August 10, 2012

Biking in Munich


** Munich by bike ** German bike club ** Bike tours in the city and surroundings ** Online resources **  Renting a bike ** Buying a bike **

I have read in many places that Munich is a “Radlhauptstadt” = a capital city for the “Radl”, which is the Bavarian equivalent of “Rad” (short for “Fahrrad”) so a bike. 

If you navigate online you will find strong arguments that support this statement/city slogan. The main one is that Munich´s infrastructure (public and private) strongly favors and supports this green “vehicle”:
  • There are approx. 1200 kilometers of bike lanes in Munich; 
  • The bike parking facilities are free and almost everywhere (unless you read “Fahrräder abstellen verboten”, “ Bitte an xxx keine Fahrräder abstellen” or something similar);
  • The public transport and taxis are expensive; as well as the rates for street-parking (besides the traffic jams are frequent and the parking control officers are everywhere);

If they were not reasons enough to convince me, the city publishes a lot of information about living and moving on a "Radl" in Munich: bike city maps; a bike route planner to plan how to get from A to B quicker and with bike lanes; an annual program of events (i.e. the bike summer nights, courses, free technical bike checks); tours outside the city to discover the surroundings, etc.

The MVG (the Munich public transport company) has partnered with ADFC (the German Bicycle Club) to put together more than 20 bike routes within and around Munich. You just need to pick your route and then take the U-Bahn or S-Bahn until the starting point, where your bike route starts. At the end of the tour, there will be another metro station that will take you back home. There are routes from 22 up to 68 kilometers and they include: the Bavarian mountain Taubenberg; lakes like Starnberger See or Ammersee; Dachau; etc.

It took me a year to make the decision to buy a bike in Munich. Why did it take me so long? Easy:
  • I have driven a car since I was 18 and I love driving; 
  • I was 12 years old last time I rode a bike and 
  • honestly I was under the impression that it was dangerous/complicated with all the cars, buses, trams… 
But I was mistaken. 

Firstly, not matter how many years have passed since you were on a bicycle, trust me: you do not forget it. Secondly, it is not dangerous/ complicated. You see parents with bike trailers for their children all the time; they ride to/from the office in their suits and with their laptops; to/from the supermarket with their grocery bags; to/from parties on the weekend in high heels (!), etc. It is not that the locals have a specific gene that makes them more skilled than you and me, it is just that it is easy. 

And dangerous? Well, I believe that the drivers in Munich are very respectful with bicycles and they are used to give way and to keep the security distance (I actually believe it is more complicated to drive a car in Munich than a bike).

There is a very nice brochure by the city of Munich where it explains the StVO (so the rules of the road and driving) for bikes. It is in German so if you do not understand it, get someone to help you or easier: ask in the Tourism Office or book one of the many bike tours in the city, this way you can learn the basics with a guide while sightseeing the city.

The most popular organized group tours in Munich are: Mike´s bike tours; Lenny´s bike tours, Frankie´s bike tours, Munich Walk Tours and Radius Tours
I have not tried any of them, but if you do, please drop me a line and let me know your impressions. 

Maybe you are like me, in which case you might want to go for a test ride before you invest in your own bike. In this case, a very good option is to rent a bicycle from the many shops/services in the city (private and public). Most of the above shops that offer organized tours by bike also have rental services.

The DB (Deutsche Bahn) has a bike rental service named: Call a Bike that is very easy to operate. They have several spots around Munich where to pick up the bike and it costs 0.08€ per minute, with a maximum of 15€ per day (or 9€ if you have a Bahncard).

Some bike rental shops require a deposit (that can go from 50€ to 100€) and then they charge you an hourly fee (that can go from 2€ to 5€ or 15€ per day). Most of the above companies that offer bike tours also have a rental services.
In some places they also offer student discounts, so do not forget that if you are enrolled in a language school here in Munich, you might be eligible for a student card (it depends on the school and the number of hours).

And finally if you are ready to go out and shop for your own bike, then you will find that the number of options is so large that it is almost impossible to compare them all. 

My suggestion is: pick one or two shops that are close to your place/office, go there, look around and ask the staff for advice. The prices are more or less standard in all shops for first and second hand bikes. 

If you go into a bargain quest, you will only be losing your time. Some people comment on forums claiming that they have bought bikes for 50€ or less and they are fantastic (well I hope so). I guess that this option works for people that are not using the bike regularly... But if you do, you want to make sure that what you pay for is in a good condition and that it is not going to cost you more money in two weeks, when you discover that you need to buy new brakes...

My honest advice is:
  • if you want your bike to be your main transportation in Munich, please avoid the super cheap stuff (junk) found in a dark patio of a corner shop somewhere and go and pay the market price in any of the many bike shops in Munich. Yes, this might mean to pay from 250€ for a bike;
  • if you just want a bike for a short sporadic ride on a sunny Sunday in the park, then do not let the shops sell you a brand new bike or an expensive second one. Go for a cheap, cheap bike. The second hand market here is very competitive and dynamic, so you should be able to find one for 150€ and that is in a good condition for the use you are planning. Just make sure the brakes work before you pay!!!


Shops to buy a bicycle in Munich (first and second hand): 

And this is all from me today. I hope this info is useful. As always, drop me a line if you know of any other options/shops/places to rent/buy a bicycle here or just to tell me your experience with the bike in Munich.

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