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People who hear I cycle to college often react with surprise and imply that I’m incredibly hardcore but I honestly don’t see it as a big deal: the ride is only 20 kilometres (12 miles) one way, and I get to sit down in a warm classroom all day before pootling back: essentially I get to have two short bike tours with a day at college inbetween. Besides, so far I’ve seen deer, rabbits, kestrels, red kites, buzzards, lots of smaller birds I’m gradually getting to know, and last week a fox ambled across the road as I went through a forest.

It helps that I only have to do it once or twice a week: I think I’d see it differently if I was riding every day.

The photo is on a new section of the route: I had to change because one of the towns I went through has closed a main road to lay a new sewage pipe and decided the cycle way is much more useful as a diversion for the Very Important Drivers rushing to the autobahn, and I don’t feel like dealing with stressed drivers trying to control their car and use their navigator while drinking coffee at half past six in the morning.

I did wonder about writing to the council and pointing out that by pushing cyclists like me out of the town, it means we can’t stop and spend money in their supermarkets as we pass,  but then I remembered I’m too miserly to do that anyway, and besides the new route has views like this and no traffic whatsoever, so I didn’t bother.

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The kind people in charge of the carpentry department gave me permission to park in their delivery bay, so I can take my Xtracycle to college and know it is safe all day, albeit lightly coated in sawdust by the afternoon.

They think I’m very strange, but harmless, or maybe they feel sorry for me for being ‘too poor’ to own a car. I, on the other hand, spend the last hour or so of college dreaming of the ride home.

Today was a particularly stressful day with a modular test all afternoon which I may or may not have passed, and much time trying to understand maths equations. Knowing that this is what came afterwards made it bearable.

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Eldest Son goes to a school some distance away, which is a perfectly normal here: schools tend to be far enough away that children are sent off on their bikes or public transport to get there. This is a great thing, of course, because they gain independence and experience navigating the real world without parents (except when they are brought to school in Mummy’s SUV, of course, but there’s always one).

During school hours, there is a direct tram from the next town to a stop just across the road from the school. Unfortunately this useful service goes off to bed at about six, because grownup people don’t need public transport, obviously. So if there is a parent’s evening at the school, we need to get on a tram into the city, change to another tram back out of the city, change again, go one stop, and change a final time for the last bit of the journey to the stop for eldest son’s school. This seemed a little pointless, especially as the last change involved waiting for ten minutes for a tram journey that lasted exactly fifty-seven seconds, so this time I took my bike.

Whereupon the clouds above delivered rain in large quantities.

Thankfully the bike storage at the school is covered, so the saddle didn’t get wet*, and I met another cycling parent who showed me a way through the black hole of fast roads and contraflows in one of the lesser suburbs of Stuttgart, so we got home quicker than I’d have managed by tram. I used the extra time drying off clothes, but never mind. It’ll be dry next time. Hopefully.

*The main concern of a Brooks user when it rains: ‘Must keep the saddle dry.’ The madness is catching, I tell you…

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Now it is officially spring again, the cyclists are coming out of hibernation. The Xtracycle and I spotted this classy looking bike at a local metro stop.

Having more cyclists is a great idea in theory, as long as they remember they aren’t driving their car down the Autobahn and expect everyone to jump out of the way.

Eighteen months of cycling to the bus stop has taught me I need fifteen minutes for a relaxed ride, ten at speed, and about seven and a half when I forget my wallet and have to go back and get it. The bus leaves the next village at 0635, so I aim to set off by 0620.

How I expected to catch the bus on Wednesday after leaving home at half past six I’m not sure.

On arriving I cunningly worked out that I’d failed in this by the empty bus shelter and clock showing it was 0640. meaning I had to cycle to the railway station, five kilometres away from our village, and 200m lower, and the other end of a busy road. I’m a fairly experienced cyclist, I know how cars usually react and I know the road. The weather was dry and visibility clear. What could possibly go wrong?

Apart from, say, falling off at high speed and being run over by an SUV.

With this comforting thought I went through the traffic lights and dropped off the end of the world. There were a couple of interesting moments like the point the street lights stopped and we plunged into darkness on a sharp bend with a drop on the left hand side of the road. Fortunately a helpful driver assisted by driving close enough to my back wheel that he lit the road ahead of me. Stopping for traffic lights was interesting and my bottle dynamo will never be the same again, but I made it in plenty of time, and the bike was still in the bike shed -with wheels- when I came back in the afternoon.

I doubt I’ll make a habit of this as the ‘ride’ back took almost an hour of climbing via a road cycle-cross riders would reject out of hand, getting lost in a strange  isolated housing estate with a thousand identical houses and crossing a seriously muddy field.

On the other hand, I could look smug when the students who commuted by car came in late, again.

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With world-class cycle facilities like this, you wonder why there aren’t more cyclists around…

Ecologically sound bike parking in Stuttgart centre.

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It rained a bit while I was at college; Xtracycle reflections on a dip in the cycle way.

For some this is a reason not to cycle to college and use a car instead. For others it is a photo opportunity.

