Cycling at Lake Constance

Welcome to the Bodensee

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When people hear about Lake Constance, also called Bodensee, they usually think of summer vacations with swimming, sailing or wine tasting. It’s the biggest lake in Germany and lies at the northern edge of the Alps. But the best thing is: Two more countries are connected to the lake - Austria and Switzerland! So, if you cycle around the lake, you’re going to cross three states! It’s no wonder that you can actually find a popular bike path to do just that - the Bodensee-Radweg. It’s about 160 miles (260 kilometers) long and leads through hauntingly beautiful landscapes. You can either pay one of the cycling tour companies to guide you - or find your own way. I’d say it’s pretty easy to do it by yourself if you use Google Maps, Komoot, or if you just keep an eye on the bike path signs. Most of the path is on asphalt, and you can even shorten your trip by taking one of the ferries that connect Konstanz to Meersburg.

And that’s exactly what Mitch and I did, because…

It was still winter when we set out on our quest

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Ever since we arrived at Lake Constance in the middle of November, we talked about riding all the way around. Unfortunately, the temperatures were somewhere around zero most of the time, and we didn’t have proper winter gear up until recently. That’s why we rode from Immenstaad to Überlingen and back during most of our rides, which is about 30 miles altogether. Sometimes we went the other direction towards Friedrichshafen and Eriskirch, but it’s not as scenic, and it doesn’t run directly along the lake.

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Experiencing a vacation area during the off-season is interesting. Everything that’s usually open - mini golf, public restrooms, hotels, ice cafés - is closed. I heard that the bike path can be quite crowded with tourists during the summer, so we lucked out on that. The landscape with its vineyards, orchards, and half-timbered houses was stunning despite the grayness of winter, and I can only imagine how it’s like to cycle there when the trees are in full bloom! During bright days, you can even see all the way over the lake to the mountains of Switzerland while you whizz past the water. Also, I’ve seen some of the most stunning sunsets here, which made the lake look like it’s drowning in a sea of red.

Our typical route

Since it was winter when we started cycling to Überlingen, it was essential to be prepared. More than once I came back with my hands and feet so cold that I could hardly move them anymore. I bought hand and toe warmers, liners for under my Grip Grab gloves, Castelli overshoes and neck warmers. I wouldn’t say that I ever perfected my winter cycling gear, but at some point, I got at least halfway comfortable while riding in the cold.

Our typical route would start in Immenstaad, which is where my mom has a vacation home that we were lucky enough to stay at for a couple of months. The bike path would lead along the lake through several small villages, and all of them were pretty much dead during the winter season. Only when it warmed up significantly during the end of our stay in February, some ice cream places and cafés opened up, and people flocked out to enjoy the sun.

From Hagnau to Meersburg

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In the small town of Hagnau, there’s a fantastic ice cream place called “Kibele Eis” and a path directly along the water, with majestic lake houses on one side and the shore on the other side. This stretch reminded me somewhat of certain parts of the bike path in Los Angeles, and it surely was a great place to take pictures.

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Behind Hagnau, there’s something like a look-out tower with a bench that you can reach over a poorly paved and very steep path (some spots went from 28% to 40% ). No shame in walking that one, if you ask me!

The view up there is stunning, especially during sunset. It’s probably the highest point I’ve been at along this route.

Next town coming up is Meersburg, which has some beautiful castles, cobblestone streets and a bunch of cafés directly on the water - perfect for watching the sunset with a glass of wine on the way back! That’s also where the ferry runs to and from Konstanz, which is convenient if you want to ride a decent amount but don’t have the time to go all the way around the lake. You pay a couple of Euros more for bringing your bike, but it’s definitely worth it!

Last stop before turning around: Überlingen

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Leaving Meersburg, we’d pass through several small towns like Uhldingen-Mühlhofen (which has a lovely pier that’s worth a visit) until we’d reach the last city on our regular route: Überlingen. It’s definitely one of the bigger towns in the area, with a sporting goods store and several bike shops. I’m only mentioning this because there’s really not a lot of these in the other towns, so if you need bike repair service or an extra pair of merino liners because your hands are freezing off, Überlingen is the place to be!

