History is only a ride away

Time to switch from road bike to comfy trekking bike for the remainder of the season

With racing season being (almost) over and Summer coming to an end, the time of bike packing trips are lying ahead. And when it’s beautiful Indian Summer weather, but no time for a longer tour, there are enough interesting places in the area to go for a Small Escape spontaneously.

Only half a day trip away: Limburg, the city that was in the papers a few times too many in Fall 2013

Limburg, e.g., is only a leisurely 2-hour ride away – so why not go and take a look at those building the infamous Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst triggered such bad press (and, ultimately, the end of his time as bishop of Limburg) with about a year ago.

The monumental cathedral of Limburg greets from afar, across the river Lahn

It is, indeed, quite impressive, the cathedral of Limburg which Tebartz-van Elst was bishop of for some six years. No less impressive is the half-timbered house that serves as the vicarage – and must be even more impressive inside (in reading the papers, one got the impression that “pompous” or “luxurious” may describe its interiors even more appropriately).

Thou shall be humble and charitable towards the poor

One way or another, there is certainly more than the cathedral area which impresses by its historic buildings and sometimes rather peculiar architecture. Big…

More than 760 years after Werner Senger house was built, this is still one of the most impressive buildings in Limburg's historic center

… and small (or rather: narrow) alike:

In medieval times, the buildings often were so narrow that they resembled little towers more than what we would call a "house" today

But especially due to the tightly woven architecture of Limburg’s historic center, this is not necessarily very good biking terrain. Hence, most bikes seen there are either ridden by bike packers who temporarily don’t have any other means of getting from A to B. Or bicycle-converted-to-PR vehicles altogether.

It is rather parked than ridden bikes that you see in the narrow and steep streets of historic Limburg

What a lot of tourists who did not arrive by bike may not know, however, is that there is another nugget of historic architecture very close by, in the little village of Dietkirchen. While politically part of Limburg today, this little place was the first seed of Christianity in the area. As far back in history as in the early 700s, the first church was built here and spread the word about Christ and Christianity to the rural people in the area to whom this was a completely new thing. And where St. Lubentius church is still presiding as impressively and commanding above the river Lahn as the cathedral of Limburg is just a stone’s throw away, there was a pagan place of worship already back in chalcolithic age, i.e. ca. 3,000 BC … No way, Limburg cathedral can compete with that.

Nota bene:
To have a relaxing get-away with tons of new and interesting impressions, you don’t need to take weeks off from work nor get into the car or onto the plane. Take your bike, a good map and a day to spare – and open your eyes for the things the regular tourist will just speed by obliviously.

St. Lubentius of Dietkirchen presides over the surrounding fields near and far

Not so alien resurrection

Although the current exhibition on historic bikes and bicycle history in Hamburg has found its home at the “Labour Museum” (Museum der Arbeit), strolling through it is a real pleasure – no work at all, all play.

And a lot of eye-openers with respect to what we perceive as cutting edge, very recent developments in bike tech developments.

Take folding bikes, for example: That the high-tech urban hipster commuter bikes only mark the resurrection of the folding (or falling-apart) clunkers we had in the 70s, is not really news. But a decade earlier there was already Hercules’ AutoVelo which could be “folded” into a handy package no less compact than any modern Dahon or Brompton.

Highly compact when folded: Hercules’ AutoVelo, a big hit in the 1960s that even came with a hard case for transportation, e.g. on the train

Hercules had apparently a better sense for what people were looking for at that point in time then, say, Union. It was also in the 1960s that Union thought they could jump the bandwagon of the emerging folding bike hype with what they called a “short bike”. Although this was pretty avantgarde when Ernesto Pettazoni built the archetypical short bike in the 1930s, Union was either too late to make it a big trend…

"Kurzrad" or short bike is what Union called this 1960s addition to the emerging folding bike market; but they never hit it big.

"Kurzrad" or short bike is what Union called this 1960s addition to the emerging folding bike market; but they never hit it big.

In looking at all sorts of funky bikes you are seeing on urban streets today, though, you may come to the alternative conclusion, i.e. that the Union short bike was still too far ahead of its time. And that it took another 50 years before the city dwellers of today really dig a design which has definitely been inspired by those of a “Kurzrad”, although the front wheel has grown again and are driven directly by the pedals mounted to the front axis.

And the author finally knows where the softride concept of the late 1990s came from: It also dated back some 100 years even then – to bike riding comfort concepts such as the one realized here:

Godfather of softride frames - in those ancient days, however, form followed function already, but the element of style did not get neglected in the way it did in the 1990s

Inspired by the 1960s "Kurzrad"? - The compact frame may indeed be pretty agile when riding through today's crowded cities, although the look is somewhat ... ahem... funky

Not just the bike concepts have all been thought through and built decades, if not a century or more before they all got re-discovered and re-invented. Also, our biking forefathers put quite some inventiveness into things that make the life of a biker an easier one, especially in difficult situation.

E.g. in case of a flat tire. Today we have the “Schlauch-o-Mat” solution that will get us back on the road in no time (if we happen to have the flat close to those very few machines that actually made it to being hung up somewhere). Although we tend to believe that this smart service idea was born in the 21st century, it sure wasn’t. It is the incarnation of a machine that catered to those bikers who still knew how to properly patch a punched tube (and had an interest in saving the money on a new one as long as there were cheaper ways of getting back on the road).

It’s a good thing, though, that there is no urgent need for bringing back some of those bikers’ accessories of the old times: Not that many wild beasts in our villages and cities any more to think about reinventing a bobby pistol to defend yourself from their attacks.

Biker's bobby pistol which was used in the early days of the 20th century in scaring off attacking animals

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