Sunday afternoon on a bike trail going through the Black Forest. You and a group of campers carrying backpacks are on the trail with their bikes, each one with an Alsterwasser (EN: lemon sherry) in his hand, all are quatsching about black bears purging their campgrounds with one of them carrying away a Coleman cooler full of beer with the handle in his mouth, another making his home in a kiddie pool cooling off, and another one chasing the campers on their bikes out of the forest- and through the windows of a liquour store- all underage and their bikes banged up in the end! All of the sudden, as one of the campers was talking about how the bear threw his bike over the fence and onto the property owned by a steel thief (who snatches the bike and tries selling the parts for the price of scrap metal), you ask him if he is insured. The answer is no, but the response comes as follows: “You better because we have a beer on the trail!” Looking ahead, anticipating that it was a case of the best Lammsbräu Radler, they see a great big black bear in the middle of the trail! And he is indeed guarding the Lammsbräu, wanting to try it because of its sweetness.
By Diginatur (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
As an annoyed native speaker of English, on the run for your life as the bear chases you and the campers, your response: “That is not a beer, you idiot! That was a BEAR!!! Bear as in Bae- AAA- ERRRR!”
As a baffled camper, he responds with (______________).
While the campers are on the run with a bear on their tails, their only true insurance is the fact that they are on their bikes and can cycle as fast as they can. Otherwise they would have to climb up a tree. But while the bear story reminds the non-native speaker of English (esp. the German-speaking people) that there is a difference between bear and beer, both phonetically speaking as well as semantic-wise, our topic for this article is cycling in Germany and ways to keep your bike safe from even the craziest of thieves.
As I wrote last year in the Files, the bicycle is the second most common form of transportation in Germany behind public transport. Over 72 million residents in Germany own a bike, whereas 40.2% of bikers use this precious form of transportation on a daily basis. 49.5% of users take the bike at least once a week. Like the Danes who bike in Copenhagen and other cities, the bike is, to the Germans, also like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bread is just not good enough with butter. Peanut butter is OK if you want to offer the conductor of the Deutsche Bahn that as a peace-offering for not having a train ticket in your possession (because the ticket machine at the station you left is kaputt). But with jelly, it’s sweet. Biking is almost free, you are independent and can get from point A to point B. You can see the rarest places on the narrow streets of Flensburg, bike along the Baltic-North Sea Canal from coast to coast and see ships and bridges galore. You can take your family camping just by crossing the Fehmarn Bridge from Bad Oldesloe and Oldenburg and camp at one of the island’s several campgrounds, while biking from the bridge to the ferry at Puttgarden in a matter of a half hour. In other words, biking is healthy, easy and fun.
Yet speaking from experience, when something happens to your bike, whether it is theft or vandalism, it takes away the fun from the form of transport, like a person switching your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with one with just butter or peanut butter. It’s simply not good. A while back, I had a chance to ask some bike experts and other bike enthusiasts about how they can keep their bikes safe, I had a few answers that will surprise you. Here are some facts that will help you keep your bike safe and in use for many years to come.
Buy a used bike while in a city- This fact is the norm if living in a big city, like Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or even the Ruhr Area. Bike thefts are more common as the population increases. Therefore it is unwise to present yourself with a brand new Stevens bike when commuting to work in a big city unless you have extra protection. Used bikes are inexpensive and if you know how to repair it properly, it can last a long time.
Learn to fix your bike yourself- While there are some parts, such as a tire rim, gear system or even the lighting system where you need professional experts to fix, sometimes incremental fixes, such as replacing a tire, oiling the chains, replacing the headlight and odometer can save a trip to the bike shop. If you are a novice, a repair book or even some advice from a friend who fixes bikes can help.
Tune your bike regularily- If you bike long distances- be it commuting or going on bike tours- it is important to have your bike inspected to ensure that any problems detected can be solved right away. Pending on how often you bike, inspections are best done 3-4 times a year, especially if you bike in the winter time. Trust me, people bike in the snow to work in the winter time. I’ve done this myself.
