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Everyone who takes a carpentry apprenticeship in Germany has to make a ‘final project’. I have to make mine by August 2015. Much to the amusement of my fellow students, I’ve been planning it for about six months already, but there are plenty of stories where people either didn’t finish in time or arrived at the presentation room carrying projects covered in wet varnish. I did the last-minute thing quite enough when I was at school, and this time I fully intend to be in the presentation room with a finished piece and a self-righteous look on my face while fellow students pull in sticky bits of furniture. This is why I am so popular.

My first idea was a really cool toolbox* so I could live the hippy dream of travelling while repairing things for people, astonishing them with my skill and receiving accommodation in return in a sort of communal barter system. I may have got a bit carried away with that idea.

Beautiful Wife suggested I make a Coffee Bar to fit onto the Bakfiets. When she is working with various organisations dealing with ecology and justice, I could ride it over and she could serve coffee. The combination of an unusual vehicle and the smell of fresh coffee would attract people over and we could introduce them to Fair Trade and low(er) impact living, all at the same time.

I wondered how on earth we’d present this to my carpentry master, who has to approve the plans and finance the materials, but that probably wouldn’t be too hard because it is essentially a kitchen unit and we make those all the time. Okay, so it would need to be very waterproof and as light as possible, and most kitchen units don’t have holes in the bottom to fit onto a bicycle frame, but it’s the same basic idea. The idea of driving my Bakfiets into the examination room also appeals, as does being able to blog about it here although I’ll probably do that in any case.

Hang on, I could make mobile bike workshop…

Any other ideas? I need to make something out of wood, remember…

*And only a carpentry student could think of a toolbox as ‘really cool’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABakfietsen are very solid things. They are, however built to trundle around nice flat bike lanes in places like Amsterdam carrying the shopping and kids, with lots of bike shops and nice mechanics who know how to deal with their complex innards. Ours spends a lot of time being a pickup/tractor on dodgy farm lanes with potholes a medium-sized dog could hide in, and ‘cycle ways’ which resemble a competitive mountain biking route. Add in snow and ice and glom of nit, regular use carrying oversized things like pallets, and a lack of bike shops that have even seen a Bakfiets, and things can go wrong, like eighth gear vanishing.

This isn’t a massive problem on its own as there are two kinds of route locally, ‘up’ and ‘down’, and eighth gear is not much use on either, but the others aren’t much better. First gear is fine, but second and third come and go according to the phase of the moon and position of butterflies in the Amazon, fourth only turns up so it can cut out at a crucial moment like when I have a truck behind me, while 5,6,and 7 operate a sort of lottery.

There’s a limit to how far you can ride in first gear, and the whole bike started making a foul noise, although that was traced to the pedals which are complaining about being used in all kinds of foul weather.

Owning a complex bike in a car culture is one long engineering project. I keep telling myself it builds character. Or something.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe plan this weekend was to get another load of digging completed so that the garden would look more like a carefully tended vegetable garden and less like a patch of wilderness or the set for a low budget horror movie.

Naturally it snowed heavily on Friday night.

The garden is pretty well inaccessible when it snows, and even if I could get there, I wasn’t about to spend half an hour raking snow back to find where to dig, so we rescheduled the day and worked on the Bakfiets instead.

The Bakfiets is a low maintenance machine but when something goes wrong it is a pain to get at the bit that needs work, in this case the back tyre, which has been flat as a pancake for weeks.

We do have a stand at the bike shop, but this is built for regular mountain bikes, not thirty kilos of wood and steel, so this is the best was I’ve found to get the wheels off the ground. The side of the box is resting on a cardboard cushion.

Fortunately the hub is fairly well designed. There are a lot of fiddly bits to disconnect but most can be unclipped which saves me rebuilding all the brake and gear connections.

Most of the repair went quite well: We found a large hole in the inner tube, but nothing in the tyre that could have made it. I replaced the whole inner tube with one that has a sensible presta valve rather than the silly Dunlop valve that came with the bike. The main problem was that the chain decided to fall off the front cog, so when it came to putting things back together I first had to take the chain guard to bits and retrieve it.

Oh, and the discovery that the axle bearings have worked lose. Of course, I noticed this after putting everything back together, which means I’ll now have to do it all again in a couple of weeks.

It was Beautiful Wife’s birthday recently. Flower delivery by Bakfiets.

Grandma and Grandpa came to visit last month, and stayed with friends in another part of the village.

