Über Elizabeth Rossiter

STADTRADLER-STAR 2013 und 2014 in Erlangen

Sometimes?

Sometimes things don’t work out quite as expected – and that despite the best of intentions. Sometimes you actually have to use the car!! (Shock! Horror! Gasp!) ‚Cos sometimes you get sick. And that, unfortunately, is what happened to me in my third week as a Starradler.

Thankfully it was nothing too serious. Just a summer bug which didn’t last very long, but left me feeling weak and totally without energy.

Now one of the things which makes many of us immigrants here in Germany different from the locals is the way many of us work …….. or rather, the way many of us are allowed to work. We learn very early on in our stay here, that our German isn’t good enough, or our qualifications aren’t really up to standard, or they won’t be recognized at all. Now while things are slowly changing for the better, this still means that very many of us make our living as self-employed.

What in heavens name has this got to do with cycling, you’re probably asking by now?
Well, being self-employed means that if you work, you get paid – and if you don’t work (‚cos you’re ill) you don’t get paid. Which also means, that we have to be REALLY ill before we’ll skip a day of work.

And that was the case for me last week – not too „under the weather“ to stay at home, but far too weak to cycle the, in all, 35 km to English classes. The only way to get there was the car.

Which brought me to thinking:
Sometimes cycling just isn’t possible. Sometimes we do actually need the car, especially if the alternative of taking public transport is terribly difficult or just doesn’t exist.

The problem is, however, that using the car tends to make us rather lazy. All too easily can driving sometimes become driving always. How often do we find ourselves on auto-pilot getting in to the car to drive to the bakery instead of cycling there?

And perhaps that’s one of the most important messages behind the Stadtradeln Project; changing our all too comfortable habits. No longer taking the bike sometimes but (almost) always and only taking that car out of the garage …… sometimes!

Happy cycling!
Liz

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Singing (scrap that!) …… Cycling in the rain!

Coming from Ireland – where it rains almost every day – one of the nice things about living in Erlangen is that the weather here is much more predictable. Irish weather is, to put it mildly, …… changeable. On any one day, it’s quite possible that the sun will shine, the wind will blow, it will rain several times and (I kid you not) it could even snow! The only one thing you can be certain about is that nothing is certain!

Here in Mittelfranken however, the weather is far more unsurprising. If it’s warm and sunny then it’s probably going to be like that for several days. If it’s not going to rain, then it’s also going to be like that for days, weeks, or in the case of 2014, months! In all my years here, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a prolonged period of dry weather. Other than the rare shower of about three drops, we’ve been living dry, dryer, parched – which is pretty dreadful for the farmers and gardeners, but wonderful for us cyclists.

That is until yesterday. Wednesday is normally the day when I cycle way out into the boonies to give an English class. Then I cycle home again for a quick lunch and then out again half-way into the boonies for another lesson. Now this „there and back again“ is in all only about 35 km and is normally very enjoyable. But yesterday it rained heavily all the way, accompanied by a headwind, which seemed to have changed direction on my way back!

Which brings me to the planning and building of cycling paths.
Dear Sir or Madam Traffic Planner or Road Engineer, could you please take into account the following when doing your calculations and trying to encourage more of us to cycle our bikes rather than drive our cars:
Cycling on roads in the rain, means that you are constantly being splashed and sprayed with water by cars whizzing by. (Remember Brigit Jones in the movie?). An extra bicycle path beside the road is only helpful if there’s a barrier between said road and path – a hedge perhaps?
There were stretches of my journey yesterday where I was getting wetter from car spray than from the rain!

If a real change in the way we commute to and from work is to be achieved, then thought, energy and money need to be put into making cycling as safe and comfortable and dry as possible.

So saying, the forecast for the rest of the week is for more rain. But right at the moment there’s a lull, so I’m just heading out to do a bit of grocery shopping – on my bike of course!

Happy cycling and stay dry!
Liz

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Taking the scenic route.

