Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel Recap – Part One

Total Distance in km5,519
Total Elevation in m21,111
Total Amount of newly ridden kms from wandrer.earth2,225 (~40 % of total kms)
Number of Stages with company9
Number of Stages visiting friends6
Number of punctures2 – both for Nick in Stage 50
Overlay of all 59 Stages of the Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel

Now that the Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel is over, I wanted to recap my experiences of cycling all the public transport routes in Berlin. I’ll get into the places I went to, which areas I frequented the most and look into how I dealt with my blood glucose throughout the whole Grand Tour. Plus some reminiscing of the best and worst from the 59 Stages.

Why?

Many people have asked me why I took on this challenge – the main reason was to see why and which different areas of Berlin have public transport routes. Berlin is such a huge city – it has an area of 891 km2 – and a population of 3.7 million giving a population density of 4.1 people/km2. This makes Berlin the 34th most densely populated city in the EU, the top is L’Hospitalet de Llobregat with a population density of 21.3 people/km2. Paris and London, respectively, have population densities of 20.9 and 5.7 people/km2. (Taken from here)

Central Berlin from the Elsenbrücke – nature, art and office blocks!

This all means that Berlin has lots of green areas and water. So public transport routes are tailored to reach the most amount of people and take them to useful areas – how else would the parent company (the Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg or VBB) make money? With that in mind, I planned to cycle the individual routes and see whether there were any other reasons for why a particular route was designed.

The second reason: Before starting the Grand Tour, I had discovered the wandrer.earth platform which gives points based on how many new roads a cyclist rides. The Grand Tour was ideal to really boost my points tally as I would go areas I had never been to before. 

How?

Planning the whole Grand Tour into manageable individual Stages was a real effort. The first step was to create gpx tracks for each public transport route – so I mapped every bus, night bus, U-Bahn and S-Bahn route. I started using wikiroutes for the route information and then the komoot route planning site for drawing each route’s path. I also used movittapp.com to check the public transport routes I had planned, since I found that wikiroutes listed public transport routes that don’t run anymore and was also missing newer routes. 

After planning the 257 individual public transport routes – which already was a total of about 3000 km that I would need to cycle – I then went about sorting these public transport routes into the individual Stages that would start and finish at home. My tactic for this was to choose a terminus of a public transport route furthest away from home and then select other public transport routes that would take me to that chosen point. Then I would use other public transport routes to get back in the direction of home.

The Ahrensfelde S-Bahn station – the end terminus of the S7

For example, the terminuses of the S7 route are at Ahrensfelde and Potsdam. So to plan this public transport route Stage, I used the N1/U1 bus route that would take me from Zoologischer Garten to Warschauer Straße. Then cycle from Warschauer Straße towards Ahrensfelde for the start of the S7 route, cycle that all the way to Potsdam. I needed another public transport route that would get me back close to Charlottenburg and in this case I chose the 101 bus, that runs between Zehlendorf and Moabit. All this together would be a single Stage – Stage 40 to be exact. 

The final consideration was to maximise the amount of new kilometres I could traverse when cycling between the public transport routes so I could help my wandrer.earth points. This plan worked well and I even made it to the top of the leaderboard for most kms cycled in Berlin for a week or two. Then more cyclists signed up and I got booted down to third in the standings. The two cyclists ahead of me are also way ahead so I can’t see me getting to the top of the leaderboard. By the end of the Grand Tour, I had covered about a third of all the roads in Berlin while the top two had covered more than half! 

One of my favourite results of exploring Berlin – the Teltowkanal and Lichterfelde Heizkraftwerk

I repeated this for all the public transport routes until there were none left. This resulted in the 59 Stages of the whole Grand Tour, ranging between total lengths of 35 km and 155 km. The differing lengths were very handy in choosing which Stage to cycle on a particular day. I made this choice depending on the weather – a very wise choice since I started the Grand Tour in the middle of November which is not the typical time for long cycling adventures! – and to vary the districts I cycled through in consecutive Stages. 

Overall Grand Tour

I was very shocked that I cycled over 5500 km over the 59 Stages. To put that in some context – the distance between Malta and Berlin is 1849 km – so I could have cycled there and back with kilometers to spare! 

Since I started in late November 2019, the weather was easily a factor in how often and how long I would cycle in the early Stages of the Grand Tour. The Berlin winter can be pretty grey and wet – there was no snow this year – but I could still fit in one Stage per week. 

