One of the reasons why I have trouble imagining leaving my adopted home in Germany and moving back to America is a matter of transportation. Even if public transportation isn’t your thing, Germany is a very bike-friendly country. Even if with kids. Especially with kids.
In the United States it was impossible to get on with life without a car (at least not living in a major metropolis). In Germany, I can’t imagine owning one. Sure, being able to drive as fast as I want on the Autobahn might be kind of neat (and terrifying…), but gas here is expensive. Why pay for a car when I could ride my bike, save money, do my part for the environment, and stay in shape? It is a win-win-win situation.
Bikes for the win! Seriously.
Bikes are a big part of my life, and they have helped me to live my life in accordance with my personal ethics. I initially got into biking as my main mode of transportation the year before I moved to Germany. I was beginning to think critically about car culture and my 9-5 career path. I didn’t want to have to work even more just to pay for a car that was mucking up the environment and keeping me alienated from the world around me.
Biking to work didn’t cost me a thing, and it kept me fit. I didn’t have to sit in traffic jams, and I noticed the birds singing or the smell of summer on the air. When I moved to Germany, I sold my car, and I haven’t owned one since.
But what about kids? Say you have a baby. How are you supposed to bike all the time then? How do you carry the kid? How do you carry all the stuff you need to take with you everywhere? Well! There are quite a few interesting solutions. Kids definitely don’t mean you need to stop biking and buy a car.
Bike trailers and seats
When we first moved back to Frankfurt, I took the train everywhere. Baby Pickles intially refused to ride in our Chariot kids’ bike trailer, and so my feet and the train were my only options. While I am totally in love with Germany’s public transport system, it can still be limiting, and it still costs 2.60 a pop for local rides. As soon as Pickles started enjoying the bike trailer, and I started biking again, I felt so free. It sounds cheesey. Maybe it is. But on my bike, I don’t have to worry about train schedules or missing the last ride home on a night out. I save at least 20 euros a week not buying train tickets. And it is just so fun to zip around the city with the wind on my face: Just slow enough to take in the scenary and fast enough to get me anywhere in this tiny metropolis.
The Chariot trailer is awesome, but it has its downsides. I love it for the space (you can haul two kids and half your house in the damn thing), and it is convenient that Pickles can nap in it. But I sometimes don’t feel like using it because it makes biking harder. The thing is feather light, as far as bike trailers go, but if I’m already feeling exhausted, just thinking about pulling extra weight around makes me think twice about even leaving the house. And Pickles refused to ride in it calmly until she was over a year old, baby hammock attachment be damned. So there’s that.
Then we tried out a Bobike seat in Holland. Pickles loved it. But front-riders are rare in Germany. (There is a rumor that they are actually illegal, but it is just that: a rumor. There is no law against using them.) So our Dutch friend bought us two. After something like six months and a lot of excited waiting, finally, finally, we were able to pick up the used Bobike seats she had gotten us during our most recent trip to Holland. And the people rejoiced. At least I did.
Last night I finished installing the seat and tweaking the bike. I strapped on Pickles’ helmet, and off we went for a ride down the river. I loved it. She loved it. Pickles squealed and shouted and pointed at everything she could see, and I squealed right along with her. We can go for an evening ride every single day! We can just hop on a bike and run to the store! I don’t have to think about attaching the trailer or hauling it around for every single trip! I am so smitten. I can’t wait to get home and go for another ride.
Of course, the easiest option in Germany is using a back-riding child’s seat (pictured at the top of the article). You’ll find them at every flea market and bike shop in the country.
Protection for babies
Though you can easily bike with a baby in a bike trailer (they make special hammock inserts to make this possible), some babies don’t like riding so far away from their parents. Our daughter hated the bike trailer until she was over a year old. But recently, folks at the Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle won a design award for their solution to the problem: The IGI Baby Protector.
For babywearing parents, there is now a safe option for biking while wearing your baby. I can’t wait until these go into production. Three cheers for German design.
Do you bike with your young children?