Besides cutting down on CO? emissions and generally doing a bit more to save our planet, one of the aims of the Stadtradeln Project is to get more people out of their cars and on to their bicycles. And one of the best ways to achieve the latter is to make cycling (on a daily basis) as enjoyable as possible.

Now „enjoyable“ could probably be defined in various ways and tends to be rather specific to the individual enjoying it. Right at the moment, many people around the world would almost certainly say that watching the World Cup in Brazil is enjoyable. Personally, having grown up in Ireland around gaelic football and hurling, I find soccer to be not particularly interesting. That’s probably heresy here in soccer-mad Germany but ……

Cycling, on the other hand, is my idea of heaven – fresh air, time to think, time to watch the world go by (slowly), relaxing exercise – I could go on and on.

Achieving this state of „nirvana“ on a daily basis does however require a little bit of forethought.
Firstly, depending on the distance, you may need a little more time to get to your destination than when going by car. But remember, going by car includes finding a parking place when you get there and then, walking from that parking place to where you want to go. For me in Erlangen, it’s actually quicker to go by bike than to drive.
Secondly, it’s really a good idea to think about which route you’ll take. For me that means cycling along a busy main road which doesn’t have an official bike lane and where cars and trucks whizz by, many of them blithely ignoring the 70km speed-limit.
Or …taking the scenic route – along the canal, and then on quiet paths and back-streets into the centre of town. While this route takes a little longer (about 5 minutes) it epitomizes for me why cycling is so much more preferable than driving. It’s quiet, safe and relaxing and as far away from busy roads as possible.

Yes, I know that since the major court decision made a few years ago, we cyclists have been put on an equal footing with other road users. While we may now legally use the road to cycle on and cannot be forced to use bicycle paths, the question is whether we really want to. Equal rights don’t necessarily mean better conditions. I, for one, would rather a bit more preferential treatment and a bit more emphasis on enjoyment especially when it comes to planning and improving city infrastructure for cyclists. More scenic routes please!

Happy cycling!
Liz

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And so the end is near…………

My how time flies! Today is my last day as a „Starradlerin“. The last three weeks have flown by but basically haven’t been much different from any other three weeks in the year – as I’ve probably told you „ad nauseum“, I’m a 365 day a year cyclist. And I haven’t missed the car at all.

What has, however, been a bit of a problem for me is the weather. As I come from far away in the north-west (good old Ireland), my favorite temperature range lies somewhere between 10°C and 20°C. These days where the thermometer goes up over 30 or even 35°C are far too hot for little-old-me and so I’ve had to reduce my trips to what is REALLY necessary!

It isn’t the cycling itself that’s the problem – the breeze on the bike is actually quite pleasant. It’s when you stop! The old saying, „Horses sweat, men perspire and women merely glow!“ doesn’t really apply at the moment as I frantically seek out the nearest shade and collapse in a rather wet heap! Arriving cool, elegant and professional to any of my myriad of meetings – forget it!

From that point of view I’m glad the summer break is starting next week. Hopefully by the time political life gets going again in mid-September, the weather will have gotten a bit cooler. But I’d really prefer if that happened sooner. I’m off at the end of next week to cycle with Hubby down the upper Danube. We’ll be starting at the river source in Donaueschingen and then heading downriver to Regensburg. From there we’ll probably then cycle home to Erlangen. I’m really looking forward to it, but pleeeeeease let it get a bit cooler!

Anyway to all of you who have been taking part in the Stadtradler Project, hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. And of course, many thanks to the organizers here in Erlangen and nationwide.

It just remains for me to say (once again): just go out the door, get on your bike and off you go!

Happy cycling!
Liz

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Freedom!

