Bernd isn’t a pro rider, he’s never won a round of the World Cup (or even come close), and he’s got neither sponsorship deals nor accolades for saving someone’s life. But he’s still someone worth looking up to. Dubious? Read on to see what his friend Kirsten has to say.
“The first time I rode around Munich, I had a real sort of epiphany moment. It was like the act of riding around the city had given me such a huge amount of freedom – but I should probably mention that I’d just had my driver’s license stolen, so I didn’t have much choice!” Bernd’s throaty laugh echoes around the pub in Munich’s Glockenbachviertel. It’s Thursday evening and he takes another sip of beer.
It was eleven years ago when I first Bernd at a Springride Camp organized by Stefan Herrmann in Provence, France. We were all standing in a huddle one evening, and most likely someone was tightening a bolt on their bike. Back then, this casual sort of tech talk was always enjoyable. There was a genuine exchange of ideas and stories and simple musings over how long a frame would last, rather than today’s embittered battles, where each conversation deteriorates into a ‘who knows best.’
Bernd was already a mechanic by this stage and worked in a bike shop. Yet even with his expertise, he still paid attention to every utterance in the conversation, piping up at times with his thoughts and a warm smile. There was never any arrogance or lecturing, nor smugness or showmanship.
Age is just a number
In the past decade we’ve ridden with each other in the mountains, on the island of La Palma, along the River Isar, and to many bike parks and pubs along the way. Chatting to Bernd about the ins and outs of life is always an eye-opener, as he never fails to impart positivity and life-affirming perspectives. Listening to him speak, you’d probably guess he was in his twenties, although his real age is a long way removed from those heady young years.
But don’t get me wrong: Bernd isn’t someone clinging onto his thirties, adamantly declaring to be turning thirty-nine for the fourth time. It just doesn’t matter to him. It’s a state of nonchalance that Bernd carries with him, and it gets soaked up his surroundings. You’re just as old as you feel, he’ll say. In fact, his level of fitness and all-round bike skills soar above everyone else I know, which is even more impressive when you consider how his lifestyle contradicts so many of today’s health trends, with habits that’d likely make a grown nutritionist cry – and I’m one of the few who really know the almost mythical figures on his birth certificate.
Why losing your driving license isn’t all bad
I’d probably not know any of this, let alone Bernd, if the man in question hadn’t been coerced into cycling when he lost his driving license. Before he moved to Munich in 2003, he’d barely scraped the surface of cycling, and had instead spent many years following motorsports across Europe with his brother’s race team. Bernd stepped in as their truck driver, mechanic and – as far as I can gather – the kind soul of the team. He even quit college and sacrificed his training to become a car mechanic in order to help the team. When he eventually came to Munich at the start of 2003, he’d decided to complete his studies. Forced onto a bike for transportation at this stage, he discovered that he could study to become a bike mechanic at the same institution – so he promptly switched courses and started working in a bike shop, when, after a riding skills camp in 2004, bikes became so much more than just a tool for moving around the city.
He’s been mad about mountain biking ever since – both riding the bike and everything on the peripheries. While others scuttle off to sheds and cellars to tinker with their bikes, Bernd heads straight for the lounge, where his landlord is still blissfully unaware of the marks on the floor. In the bike shop Bernd’s main specialism lies with those tricky, hard-to-fix bikes (and, at times, those clients too). Instead of just putting the bike together straight from the box and handing it to the client, he’ll disassemble the new frame, grease the bearings and parts individually, and treat them to all sorts of pastes and creams before reassembly. These bikes won’t be making another sound once they’ve left his capable hands.
Everyone agrees on one way to describe Bernd, and that’s levelheaded and fair. In all the years he’s been on the bike scene, his reputation precedes him. He’s simply one of the most balanced people out there, and very few have ever heard him moan or complain about anything. If heavy rain on a Sunday puts a dampener on his ride plans, then he’s unperturbed; he switches on the digital radio and putters around the house, grabbing the chance to toy with a new suspension setup and other unfinished tasks.
He’s exactly the same when you’re out riding with him. You’ll never hear “Oh, I have to…” or “You should….” There’s no pressure or testosterone-fuelled competition. When he’s riding there are only a handful of things that could rile him, like when the riders in front of him manage to carve up more quick-hitting tight corners than him, and he might let slip a muttered “Damn it,” or “You twat.” Coming from Bernd though – and always followed by a laugh – it never really sounds mean.
He nails technical sections on his bike in exactly the same way he gets through life. It’s not about being the centre of attention, or having something to prove. His open-minded and curious approach to both riding and life are what have cemented his reputation, making him such a respected rider and person. We should all be a bit more like Bernd.
Words & Photos: Kirsten-J. Sörries