By the time late March 2020 arrived, things were looking up for the Grand Tour. There were more nice days and with the lockdown announced in Berlin due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the streets were very quiet too. Cycling solo outdoors was not banned in Berlin so I could safely continue ticking off the Stages. I did stop having coffee breaks at this time though, to avoid physical interactions as much as possible.

This meant that from March till July 2020, I could really focus on finishing the Grand Tour. I typically cycled around 250 km a week, ticking off two or three Stages per week.  

The total elevation gain (21 km) over the whole Grand Tour is pretty suspect. I don’t believe that I climbed that many metres since Berlin and Brandenburg are notoriously flat! I think that my Wahoo Elemnt cycling computer was incorrectly reading the elevation. This probably happened because it measures elevation by changes in air pressure so any changes in the weather affect the elevation readings. I also think that these errors are more significant in largely flat areas since there are no real climbs (say more than 100 m) around that would mask the errors.

Best and Worst of the Grand Tour

Best Stage: Stage 47 – Holy French Fields
Zingster Straße tram terminus from Stage 47

An easy pick really. I had perfect blood glucose and fantastic cycling weather throughout the whole Stage. Plus, I got to cycle through some of the quieter northern districts of Berlin and saw Highland Cattle. A fantastic day in the saddle.

Best Public Transport Route: Bus 218

This is also an easy choice because it uses the roads that all Berlin road cyclists love to cycle on: Pfaueninselchaussee, Havelchaussee and Am Postfenn. Hills(!) and quiet roads with more cyclists than cars – just amazing. Completed during Stage 17.

Worst Stage: Stage 11 – Ice Blocks for Toes
The partially frozen Rohrbruchteich / Pipe Break Pond during Stage 11

As the title indicates, it was very cold during this Stage. It was one of the shorter ones but I never really warmed up and my feet were in pain from the cold. My blood glucose was pretty high but I didn’t consider injecting insulin so as not to expose my tummy to the elements! Thankfully, this Stage was the exception.

Worst Public Transport Route: Express bus X69

This express bus between Marzahn and Müggelschlößchenweg uses many busy streets. I had three unnerving interactions with drivers along the way which highlighted how awful these roads are for cyclists. Not recommended for bicycles. Completed during Stage 56.

Best Districts for Cycling

Köpenick: Lots of water ways (meaning lots of bridges), large forests and most of the main roads have dedicated cycle paths. Plus the old town area is really picturesque and makes up for its cobbled streets.

Kladow: Very close to nature, so any routes that took me to Kladow were full of trees, fields and lakes. Lots of quiet streets, away from the two main roads, plus a guaranteed coffee stop at my friend’s. Cycling on Ritterfelddamm should be better planned though, as it involves plenty of unnecessary crossing the street.

Pankow: In contrast to Köpenick and Kladow, Pankow doesn’t have major waterways or forests. But it is full of residential streets with lovely housing and it appears that most residents have strong social values – it was nice seeing the many anti-racist and feminist signs from many apartments. Nadja also grew up in this district so it was nice roaming around her roots.

Worst districts for cycling 

Weißensee: Cycling here really tested the nerves – the main road around the Weißer See (White Lake) was built only with trams and vehicles in mind. There are no cycle paths, dangerous lane changes that are unavoidable and lots of lorries too. The lack of space on the roads that try to fit parked cars, two way traffic and tram lines meant that close passes are inevitable.

Lankwitz: The state of the bike paths on the main roads of Lankwitz are just terrible. There was barely a section without tree roots jostling you around. Plus most of the side roads were cobbled. Not fun.

Nikolassee: A Jekyll and Hyde district – the forested areas are great but the residential area is just full of cobbled streets. And not the newer kind which is bearable but the bone-shaking cobbles. I doubt cars like driving on the streets, let alone the poor cyclists!

Summary

Those were the nuts and bolts of how the Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel came into being. Plus my bests and worsts after cycling those 5500+ kms. The final recap post will look into the public transport network of Berlin and how I managed my blood glucose during the Grand Tour.

Nadja and I enjoying the sun during Stage 45

5 thoughts on “Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel Recap – Part One”

  1. Thank you for all the interesting posts and the extra of recapping the best and worst! I really enjoy reading about your adventures roadcycling in Berlin and am still learning lots of new and helpful things about the roads and districts of our city 🙂
    Congratulations on finishing the Grand Tour, this really is impressive! Very well done!!

  2. Very nice, but i think you have a calculation error in your population densit. Berlin has about 4.115 people/km2.
    I wouldn’t want to leave Berlin if there were only 4.2 People/km². 😁👍

  3. Pingback: Grand Tour de Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel Recap – Part Two – Pi-Cycles

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