There are many reasons our neighbours think we are strange. One is that occasionally when they bring their car out for a clean, we are lining up our bikes.* I’m not sure if the looks are because of the unusual nature of the bikes we ride or just because, they’re bikes, as in, Not Cars. And that’s just weird.

I’m a bit obsessive about cleaning my bike, probably he result of dealing with mud encrusted machines at the bike shop. I’m especially fussy about the front forks or the main bar, where mud collects easily. Fortunately the mudguards take care of most of the mud, cow poo, horse poo and assorted other semi-liquid matter that covers the cycleways around here, and the long frame of the Xtracycle makes cleaning much more pleasant as the area around the front gears doesn’t get spattered all the time, and you can get at it to clean much easier with the back wheel out of the way.

My goodness but I’m boring. As it is now spring there’s a slightly higher chance that the roads will be dry most of the time, and that I can relax on the cleaning. The bike still gets some dirt, of course, but it’s a grey-brown patina of fine road dust which makes it clear that this is a working bike, and is therefore very cool, whereas mud just looks mucky.

I think I should get out more.

Of course the real advantage of cleaning a bike is that even after I’ve taken the deck off the back, unfastened and removed the luggage carriers, cleaned the frame down, replaced the luggage carriers, removed the three kilos of rubbish I’ve been carrying about for weeks and wheeled the shiny bike into the garage, my neighbours are probably only half way through cleaning their car.

*Currently seven bikes, for a five-member family. And your point is?

Spring is coming, but one of the rules of bureaucracy seems to be that for every form filled in, another two ae generated, so I’ve spent a lot of this week filling in and posting applications for grants rather than being outside, but at least I’m doing it in daylight now. Besides, cycling every day means I can notice the changing of the seasons as part of my everyday routine.

Of course, come November I probably won’t be as happy about that last bit, but theres always the option of staying indoors and filling in forms. Or burning them.

I’ve been a bit busy this weekend, doing yet another course which I’ll tell you about sometime when I’m more awake. I’m aware I haven’t even replied to the comments on the last post, sorry about that.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of the Bakfiets on a shopping trip.

It was minus 12°c (about 10°F) and my hands were numb by the time I’d finished taking the pictures.

Last night the super-duper high tech boiler on our apartment building stopped working because the oil was getting cold and too sticky. Our heating system doesn’t like the cold either.

I’m told it will get warmer soon…

Brr…

Well, not a great deal seems to have happened this week, but that would be a false impression. It’s just that not a lot has happened that I can make an interesting blog entry out of.* I can’t even regale you with tales of horrific winter blizzards and drifts up to the windowsills because even the weather is just in a big grey sulk like a teenager being forced to do their homework. When you start blogging about the weather being apathetic then you really are short of blogging subjects.

Still, I suspect it’s the calm before the storm, as next week will be my Praktikum, a trial week with the local carpenter, who fortunately for me is within an easy walk of where we live. If I manage to convince the boss that I can handle a week of eight-hour shifts without tripping over, passing out, crashing the van, or amputating my own thumb, I can hopefully start a full three-year apprenticeship in this company in September. In Germany we still have this quaint notion that training people is a good idea, so a lot of people here do apprenticeships like this in just about everything from social work to engineering, and in many cases it’s seen a sort of ‘job for life’, or near enough: we see it more as a “Skill for life” which will mean we can keep working towards our goals. I’ll go on about those another time.

I have been cycling as well, but as it’s mostly been the “drive to school/kindergarten/supermarket/garden” type of trip it’s hardly exciting stuff, unless you count the early morning “Papa Taxi” ride which occasionally means dealing with commuters in a two tonne weapon who don’t know what ‘Shared Space’ means. Last week we were going uphill on a road just wide enough for one car -so of course there were cars parked all down the side of it- when a VW pulled out and started to come downhill towards us. Lacking the abilities of spiderman to climb buildings** we waited until the driver realised they would have to wait for us to pass them. As we walked by the vehicle the driver leaned across and shouted in a you-are-being-told-off-voice that “Your light is really bright.”

With hindsight, “Good” probably wasn’t the most diplomatic answer…

*Not that this usually stops me, of course.
**And I’ll bet even he wouldn’t attempt that with a Bakfiets.

You can tell it’s winter because I’ve been asked “Isn’t it too cold to take your kids out on bikes?”

Youngest son keeping warm in transit. Getting him out from under the warm blanket is the hardest part…

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