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For some strange reason Beautiful Wife wasn’t convinced by my cunning plan for cycling to Japan. Instead she has wrestled the internet into submission and found a flight that was relatively inexpensive, allows us to stay in Japan for a reasonable amount of time, and fly with an airline which we’re fairly confident will have the seats properly bolted to the floor. Normally we hope for two out of the three.
It’s important to get there this year because my father in law is seriously ill, and getting worse, by all accounts, so we really want to get some time with him while we still can. I’m not sure what either of us will do without him: some people leave a big gap even when they’re a long way away, and with his wisdom and humour he’ll be one of those people.
I’ll have plenty to be getting on with while I’m in Japan, and we’ll be travelling about, but in an effort to keep my readers happy (i.e. keep my google statistics stats up), I will of course keep blogging. Japan is a whole new world in terms of blogging subjects, but I was wondering what you lot would like me to write about -bearing in mind we’ll be a long way from the touristy places. Here’s a few of my thoughts, add your ideas or questions in the comments.

  1. Cycling in Japan tips.
  2. The local bike shop (which is so eccentric it deserves its own post).
  3. The neighbourhood.
  4. The other Japan (The one without skyscrapers or concrete).
  5. Pictures of interesting places and things seen on bike rides/walks.
  6. Riding the single speed granny bike which I’ll hopefully be able to use. (Or a series of posts about me trying to get hold of a bike)
  7. All manner of random entries about life in Japan in general and cycling, particular.

Over to you.

Some old furniture was broken down at work so I scrounged it sharpish for the compost bin in the Very Small Holding. Transport was an interesting exercise but that’s what Bakfietsen are for.

I muttered last week about the project to make the Xtracycle’s hub dynamo actually produce some light for the extra weight it provided. Unfortunately this would involve working with electric circuits, which are populated by gremlins, which hate me.

When the front light worked first time it was, therefore, rather a surprise.

After soldering the switch on and making a complete rat’s nest of wires in the deluxe switch housing unit, I spun the wheel, and the headlight worked again. Much euphoria. I wired the rear LED light to the system directly to test it.

The back light worked too.

I wound the wire through the Xtracycle frame and connected the rear light again.

Nothing.

The back light was dead, and now the front was sulking too.

This was electronics as I remembered it. I poked at wires, checked what was connected to what, and put them back again exactly as they were before.

Suddenly both lights worked: I had a working dynamo light system and I hadn’t blown anything up. Medals all around, celebratory lap of the village, waited for sunset so I could test the lights out. Lights visible from space, started to think about about fitting capacitor so front light has continual beam at stop signs.

I’ll keep the battery lights to hand in case the Gremlins decide to get stroppy later.

About six months ago I fitted an elderly headlight onto the Xtracycle, to be connected in due course to the Dynamo I’d already built into the wheel and the new light fitted on the back. I only needed to add a switch, so it was an easy job.

I got the switch last week.

The problem -apart from a chronic lack of confidence- was where to put the switch. I’d been searching for most of the winter for a small box of some sort to fit the switch in, preferably with a removable, waterproof lid. It appears that this is an under-served area of the consumer market.

I could have bought a new front light of course, with everything in one casing and probably better optics, but come on.

Eventually I came across these tins for cough tablets. They’re a bit bigger than I wanted but they’re made of aluminium, and they have a lid so I can get at the internal gubbins easily when something goes wrong or in some wild moment I decide to install a capacitor for the front light.

Cutting the lid was easy enough with a normal craft knife, the hole is not quite as round as the screw thread, but it’s hidden by the switch and I trust you not to tell anyone. While working in the shop I drilled a hole in the base of the tin and fitted it to the back of the forks. Unfortunately the tin didn’t fit under the crossbar. The system worked fine as long as I only wanted to ride in a big circle.


More drilling and fitting the tin a bit lower down produced the deluxe version* above. I’ve been riding with it for a couple of days and it doesn’t get in the way although it does look a bit strange, so now it’s time for a trip to the paint shop.

To be continued…

*’Deluxe’ defined as ‘usable in a straight line’.

Another day another ride. It’s getting warmer so Eldest Son’s friend came along too, saving her mum a car journey.

Why don’t more people travel like this? It is a mystery to me.

