Bicycles, culture and tradition

Over the past few years, I have been mulling over what it is about the countries I have visited in Europe that really appeals to me. It may be the weather in the summer which is lovely. It definitely is not the winter weather – far too cold for a sunshine worshipper like me.

Paved areas are for pedestrians, sealed zone is for cyclists.

Paved areas are for pedestrians, sealed zone is for cyclists. (Braunschweig, Germany)

During my recent trip to Germany (which you can read about here if you are interested), I thought about this a bit more. Because this trip was during the German winter – the days were short, it was snowy and cold. Yet that “European appeal” was as strong as ever.

I have decided that it comes down to the cycling culture and tradition of these countries. While European cyclists enjoy dedicated biking zones, and a happy tolerance and acceptance of bicycles as a means of transport, we in Australia have a long way to go.

It is often a battle to convince the general public that cycling zones are even worth having (probably because so few people here ride a bike). Rarely, there is a cyclist track available, and these are fabulous. But most often, cyclists are forced to mix it with the trucks, cars and busses in the general traffic.

Sadly, many motorists in this country dislike cyclists with a passion and feel that they have no place being on the road. A few motorists even go so far as displaying aggressive behaviour towards cyclists that is simply dangerous. It is illegal to intimidate other road users, but, they have to be caught to be prosecuted. Fortunately, these incidents are not too common, but in my opinion, the general motoring public still has a long way to go with respect to learning about being courteous towards cyclists.

A wide sidewalk with clearly demarcated cycling and pedestrian areas. (Braunschweig, Germany)

A wide sidewalk with clearly demarcated cycling and pedestrian areas. (Braunschweig, Germany)

The above photos were taken on my most recent trip to Germany. I was amazed and very impressed with the designated  cycleways that are found on all the main roads in Braunschweig, where I stayed for a while. I was even reminded on a few occasions that I was ‘walking in the cycling zone’ and this was not acceptable 🙂

Even late on a cold night, cyclists are out and about.

Even late on a cold night, cyclists are out and about.

Comparing the density of population/traffic between this German city and the one where I live, I can only surmise that many of the inner city inhabitants of Braunschweig must own a bike and use it as a primary means of transport. Even late on a winter evening, people were out using the cycleways provided.

Oxford. Bikes are an integral part of the culture.

Oxford. Bikes are an integral part of the culture.

I have only cycled in two European countries so far – the UK and France. Each country is different, but both exhibit the same cycling acceptance to that I found in Germany. In Oxford, for example, bikes are so much a part of the university city culture, it would simply not be the same without them.

Where I come from, a ‘large’ public bicycle parking area may be able to accommodate a dozen bikes perhaps. Certainly nothing like what is found in Oxford or Paris.

Bike parking near a major French railway station.

Bike parking near a major French railway station.

French and German trains have allocated space for bikes.

French and German trains have allocated space for bikes.

But this is what different cultures are about. The countries of the European continent have had bicycles as part of their cultures and traditions for many centuries. In Australia, we do not have this experience to draw on. But as petrol gets more expensive and finally runs out, we may have to change our attitudes and learn a few things from the Europeans.

This biking culture is what appeals to me so much about these countries. It is a magnet that will bring me back to enjoy this environment time and time again. I can’t wait for the day when we have it as part of our culture here too.

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2 responses to “Bicycles, culture and tradition

  1. Bicycling culture is a long slow development here in North America. Yup, I agree Germany has some wonderful cycletracks and the Deustche Bahn is great to have bike train cars. One does have to plan train ride carefully to reserve space.

    • Yes, you are right about Germany being so well geared up for cycling. Using the Deustche Bahn trains is not too difficult because there are so many regular services. So planning is required, but some level of flexibility is there too.
      Someone I spoke to in Germany told me that what they had was nowhere near as good as the Dutch setup. So I have to get to Amsterdam now to experience that fabulous culture too!

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