My paternal grandmother Elizabeth Lacey was born on a farm in the middle of the countryside in Co. Wexford (SE corner of Ireland) in the 1890s. Her only method of transport as a child was either a horse and cart or walking. If memory serves me right, she had to walk 3 miles (5 km) to school every day. Sometime in her early 20s she bought or was given a bicycle and from then on the boundaries of her world as a young woman opened up. Suddenly she could go to and return from the nearest big town of Wexford in one day. Even more interesting was the possibility of cycling to the crossroads dance 10 miles away (a wonderful Irish tradition which fell victim to the car). At that time in rural Ireland 10 miles away was like another world – new sights, new faces and of course, lots of interesting young men she had never met before! She always said that that bicycle brought her freedom.

But what does the bicycle mean to us today here in central Europe?

Since the 1960’s the car has been sold to us as an individual freedom for anybody (who could afford it) to go anywhere at anytime. And unfortunately our politicians, our civil engineers, our city and town planners have spent much of the last five decades creating a landscape and infrastructure catering almost solely to the needs of that car – the wide streets, the highways, the car parks, the garages, the filling stations.

When my grandmother and my mother were children, they just opened their front door and went out on the street to play. It was their playground. Today no parent in their right mind would leave their kids go out on the street unsupervised. If they want to play outside, they need to be escorted to a playground and if Mom and Dad don’t have time to go there, the kids have to stay inside. Basically all because of the car.
If, on an evening, you want to enjoy that „driving off into the sunset“ (as in the car ads), then it is very advisable to calculate how much time you’re going to spend in a traffic jam into the equation of when you’re actually going to get there. Basically because of all the other cars.
And don’t forget how much the blinking things cost – to buy, to maintain and in car tax, value-added tax, environment tax, fuel tax! Basically because of all the things cars need.

More and more, I think we’ve been HAD by the car industry and their image makers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally naive. I do realize there are times and places and situations where almost the only alternative is to go by car. But do we really need them as much as we use them? Has the car actually brought us that freedom promised us in the glossy ads?

And what’s this got to do anyway with cycling a bike you’re probably asking? Well for me personally in my everyday life, the bicycle has given me back the freedom the car took from me. On it I can go almost anywhere at any time. And thankfully, not just in Erlangen, planners and (some) politicians have started rethinking our infrastructure and reappraising how we can make our towns and cities more livable in. More and more we’re hearing: „The car does not belong in the city!“

This is where we (you and I, ordinary citizens of the place we live in) come into play. Through our decision today and on as many days as possible, to leave the car in the garage and take our bike instead, we can bring about a change in the quality of life in our towns and cities. Through our ever increasing numbers, we can demand a realignment in our infrastructure – more cycling paths, narrower lanes for cars on urban streets and roads, fewer parking places for cars and more for bikes. And don’t forget that local elections are coming up next year in March. We can make it very clear to candidates seeking (re)election that cycling has to be put high up on their list of priorities.

So let’s go out there and get on out bikes and regain our freedom!
Happy cycling!
Liz

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For your eyes only – ladies!

I don’t know how far you subscribe to the „Beauty knows no pain!“ philosophy, but let’s face it ladies, there are times when the thing that really finishes off that lovely outfit you want to wear to your next meeting, is a nice pair of heels. And besides sitting on a bar stool (for which I am now far too old), easily the most comfortable way to wear those heels is cycling your bike!

For any Mamils (see Cycling subcultures part 1) who have ventured this far, be warned! This text is is actually far less frivolous than it appears.

The whole point about cycling in high heels, or skirts, or dresses, or whatever takes your fancy getting dressed in the morning, is that cycling your bike on a daily basis in an urban environment should really be as easy and non-complicated as possible – otherwise you won’t do it for very long. Under normal weather conditions, it shouldn’t be necessary to have to put on special clothing, use complex equipment or spend 3 months salary on some super-duper bike. Just put on what you’re going to spend the day in, get on your bike and go. It’s really as easy as………ahem……….getting into your car and going!

