. We discussed joining a cycle club and Ron pointed out the difficulties in riding in groups:

Tools: I carry tools galore with me because we frequently ride with bikes that other people maintain; or more accurately, fail to maintain. So, when I pass someone who is currently engaged in some type of on the spot bicycle maintenance, such as changing a flat tire, I stop and ask if they have all the tools (Werkzeuge) they need. That might be carrying the cross an extra mile but others have stopped to help me on occasion so I just return the good deed. Seldom am I asked to help or lend a tool. For a list of tools that I recommend the leader carry, see our What to Bring Along page.

Fixing a flat tire underwayFix a flat tire: Since we are on the subject of tools, be sure to bring, or purchase in Germany, an extra tube to fit your bike and at least two tire irons for bike tires. The step by step on how to repair a flat is here . The most important part of that is checking inside the tire with your fingers to find the thorn or piece of glass that caused the flat - if it is there. And, when reassembling the tire to the wheel, once both beads are inside the rim but before you inflate the tire, push the valve stem up briefly to be sure that the fat part of the valve stem is above the beads.

Proper tire pressure: While I am on the subject of tires, a word about proper inflation. I have had bicycle shop owners tell me a tire should be inflated at slightly less than the minimum pressure stamped on the sidewall of the tire because you will get a softer ride. That is pure bunk! it might be OK if you are riding on paved roads to the store for groceries. However, if you are riding long distances with loaded panniers, inflate your tires to the maximum stamped on the sidewall. In the case of my favorite tire, Schwalbe Marathon Plus, that is 85 lbs. or 6.0 bar. You will find pedaling easier and avoid puncture flats caused by compressing the inner tube against the rim of the wheel.

Why do I like Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires? Because they have a built in protection pad against punctures causing flat tires. Sure, there are competitors but I have not tried them. I did switch all of my 7 bicycles to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires and the only flat I have had was caused by a twisted inner tube.

Length of daily rides: Maxa and I are now over sixty (but under 70), so we enjoy riding about 35 to 45 miles per day at a leisurely speed, stopping for sights and bakeries (can you tell from my side profile?). Some of our readers are younger and/or more athletic. They can ride 50 to 100 miles per day though I do not know why they want to. Other readers are a little older and may be happy with 15 to 25 miles per day. One reader had a great idea of renting a station wagon, staying in a vacation apartment or a hotel and riding out, and then taking the train or other public transportation back to their accommodation. Then after that area was explored, they would pack up and move everything to the next accommodation and do it all over again. I like that idea and we will no doubt be doing that before we hang up the bikes for good.

What to bring on your tour: On our What to Bring along page, we discuss panniers (bike bags), maps, tools, bike locks, plastic bags, rain covers, spare inner tube, bicycle tire pump, clothing and raingear, first aid kits, and a bunch of other items.

Obey all automobile traffic laws: Bicycles are a normal part of traffic. When you are on a road or street you must obey the traffic laws. On the a bike path try to pass on the left and meet on coming traffic on the right side of the trail - just like cars on the road. This common sense is not as common as I would like it to be. You cannot depend on children having a clue. If you have to get off and push up a hill, do so on the right side of the trail. For a detailed iteration of German laws affecting bicycles see our page on the subject.

You must obey any speed limit signs and stop signs, even on a bike. The police will ticket you and fine you if they catch you speeding or acting the scofflaw. Any traffic from the right has the right-of-way unless you are on a main street (Hauptstrasse - marked with yellow diamonds). Lastly on traffic laws, in Germany, they do not turn right at a red light, not even after a full stop. Right turns on red are strictly verboten! (If you wonder who I am trying to convince, it is me, myself. I keep making that mistake and one day, my number will be up as far as a fine goes.) Also see German Bicycle Laws.

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Guidebooks: There are several companies but we have depended upon two publishers, Esterbauer and BVA.

If you want to order a map or a guidebook from Esterbauer's bikeline series, you can do so by going online to German Amazon. You must use the German version of Amazon. The website is http://www.Amazon.de . However, on our link to Amazon Store, we list most of the bikeline series and if you purchase them through this website, we get a small commission, so we invite you to do so as small compensation for the work that we put into this website.

A word of warning before you get too excited: These guidebooks are expensive to order on-line because of the delivery charge. The cost of the book alone varies around €12. However outside Germany, you will pay a delivery charge of €13 (exchange rate is about €1:$1.3) plus €2.50 per item. Inside Germany, the delivery charge is €3.00 but delivery is free if the order is over €20.00. Most larger bookstores sell the books for the same price listed in Amazon and they frequently have a large selection. Especially, if you are planning a ride around Frankfurt for example, the bookstore probably carries all of the rides in that part of the county.

