I was recently in Köln, Germany for a few weeks and decided to rent a bicycle to get around. Here are my thoughts and experiences from a American E-biker's perspective.
There was a huge bike shop nearby but my bike was rented from a small bike shop called RAD Wechsel. The guy there was very nice and the girl working the register seemed excited to help. They had a few interesting looking yellow bikes as rentals, so I gave it a try.
Aachener Straße 412, Braunsfeld, Köln - +49 221 3593700
Bike Friendly Town
The tram/subway system in that town is excellent, but having a bicycle gives you more freedom especially for short trips. Like in the Netherlands, there are tons of bikes and awesome bike lanes nearly everywhere.
Wow, A bike to get around
You see bicycles of all types, but what is different from the USA is that people actually use bicycles to get around. There are not so many mountain bikes or race bikes too be seen. Most common are more upright commuter-style bikes with internal hub shifters and city tires. Many bikes get left outside and it rains quite a bit. Few riders wear a helmet. Speeds are like 10-15mph (16-24kph) maybe faster and average riders are surprisingly strong.
The bike I rented was a non-folding steel-framed bike on 20-inch wheels. It has an internal 7-speed hub and the handlebars could swivel to the side so it became very narrow for storage on the train or whatever. I found the mechanism hard to work the first time I tried it on the train with everyone looking. Fortunately, the Germans gave me a pass since they realized I was American.
The first thing you notice is that the bicycle is very rigid, not surprising since the steel frame makes 3 triangles. The rake is quite steep and the small wheels make handling very nimble.
It does feel slightly heavy, but it has a lot of accessories like rear rack, rear basket, kickstand, front dyno, full lights and a bell.
I must say, the rear basket was unbelievably handy and inspired me to mount one on my commuter bike when I got back. I know it is hideous, but the pain is well worth the gain. The 20'' wheels make you feel like you are working harder, but you quickly adapt. It could have been the front dyno or maybe less inertia from small wheels (or me being out of cycling shape) whatever the case, it was not enough to make me want to throw the bike into the Rhein.
One thing that was hard to get used to was the coaster brake. It was super-duper sensitive. I was riding with one hand and accidentally pedaled backwards. The rear wheel locked and I nearly flew off the bike.
I personally like the idea of getting rid of one of the cables and brake levers, but there is some inconvenience that I won't get into. This particular bike did have a rear v-brake, so coaster brake was redundant. I did eventually get accustomed to it, but we will have to do more investigation at a later time.
The bike was equipped with a 7-speed internal hub. Most bikes had internal hubs. For this environment, derailleurs are just too complicated and high maintenance. The tiny efficiency loss is well worth the convenience... but as I start to think about it, cost aside, derailleurs need only to be on race bikes.
I did get a few looks, but I like to believe it was because the bike was painted yellow. Germans have better things to do than so much as to glance at your bike. It was rental so I did not care.
Where this bike smoked other bikes was in getting on and off trains and maneuvering around pedestrians. The trains got quite packed and having a bike is, I must say, kinda embarrassing. During these times, you want a bike that fits in your pocket or better yet, just disappear. Moving through the city is the same story; smaller, more maneuverable is better. It's easier to park and lock up as well.
Almost perfect but..
The rake: it was too steep and in corners, you had to be careful not to push the front wheel loose. I think they did this to make it more compact.
Riding position: It was the standard mountain bike riding position. I never understood why someone would want to lay this much forward just to ride a bicycle. This is an easy fix, change the handlebars, which I was tempted to do.
High step: With the basket on the back you really had to kick your leg up like in a cabaret to get on the bike. The other way would be to lean it down and go over the "triangles" which is more work than necessary.
Coaster brake: this is still inconclusive.
But the biggest problem...
...was the lack of electric motor. Coming from an E-bike, the only thing I could think was "why does this bike not have a motor?" I would almost never need to take the train. It would nearly replace a car, except when you need to go to the airport or the Nürburgring...
This bike would be perfect for a front hub-motor conversion... if only I could bring it back to the shop. Going to compactbike.de gave little information. I did not see a another "compact-bike" in town or in the USA for that matter. So my affair with this bike might be over.
Overall I really enjoyed having the bike. I rode bicycles in Europe before and it never gets old. It was nice to get back home to my E-bike and achieve superhuman speeds again. Riding a normal bike is like being Clark Kent and getting beat up in a diner.