Summer is coming to Berlin, and on the warmer days, you can almost feel the number of bikes getting larger and more prominent around the streets. For me, this time of the year is always weird since many seasonal cyclists go out, and it seems they need to learn one thing or more.
This is why I have considered writing about some of my Berlin Bike Rules.
Last Sunday, I was cycling around Britz when something happened to me, and I realized that I needed to write down these rules. I was cycling in the bike lane when I saw a guy on his bike crossing the street.
For a brief moment, he disappeared, and the next thing I saw, he was cycling straight into me, going in the wrong direction on the bike lane. He hit me, and we both went to the ground.
We both got hurt, my knee still feels weird today, and his shoulder didn’t look like It would get better so fast.
After we both checked out if we were ok, I continued my bike ride with some pain and anger. I kept thinking about all the times I had to ring my bell while complaining about people cycling in the wrong direction on a bike lane. I kept thinking about all the people I saw crossing a traffic light while others on bikes waited.
I kept thinking about all the times I was walking on a sidewalk, and I heard a ring, and a bike went crazy between people.
These experiences were some of my points of reference in writing this down, and I hope it makes sense to people.
I believe I think a little bit better when I cycle. Maybe I get into a zen-like state, and good thoughts come to me. During the last couple of days, I have been thinking about my Berlin bike rules; maybe, they make sense to somebody else besides me.
Without further delay, here are my own Berlin Bike Rules.
Wear a helmet and always have bike lights
I only started wearing a helmet after reading a story about a woman hit by a truck who fell to the ground and passed out when her head hit the asphalt.
I remember reading about this, and my research leads me to examples of people going through something similar and even with some deaths.
That day was the day I bought a helmet, and I have worn one every day I cycle since then. The one I have even had lights in the back!
For me, a helmet is a way of making my cycling experience a little bit safer. Some people say a helmet is unnecessary, but I continue using it. And the scratches I got on it this past Sunday prove that I should wear it all the time.
Bike lights are even more necessary. But it seems like many people like to ignore it and ride through Berlin without letting people know there is a bike on the road at night. It’s even worse during winter since the days are shorter, and it gets darker earlier.
I keep seeing people with disposable lights that also don’t work well enough and others without any light, and I wonder if those people know how dangerous this can be.
Bike lights are essential to everyone who wants to cycle through Berlin; I believe it’s also required by law.
So, don’t make this mistake and let cars and people know where you are while you cycle at night.
When you take your bike to the streets, pay attention to where you are and your surroundings.
Pay attention to the cars and buses that might be coming from behind you, and try to keep a look at the people walking next to you and at the other bikes that might be cycling next to you.
Pay attention to your surroundings
If the guy who hit me last Sunday were paying attention to his surroundings, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.
I see this when somebody decides to join the bike lane without looking to see if there is anybody there. I see this when people try to cross the street behind cars and straight into bikes. I see this when people in vehicles open doors without paying attention to whoever is coming next to the car.
This is why you should pay attention to your surroundings on your bike.
No cellphones. No headphones.
Since I believe you must always pay attention to your surroundings, you shouldn’t wear headphones or talk on the phone. Let’s start with my problem with headphones first.
Headphones block you from the street noises making it harder for you to see cars coming on the street. Headphones make it harder for you to listen to the bikes and the people around you.
And there is always a cable somewhere that can get entangled and ruin your bike ride.
I completely understand that you want to listen to music while you cycle. I get that, and I always listen to music on my bike; I don’t do it over headphones.
I have a Bluetooth speaker that I carry with me and plays music. I can still hear what is happening around me and listen to music simultaneously. Maybe you should try this as well. Remember that this music is for you and not for everyone around you. Keep the music to yourself and be the kind of asshole that wants everybody to listen to their music.
A couple of weeks ago, I was cycling on my way to work when I saw a woman dropping something from her bike in front of me. She suddenly left the bike lane and stopped. A few meters later, I saw that she had dropped her phone, and I couldn’t be happier to see something like this happening.
Yes, I was happy to see a woman break her phone because I don’t think you should be cycling, holding a phone, and talking to people simultaneously.
If you do this, you’re not paying attention to where you are, you’re not completely controlling your bike, and you become a hazard to everyone cycling next to you.
If you need to take a call, stop your bike and talk to whoever is calling you. Simple as that.
Streets are for cars, bike lanes are for bikes, and sidewalks are for people
I understand when cyclists go to the sidewalk when there is a cobblestone street, but I don’t get it when they cycle fast and ring their bell, trying to make people leave where they are walking.
