By Hannes Volkmer
Hamburg is the 2nd largest city in Germany and ranked 3rd favourite destination for tourists. In such a large and busy city, the question of how to get from A to B ultimately arises. Hamburg is prepared, and –in line with the green city goal- Hamburg has invested heavily not only in its HVV public transportation system but also, since 2009, in the bike rental system called StadtRad.
Not only the millions of tourists each year, but also the citizens of Hamburg have a high demand for flexible mobility. Together with the “classical” HVV options of using the U- and S-Bahn, the citizens have asked for even more tailor-made solutions. As a result, the mobility market has experienced a rapid growth. Companies such as Car2go, Drivenow, Cambio or StadtRad Hamburg have quickly mushroomed out of the ground. With 2,5 million rented out bicycles in 2015, StadtRad Hamburg is the most successful bike rental providers in Germany and one of the most successful ones in Europe. But what`s in it for the customer and what are the benefits of the red bikes?
For one it is the price. The first half an hour of the bike rental is free. After this, the provider and operator DB Rent charges a rate of 6 cents per minute. For the distances covered in Hamburg, having to cycle for more than 30 minutes is a rare occurrence. Moreover, the network of return stations is vast, and a sneaky customer can return the bike just inside of the 30-minute timeframe to then directly rent out a new one with half an hour for free again.
Secondly, the sign-up process is just as easy and convenient as riding the bikes, and arguably less complicated than trying to understand the different HVV ticket tariffs. You have to download the StadtRad Hamburg app, register and put in all the standard details plus banking information. At first you are charged with a once off 5 € fee which then functions as your account credit to ride the bikes. And off you go. Generally, the StadtRad service is operated through the app which allows you to rent out the bikes at the StadtRad stations. If you are new to the city, the app features a sophisticated map system which -just like google maps- leads you to the closest station from your position. The biggest drawback here is that -especially as a tourist- you will have to create an account and download the app, even if you only want to use the bikes for one day. You definitely have to invest half an hour for the whole sign-up process. Good news is that if you are travelling with a partner you can rent out up to two bikes with one account.
Now so far, we have two solid arguments for the use of the Stadtrad, but we haven’t gotten to the cycling experience yet. The first impression every new user will immediately recognize is the weight of the bikes. If you are used to ride a super light-weight bicycle as I am, the first meters feel like riding a tank on two wheels. People who have to commute more than a couple of kilometres by bike every day will definitely not consider the StadtRad as a long-term option. Yet, as a spontaneous solution when your own bicycle has broken down or you need to travel with your tourist friends from the Landungsbrücken to the Alster, the StadtRad is definitely your choice of transport. The bicycles are equipped with a solid 7 gear hub circuit and a sophisticated carrier with elastic straps at the back. For people who need to transport big objects or their shopping for the whole family the city even offers a so called Lastrad rental. Furthermore, and this is a notoriously undervalued fact in traffic, the bikes have high power LED front and rear lights, for one of course corresponding to the necessary regulations, but two these, unlike own lights, rarely break. Speaking of which: Since the G20 escalations last June Hamburg has a reputation for having some people who seem to enjoy it to demolish their surroundings. To damage, not to mention destroy, one of these bikes is a sheer impossible act and a user can always count on having a 100% functional bike.
Last but not least, let’s have a look on how to return the bikes. If you are used to the bike rental systems of other big cities such as Berlin or Köln you might be spoiled to return the bicycle wherever you want to. In Hamburg it is just a tiny little bit more complicated as you have to return the bikes to one of the stations. And trust me this is really not much of an inconvenience at all. At first, I used the bikes without the help of the included map in the app and never struggled to find a close by station. The network in total includes over 200 stations in the city area. As long as you don’t stray too far from the centre out into the suburbs, you will definitely be able to find a convenient return station.
To reiterate, StadtRad is really successful in Hamburg because the costs for the user are extremely low. Furthermore, it is the good reputation and image the bike enjoys. Hamburg is definitely not a cyclist town and has nowhere near the infrastructure of our Dutch neighbours. Yet, it is unimaginable to think of the city life in Hamburg -especially in summer- without the bikes. Simply everybody uses this bike: Tourists, commuters, students and even elderly people are to be spotted from time to time on the red tanks. In times that rising air pollution levels and diesel scandals pose major debates in the political landscape StadtRad has found one of the most sustainable and user-friendly solutions to this controversy. Though this service comes at extra costs for the local government, these expenses definitely help to improve the living standards in Hamburg.