To warm up a bit, we’d usually grab some coffee and a Brezel at a bakery located inside of “Jona’s Nahkauf”. There’s a counter to sit at with a direct view on the bike stand outside, so I was able to keep a keen eye on our darlings at all times. No need to take risks, right? It quickly became a nice little ritual, which I think is super important on rides like these.

Why not check out the other side of the lake?

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We’d usually turn around at this point, although on one of our last rides before moving to Berlin, we rode all the way to Konstanz and took the ferry back to Meersburg. It’s about 25 miles from Überlingen, and several bike paths are leading to Konstanz. Make sure to either stick to the signs (it can get quite confusing in the area around Radolfzell) or to use your phone. It’s a very scenic ride with a couple of climbs, although the path doesn’t run directly along the lake. Once you’re in Konstanz, it’s not too difficult to find the harbor from where the ferry goes to Meersburg. Needless to say, taking the boat back was the cherry on top of that ride!

Why did I leave this beautiful place and move to Berlin?

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Since we stayed at my mom’s vacation home that’s meant to be rented out from spring to fall, I arranged with her that we’d leave by the end of February. Mitchell and I tried to find jobs and an apartment in the Bodensee area for months, but it was really tough. A lot of places are being used as vacation homes for tourists, so naturally, there are less available apartments on the market. Most places were rented out quickly, too far away or simply too expensive. Also, although I enjoyed the peace and quiet, I wasn’t quite sure if I really wanted to live in a small village without access to a bigger city. I started to miss working at cafés with Wifi, ordering more than just pizza during a cozy night at home, and overall, the freedom to hop on the S-Bahn and get from place A to B.

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Sure, I could’ve lived with that if I had found a challenging and fun job in the area, but that wasn’t the case either. I felt like there’s a lot of engineering jobs in the area (Airbus Defence and Space GmbH is a big employer and has its seat in Immenstaad, for example), and more than enough hospitality jobs during tourist season - but nothing that matches my qualifications and goals. I would’ve been merely working to pay my bills. It was especially hard on Mitchell because he was still waiting on the approval of his freelancer visa, and couldn’t find anything where he didn’t have to speak German right away.

By the end of February, we had to make a tough decision, and we voted for trying our luck in Berlin. My sister and friends live there and the job market is a lot more international and creative. So, we packed our stuff, rented a car and drove 10 hours from the south of Germany all the way up the capital.

Cycling in Berlin is a lot different than at Lake Constance, as you can imagine. I'll make sure to talk about that another time!

How I got into Cycling

It all started with a purple helmet in Berlin

I used to live in Berlin for eight years, and honestly, I never bothered getting a bike. Public transportation brings you to almost any spot in the city without having to walk more than ten minutes, and just thinking about having to navigate the crowded streets on a bike gave me severe anxiety bursts.

I’m not exactly sure why I bought a bike after all at the end of 2015, but I remember that I finally got tired of taking the smelly U-Bahn, squeezing through the crowds on their way to work, and paying for steadily rising ticket prices.

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At first, I wanted to spend as little money as possible and buy a used bike. The thing only was: I didn’t want to support anyone who potentially had stolen one, trying to sell it to me at the park or via the internet. I soon realized that not even bike shops in Berlin are keen on taking the risk of re-selling a potentially stolen bike. I went from store to store and tried out a lot of new bikes, mostly city bikes and “Hollandräder,” where you sit very upright. I always looked at those bikes and tried to picture myself as one of those girls with flaring skirts, big sun hats, and a colorful bag stored in their straw basket. That wasn’t me.

What I disliked most about those bikes was that I felt like I didn’t have much control while riding. Most of the weight seemed to be on the back, not the front. I grew increasingly frustrated on my search for a bike that should’ve been more like a road bike, not a commuter. Nobody ever told me to search for a road bike, though, so I looked for a city bike on which I would lean forward as much as possible.

Hooray, new bike day!

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In the end, I decided to get a Breezer Downtown 3 trekking bike, which gave me a somewhat less upright position, at least from my subjective experience. I started to commute as soon as spring came around, and got really comfortable riding, right before I moved to the US and left Berlin for good.

