German intern works toward 'bed and bike' program
PRESCOTT - In his home in Berlin, Germany, Leonhard Sobottka keeps four bicycles on hand.
One is for his travels, another is for sports activities, and a third is his shopping bike. The last - his "beer bike" - he reserves for nights out on the town.
For Sobottka, those four bicycles cover most of his transportation needs. He does not own a vehicle, and rarely needs one.
"I prefer to cycle when I can," said Sobottka, 25, a graduate student at Berlin's Eberswald University.
And his situation is not unusual in his hometown.
"Most people I know who have a car in Berlin just use it to go outside (the city)," Sobottka said.
For about six months, Sobottka will be putting his cycling knowledge and experience to use in the Prescott area. He currently is serving as an intern for One Street, the Prescott-based organization that deals with ethics issues relating to increasing bicycling around the world.
Among Sobottka's main goals: to develop a "bed and bike" program that would allow cyclists to easily tour around the countryside, staying in hotels, campsites, youth hostels and eco-farms along the way.
With a study emphasis in sustainable tourism, Sobottka is focusing his master's thesis on cycling tourism.
Noting that bicycle touring is a popular way to travel in Europe, Sobottka sees potential for launching a similar network in Arizona.
He foresees a program that would offer maps and routes, and would link cyclists to accommodations that provide features such as a safe place to store a bicycle, and a good breakfast in the morning.
Once a hotel or campsite signs on, they would become a part of an Internet network, where cyclists could go to help plan their trips.
Sue Knaup, the director of One Street, is overseeing Sobottka's internship. She pointed out that the first step is getting national partners on board. The next step would involve going directly to the vendors.
Sobottka has plenty of experience with long cycling trips. The year he graduated from high school, he took off on bike from his home in Leipzig, Germany, and traveled to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina ¬- nearly 830 miles. Since then, he has traveled throughout much of Eastern Europe by bicycle, and also has gone to Spain in the winter months.
While enthusiastic about developing the bed and bike program in Arizona, Sobottka acknowledges that some challenges exist.
For instance, he pointed out that successful bike touring must work in concert with public transportation. Cyclists need to be able to take their bikes on buses, trains easily and airplanes in some cases, Sobottka said, noting that the dearth of public transportation in the area would present a barrier.
In addition, he said, street design is not as bicycle-friendly in the U.S. as it is Europe.
Perceptions also enter into the picture. "Cyclists are alien here," he said.
Even so, Sobottka is optimistic that such factors will become less problematic over the years, as companies and governments realize the importance and profitability of accommodating bicyclists.
While he has lived all of his life in large cities, Sobottka said he is enjoying his time in Prescott.
"The best thing is the weather; it's always sunny," he said, pointing out that Berlin's fall weather is usually "dark, wet, and cloudy."
Knaup, a long-time advocate of cycling in Prescott, said Sobottka's perspective helps to buoy local efforts to make bicycles more mainstream.
"It's fun to have Leo here," she said. "It reminds us how normal (cycling) is."
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