We have now been on four cycling trips to Germany, first on the Rhine near Lake Constance, second along the Danube from its source to Budapest, third on the Moselle, Rhine, Elbe and Eiser Rivers through former East Germany and north-west Germany and fourth along the Romantic Road in Bavaria and the Neckar Valley. My preference goes to the Rhine and Danube for various reasons. Here are my suggestions and conclusions which mainly concern people who do not speak more than very basic German.
In our experience so far, Germany is the country that offers the most possibilities to cyclists, not only in small and large cities but also in country areas. Bike routes are usually well signposted and cyclists are well-respected by motorists. They are mostly dedicated routes often separated from car traffic by a low concrete wall.
Bikeline, Kompass, Bergstrasse, Public Press and the ADFC all have excellent detailed maps and plasticised guidebooks, but only a couple are available in English which means that you lose a lot of the information. The German versions can be found in most tourist offices and bookshops. In some cities such as Bremen, there are Radstations which have a large collection on sale. However, it is best to order the English versions on-line. The local tourist offices often have free maps of cycling paths in their area.
First, a note on what we are looking for: a good bed, a clean, quiet, reasonably spacious room, a good shower, a balcony or terrace, and if not a lounge corner with two chairs and a table, a good wifi connection, attractive but not luxurious furniture and furnishings, blackout curtains, easy parking and pleasant surroundings. Also, a good breakfast when it’s not a self-catering flat. We don’t need a TV or hi-fi equipment, toiletries or even a hair dryer. If possible, we like an electric jug. If staying in a town, we like to be in the centre so that we can walk everywhere as most town centres are pedestrian-only. A garage for our bikes can be useful.
The Bikeline and Public Press maps have accommodation suggestions, especially along the Danube. We often rode past signs for zimmer (B&Bs) and ferienwohnung (holiday flats) but were rarely able to obtain any lists that indicated facilities and prices. We did not want to knock on someone’s door, have them show us the room, then refuse. In the end, we preferred using booking.com which has two types of bookings: either your accommodation is guaranteed up until 6 pm and you don’t give need a credit card, or it is non-refundable usually with a special offer using your credit card. We also used www.hotel.de but one of my bookings wasn’t registered.
We found that you can usually book the night before unless it’s a weekend or a very popular venue (watch out for local events especially in summer) but we often had to spend a couple of hours searching with no real guarantee of results. In general, former West Germany offers more spacious and comfortable accommodation than former East Germany.
Our budget is 60 to 100 euros a night. The only time we went over that amount we were disappointed in the accommodation but it was a very touristy area.
We travel by car with a Thule bike rack that enables our bikes to be attached in such a way that they can’t be stolen (or stripped). We choose a half-way point where we stay 2 to 4 nights, fanning out in each direction, sometimes doing a loop, sometimes returning along the same route and sometimes taking the train back. As a result, we do not have to worry about luggage. On the Danube, special rad hotels, such as the Draxler, will take your bags from one place to the next for a fee but I imagine it would have to be organised beforehand.
The reason we go by car is that it means we can follow the good weather as we don’t like cycling in the rain! We choose mid-June to mid-July to avoid the crowds and benefit from the very long twilight. If it’s too hot, we can avoid being out in the midday sun and if the mornings are still a little chilly we can sleep late. An occasional rainy day gives us well-needed R&R.
We try to alternate staying in B&Bs, hotels and flats. Most places offer a fairly copious breakfast, particularly if you like cold cuts (which we don’t). The buffet always includes bread, boiled eggs, cheese, cold cuts, fruit, sometimes yoghurt and juice, often tomatoes and cucumber. You can often ask for a fried egg (spiegel ei).
Except on our twice-weekly intermittent fast days when we don’t have breakfast and have a picnic lunch, we eat in a local restaurant in the middle of the day. The food is fairly standard with a lot of pork and potatoes, usually served with a side salad. We have a glass of wine each and the bill is usually between 20 and 40 euros.
We have a car fridge that we can plug into a wall socket in our room if there is no mini-bar, so at night, we usually have a picnic on the balcony of our room, consisting of raw vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumber, baby peppers, carrots and asparagus, in addition to cheese or smoked salmon, bread and fruit. We usually have a glass of wine with pistachios first.
We have now discovered the perfect solution to the clothing and washing problem. We have found several brands of clothing in France and Germany that are specially designed and made to keep you dry and eliminate smells (Fusalp, Columbia, Wolfskin). You can easily wash them out at night and they are usually dry by morning. We make do with two pairs of ¾ pants and 4 shirts each without having to resort to the usual multi-coloured lycra cycling outfits worn by the cyclists in the photo above. I can highly recommend them despite the price (watch out for end-of-season sales). They are extremely comfortable and never stick to your body. They don’t look like cycling clothes so you can wear them when not cycling as well. We were able to wear the pants 2 or 3 days in a row and the shirts twice without any smells at all. We have long-sleeved “overshirts” in the same material.
I also use a “mechanical” washing machine I once read about in a book by Steinbeck called Travels with Charley. You need a small plastic rubbish bin with a secure lid. You add water, washing powder (buy the special travelling sort in a tube) and a couple of shirts and underwear and put it in the boot of the car. When you arrive at your destination, you rinse the clothes and hang them on hangers in the shower to drip. If they are not completely dry next morning, you can either hang them in the car or in the wardrobe. It is an extremely efficient method!
CASH AND CREDIT CARDS
We only have Visa cards which were often not accepted so we had to juggle with having enough cash to pay for accommodation and meals. Maestro seemed to be more widely accepted.
We usually cycle 40 to 60 kilometers a day, taking frequent breaks to visit or have refreshments. Many of the riverside paths are flat, which is good on the knees and bad on the rear end. Make sure you have been cycling regularly before you go. Due to bad spring weather on one occasion, we hadn’t done much cycling and I was saddlesore for two weeks. Take some nappy rash cream with you!
We each have a front bag with a Click Fix attachment and map holders. Jean Michel’s bag contains a full repair kit while I carry the first aid kit as well as our personal effects and a bike pump each. We also have a distance recorder and I have an iphone stand.
We then have expandable saddle bags that slide onto the bike rack, containing a long-sleeved shirt, a windcheater, a poncho and plastic trousers depending on the weather. We also carry sunscreen, biscuits and mosquito repellent. The poncho isn’t ideal but we haven’t found anything better. We use ½ litre plastic Evian-type water bottles with screw tops that we refrigerate overnight and put in stubby coolers inside the side pouches.
We don’t wear helmets which are not compulsory in Europe but we always wear caps and use sunscreen. We wear MEINDL and TEVA walking sandals that seem to last forever, because we like to alternate cycling and visiting. If it’s a little frisky, you can add socks and look very German!
In Germany, ferries that take people, bikes and sometimes cars across the river are very popular. They usually cost 1 or 2 euros per person with a bike. There is no set schedule. The ferryman crosses when there are enough people. Sometimes there is an intercom you can press if there is no one in sight. The car ferries are usually cable-operated while the people/bike ferries can also be motorised. Bridges don’t always have a dedicated bike lane.
You can read more about our cycling intineraries in Germany, France and other European destinations by entering “Cycling in Germany” or “Danube”, “Elb”, “Rhine”, “Moselle”, etc. in the search box. Another excellent source of information is the Bicycle Germany website. Below is some useful vocab. I’d love to hear about your own experience or answer any questions you may have. Happy cycling!