British cycling enthusiast Kevin Braddock changes gear for an inaugural Berlin bike ride…
Everyone cycles in Berlin, and in Berlin everyone cycles in the same way: slowly. I recognised this one day not so long ago as I was riding north along Warschauer Strasse, from Kreuzberg to Friedrichshain.
It was a hot sunny afternoon, and in common with very few other streets in Berlin, there’s a mild incline to the stretch running parallel to the S-Bahn just north of the Oberbaumbrucke.
I can’t resist a climb, so I did what I’m used to doing in Hampstead Hill and Fountain Drive, London: straightaway I was out of the saddle of my Bianchi track bike, working the cadence hard and imagining, as usual, that I was the great Italian grimpeur Marco Pantani in his Tour De France attack against Jan Ullrich on the Col De Peyresourde.
Within seconds I’d pumped my way to the top, a red mist of sweat, grit and entirely unnecessary determination misting up my countenance.
Needless to say, relative to every other relaxed rider gliding along the cycle path I and my so-called game face must have looked totally ridiculous. It took me all the way to the Frankfurter Tor to glimpse that it’s just not the way one rides in Berlin. How silly I’d been.
I could blame London: whereas almost all transport modes in my former hometown – from pavement-pounding to gridlocked buses routes to sardine-ing your way through the underground system – are negotiated with a maximum of huffing and puffing, precisely none of that characterises the way Berliners get about.
In fact, I blame Berlin’s bike shops. That day I was pilgriming between Cicli Berlinetta and the Keirin Cycle Culture Café. For the committed bike snob, both are fantastic places, and both make you want to ride hard and fast.
While the Kreuzberg joint sells new and refurbed track frames, Velocity deep-V rims, Knog lights, tugnuts, and coloured chains, hubs and Vittoria tyres for Berlin’s growing fixed-gear crowd, Cicli Berlinetta stocks a matchless line in classic road and TT bikes, vintage Campagnolo components, woolly racing jerseys and more, all sourced by scouring the sheds and garages of Western Europe.
The roof, walls and ceiling heave with a matchless bike-porn collection: Sixties-to-Eighties race frames by Coppi, Colnago and Wilier, builds by Masi, Moser and Gios, and their own range of fixies and signatured wheels. Both serve coffee too.
It’s a nice triangular ride if you weave between Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, or if you take the Holtzmarktstrasse river road along the Spree from Mitte. But you know what? Take your time. Berlin’s not in a hurry, even if you are.