Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our Man in Munich - Part I

[Editor's note - Today's guest post, first of a series, is from my old friend Mike Tierney. Not to date ourselves, but we met during our common salad days of DC's great 1980s music scene (he's an exceptional Foxton/Entwistle type of bassist I'll have you know). Now living and working in Munich, he'll provide DCC readers an exclusive portal to that fine city's bikescape.]

I am grateful to Bill for the opportunity to join in. For just over two years I have been bike commuting from the center of Munich to the southeastern outskirts of the city, where I work. This and subsequent guest posts will include observations about how Munich facilitates bike commuting, and how it is integrated into the urban landscape and culture.

Please note: I am not a professional photographer, which will be apparent in the following photos. 

The bike itself

It's a steel frame single speed that I had built by a shop in the Au (pronounced like "Ow!") neighborhood on the east side of the Isar river. The side bag is by Vaude, a German company that manufactures for the domestic market. The bag is waterproof (critical) and can carry three bottles of Weißbier without throwing off the balance too much. Here the amateur photographer is about to be attacked by "Mimi," the Hausmeister's chronically furious Yorkshire Terrier. Note the fast (or is it slow?) shutter speed capturing the blur of tiny rancid paws carrying the little monster to his prey. Moving on...

Bike lanes on the sidewalks

Munich is laced with bike paths, many of which are integrated into the sidewalks in the form of a strip of asphalt running down a concrete or brick sidewalk. Not all of the main streets have sidewalk-based bike paths. The city government publishes a map of the city showing where they are. Or, with a diligent Google Maps satellite image, search one can identify all the best bike paths between points A and B.

The best type of sidewalk-based bike path provides a few feet between it and where the cars are parked. The pathetically amateurish photo at left is of the path along Lindwurmstrasse near Sendlinger Tor - the southern gate of the original walled city. This path is on my commute route. Most pedestrians (the locals in particular) are good about keeping off the bike paths. Unfortunately, they are not always apparent to the hapless tourist, especially during Oktoberfest, which will be discussed in gruesome detail some other time.

Another type of sidewalk-based bike path is not as safe, but is likely the only solution for a narrow sidewalk. The poor excuse for a photo at left is of the path along Rosenheimer Strasse (also part of the daily commute) near Rosenheimer Platz. This is near the Gasteig, Munich's version of the Kennedy Center. One of every three trips on this route you encounter someone with a cello case strapped to his/her back, looking like some form of high-velocity flotation device. Anyway, the problem with this type of bike path is that you have to be on the lookout for suddenly-opening car doors. Better to keep a bit to the right.

Note the derelict bikes strapped to the trees like hurricane storm surge victims. You find these all over the city, some of which have not moved since the heyday of Einstürzende Neubauten [Editor's alert - 80s reference], but this is a topic for another time.


Visibility on the intersections

The glorious dearth of Spandex

Integration into the urban landscape and culture

Engaging all of the senses and observations otherwise missed


  1. Munich looks great. I just started riding in dc mainly cabi, But I love it. I do think that there seems to be a over emphasis on Lycra ( mostly neg on this site). I don't really see many folks wearing it in this city and those who do seem to be out doing it for sporting purposes. I also think that there are a ton of stylish cyclists in dc, maybe not up to euro chic standards, but cool to me anyway. Fun blog.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I love to see the "Amsterdam" bikes becoming popular in DC. They are the most stylish bikes in Munich as well. Also, you sit up high on them, which is good in traffic. Regarding the Spandex and Lycra, you usually see it on the paths along the Isar river on the weekends, and in the nice weather. However, for the most part, people treat the bikes as transportation. There was an article in the NYTimes a few weeks ago about bikes in Manhattan as fashion accessories. I'm all for it. Thanks for the comment. More on the way.