I used to love riding my bike when I was a kid. I was never into mountain biking or sport activity, but I enjoyed the freedom of being comparatively far away without much effort. As I went through my teens, I started going further and further afield. Before I got my first car and started being able to travel really freely, a bike ride to the town where I was at school seemed like a huge day out. I’ve just looked up the approximate route I would’ve taken and I see that it was a 25 kilometre round-trip.
When I first came to Switzerland, I lived sufficiently far away enough from the train station that walking there and back would’ve been a real pain, so I bought a very cheap, rattly, second-hand bike to get me there and back. After a comparatively short time, I over-estimated the lack of crime and left my bike at the station for a couple of days; only to return and find that it was gone. I wasn’t particularly flush with money at the time, so a replacement was out of the question.
It took a couple of years for me to get back to the idea and I found a back-street cycle “garage” in Interlaken, full of oily rags and bike parts hanging from every available piece of wall and ceiling. A prime contender was selected and the old man running the shop told me to come back in two weeks, during which time he’d clean it up and fix it. Two weeks later, I returned, eager to pick up the “new” bike, to find that he’d forgotten about it altogether. After agreeing to another two week wait, I returned again to find that he’d still not prepared it, and so the idea fell by the wayside.
All of a sudden, all this was well over fifteen years ago. It was only by chance that I returned to the idea of cycling, when I went to Berlin last year for a conference and found that, instead of using the U-Bahn, I could download an app called Donkey Republic and pay for bike rental on the spot: picking up a bike at any number of unmanned points, returning it to the nearest drop-off point to my destination, and only paying for the time I’d used. The offering included e-bikes (which have a motor to assist your pedalling when you need it) and so I used one to get from the hotel to the conference and back.
I loved it. Seeing the city, getting some (relatively) fresh air and getting some exercise reminded me of my youth. I’d planned to see the tourist sights on my last day in the city and after having to change from the local S-Bahn to the underground, I decided at the connection station to have a look at Berlin’s former airport, at Tempelhof. Grabbing an e-bike from the station, I entered grounds with the intention of having a ride around, taking some photos, then returning to the station and heading for the city centre. As the time stamps on the photos I took tell me, I ended up cycling around the entire complex of former runways for about an hour-and-a-half, enjoying the fresh air and the views, and realising again how much I loved cycling.
I was enjoying myself so much that I decided to keep the bike and use it to cycle into the city centre, then to go around the various sights on two wheels. From Tempelhof, it’s about 6 kilometres to the Bundestag in the middle of the city, so I set off and sped along the dedicated (but somewhat bumpy) bike lanes leading alongside the main roads. The bike took me all over the centre of the city and I got to see many more of the sights than I otherwise would’ve done. Being out in the open also meant that I could get more of a feel of the city, as I wasn’t just shuttling between destinations on an underground train, but seeing everything at my own pace.
This great experience in Berlin led me to use a similar service in Zurich a few times last year, and I gave the electric scooters a try, too. (They’re good fun, but you get no exercise and it would be incredibly easy to crash or fall off.) I set my sights on an e-bike of my own and with a good year behind us at work, I had enough money put aside to buy one. After checking the prices of bikes in Swiss sports shops, I quickly realised than a Swiss brand was way out of my price range. However, many alternatives were available online and so I ordered one which was prepped by a company in canton Zug and delivered by courier.
I’ve already done 160 kilometres on my Ortler Montana Eco; mainly over the six-and-a-half kilometre round-trip to the office and back, twelve kilometres to Wimmis and back over lunchtimes, and to Leissigen and back last weekend. My longest journey so far was to Suldtal and back yesterday lunchtime. I took myself up the steep hill behind our house to the main road, thence to Krattigen and Aeschi, further onto the hill at Aeschiried and then into the silent woods leading towards the higher mountains. 24 kilometres and nearly 500 metres of vertical ascent and descent.
Having this bike is also allowing me to get about whilst staying away from people, as common sense and recommendation dictates during the current coronavirus crisis; I don’t need to visit petrol stations to fill up the car and I can much more easily maintain at least a few metres’ distance from other people when I’m outside.
By cycling a lot, I’ve already started to feel the physical benefits, from a definite increase in overall energy, stronger leg muscles, a gradually-increasing level of stamina, and the first signs of losing weight. Although this is a side-effect, I’ll be very happy to shift 10 to 15 kilos, after several years of being out-of-shape, as this will help me to achieve my summer and autumn hiking goals with much less strain.