Let me tell you this: At first, I was scared of literally anything that could’ve come up on my ride through a massive city like Berlin. My mind kept racing with questions like "Will the bike path let me make a left turn, or do I have to use the car lane?", "Will I get lost?", "Will I ride into another cyclist or crash against a lamp post?", "What happens if the bike path comes to an end?" "Will I find a spot to lock my bike? Or will I be searching and struggling to lock it somewhere tricky, under the eyes of a bunch of people sitting outside cafés and restaurants?" Sometimes I felt like jumping off a cliff every time I got on the bike. But it turns out that one can learn incredibly fast how to adapt to other cyclists, traffic, lights, and so on.

Admittedly, my anxiety might have kept me from being too self-confident in the beginning, but overall it was pretty unnecessary. I bought a sparkling, purple helmet (got a lot of catcalls on that one) and made my way through Berlin. At that time, I had four different jobs in various parts of the city, so I just had to suck it up and ride.

Same bike, different city

Although it was super exciting to re-experience Berlin on a bike, I finished up my master’s thesis in May 2016 and decided to move to Los Angeles. I’ve seen enough of Germany for now - it was time for a new chapter!

Being new to LA, I didn’t do many things on my own at first. It took me a couple of months to get a new bike, mostly because I saw cycling more as a means to get from one place to the next, and I didn’t really have anywhere to be. Still, I didn’t even think about buying anything else than another city bike or cruiser, although I continued to hate being in an upright position. I took the easy way out, researched a Breezer dealer in Venice and bought almost the exact same bike that I had in Berlin, just a size bigger and in a different color.

I also lived through the same anxieties again, until I got comfortable enough to do small distances to the beach on my own. Since I didn’t drive a car, and couldn’t afford to take Ubers everywhere, I had to make the Breezer my primary mode of transportation to the mall, to the beach, and to work. I started to truly appreciate the bike lanes in Santa Monica and the Marvin Braude bike path along the beach.

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In December 2016, I started to regularly cycle to the end of the bike path in the Pacific Palisades. I made it a habit to stop at a bench on Will Rogers State Beach to take a deep breath, watch the ocean, spot some dolphins and listen to my favorite music. It was amazing! Naturally, this spot quickly became my refuge, my sacred place that only I knew, and where I could escape to when things were too much.

I have to add that it was an exciting but tough time when I first moved to LA, and I was extremely dependent on my now ex-husband. Honestly, I felt so foreign and scared in this new country that I just let him take over decisions regarding my life on a daily basis. I lost my independence mostly by allowing it to happen. Riding to my spot at Will Rogers gave me the feeling that I was still my own entity, not just someone’s wife who’s too scared to do anything on her own. It was me riding there, and I didn’t have to ask anyone to help get me there.

It was one of the most liberating feelings I experienced after moving away from Germany.

Why can’t I go faster? I need speed!

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There are several reasons why I ultimately got into road cycling. It subtly started with a roadie who stopped next to me on a red light, looked at my bike and said something like: “Awesome bike! Looks like a {insert some kind of motorbike type I don’t remember}.” He might as well have been teasing me, but his compliment sounded sincere, and he waved goodbye when he raced off once the light turned green.

Funny thing was, I noticed that I was able to somewhat keep up with him when I pushed it hard enough. That’s when I began to pay more attention to the cyclists on the bike path - I kept passing tourists and locals alike, always wondering how they could possibly be happy going that slow. The only cyclists faster than me were on road bikes or e-bikes. I thought to myself: “If I’m not as slow as a tourist but not as fast as a roadie, who am I?”

I was never into sports, and more than one time did I call myself the most un-athletic person ever. I’m not even a very competitive person by nature! Yet, something told me that cycling could actually be worth pursuing. Not necessarily to win, but to push myself beyond my own limits, get out of my comfort zone and break free of negative self-images that I held for years.

