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‘If we have an engine, they respect us less’: How e-bikes are shaking up the Bavarian Alps

Electric bikes on Alpine trails and mountain paths have become a subject of controversy in Germany. Should they be allowed?

'If we have an engine, they respect us less': How e-bikes are shaking up the Bavarian Alps
Two people cycling in the Bavarian Alps near Oy. Photo: DPA

Robert Werner and his wife Ursula usually make time to say a friendly hello to hikers as they ride their gently whirring e-bikes up trails in the Bavarian Alps.

But more often than not, their greetings are met with frowns.

“The first thing they look at when they see us are our bikes,” says hotelier Robert, 46, of his electric-powered bicycle.

“If we have an engine, they respect us less.”

While the Werners are convinced of the virtues of e-bikes which have pedals but also an electric motor that can assist the rider's pedal power, others are less enthusiastic about the new revolution in cycling.

On their e-bikes, the couple powers up the 800-metre (2,600-foot) ascent to the summit of Herzogstand mountain in half an hour – without breaking a sweat.

Many purists believe exploits into nature should be powered by muesli bars, not the electricity grid, and regard the assisted cycling boom as another hi-tech intrusion into the great outdoors.

The presence of e-bikes on Alpine trails and mountain paths has become a subject of controversy.

Complaints by hikers have appeared in the German media often accusing e-bike enthusiasts of whizzing up and down the paths, posing a risk of collision, while others point to environmental concerns.

READ ALSO: Pedal power: The rise and rise of cargo bikes in Germany

A man riding an e-bike in Würzburg, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

“Electric bicycles allow more people to access the paths,” including those that previously saw little use, said Friedl Kroenauer, 59, of environmental group BUND Naturschutz.

“This causes soil erosion, for example.”

Two-wheeled boom

For Kroenauer, who has a breathtaking view of Germany's highest peaks from his office, those who scale the region's mountains on e-bikes are cheating themselves.

“Getting to the top of a mountain is something you have to earn,” he insisted. “You have to feel that you have worked your muscles, you have to be exhausted.

“Electric mountain bikes make this notion of effort disappear,” added the hobby sportsman, a fan of walking and traditional cycling.

Despite similar criticisms from other outdoor purists, more and more people in Germany and elsewhere are using electric mountain bikes to reach summits.

In 2018, Germans bought nearly one million e-bikes, a quarter of them mountain bikes, according to a report by Germany's bicycle industry association, ZIV.

German bike manufacturers such as Haibike, Cube or Prophete, as well as motor and battery producer Bosch, have enjoyed the boom.

“The bicycle industry, and in particular the electric bicycle industry, is extremely important for Germany,” said David Eisenberger, communications manager for the ZIV association.

“It creates thousands of jobs – directly and indirectly, in tourism for example.”

READ ALSO: 10 important rules and tips for cycling safely in Germany

'Sharing the mountain better'

In Lenggries, a town of 9,000 residents, an hour's drive south of the city of Munich, the Werners opened a bicycle rental shop a few months ago next door to the hotel that they run – offering, of course, e-bikes.

“The demand is huge and the customers very diverse,” says Robert. “Everyone wants to try.”

Lenggries now offers three charging stations for e-bike batteries.

In a bid to reduce conflict with hikers, some Bavarian municipalities are considering setting up areas reserved for cyclists – both e-bikes and normal mountain bikes.

But Robert voices doubts: “How would that be regulated? It would be impossible.”

“It's just a matter of sharing the mountain better by following a few rules for living together,” he says, suggesting that hikers always be given priority over cyclists.

A similar debate emerged decades ago when conventional mountain bikes first appeared in the Alps, he recalls, adding, with a shrug: “Today no one complains anymore.”

By Pauline Curtet

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BAVARIA

Bar closures and no Christmas markets: How Bavaria is tightening Covid rules

Bavaria will order the closure of all bars and clubs as part of sweeping new restrictions to try and control the Covid spread and ease overrun hospitals. Here's a look at what's planned.

Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich.
Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

On Friday Bavarian state leader Markus Söder announced more tough restrictions to deal with spiralling Covid infections and packed intensive care units.

“The corona drama continues,” said Söder after the cabinet meeting, adding that 90 percent of Covid patients in state hospitals are unvaccinated. “Being unvaccinated is a real risk.”

Bavaria has a vaccination rate of 65.9 percent – lower than the nationwide rate of almost 68 percent.

READ ALSO: Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets in Covid surge

Söder said the state’s Covid package was about “blocking, braking and boosting”, adding that vaccination centres will be ramped up. 

“We must act,” he said. “Bavaria is exhausting almost all legal means until December 15th.”

Earlier this week, Bavaria introduced a state-wide 2G rule, meaning only vaccinated people (geimpft) and people who’ve recovered from Covid (genesen) can enter many public spaces. People who are eligible to get vaccinated but choose not to get it are excluded. 

Here’s an overview of the planned restrictions set to come in on Wednesday, as reported by local broadcaster BR24. 

Bars, clubs and restaurant curfew

From Wednesday, and for three weeks, all nightlife like clubs, discos, bars, pubs and brothels in Bavaria are set to close their doors. Restaurants will have to shut at 10pm. So planned Christmas nights out will likely need to be cancelled or postponed. 

Christmas markets

There will be no Christmas or Christkindl markets in Bavaria this year. In the past days, several cities had announced that they would not be holding these events this year due to the Covid situation. 

Contact restrictions on the unvaccinated

Söder announced new restrictions on the number of people those who are not inoculated can socialise with. A maximum of five unvaccinated people will be allowed to meet, from two different households. Children under 12 will not be included in the total, as well as vaccinated or people who’ve recovered from Covid.

Cultural and sporting events

All cultural and sporting events can only take place with significantly reduced spectators. At theatres, opera performances, sporting events, in leisure centres and at trade fairs, there will be a 25-percent capacity limit. The 2G plus rule also applies. This means that only vaccinated and recovered people are allowed to enter (not the unvaccinated) – and only with a negative rapid test. Masks are compulsory everywhere.

Universities, driving schools, close-body services: 2G plus

All universities, driving schools, adult education centres and music schools will only be open to those who have been vaccinated and have recovered – making it 2G. This rule also applies to body-related services, like hairdressers and beauty salons. Only medical, therapeutic and nursing services are exempt from the 2G rule. So unvaccinated people can still go to the doctor or receive a medical procedure. 

KEY POINTS: Germany finalises new Covid restrictions for winter

Shops

Shops remain exempt from 2G rules, meaning unvaccinated people can visit them. However, there is to be limits on capacity. This means that fewer customers are allowed into a shop at the same time.

Special rules for hotspots

Currently, the incidence in eight Bavarian districts is above 1,000 infections per 100,000 people in seven days. Here and in all other regions where the incidence goes above this number, public life is to be shut down as far as possible.

This means that restaurants, hotels and all sports and cultural venues will have to close. Hairdressers and other body-related service providers will also not be allowed to open for three weeks, and events will also have to be cancelled. Universities will only be allowed to offer digital teaching. Shops will remain open, but there must be 20 square metres of space per customer. This means that only half as many customers as in other regions are allowed in a shop.

If the incidence falls below 1,000 for at least five days, the rules are lifted.

Schools and daycare

Throughout Bavaria, schools and daycare centres are to remain open. However, there will be regular Covid testing. Children and young people have to continue to wear a face mask during lessons, including school sports, unless they are exercising outside. 

Bavaria is expected to approve the measures on Tuesday and they will be in force until at least December 15th. We’ll keep you updated if there are any changes. 

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