Germans: serious about bike riding

“Born on a bike!”

That was the taunt, or desperate retort, rather, that I hollered at my girlfriend a few hours ago when we were both on bikes, peddling up a steep hill near the Elbe River. She had been about 15 feet in front of me, clearly in the lead, under no visible stress, and there I was, huffing and puffing. When we were almost to the top of the hill, she turned back and noticed that I was totally out of breath. Cooly, she said, “Are you serious!” then laughed at me.

But I didn’t care. Not really, anyway. I just lobbed it at her like I had in the past: “Born on a bike.”

Let me explain. Bike riding is incredibly popular in Germany. It’s friggin’ nuts how many people ride bikes here. And they don’t exactly ride bikes the way we do in America — all quaintly or to get some recreation on a Sunday. No. Bikes are serious business in Germany because bikes are part of the culture and many people use them instead of cars.

So, as you could imagine, they ride their two-wheelers with verve. They fly, they pass, they dart…they cut in and out, they use hand signals and shout and ring their thumb-operated bells like it’s nobody’s business. Sometimes you even see elderly ladies riding bikes up hills and from their perfectly erect posture and the expression on their faces, you wonder if they even know it.

But what’s gotta be the best sight of all, and one that you often see: kids maybe 2 years old, barely out of diapers if not still in them, riding these tiny, two-wheel bikes. And that’s two wheels, folks. No training wheels. In fact, the most these little riders get in the form of stabilization is the intermittent hand on the back from their guardian. But that’s it. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen training wheels in Germany.

All of which brings me back to that comment I made to my girlfriend when I was huffing and puffing up the hill.

Whenever Maya makes fun of me for getting tired so easily on a bike — I’m still not sure why I tire so easily — I like to tell her that the only reason why she is not as exhausted as I am — after all, she is not in perfect shape — is because, well, she is German and she has been riding the damn things since she was literally in diapers. She’s only better than I am because, sheesh, she was born on a bike!

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