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From then on, I started to track my rides with the the app “Map my Ride” by Under Armor. Yes, I was such a newbie that I didn’t even know what Strava was until months later. Also, the faster I cycled, the more I started sweating under my sparkling, purple helmet. So, I switched to one from Specialized that was supposed to let more air in. Plus, I noticed random people pointing and laughing at my sparkling helmet (not even kidding), so I was happy to try one that wasn't sticking out as much.

I spent a couple of months cycling along the bike path, riding to my first job interview in Santa Monica, starting to commute a couple of times per week, and making sure to stop at my favorite spot as often as possible. Suddenly, the distances that seemed long and intimidating became short and easy.

One thing that ultimately sent me out on the hunt for a road bike was this: No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t pick up as much speed as I wanted to. I pedaled, and pedaled, and pedaled, but three gears are just not enough if you wanna fly alongside cars on the streets of Los Angeles.

In July 2017, I had enough of my heavy Breezer Downtown and decided to get a faster, lighter bike. One month later, I was the proud owner of a Serotta CTi. But that’s a story for another day!

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ISPO 2019 in Munich - Product Reviews and more

How we got there 

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It was a rainy morning when we set out for our journey, and on the train ride, we watched the landscape change from muddy gray into winter wonderland. Slowly rolling hills and cute little alpine houses in Allgäu reminded me of childhood skiing trips with my family. Immediately, I was wondering how people in this area cycle outdoors.

Let me quickly acknowledge something before I continue: We couldn’t have made it to ISPO without the help of my sister Larissa and her family! They let us stay at their home in Starnberg, which is close to Munich, so we were able to get to the fair easily. We were super-spontaneous to ask about coming over, and they knew we would bring the dog, too.  So, thanks to you guys, you are awesome! 

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Starnberg is a beautiful town to stay in. We walked along the Starnberger See to the Sissi Castle, had some Krustenbraten at a nice restaurant and drove past villas that would’ve made home-owners in the Hollywood Hills jealous.

It started to snow heavily Saturday night and continued throughout the next day, so getting to the ISPO must’ve been rather difficult for a lot of visitors. But not for us! They drove us there on Sunday morning - and honestly, I don’t remember having seen the highways covered in so much snow, ever. It was scary, but we made it early enough to avoid the masses and to pick up our press passes.

Ready to check out some cool products? But first…

About the ISPO 2019 

This year’s ISPO Munich, the world’s largest trade fair for sporting goods, had about 80,000 visitors from 120 countries. Big topics were sustainability, digitalization and, for the first time, eSports! It was a great chance for new and upcoming, as well as established brands to show their potential! Although a big part of the fair was about winter sports, we certainly found enough companies that produce exciting stuff for cyclists!

So, here we go.

Sleep with Samaya 

Samaya was one of the first booths that we looked at, and I immediately had to think about our future bike-packing trips through Europe. Although I’d like to save up enough money to stay at cheap hotels from time to time, sleeping in a tent somewhere in the middle of nowhere is definitely part of the plan!

The Samaya ultralight tent only weighs 850g/30oz, is waterproof and fits at least two people. How cool is that? It can also withstand winds of up to 70km/h and temperatures lower than -20ºC. Not saying that I’d like to camp under those conditions, but you never know where the road takes you, right?

Click here for more information!

Let rain showers pass by with Showers Pass 

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We’ve all heard of Merino wool socks to keep our feet warm, and waterproof socks to keep them dry. But one pair of socks that does both jobs? That’s exactly what we found at Showers Pass!

This brand specializes in waterproof and breathable rain gear for cyclists. They want people to get out on their bikes, no matter what the weather’s like. Perfect for crazies like us, right?

Photo by Showers Pass: Women’s Refuge Jacket

Photo by Showers Pass: Women’s Refuge Jacket

I tried on their Women’s Refuge Jacket in pacific blue, and was amazed by how good it felt. Their clothes also seem to have a lot of convenient details. Some of them are reinforced shoulder patches to keep your backpack from wearing down the fabric, chest pockets with audio port, a removable hood, and 360-degree 3M Scotchlite reflective trim. Even the zippers are waterproof!

They also offer waterproof bags, base layers, jerseys and shorts. Plus, it’s made by athletes for athletes! I’ll definitely write more about Showers Pass once I get to try some of their gear!

