Recently my bike broke. For most Americans imagine what it might feel like to lose a car. My main mode of transport in the summer months reduced to the phrase “more expensive to fix than to buy a new one.” I am not totally stranded though. Thankfully there is wonderful public transport in Freiburg, but it is still sad. I bought the bike during the first summer that I was here, which makes it 3 and a half years old. It is getting darker and colder, so I wouldn’t be riding as much anyway, but it is awful to lose it.
I don’t have a car or even a valid license anymore, so my bike was my way of getting around without the tram. I have had, and still have, a tram pass since I moved here 4 years ago. However since moving in closer to town it is actually faster to ride into town than to walk to the tram stop and potentially wait a few minutes for the tram to come. In the summer it is a nicer ride on the bike than to be crammed into a hot tram. In a town like Freiburg biking is such a common way to get around.
Economics of Bikes
I bought the bike with a lock and a helmet for about 400 Euros 3 and a half years ago. I have put maybe another 150 Euros into it in repairs and checkups over the years. I don’t have a covered spot to leave my bike, so winter can be pretty hard on the electrical bits like the lights.
So in the 42 months I have owned it, my average monthly cost comes out about 13 Euros a month.This is about 1/4 of the monthly tram pass and about 8 liters of gas at local rates. There is a very good reason that students in town ride so much more than even taking the tram. To compare this to what I used to spend even on gas, ignoring maintenance, to drive around at home in the US, it is a pretty good deal.
My bike was a fairly basic thing. It was pretty much the cheapest decent looking one they had in the shop. I don’t race. I don’t go mountain biking. I just needed a solid city bike to get me from home to town and back. Adding a basket to the back makes it useful to get groceries and beer home too.
Bike versus Tram
As mentioned, I do have a monthly tram pass. I am happy to have it and will happily continue to pay the monthly fee for it, even if in the summer I ride almost exclusively. There are several reasons for this.
- Most basically, I support public transport. I know that it tends to be a loss making business and am ok putting money into it. I know this is one of the reasons that the city is so livable.
- The individual price of tickets is high enough that only a few rides a month (when it is raining or up into the forest on a weekend) would be more expensive than the monthly pass.
- I get visitors regularly enough that it is nice to have to lend out. Most recently, my wife Ali was here this summer and used the pass daily. We could have bought her her own and probably will when she gets back from her round-the-world trip, but it was nice to not have to.
There is a fresh air and exercise component to the bike that you don’t get on the tram either. Even the 5 minute ride in the morning was enough to give me a bit of piece before being stuck at the office all day. Not to mention with the walking from the stop and back, if properly timed I can actually get to town faster on the bike than the tram. I like being a bike commuter.
Freiburg’s highest crime-rate is among bicycles
Freiburg is an extremely safe city. I have never felt unsafe walking around even at 2am. The highest rate of crime in fact is bicycle related. Theft of course is the biggest component. With literally hundreds of bikes left overnight in random places about the city, the nicer ones with flimsier locks will get taken. I’ve had friends that that has happened to. When I was getting insurance for my apartment, the guy at the bank asked me about insuring my bike against theft. Mine wasn’t that expensive, so I didn’t bother.
Damage, especially due to drunkenness, is the second component. This is, I think, what happened to my bike. I rode it to work one day and decided to go to the thermal baths that evening, so I took the tram home. This left my poor bike in town overnight on a Thursday night. The next day I went to ride it home and the wheels turned only with effort and were visually out of round. Then as I pulled on the brake, it came off in my hand. So yeah, it was broke.
This is not the first incident. I park in an alley with a bunch(!) of other bikes near my office. It is common that one bike falls over and dominos into the rest. My basket fell prey to this kind of damage only a few months ago. Other various dings, scrapes and bent pieces have happened. I should probably park it in a different place, but it is right in front of the door to work.
My favorite bike shop and a sense of community
Thankfully the bike shop I like is not far from town and on the way home. So I pushed and got it moving enough to make it there, being careful as I only had one set of brakes. This in the end didn’t matter, as the wheels were so out of true, that when I stopped pedaling, the bike stopped. No coasting at all.
I have used this bike shop for a while. It is on my way to work, which is nice. A few years after I bought the bike, I met one of the guys that works at the shop, through another friend of mine. So now when I go into the shop I know the guy and we talk. I value this relationship, not just professionally for my bike, but also as a sense that I am part of the community. That ability to ride by, wave, and get a wave back.
So when I come into the shop with my broke bike I knew Stephan would help me out. Yeah, so the bike is broke. Both wheels needed to be replaced and a new brake. Not to mention the missing basket that I have lived without. It was 2/3 of the original cost to get it fixed.
I decided it would be better to let it go to rest and I’ll be back to buy another one in the spring. I will also be more careful about where I park my bike and how often I leave it in town, especially on the weekends. I don’t like riding in the dark and cold of winter if I don’t have to. So as tragic as it is, I was already on that idea soon anyway. I’ll go look for a new one in the spring. Stephan says the new models come in in December, so who knows what I’ll find. Ali will be back and we can ride together. I will still be a bike rider, just not this winter it seems.
Bikes are so much more common in Europe, not just in Freiburg: Check out Inspiring Travelers’ bicycle pics from Amsterdam.