Cycleway in the Black Forest: It's tougher than you think...

Hills are on my mind at the moment, specifically the one where this sign is planted between Neuenbürg and Waldrennach in the northern end of the Black Forest.

Cycling has a pretty meagre travel share in this region. It isn’t helped by variable quality of cycle paths, but a major obstacle is Geography, (To be more accurate, Geology, but if I’d said that you’d have switched off straight away) The Black Forest is a series of hills with deep gorges slicing through them. For various reasons of interest to geographers and virtually no-one else, this makes most villages are either long and thin in the valleys or small and round on the hilltops, with big with big gaps (and hills) between.

If you just look at this sign you’d think a cycle commute from Waldrennach to the larger town of Neuenbürg was a doddle at 3,8km, a nice easy distance for cyclists, on a road closed to vehicles. What it doesn’t tell you is this is 20m above Neuenbürg, and cyclists to Waldrennach have another 200m to climb. If you want to be the next Lance Armstrong (And much respect if you do) this is your ideal training route, but most of us aren’t really up for this.

To add insult to injury, the valleys can create winds: Geographers call these anabatic and katabatic winds and insist that anabatic winds are created when warm light air rises along the valley floor and up the sides, and on a really good day, make thunderstorms as well, while katabatic winds are cooler, heavier air blowing down at night. Cyclists call them all sorts of things and insist they are created by the presence of a cyclist by a malicious fate, so we’re riding into a permanent headwind. A similar meterological process causes coastal winds in the Netherlands, and as David Hembrow says, they are a major problem as well.

This shows the trouble with a ‘one size fits all’ approach to cycling: Faced with a 200m climb to visit grandma, very few people will use bikes even if there is perfect infrastructure all the way. (that said, a safe route along the valleys would be nice) The villages are so compact everyone walks except for xtracycle nutters like me who should know better. Bike lanes on narrow steep mountain roads probably aren’t practical, so how do you provide an alternative to cars here, especially as this is one place where some people will need cars for work? I reckon a combination is required: trains and buses that carry bikes (lots of bikes) at no extra charge, preferably with good connections from the valley to the hills, so the train along valley comes into station as bus comes into the forecourt, so passengers can change without waiting, rather than seeing their connection pull away as they arrive.

This is the same problem as we face. Ostfildern (Suggested motto: “Four wheels good, two wheels bad”) is about 170m above Stuttgart or Esslingen and there is almost no way around it. Stuttgart now allows limited bike transport on the Metro but you can only carry bikes on a bus off peak, which rules out commuting. Even if Ostfildern wakes up to reality and makes a decent cycle network, we’d still need to help people get up the hills before we have any chance of a cycling culture.

So what ways are there? I’ve already mentioned the rack railway in Stuttgart, but there must be other ways. Does anyone else know of low cost ways to get lots of bikes up monster gradients?

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