I would never consider myself a biker. Bicycling is something I love to do, but never really find the time or motivation to do it. When living in NYC I didn’t have a bike, (and was too terrified to try riding in Manhattan anyway,) and in Paraguay I only had one opportunity for a ride with friends out on muddied dirt paths and backroads, which ended up lasting a total of about 4 hours and I had to be pushed the last two hours since my legs could no longer function.
Needless to say, while I love a casual ride along the beach front in Florida, I can’t imagine being one of those commuters that ride their bikes all over Berlin to get from A to B. The adults are pros…even the kids. You see these little two year olds on “bikes” without pedals so they can practice balancing themselves on the two wheels, and I mean really, isn’t two wheels better than none? (I secretly might prefer just having a seat where I could casually drag my legs alongside to move around the city, sure beats walking!)
So before I left New York, I had high hopes for my cycling future in a city of pros. My favorite father in the world (who also happens to be the best father in the world) bought me a beautiful new bike as a going away/happy birthday in June kind of deal. It is a gorgeous white Specialized bike screaming for a great rider, but unfortunately will be stuck with me. While my stuff is in transit (never to arrive, or err – meant to arrive sometime in June,) I decided to borrow a bike from my office, which is really quite an amazing thing that WWF would offer its employees the opportunity to cycle to a meeting rather than hail a cab or take a bus. So green. And now I have a bike for the next 5 days to use at my leisure!
Before leaving the office today I will drastically understate that I was nervous. Having only ridden a handful of times in the last year, with months in between each venture, its completely nerve-wracking to get back on a bike, especially a bike you don’t know, where you have to learn the gears and the breaks and the speed and the weight of it. I had no idea how I would get the bike from the office to the apartment I had to see and then back home. So I made a bold statement and walked the bike all the way from the office to the S-Bahn (one of the subway systems here in Berlin) where I then waited 10 minutes for the elevator to go up to the platform, where me and my bike stood side by side watching other passengers.
Did I feel silly? Only a little…mostly since I couldn’t figure out how to balance both the bike and myself in the moving car, but honestly I was just grateful to have found a spot to stand without too many people crowding around me. When I arrived at the S-Bahn stop on the other end, I was dismayed to discover there would be no elevator from the platform up top…and so I carried my bike up. All without putting a foot on the pedal. Then I proceeded to walk my bike in the direction of the apartment. I watched all the Berliners actually riding their bikes and stared in awe while silently cursing them.
At the apartment it took only about 10 minutes to figure out how the hell to chain the bike to a pole. Most people here don’t even chain their bikes to anything, they have some flimsy lock that holds the back wheel to the frame, (“Oh sure, you can have the seat or front wheel if you want! Oh, are you feeling strong? Why not lift the entire bike into the back of your car!”) I don’t get it, but I’m from New York so that explains more than a few things! Besides, it’s my office’s bike so I’d feel horrible if I did a bad job locking it up and returned to find it missing. Needless to say I got it, one way or another, locked to a sturdy metal thing and headed upstairs. Unfortunately that was my biggest success in that hood, as the apartment was not worth applying for.
So then I realized THIS IS RIDICULOUS, that and the fact that you cannot bring bikes on the Tram which would take me directly to my apartment, so without a choice I realized I would have to attempt my first ride. I hopped on gingerly looking around every half a second to make sure no one was a) watching me and b) coming directly at me. I made it a block until I hit a red light, panicked, jumped off and stood next to my bike on a street corner for about 5 minutes before I coaxed myself to give it another shot. Who knew riding a bike could be so stressful??
I walked the bike another block to get away from any onlookers who might be staring curiously or laughing at me by then (I don’t think I actually saw anyone, but I couldn’t take the risk!) and waited until there was not another biker or car in sight and hopped back on, finding my way behind a gentleman (or mentor, if you will) ahead of me. I followed him to a stop at a main stretch of road, and then continued to follow as the light turned green and we headed straight to…nowhere, really. I had wanted to turn left but didn’t know how to go about it, and since this guy seemed to have some sense of direction, I kept on behind him!
A few blocks down the line I finally got up the courage to turn left and headed across yet another big intersection to go back in the direction I originally intended to go. I found my way to a cozy bike path that runs along the road and decided I didn’t care in the least if someone wanted to pass me or was behind me, I would be brave and continue on my journey. It wasn’t until some ways down a guy turned into my lane (don’t know where the cozy path had turned at that point) and I angrily rang my bell to while he put a hand up in apology, that’s when I decided to stick to the sidewalks until a path reappeared. I ventured on and at another street when I couldn’t figure out how to go left I kept going straight and ended up at my grocery store…where I had been too lazy to walk for a few days now. It was quite convenient, really!
So I locked the bike to another metal pole, picked up some food, (including cornichons and a kitkat, yum!) and placed it all in the adorable basket on the back of the bike (adorable.) Then I rode the two blocks to my apartment carried my goods, and then the bike up yet another set of stairs and applauded myself at a job well done! I had made it alive from Friedrichshain to Prenzlauer Berg and feel empowered to try it all over again tomorrow! Or maybe the next day – I’ll see how sore my butt and legs are from today’s introductory ride before making any decisions on the matter!