Kim Harding, and others, are trying to get trying to Strict Liability back into the political agenda in Scotland. Strict Liability is part of traffic law in Germany, and in fact most of the world,  outside of the UK.

Some time ago, Eldest Son had a very minor collision with a car on a Spielstrasse (shared space street, 7km/h limit). Being about six at the time, Eldest Son didn’t know that in Germany you give way to vehicles coming from the right, didn’t stop on a junction, and was clipped by a very expensive vehicle speeding up the hill. Eldest Son was fine, but Expensive Car had some minor damage.

Beautiful Wife learned to drive in Japan, and didn’t know that in Germany you should always call the police when you have an accident, so when the driver said “we don’t need to bother calling the police”,* gave her his address, then drove off saying he needed to go to an appointment, she accepted it.

A few weeks later a rather large bill arrived.

We have liability insurance, so we wrote to our insurance company and explained what had happened. They found it very amusing, wrote to the driver and reminded him about Strict Liability, in particular that if a car hits a child, the driver is always liable. (Driving over the speed limit was also a bit naughty, as was not calling the police, which in Germany made it a hit-and-run, but we’ll ignore that)

The driver tried to make much of the point that he technically had right of way on the junction, and his lawyers sent us a threatening letter with an even bigger bill in the hope we’d panic and pay up, which we passed on to the insurance company. They wrote to said Lawyers and asked them to kindly stop messing about, and that was that.

Had Eldest Son been injured, the rules would mean the driver of Expensive Car would be held responsible. whereas in the UK it would have meant a long legal battle for us to get compensation or simply not be held liable for scratching his paint. His insurance would have had to pay, at least partly, for treatment and rehabilitation, pushing up his premiums. Drivers -unfortunately- seem to be more aware of this than just the danger posed by a ton of metal to vulnerable road users, and it makes them slightly more careful. As I recently heard a policeman complain: “Unfortunately, as soon as you drive a car in Germany, you are assumed to be responsible if any accident happens” ** I’m still convinced that German drivers are more cautious around pedestrians and cyclists than British drivers, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t because German drivers have a better understanding of the value of human life.

It also sends a clear message that the law is there to protect more vulnerable people. I’d have thought this was a given in any civilised country, but that’s just me.

*A phrase rarely heard except from drivers involved a motor vehicle collision and from people with a black jumper,  crowbar and torch, kneeling in front of a broken safe at midnight. They could be right, of course.

**And this was the policeman supposed to be telling us about pedestrian and cycling safety. The mind boggles…

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Pulling my back muscle last week meant I couldn’t get Youngest Son’s bed quite ready before the workshop was shut down for Christmas, but we went ahead and got a matress to fit anyway (assuming it will fit and I haven’t made an awful mistake measuring the wood).

Personally I’d have preferred to make our own mattress with a straw filling but I couldn’t see that plan going down too well, so we all headed off to the big city, or at least the nearest bit of it in the next town but one, and confused a salesperson by insisting that we could transport our mattress home by bike. As the picture shows it worked pretty well: we had to go the long way to keep The Boys off a busy road but it was worth it for all the incredulous looks from passing drivers. Notice, despite my whining, that we are on a segregated pedestrian/cycleway and didn’t have to ride on a road apart from the one we live on.

The white bunker-like object on the left is an expensive piece of sculpture installed by the town to emphasise ‘working together’ or something. This is the same town which decided the best way to mark the geographical centre was with a giant carrot and circle of plastic lagomorphs, so we shouldn’t really be surprised.

On arriving at the apartment we decided to have a chinese takeaway so The Bakfiets was pressed back into service. Perhaps overkill in this case but there we go.

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Notice rope coiled up ready for use. If I remembered to do this more often it would probably give a better impression.

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A friend of ours needed to move house, and I opened my big mouth and suggested that I could drive a car-share van, thus saving him a lot of money compared to renting. Being totally unaware of my driving incompetence he agreed.

We arrived intact -after a minor detour in Tübingen and a tour of an old railway yard- and found his apartment in an old mill, down a narrow track alongside a stream, on the edge of a small village.

The sort of place which is just begging for a family like ours to come along and start a smallholding/arts centre, like we’ve been dreaming of doing for ages.

Our dream is becoming more practical as I’m going to be a fully fledged carpenter from 2015. This will give me the skills to build stuff, and a way of actually earning money*. Rather conveniently there is a shortage of carpenters in rural areas.

At which point lots of people feel the need to remind me that we couldn’t possibly do this with our lifestyle. The vast distances of the countryside are simply too much for us to rely on bicycles, and public transport as we know it doesn’t exist. Better, we are told, to stay near to the big city with all the convenience this brings. Or grow up and get a car.

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This is the view from our friends new apartment.

In the time it takes to catch a bus to our local tram stop and wait for a tram, my friend could take this train right into Tübingen, and take his bike with him.

Or he could use the traffic-free cycle way through the fields behind which goes into the centre of the city.

To add insult to injury, our friend pays far less rent than we do, because of the ‘convenience’ of our public transport.

* A Theatre studies degree being as useful as a submarine in the Sahara when it comes to making a living.

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