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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…

Your correspondent looking remarkably like an elderly version of the Hovis Boy, in the name of art.

The youth group I work with are putting together their Autumn theatre and film project, which is now at the acting, filming and oh-heck-are-we-going-to-make-it-in-time stage. Part of the film story is a chase sequence on bikes, because when you’re making a silent film with a lot of slapstick what you really need is a comedy  chase scene on bikes. Especially when you’ve got a beast like the Bakfiets to put the bad guy in.

So last Sunday I spent the day with a large number of young people, riding about the village in vague period costume with a collection of patently fake weapons (like the ‘gun’ in the Bakfiets). In the rain.

On Monday we’ll be doing more sequences at a local castle. To get there I’ll have to ride the Bakfiets into a deep valley and out the other side, and back again. Thinking about it, we could make our own Hovis advert right there.

If anyone is interested, I’ll ask the editor to put some clips from the film on YouTube.

The Accidental Hermit recently commented:

“…how far can one feasibly travel while the children are small enough to be passengers? “Conventional wisdom” seems to claim that children who could fly to Australia must not, under any circumstance, remain any amount of time in a kid’s bicycle seat.”

I’m convinced our boys could happily ride in a Bakfiets until my legs fell off, but as you say, people have funny ideas about children on bikes.

Our experience is that kids tolerate a fairly long time on a bike, except when they’re tired or hungry, but that applies to cars and planes as I can attest having had the world’s smallest insomniac howl his way over the Pacific when he was just over a year old. Our boys get frustrated in cars because they have to be strapped -they’ve been known to unstrap their seatbelt and lie down on the back seat when they’re sleepy- they also complain that they can’t see anything, and they often throw up because of the bumpy ride.

Of course, people then say our boys “don’t travel well”…

Bikes have the huge advantage that when there’s something interesting to see, or small person needs the potty, you can generally stop. On Bakfietsen and Christiania types children are in front so they get a better view and you can talk to them much more easily, point things out and stop arguments from becoming a full scale war. The other advantage of these bikes over an Xtracycle (and cars, for that matter) is that with enough blankets, tired children can curl up on the bottom, and the movement and fresh air helps them to sleep. Much more comfortable than trying to rest in a seatbelt.

I guess the trick is to try it out and see what tolerance your small has for riding. It’s not like anything can go wrong: you can stop for a cuddle if she wants one, she’ll tell you when she’s bored, (Very unlikely, and if she’s bored looking at sky, try riding through a forest or town) and with the movement and fresh air she’ll probably fall asleep when she’s tired. In fact, that’s pretty well guaranteed to happen…

The only possible drawback is that all your kids friends will want to travel with you, and that your offspring will eventually start to clamour for her own bike like other kids want a car.

And with a bike, this will start ten years sooner…

…that after two years of using the Bakfiets, in which time we’ve used it for moving everything from glass for recycling and shopping to snow clearing equipment and very large pieces of wood, people still give us odd, slightly condescending looks when we announce we’re going to use the thing for carrying anything bigger than a paintbrush?

Like when we went to help a friend who’d just got married move within the village: her old apartment was only a couple of kilometres from her new one on a flattish road* and there wasn’t that much to shift, but still people were looking at me with “Aw, cute toy bike” expression.

Well, we discovered three things:

Firstly…

…you can transport…

…more than you’d think…

…quicker than you’d think…

…using human power…

…including the bride…

…and still have time and energy to tidy up afterwards…

(Note arrow pointing at brake cable to prove this is in the Bakfiets and not just a pile of cardboard on the road)

Secondly, that even here it’s possible to find a short cut by bike, so two kilometres driving could be reduced to 500 metres, meaning I could often wave the van off, cycle to the other apartment, and be comfortably ahead of them to the point of loading the bakfiets when they finally arrived…

Thirdly, when people realise this, no matter how many times you explain that cycle lanes have barriers and the van won’t be able to get through, at least one driver will still try and follow you…

*Well, flattish for around here anyway.

Carrying the shopping home from the next town, a fairly normal Bakiets load. I didn’t notice I was carrying the wheel until I got to the shops.

It’s worrying how easily small things disappear on a thirty kilo bike.

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