Posts in Category: Travel

Missing Iceland

It might be the fact that jbraynard is posting amazing photos from his Iceland trip.

t might be that 5 years after the last visit to Iceland, the sheer beauty and  uniqueness of this Island is just what is needed after almost 5 months of being grounded.

It might be the 44 minutes long movie you just “discovered” on Shred Territory which shows an amazing ride clear across the Icelandic highland.

Iceland is one of these places that is near (3.5 hours direct flight) yet once one gets there, the feeling of remoteness and a complete alien landscape really takes over.

Iceland is part of the very exclusive list of places one can travel from Germany. Iceland is normally packed with tourists but this year, it is likely to be very empty.

Is this an opportunity?

Touring Shoes Spec List

Image by Christian

You absolutely love the Sidi shoes. The pair must be 3-5 years old as the soles are starting to wear thin. You ride in them all the time, but recently you started thinking that they are not the best shoes for a proper tour. Just in the last 6 months several components of the shoes broke. The Sidi strap, made out of plastic, broke off first. Then the closing part, fell off. These are not big deal issues. In fact, all these parts are easy to replace when taking the bike on a day long ride. One returns home, orders a new part, and a few days later the part arrives. But when one is on a multi-day tour, the point is to move forward. On the road, less is more.

The operating principle for great touring shoes is KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID (KISS). One should minimize all possible breaking points such as fancy Velcros and other parts that can break. Shoelaces work extremely well and are easy to replace on the road, in any supermarket, should you manage to tear one. In addition, good ventilation is great and, probably just as important as being able to spend many hours clicked into the pedaled is being able to walk off the bike with the same shoes. Obviously, mountain bike shoes should be the preference for as touring shoes.

And with this, the search begins.

How Green Is Green?

The Deutsche Bahn (DB, the German train company) is running a campaign to increase the public’s perception that they are a “green company.” They advertise 150 new and specific actions around climate and nature protection as well as resources and noise protection. Trains are certainly a great environmental friendly mean of transportation.

But is it that green?

A few weeks back yours truly tried really hard to travel from Berlin to two different places with a bike on the train. If ever there was a green initiative it must be taking your bike on the train to another city. You can avoid taking any taxis in your destination and be even more green than just taking the train. Everyone wins.

As it turns out, the German train system has some serious limitations in helping customers reach this next level of “green.”

First, the DB Navigator app allows one to specify “carriage of bicycle”. This is great, but the option is hidden several menus deep. Unless one knows that the option is there, the app does not seen to provide an option for such esoteric condition. Once clicked, the app shows a large selection of connection. One can click through several options, including one nicely named “Continue to bookings”. The feeling of “yey, I am about to buy a train ticket for myself and the bike” washes all over when you click on the continue to booking button. There are a few more menus to click through and there, at the very end, once you get to the “payment” and have already clicked on the pay now icon, you receive a message saying that all the bike places are taken. You are even asked if you would like to continue with the booking just for yourself and not for the bike.

Mind blown.

Did the Product Manager ever speak to the UX designer? The app asking if you’d like to still book the train ticket, without the bike, is as close as you ever got to being insulted by an app. What was the expectation here? “Sure, I’ll leave the bike at home since I went through all these menus and you just told me at the end that I can not take my bike?”

What should happen? When a customer asks to buy a ticket for herself and a bike, the app should show all train connections that answer this simple criteria. The search algorithm should take into account from a to b with bike and only show the valid options. Why bother showing any connections that can not accommodate the customer ask?

In order to investigate the gravity of the issue, you actually swing by the central station to ask the service center if they can find a ticket for yours truly and the bike. As it turns out, the answer was….yes!  How? Manually. The system being used by the kind people at the Travel Center was no more smarter or easier to use than the DB Navigator app. The poor service person had to click each train to see if there were bike places available. “No worries, I’ll wait” yours truly proclaimed and the poor fellow just clicked slowly through.