Insure your bike- Germany is not like Switzerland when it comes to insurance. While that country obliges you to have the Vignette, Germany may end up using the Swiss example in the near future, for even though insurance is not obligatory unless you have Haftpflicht to protect your bike from theft at home, it is wise to have it just in case. This includes the ARAG and DEVK, which has a complete coverage of bike insurance, covering you from theft and accidents. Other insurances have this as part of their main insurance plan. You should check this out when you have a bike and are often on the trail with it.
Keep your proof of evidence- For reasons stated in the next tip, when buying your bike, make sure you keep your proof of purchase and all information pertaining to it. In case anything happens to the bike, you may need it. Sometimes the bike store where you purchased it may have that information in their databank in case you don’t have it on hand.
Code your bike- Steel and rubber are becoming the commodity that thieves and desperados are taking advantage of, both shamelessly as well as professionally. That’s why the police encourage you to code your bike so that the information is registered in the files and in case your bike gets stolen, they can track it down in a hurry. They are effective, and a person can get his/her bike back without having to worry about buying a new one, as seen in the clip. The only caveat to this is by the time the bike is found, all that is left is the frame as the rest are taken for the purpose of (….). If a person is desperate to steal a rubber handle of a bike horn, he/she is willing to do everything. But being safe than sorry, coding means security against such theft. The police and other authorities have coding sessions on a regular basis, so ask if you are interested.
Know your bike- Most victims of bike theft don’t know their bike is stolen until it’s too late. One second the bike is in the bike stand, the next second it is stolen. If this happens and you report it to the police right away (which you should), make sure you know your bike and its description to the finest detail. This includes providing a photo of your bike, however, it also includes what your bike has for features, such as the brand, color, features but also other items, such as dirt, scratches, stickers, etc. A few months back, my bike was stolen, forcing me to report it to the police. I was amazed at the number of features I could remember on my bike, as seen in the picture above- can you identify some unusual features my bike has? …..
Know your neighbors and contact them- Your neighbors are a primary commodity, especially when they see you cycling and know what bike you have. Therefore, in case something happens to your bike, inform them right away. They will keep their eyes out and ensure that your bike is safe and sound. Most of the time, they are willing to cooperate with the police and other authorities should the theft be reported and that be a necessity. I was fortunate that one of my neighbors in the apartment block, who had been informed of someone stealing the bike, found it a few blocks away while I was reporting the incident. However not all stories have happy endings. Therefore, take good care of your bike and….
Lock your bike if not in use- It takes a second for your bike to disappear. It is stupid to have your bike stolen- stupider when you don’t lock it beforehand. Two seconds with a key saves a whole day at the police station reporting it, period.
Flensburg Points apply to the bike- Like the car, the bike is a vehicle and therefore, the rules of the road apply to the cyclists, even if they are on the bike-autobahn and other bike trails. Obey and you won’t have to pay for a Flensburg point.
Use your head, wear a helmet!- While some people believe helmets can be harmful than helpful, here’s one story a professor mentioned to his students at the beginning of a lecture, a while back: On his way to his lecture, he was involved in an accident with a car. He suffered a concussion after the impact but survived thanks to the helmet he wore. Can you imagine what would have happened had he NOT worn a helmet? If you are a fool, try it. But if your life as well as your family and friends matter, then maybe you should think and wear it! 80 Euros for a helmet is better than 80,000 Euros for funeral costs.
Biking can be a lot of fun for yourself as well as the family. Already it is the second main form of transportation behind public transportation, regardless of purpose. It is just a matter of following a few points regarding taking care of the bike, and the vehicle can be your friend for life. Bikes deserve to be treated just like a horse. They can get you from point A to point B, but they deserve the treatment as any pet- or car. If the bike fails and you are tired of it, give it to someone else, or do like I did to a used one: tie it to a light post and allow someone to take it for his own. It was a custom I invented when leaving a university for another job offer elsewhere in Germany- not just as a way of leaving a mark for what I did there, but for someone willing to take my used bike for his/her purpose, while purchased my current bike, a black Diamant with the name of Galloping Gertie, which has not failed me since then. Sometimes, a good brand name plus good maintenance goes a long way, especially after the thousands of kilometers she has accumulated in such a short time. You can do the same too. 🙂