Writing is a solitary occupation. Authors work alone, distilling and recreating the world in their heads. The rush and babble of life is a distraction that must be avoided during the working day. Writing is also an unhealthy occupation. Whoever designed the human body, they never meant it to sit on a chair for eight hours a day looking at a flickering computer screen. Most authors end up with wonky eyes, bad backs, repetitive strain injury in their wrists and – if one uses a kneeling orthopaedic chair like mine – dodgy knees.
So after work we need to get out of the house, or at least out of our heads. Alcohol provides a popular post-scribble release, a quick and tasty way to leave behind concerns about character development and plot twists, as does adventurous sex and wild parties (at least, if you’re Salman Rushdie). But apart from the sex, these distractions aren’t particularly healthy. And a hangover will ruin the next morning’s attempt to produce purple prose. What to do?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been besotted with cycling. When I moved from Toronto to London, my bicycle freed me, giving me a sense of both belonging and independence in my adopted home. I especially loved biking at night through Hyde Park after the gates had been closed to traffic, gliding silently through the darkness at the heart of that great city. Paradoxically I gave up riding when I moved to the English countryside. The narrow rural lanes, hemmed in by high hedges, felt much more dangerous than Marble Arch or Piccadilly Circus.
Now in Berlin I’m back on my bike, the late afternoon jaunts bringing me exercise as well as calmness and euphoria. As with London, these rides are helping me to discover Berlin, and to begin to know the city as well as – if not better than – many of its residents. I like the fact that cyclists can never be passive passengers. Each ride is proof of our corporeal existence and of our ability to control our movement through space. I also like that cycling is part of our literary heritage; at the age of 67 Tolstoy’s first ride gave him ‘a sense of boyish pleasure’.
Of course it’s not just writers who can be passionate about biking. Cycle tourism is big in Germany, and well-organised of course. The whole country is covered by webs of cycle lanes suitable for commuters, weekend riders and long-distance demons. There are fantastic rides along the Danube, around the Bavarian lakes, down the Mosel valley and in Sächsische Schweiz (‘Saxon Switzerland’) – as well as from my front door to my local Lidl supermarket.
To make cycling holidays easier, the Bed and Bike scheme has been created. Across Germany thousands of hotels, b&bs and hostels have joined the scheme, offering touring cyclists hot baths, hearty dinners and a secure place to lock their noble steed at the end of the day.
According to the German Tourism Association, there is a general Bett und Bike ‘directory for Germany, which is updated on an annual basis, and the six directories for the individual regions complete with detailed illustrations, which list all facilities, from simple campsites to exclusive five-star sports hotels. Many cyclists wouldn’t dream of setting off without this convenient guide in their pocket, for it is the perfect complement to maps and illustrated tour descriptions. In addition, cyclists can search the website for specific lodgings – by name, place, postal code, cycle route, or holiday region. With 3,000 cities, towns and villages included, there are hardly any white spots left on the Bed & Bike map. It is only a matter of time before Bed & Bike will be able to boast over 5,000 registered accommodations in Germany.’
Two-wheeled tourists will also benefit from visiting the German Cycling Club website which offers maps, news and travel tips.
A couple of years ago BBC Radio 4 listeners were asked to decide what is the greatest technological invention since 1800. Did they chose the transistor? The automobile? The iMac? The TV remote control? No. They chose the bicycle. And, as I finish this week’s blog and clip on my cycle helmet, I’m with them on the decision.