I didn’t get it when cyclists decided to go over the sidewalk when the road and a bike lane were available.
You need to follow the rules and understand your location in traffic.
But this is the only rule I often understand when people break it, and I also do this. But I like to keep it in mind and follow it on every option.
Respect the rules and be predictable
As I said before, following the road rules and bike lanes are the only way to cycle without worrying. But you have to be predictable as well.
Try to inform the people behind you about your next turn, and don’t make sudden changes in your direction. Sometimes those can be the reason for accidents.
Being predictable sounds so simple, but it is why I get pissed off most of the time. People by bike always try to cut short and find their way around other bikes. If one of those bikes is not paying attention, you know what will happen.
I advise people to be predictable when they cycle around Berlin. This is not complicated.
Bike lanes work in the same way as roads. The direction of the bike lane follows the course of the road it’s next to. So, please don’t go in the opposite direction, or else you might get into accidents like the one that made me want to start writing this article.
Also, if you’re in a bike lane, try to stand to the left side if you are going fast. Hold to the right side if you are going slowly.
Bike lanes work like roads
If somebody is going slowly in front of you, ring the bell and wait for them to move to the right side. Pretty similar to how roads work.
Don’t ever block the bike lane by cycling to another bike. There are better places to talk to your friends; the bike lane is not one of those.
People are trying to get to work, others are trying to get home, and you are, blocking the bike lane because you want to talk to your friend.
Recently I have seen this more and more, and I have to write here: if your kid is learning to cycle and you want to follow him on the road, don’t bring him to the bike lane. Your kid will be slower than most people and completely unpredictable.
You will follow him, cycle slowly, and block the bike lane. Think about other people before you consider this to be a great idea. You and your kid are not the centers of the world.
Lock it well and lock it right
Berlin is safe, but your bike might never be entirely safe here. I never think my bike is secure, and the one I have is not even that expensive.
But, since I don’t want to have the experience of going to where I parked it and not finding it, I got some great locks, and I use them every time I need to keep my bike out for an extended period.
My go-to lock is an Abus Bordo Granit X Plus, and it is thick enough to make me feel like my bike is safe. But I often use it with an Abus cable to keep both wheels safe together. I carry both of them pretty much everywhere I go by bike.
But, sometimes, I bring a U lock as well. Most of the time, this happens when I know there will be more people by bike, and we might need to lock bikes together.
I like using different locks because you need other tools to cut through various waves. Extra bolts might make it harder for thieves to get through the coils, and my bike will be safer.
Also, avoid the cheap locks you see at supermarkets. Those are so easy to cut through that you will probably lose your bike.
It happened during my first week cycling around Berlin back in March 2012. I was around Warschauer Strasse, and something punctured my tire, and I had to take it to a bike shop to fix it. I didn’t know how to fix it, and I wondered what would happen If I was far away from home and didn’t have a bike shop.
Learn how to take care of your bike
After that, I decided to learn how to take care of my bike: how to change tires, keep the bike chain working, and everything else that comes with it.
By learning this, you can save money by doing things yourself; you can learn more about your bike and think about improvements you didn’t even know were possible. And the best thing is to start connecting to your bike at a different level.
This happens when you take proper care of something; of course, you should be able to do that to your bike.
Don’t drink and cycle
Again, this is about you being safe. Don’t drink and cycle.
If you do, you will be unpredictable and cycle without paying much attention to your surroundings. If you do that, you become a hazard to anyone around you, including cars and pedestrians. So, leave your bike locked or take it home if you want to have some beers.
Sometimes I have some beers after work and cycle home. I know it’s precisely the opposite of what I’m saying here, but I know my limits and never go over them when I’m by bike. It happened once and was so scary that I never did it again.
This was back in 2013 when I went to a bar in Kreuzberg by bike, started having some beers, and completely forgot that I was by bicycle. A couple of hours later, I took the bike home, and I have no memory of cycling 4 km to my house.
I remember waking up and thinking how stupid I was to do that, and I never did it again.
Here they are, my set of Berlin bike rules. There might be too many, but they will keep you and your bike safe.
If you liked what I wrote here, you’d probably enjoy what I wrote about cycling in Berlin a couple of years ago. There is an article about what I carry around when I cycle.
If you have any other practice you feel I forgot, leave it in the comments below! And enjoy Berlin by bike!