This post should be prefaced by stating that, due to poor planning and general bike pickiness, I only had the experience of cycling in Vienna and that even there I only biked for about an hour and a half. However, I observed the impressive infrastructure and many cyclists (in all kinds of apparel) in Munich and Salzburg.
My husband, M. and I went to Austria and Germany for two weeks this fall. This tale would be more impressive if we were cycle touring, but wandering through cities we observed a lot of other cyclists, dressed in everything from suits to spandex to dirndls. And yes, you see a fair amount of dirndls and lederhosen on every day people. I particularly enjoyed seeing fashionable women riding to work, with the woman in dirndl (pictured) being the highlight. Sadly, I didn’t get nearly enough photos of the range of styles people rode in, but plenty of people commute slowly to work and don’t need to change upon arrival.
The infrastructure in all three cities is truly impressive. Munich and Vienna both have over a million people, but even smaller Salzburg (at 146,000) has a large number of off-road bike paths and bike lanes. Additionally, the drivers are so much more considerate of pedestrians and cyclists than American drivers, even in Minneapolis. As far as I could see, they stopped at all crosswalks where there were pedestrians. When we biked in Vienna on the road, drivers politely drove at our pace until it was safe to pass and gave us a wide berth. We saw parents biking with little kids on their own bikes on the road, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in Minneapolis, except maybe on a side street.
We noticed that cyclists on road bikes rode, well, on the rode and did not race along urban paths. The bike traffic on paths moved relatively slowly, as did we on our heavy rented bikes. I will say that we didn’t ride outside of the city, where less bicycle traffic might make it safe for road cyclists to ride on paths. Additionally, unlike, say, Minneapolis’ Greenway, which is relatively wide and allows for safe passing, the urban paths usually were too narrow to make it feasible for a cyclist to easily race along passing people (although we were politely passed by a few slightly faster cyclists that were unfortunate enough to get stuck behind us).
We were too jetlagged to feel up to biking in Munich, but we saw bike paths leading everywhere and will certainly bike there the next time we’re there. In Salzburg, the small farm/pension we were staying at had a small bike shop just across the street, but, like many stores in Austria, it closed early on Saturday and was closed Sunday, which was the day we were leaving. We also found a beautiful little shop, which didn’t rent bikes, that had presumably costly commuter bikes and accessories. M. is understandably particular about saddles, so city bikes and cruisers with wide saddles, both of which were easily available, were out of the question.
In Vienna we found a Trek store, which rented bikes, and finally managed to get out and ride a bit. They only had hybrids in two sizes 50 cm and 55 cm. M. is 6’2″, so he ended up stuck on a bike that was quite a bit too small, but given that he’s done almost 50 miles on the same size bike, a cruise around town was fine. The former was the largest (or rather the highest off the ground) 50 cm I’d ever seen, and was far too large for me, so I ended up with a step-through frame. Unfortunately, despite having handbrakes, it also had coaster brakes, which I loathe because it’s impossible to get the pedals in the right position.
We ended up riding without helmets, as they only had mediums. I need a small and M. needs and XXL, so given that we were riding about 8 miles an hour, off we went. We biked to Schönbrunn Palace, which is about 8 km southwest of the store. I find riding a bike I’m not used to in a new place to be a little unnerving, so I was a bit nervous in both directions, but I wish we’d had a chance to bike more. I mean, really, I barely biked enough to have formed an opinion. Mostly, I came to the conclusion that bikes with couplers might be worth it to make it easier to explore by bike on future trips.