Once at the Amazon website, here are some translations and steps you may need: At the top of the screen, find the “Schnellsuche box and type in “bikeline Radtourenbuch.” Schnellsuche means Fast Search. bikeline Radtourenbuch means bikeline Bicycle Tour books. Click on “Los,” which means, “go.” You will find yourself in “Deutsche Bücher (Reise & Sport)” section or, German books, Travel and Sport, and three or so options will appear to choose from. Now click on the option “Alle 124 Suchergebnesse …,” which translated means, “all 124 instances of the search result. Or, you might see the choice “Alle 124 Treffer für bikeline Radtourenbuch” which similarly means “all 124 instances that meet the search criteria:”

At the bottom of the screen, you may see a “Weiter” button. It means, “continue.” Also, for your information, “Brochiert” means “brochure.” You will see the price for Neu Bucher “new books” and “Gebraucht” or, “used books.” I advise you to stick with the new books because used books may not be available and the shipping cost will be the same in any event. Do you want someone’s notes in German on the margins? Maybe so. Choose one or more books by clicking their underlined link. Once the book appears on its own page, on the right side of the screen where it says, Jetz kaufen,” click the “In den Einkaufswagen” button. That means you are putting that item into your shopping cart. The next screen you will see includes a box on the left side of the screed that has your selection or selections in it.

At the top of that box is a button that says “Zur Kasse gehen.” That means to take your cart to the checkout counter. (By the way, if you wonder what Einkauf fortsetzen means, it simply means to continue your purchasing.) After you click, “Zur Kasse gehen,” you will see a form appear. First, I assume you are not already a customer of German Amazon (different from American Amazon.com), so simply put your email address in the box that says “Geben Sie Ihre E-Mail-Adresse ein.” And choose “Ich bin ein neuer Kunde,” or “I am a new customer.” Next, put your first and last name in the box that says, “Vor- und Nachname.” Then if you want, your company name in the box that says, “Firmenname.” Next, put your house number and street name in the box, “Strasse und Hausnummer.” And now your zip code into the box that says “Postleitzahl.” Now, put your city into the “Stadt” box and your state or province in the “Bundesland/Kanton” box. Now, put your country into the “Land” box. Lastly, your phone number goes into the “Telefonnumer für Rückfragen,” in case they need to call you with questions. In Germany, the syntax of addresses is quite different than we are used to in much of North America. It’s OK, they will figure it out.

At the bottom, you will find a question that wants you to confirm that your billing address is correct. It asks the question, “Ist das auch Ihre Rechnungsadresse?” or is the address given also your billing address?” It asks you to choose from yes, Ja, or no, Nein. You are on your own if you choose to bill to another address. There is a limit, after all. Click “Weiter” and you will see a screen that asks if you want the order held until all items are assembled prior to shipping (it will save you shipping costs). I recommend accepting the default, “Kompletversand.” You have one more chance to review the items in your order before you click Weiter again to go the to screen where they collect your credit card number. First, they ask you for a password and then you have to repeat the password in the next box. Then you have to give them a credit card type, number, valid-through date, and the name on the card. Remember, shipping is expensive. Shipping cost outside Europe = €13.00 plus €2.50 for each item. (Inside Germany, the whole cost is €3.00 but free if the order is over €20.00) Bookstores are my preferred venue. Good luck.

Helmets: We see many more people with helmets nowadays compared to 15 years ago. Of course, wearing is a good thing, wearing helmets that are properly adjusted is even better. The first tip is not to strap the helmet on the back of your bicycle like many Germans (Europeans?) do. Wear it on your head and adjust the chin strap so that there is no slack under your chin but not uncomfortably tight. Do not wear it on the back of your head like a cap tipped up, wear it evenly on you head as if it were a protection device, not a fashion statement. Also, and this is a key thing, the two side catches that hold the straps from the front and back of the helmet should be secured under your ears, not next to the catch that connects both side straps under your chin. You want your helmet to protect you when you crash. It will do a better job of protecting your head if it is properly adjusted with those side catches under your ears rather than under your chin. Of course, if the helmet is on the back of your cycle, you could be brain damaged in an accident. Try raising a family or having a full life while you are brain damaged. Our advice; on your head, wear a quality helmet that is properly adjusted. Happy cycle trails.

Advance Room Reservations: We seldom make room reservations in advance but here is a tip if you feel the need to do so before of your bicycle holiday or bike tour. On the ADFC (German Bicycle Club) website , they have a map link that opens a Google map and it shows all the Bett and Bike locations in Germany. Go to their website and then click the link under the small picture of a map where it says, "Lagekarte anzeigen." When the map opens, by using the map controls in the upper left corner of the map, zoom out until you see the area where you want reservations, then zoom in until the orange symbols for the Bett & Bike establishments, then click on one and you will see the address and contact information for that establishment.

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