Until then, feel free to check out their webpage for more information!



Go backpacking with Vaude 

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I’ve always been a big fan of Vaude, ever since my brother told me to stop by the Vaude Outlet in Tettnang, Germany. Their clothes and backpacks seem to be versatile and long-lasting, and they make sure that their outdoor products are environmentally-friendly  and fairly produced!

I got to see a lot of their products for the summer and fall/winter 2019 collection at the ISPO. I was especially interested in their backpacking gear, and thus found out upon the Aqua Light Series for summer 2019!

It’s is a trio of robust, waterproof bicycle bags - the Aqua Light Box, the Aqua Light Front and the Aqua Light Back. 

Photo by Vaude

Photo by Vaude

They feature easy access due to roll closure, can be compressed when not full, and weigh significantly less than conventional models. It also sounds like their super easy to take on and off the bike, especially the handlebar bag.

Sounds like the perfect solution for our bike travels, right?

Although I haven’t tried their bags yet, I can say for sure that my Vaude Women’s Cyclist Padded Jacket and the Women’s Resca Tricot are doing a great job so far. They were not even labeled as “thermal” and surprised me by keeping me toasty when layered properly - even below freezing.

I’ll probably write a dedicated review at some point, but don’t forget to check out what else Vaude has to offer: www.vaude.com

Stay warm and protected with Brubeck 

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BRUBECK BODY GUARD is a brand I’ve never heard of before the ISPO, but I started to like them at once. They gave us a warm welcome at their booth and showed us their wide range of thermo-active sportswear, which is their Active Line. They also have a Comfort Line with cotton and Merino wool underwear.

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The cool thing about their products is that they use 3D printing to get rid of seams! That’s also how they create double layer material with open holes, ventilation mesh, and much more. 

Their Balaclava is one example of this process. Although it fits quite tight around the head and covers most parts of the face, it’s still comfortable to wear. And breathing - no problem! 

Same goes for their neck warmer. It’s 54% Merino wool, and I can breathe quite well when it covers my mouth. Usually, my neck warmers are either too thin (and drench easily) or too thick. Brubeck seems to do the trick.

Here you can find more information about the company.

Tired of socks and shoes? Try Skinners!

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Skinners is a Czech project that was brought into life by a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. They produce footwear that is neither sock nor shoe, but you can wear them for all kinds of activities: Hiking, running, fitness, or even roller skating!

They’re made with antibacterial fibers, have a water-water-resistant underside, fold down super small and can be worn barefoot. It’s basically like walking around in super comfy socks, but way more protected from the ground. At the same time, their RealFeel™ technology lets your feet experience everything that’s underneath as if you were walking barefoot. 

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One thing I could imagine using them for is on a long cycling trip. I’m sure you know that feeling when you ride to a beautiful spot, and all you want is to walk around a bit, maybe sit down on the river, or whatever floats your boat. But you’re wearing cycling shoes, and everyone knows how annoying it is to walk in them. Since the Skinners fold down so small that they fit into a jersey pocket, it would be the perfect companion to turn to when you wanna ditch those cleats for a bit. It’s something I’ll try out and talk more about once spring comes around!

For more information about Skinners here.


Finally…

Although it’s always great to see and try out new products, there was another important aspect to the ISPO 2019: Meeting new people and making friends. And what place could be better than a fair with tons of people who are excited about cycling?

Patrick, Luca, Mitch and me

Patrick, Luca, Mitch and me

Mitch and I were lucky enough to be able to hang out both days with our friend Patrick from Augsburg, (we recently published our first guest post about cycling in LA on his blog, Born2.Bike), and video producer Luca, whose YouTube channel you can find here .

On Monday, there was also a fun blogger  breakfast sponsored by The North Face (which we almost missed because the S-Bahn stopped and didn’t move for 20 minutes), with a tour to see the most exciting new brands at the ISPO. Talking to other bloggers and  exhibitors was very inspiring, and I’m sure there’s a lot of great collaborations coming up in the future! 

Thanks so much for reading this far, and thanks to everyone who was somehow involved in making the ISPO 2019 such a great experience!