But is going by car really that easy?
If I want to go from my house to City Hall (a journey I do several times a week) the shortest route by bike is 5.2 km and I need a max of 25 minutes to get there. With the bike I can literally ride up to the front door of the building.
If I go by car, the route is 7.2 km long. Depending on traffic it can take between 15 – 35 minutes, but then it’s not possible for me to actually park the car at City Hall. While there is a multi-storey car park beside it, our family car is a VW bus (big family, big car). The normal width of a parking place in such a car park is so narrow that usually I have to maneuver in and out several times before I can park (getting in a seriously bad mood in the process). Or I drive around the area looking for a place on the street – good luck with that! Then I have to pay and then I have to walk (and by now I’m in an even worse mood). So taking the car means I need more time than by bike and it costs anything from €2 to €8 depending on how long I’m there. Oh, and in some areas you can only park in the space of a max of 2 hours.
Add to that a little bit of road-rage from someone along the way and me getting all hot and bothered about not getting there on time………..well, to be honest, going by car really isn’t easy at all!

Now you know why I love my bicycle.

So ladies, put on those heels, get on your bike and as the song says: „Let’s go girls!“
Happy cycling,
Liz

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Cycling subcultures part 4: Cycling Moms

Forget soccer moms! Easily one of the most impressive groups of cyclists to be found here in Erlangen are the cycling moms. Usually to be seen early in the morning or in the afternoon, these ladies can be recognized by the trailer attached to their bike. In it you’ll find one or two small children being brought to kindergarten, or, in the afternoon, to the playground, to music lessons, to swimming, or to ( you guessed it) soccer practice. While the classic soccer mom does everything by car, the cycling mom does it all under her own steam – wonderful for the environment. It’s also a bit like your own personal mobile fitness studio. One of these moms told me that with the bike, trailer, two small kids and a bit of shopping, she reckoned she was moving about 40 kg around the place!

I would love to be a cycling mom as I genuinely find them inspiring. Unfortunately, these wonderful trailers were only coming on the market when our kids were small – we used bicycle seats instead. And of course, trailers are still only being made for two children and not four. They are also endlessly useful for other things, like transporting crates of beer, or doing the weekly grocery shopping or even (I kid you not) bringing your very old dog out for a non-walking walk!

Now my political colleagues might point out here that I am being somewhat discriminatory (gender mainstreaming and all that) so I will state for the record, that there are actually cycling dads as well.

It just remains to wish these moms and dads:
may you continue to inspire us,
may your method of transport become the norm,
may the infrastructure you need (wide cycling-paths far away from busy streets) increase and improve
and if the wind blows (which doesn’t happen very often in Erlangen) may it always be a tailwind and never a headwind.
Happy cycling!
Liz

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Cycling subcultures part 3: Eeeeh! E-bikes!

Friday’s blog was about minimalism. Today we’re at the other end of the scale. E-bikes. Pedelecs. Big, heavy things with engines! When I see someone whizzing by on one, I’m tempted to shout: „It’s a bird.“ „It’s a plane“. „It’s Superman!“

But that’s probably being unfair. The electric bike is really just a further development of a product that’s been around for years. Remember those bicycles with the oil/gas-mix engines on the front – the sort you saw on holidays to France years ago? E-bikes have come a long way since then – they’re cleaner, more efficient and a whole lot quieter.

I suppose the real question is whether e-bikes are just another fad (remember Chopper bikes in the 1970s?) or are they here to stay?
I do think they have their uses. I met a young woman on a one-day tour last year and was initially amazed to see her cycling an e-bike. It turned out she suffered from rheumatism. While she could still just about cycle an ordinary bike for short distances on the flat, going up hills had become impossible. Now on her e-bike she could sail up hills and easily manage 60-80 km tours.

One the other hand, these things move fast. While coming up to a junction in the village recently, I spotted a lady I hadn’t seen for years on a bike waiting to cross the road. My initial reaction was: “ Oh great! Frau X has gotten out of her car and onto a bike.“

Now one of the great advantages of cycling is the little chats you can have with other cyclists along the way, so I thought I’d catch up with her and say hello. You can imagine my surprise (and indignation) when she suddenly headed off at a clip. Despite my valiant attempts, I couldn’t catch up with her. She, a life-long chain smoker, whom I had never seen on any other form of transport except a car, was speeding effortlessly UP the hill! Me increasingly shocked, frustrated and out of breath ………. and then I saw it! That little box on the back carrier, the one with the battery in it!

