'RadExpress' Logo.

I promised Eldest Son that we’d go on an Xtracycle ride together last week, but the weather was freezing, and Ostfildern haven’t caught up with the idea of clearing cycleways yet, so we had to take the train. It’s a tough life.

German public transport is fairly efficient and reasonably well organised. I got a day ticket, which meant we had the use of the entire bus, tram, and rail network within about 50km of Stuttgart. Eldest Son wanted to go on a double-deck train and to go into the countryside, so I planned a trip to a village called Oberlenningen, which long-term readers may recognise as the station where I caught a train home after horrendously underestimating how long it takes to ride 80km. Going there by rail gave us chance to ride on the top deck of a double-deck train, which is rather like riding on a very big, fast, double-deck bus without the bumpy ride, and it gives an excellent view of the factories, boats, freight yards and scrapyards which every little boy loves. They also have a generous area for carrying bikes on the lower deck which we’ll use another time.

Bike coach, showing the height from the platform.

The local train to Oberlenningen was also set up for bikes, and branded as a Bike Express, with two big areas for bikes along the train. I wasn’t so sure about this: Germany often has low platforms, and whereas the new double deck carriages have nice low floors, these  older carriages have a set of ladder-like steps to carry a bike up. I’m not sure that’ll catch on with many cyclists. There are low-floor trains on this line -I caught one last time, but when passengers don’t know if they will have low or high floor trains, how many people will be willing to take the risk? On the other hand,  at least Deutsche Bahn are doing something, and it seems to have been thought out within the limitations of the carriages, especially on one carriage where there were windows between the passenger and bike compartments, so you could see the bike (and thus leave it with panniers). At least having local towns pay for rail services means they can have more say in what happens: if people don’t like this, then the railway company will be under pressure to provide a more suitable train. The train staff said they just bought the train second-hand from an operator in North Germany, so they may have plans to improve bike access.

Normal railcars. Notice low floor and wide doors

Normal railcars. Notice low floor and wide doors

We had a rather cosy ride through very snowy countryside, and observed the federal system in microcosm: half the villages had cleared bike lanes, the other half didn’t, which sent a clear signal about how they value cycling, or don’t. (Surprise: Ostfildern’s bike lanes aren’t cleared). So that’s another point to add to the list of things to look for if and when we move: Go in winter to see how bike-friendly they really are.

Today the thermometer just made it above freezing. We may have a couple more train journeys before we get back to the Xtracycle…

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