There are literally more than a million cool things to see and do in Europe. So, the admission I am about to make might feel like an exaggeration. Nevertheless, I am comfortable writing that I’m not sure what I like more about Europe than riding a bicycle there -- not to get there, but while there.
It helps that I enjoy riding a bicycle almost anywhere, and I love Europe. So, it stands to reason. Nevertheless, bicycling in Europe is a special joy. I’m not talking about riding hundreds of kilometers and monitoring the cadence computer while wearing colorful spandex and carting around paniers of supplies. I’m talking about the simple joy of using a bicycle for everyday transportation and for local sightseeing. I'm thinking about the joys of observing people and places closely, exploring at the speed of a bicycle, feeling the wind and the terrain, and enjoying a bit of exercise in the process.
I’m kind of focused on Germany, so I’ll stick to the one country for now. The cycling culture in Germany is simply different, some might say more advanced, than it is here in US, where I live. One thing I always find intriguing is the sight of “parking ramps” for bicycles at the train stations. So many people ride a bicycle to the train and leave the bike there while they take the train to work, that you can see parking ramps for bicycles! Using a bicycle for transportation has benefits for riders. There's physical fitness, stress relief, money savings, and the ability to engage more closely with neighbors and the local environment. And for the whole community there is cleaner air and a better sense of local awareness. With people out on the streets riding bikes, neighbors know one another a bit more, and they notice when local gardens, fences, sidewalks, or curbs need some tending. Of course, there is the slower pace; to some that’s a benefit and to others a main reason to avoid the bicycle. Yet, when combined with a robust public transit system, the bicycle can be a boost to making the mass transport more useful.
All in all, to me, it is moving (pardon the pun) to see all the riders. I am always struck by how bicycling is not just a sunny-day activity, nor is it limited to kids. In all weather, at all ages, and in all manner of dress, folks are out on the bikes. In the summer, since the infrastructure is in place, bicycling as a tourist is a distinct joy. We can avail ourselves of the dedicated bike lanes and traffic signals, and the paths, exclusive to bikes, that wind through fields to connect one village to another. One can ride for hundreds of kilometers in dedicated bicycle lanes.
At Wittenberg, during the Luther500 Festival, participants can rent bicycles from a shop, where adult technicians in coveralls are daily maintaining the bikes to high German safety standards, and do some exploring. Or, for those who prefer a guided ride, we offer a recreational Interest Center every day which is a bicycle ride along the Elbe river, through a nearby town and out into the adjacent fields where a paved track through acres of green, provides room for cyclists to travel easily and safely. We just go about 8 miles during the Interest Center option, but it’s a nice bit of riding to get a feel for it and to prepare for the Backerei or the Biergarten (or both) later that day. No matter what else I may get to do during Luther500, I always try to find time for a bicycle tour.
Did I mention that I like the bicycle riding? If you get to Wittenberg in 2021, let’s go for a ride!