All was explained, though it took a while for my rather bruised ego to recover. But it did get me thinking: is this the future of cycling – effortless and quick? Or will there continue to be a place for us „slow“ cyclists?

Hubby took part in a weekend of e-bike test trials a few months ago and came back enthusiastically spouting about their speed, power and a other technical details. My reaction was: „I wouldn’t dream of getting one on ‚those things‘ till I’m at least 80!“ Hm…..
Happy cycling!
Liz

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Cycling subcultures part 2: Are fixies vegetarian or vegan?

One of the most puzzling cycling subcultures „more mature people“, as my mother so euphemistically calls them, (i.e. old!) don’t understand is cyclists who ride fixed-gear bikes. The definition found in Wikipedia is: „A fixed-gear bicycle (or fixed-wheel bicycle, commonly known as a fixie) is a bicycle that has a drivetrain with no freewheel mechanism.“
It’s really the bicycle in its most basic form: two wheels and a chain. No mudguards, no gears, no lights, no breaks, no nothing! In its most minimal form, you can either cycle forwards or backwards – just like a vegan diet. Fruit and vegetables, vegetables and fruit.

Besides the safety issues involved (or complete lack thereof), what I can’t understand is that these fixed-bikes seem to be totally devoid of any semblance of comfort. No freewheeling down the hill enjoying the view. No choice of gears to help you get up that hill!
A young man I know says, „No, no, it’s a very special experience. It’s a feeling. It’s a way of life.“
My reaction is more, „Don’t you dare go out on THAT THING without a helmet!!“ (Me who argues that a „Helmpflicht“ is probably one of the biggest barriers to getting ordinary people out of their cars and on to their bikes.)
Thank goodness some fixies at least make the concession of adding a brake. These are more what I call the vegetarians – a little bit of egg and cheese can help you live longer.

Interestingly enough, the fixies in Erlangen that I know of all seem to be young men. Actually very nice, very polite young men who seem to have no interest whatsoever in cars. Be it urban lifestyle or a genuine wish to stop destroying this planet of ours, for an increasing number of young people in Erlangen, the car is OUT! And that perhaps is the most refreshing and positive thing we „oldies“ can learn from our children. So saying:
Happy cycling!
Liz

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Cycling subcultures part 1: Mamils

Besides the ordinary Jo Soap riding his or her bike everyday, there are also quite a number of subcultures to be found on the cycling scene. Perhaps the group that takes itself most seriously are what the British have christened „Mamils“ or „middle-aged-men-in-lycra“.
Now Mamils are quite interesting as they are not exclusively to be found cycling top-range racing bikes uphill – they can also be spotted running marathons and the like. They are easy to identify. Obviously from the name, it’s clear that they are male and at least 40. They are either balding or gray-haired. Their equipment is usually expensive and bang up-to-date. They colour-coordinate their outfits, helmets and sports sunglasses. Those who run have taken to wearing support stockings similar to what my granny wore years ago. They are very, very serious about what the do and never look as if they are enjoying themselves.
Why, you ask do they do it? Could it be a health issue has arisen after too many years of having been a couch potato? Is it a last ditch effort to prove that they’re „forever young“? Or is it a more modern (and healthier) version of a midlife crisis – don’t buy a convertible anymore, but rather invest in a super-light, 324 gear, high-speed racer which came in second in last year’s Tour de France?
Of course we ladies really don’t understand it. But at least we can say that Mamils usually look and are a lot fitter and healthier than Mamocs ( middle-aged-men-on-couches).
I just wish they didn’t take their new lifestyle quite so seriously. Like I said in my last blog entry – relax, enjoy, smile!
Happy cycling!
Liz

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