Eventually, the bike and the rider made it, but not before spending way too much time for a very simple ask. Since bike places on a train are numbered, much like seating, it is unfathomable that building such a function is so difficult, Once this “feature” is actually fixed, the Deutsche Bahn can actually advertise their 151th green initiative: take your bike on the train without spending hours of compute cycles in trying to find a train.

Planning for 2020

2020 is just around the corner and the amount of awesome rides in Europe are growing.

Instead of keeping a local list, here is what arrived on my desk so far.

  • Rando Imperator – The European Randonee – May 2020.  Munich-Italy.
  • Swiss Audax – Brevets in Switzerland (talk about climbing).
  • CAT700.  A bike packing adventure across Valencia, Spain.  10-15 June, 2020.
  • MontañasVacías.  This is a bike packing route in the Spanish Lapland.  The nearest airport will be in Valencia.  It looks awesome.  No specific dates.
  • Hamburg-Skagen-Hamburg. Start on March 7, 2020.  1339km in one go.

More to come.

The Vicious Circle: Around Berlin in 4 Days

You wake up around 3 o’clock at night to the sound of your fellow rider chocking.  Within a few short seconds you realize that the sounds emanating from the other side of the room are actually very prominently the sounds of a cyclist snoring.  There are risks to touring with a group of guys you don’t know all too well and they are all more than worth it.

The whole adventure, later to be named The Vicious Circle, started with an email in which a friend asked if you’re interested in an off-road tour around the city.  A full loop he promised, with almost no paved roads what so ever.  It nearly sounded too good to be true which is why you immediately expressed interest and secured a spot.  As is often in life, things got hectic, travel was involved and you almost forgot about it, until the email with the GPS tracks and the road sheet arrived.  The plan was a 4 day ride, each day ending in a different corner of the surrounding land: east, north, south and then west.  On paper it looked sublime.

The tour started on Thursday morning, not too early and not too late, in a small town just south of Berlin.  Both groups, the Berlin crew and the Leipzig crew, met at the train station and after a quick round of introductions and a coffee you were on the way.  18.5 kilometer later, while riding on a nice forest road just south of Potsdam, a tree branch decided to jump into the rear triangle of the Hunter taking with him the derailleur hanger and breaking a spoke in the middle.  Making hardware-related decisions on the trail is never a good sign, but the crew put on their thinking caps, turned a few screwed and within 15 minutes Hunter was turned into a single speed off-road touring machine.  This helped releasing the crew from their desire to leave no man behind and you ride to the train station, head straight to the local bike shop, change the broken spoke, replace the derailleur hanger and ride out to the overnight location planned for day 1. Someone once said “yes we can” and he was right.

The next three days are spent enjoying the great outdoors in the lovely state of Brandenburg – the German state that surrounds the capital.  You ride on nicely packed gravel roads, single tracks, forest dirt, military plates that are probably there since the days our country was split into two, thick sea sand that’s nearly impassable, a few proper cycling paths and probably a few more paved roads than were planned.  You are often tempted by the silence in the woods and tend to let the group plow ahead while you hang back, taking pictures and trust that at some point a cafe or country-side bakery will stop the pace of the team.  This system never fails.

The tour manages to find the most exciting and interesting non-roads in the backyard of the capital.  The whole crew is elated as you realize, on day three, that somehow you managed to climb 1,000 meters in an area that’s well known for his flatness while also discovering beautiful lakes and fall foliage.  Each accommodations are an improvement on the previous night which turns the whole adventure into almost luxury touring, but that just means that the crew is more energetic the next day and is rolling with gusto onto the next track.  By day 4 discussions about the next tour, planned for next year, are already underway and as you roll into the same train station the tour started off, you feel a sense of nostalgia before you even dismount the bike.  Such tours, with minimal yet epic mechanical failures (two derailleur!), with a solid crew, with enough time for snacks and photography, a rag-tag collection of off-road steel rigs (and one aluminum bike), and beautiful nature are after all exactly why we ride.