Take wheel off Youngest Son’s bike. So far so good.
Take tyre off wheel. Much grunting.
Push valve into wheel and try to remove inner tube. Valve gets stuck. More grunting.
Finally persuade valve to go through ridiculously small hole. Drag inner tube out of tyre.
Find pump.
Pump up inner tube. Look for hole.
Nothing. Inner tube obviously, clearly, smugly, puncture free.
Bummer.
Push valve back into hole. Five minutes of twisting and pushing later it finally goes through the hole.
Clamp fingers in tyre.
Force inner tube into tyre with a combination of finger prodding and bad language.
Pump up inner tube slightly to avoid pinch punctures
Try to fit tyre into rim.
Fail.
Try using tyre levers.
Bend tyre levers.
Remember that The Shop has a tyre lever the size and shape of a dinner spoon for just such emergencies.
Take tyre to shop.
Find The Boss playing strategy game on computer. (It was a slow day).
Boss is highly amused and demonstrates how to put a tyre on a wheel without tyre levers.
Pump up tyre in shop, tyre goes flat.
Boss even more amused.
Two customers come onto shop which giving your correspondent the opportunity to slope off home with tyre.
Find two holes in tyre large enough to admit small rodents, clearly made by errant tyre lever.
Find the biggest patch in the repair kit.
Fix puncture, put tyre on without levers as demonstrated by The Boss.
Drop wheel, lose wheel bearings.
Find bearings, put wheel on bike.
Return bike to Youngest Son

 

Make mental note to stock up on puncture repair patches.

 

For the first time in several months, we’ve seen the sun and the roads are actually dry. It’s quite novel to go for a ride and not have a filthy bike at the end, except when it was filthy to start with because I’m too lazy to clean it. (I think this post made me look more conscientious than I really am).

The weather decided to give us a pretty deep* snowfall on the weekend to make sure we didn’t relax too much. Of course it decided to come as I was cycling back from my Permaculture course…

*enough to cause chaos in Britain London

Such is the level of my cycling addiction that I cracked after three days of our holiday, liberated a bike from our friend’s garage and set off for France. Okay, so France was only six kilometres away, but it sounded good.

Two kilometres out of the village I decided to pump the tires up. This was a Very Silly Idea: the number one rule for using a borrowed bike is if it ain’t broken* don’t fix it, and don’t worry about details. After five minutes of frantic pumping there was less air in the tyre than before. I rode the 2 kilometres home with just enough air to keep the rim off the tarmac, muttering darkly about my utter stupidity in trusting a cheapo standard issue pump. After much digging about in the garage, I found a pump: amazingly, it actually put air into the tire. Off we went again.

My goodness but you can ride fast in flat places. The first real ‘need to change gear’ climb was the Rhine bridge. I moved the gear lever, there was a loud crunch and the bike stopped. Pedalling didn’t help and neither did swearing. Getting off and looking at the transmission revealed that the chain was tighter than on a fixie and the rear mech was horizontal. Clearly the last person to fix this bike had shortened the chain. They’d also jammed the quick release skewer in the ‘open’ position, which was interesting.

On to train, home, I persuaded the ‘quick release’ skewer to open with aid of a hammer; dropped the wheel; reapplied chain on a smaller gear, and put the wheel back on; properly this time.

New years resolution: Always, always always take my bike with me on holiday: Especially if it’s a flat place.

Except when we go to Japan, because I can’t afford to take the Xtracycle on a plane.

I wonder if I could get a Brompton?

*‘Not broken’ in this context being defined as: ‘assembled’.

 

I’m not the only one riding this winter. I spotted this handsome looking steed against the ticket machine in our local metro station while its owner waited for the service to the next town.

In the 1970′s Freiburg decided to encourage people to use public transport, walk ,or cycle, and to make it difficult to drive into the city. In the centre they closed a large area to cars and built tram lines which could take people right into the main shopping streets, and built a network of cycle lanes and other facilities. I can can report that the sky has not fallen, nor has the centre of the city become a wasteland.

On the other hand…

…there were lots of bikes…

…and cyclists…

And very little traffic.

In fact, the whole experience of walking in this city was far more pleasant than in our village.

Now there’s a coincidence.

Apparently the modal share of bikes in Freiburg is 27%, Not bad considering that Freiburg is right on the edge of the Black Forest, which is a Very Hilly Place. For comparison ‘driving a car’ is given as 26%, ‘car passenger’ as a paltry 6% and public transport covers 20%.

I asked David Hembrow when the Dutch City of Assen made the same policy decisions as Freiburg and the current modal share for bicycles. It turns out the main change was in the 1970′s and 80′s, and today bicycles have a modal share of 41%.

The coincidences just pile up, don’t they?

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