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I’ve been a commuter for a month now. Not a proper ‘fight against early morning drivers to claim back the road from motor vehicles’ commuter, more a sort of ‘ride blearily through the fields to the next village and abandon the bike for a bus’ commuter. I only have a few hundred metres of road where there’s traffic and at half past six in the morning there isn’t even that much of it.
I’ve even managed to find some decent covered cycle racks (ie, not wheel eaters) which are pretty safe. I know this because the old peoples home next door has used them as to stack several new rolls of linoleum for a couple of weeks.
Normally I leave home at leave home at about 0615 which gives me plenty of time to get everything ready, discover something is missing, panic, run about the house trying to search quietly so I don’t wake up Beautiful Wife, wake Beautiful Wife, look for the missing item where she has told me to look, find it, pack my bag and leave, and ride over the fields at a reasonable speed catch the bus at 0635. The strange thing is, if I happen to be late (ie. When I’ve lost something and Beautiful Wife isn’t able to guide me to it), no matter how hard I ride, it still takes me five minutes longer to ride the same distance.
I had a session attacking brambles this weekend: I need to get at the fallen pear tree to start cutting it over winter, and the prickly empire of doom was not only taking over our garden but also encroaching over the fence and our neighbour wasn’t happy. I tried to point out the advantages of blackcurrant jam for life but he didn’t seem convinced, so I got out the new scythe. I really need to figure out a new way to sort the brambles out or at least keep them to resspectable levels, and I have a horrible feeling the only effective thing will be putting something toxic on them: the only organic solution I’ve heard of is keeping goats on the land, which would require security fencing and possibly minefields: they only have to get into the neighbours garden once. A long term solution may be to grow trees on the steep parts of the hill to shade the brambles out, so wherever I came across an ash tree I cleared the brambles away in the hope it grows.
The area you can see took about two hours to cut and which a tenth of the total. I discovered several quite large saplings while doing this. Having brambles higher than the trees is probably a bad sign in terms of weed control.
Yesterday evening I had an invitation to visit a friend in York, and decided to ride. I’d borrowed a bike*, and York is one of the UK’s three ‘cycling cities’** that were being trumpeted to rival Amsterdam and Copenhagen as world-class cycling centres, so I figured I’d be okay. And I was, mostly because I started on a fairly minor road and some kind soul reminded me that in the UK people drive on the left before I met any traffic.
I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by the bike lanes: certainly I’d have preferred them to have priority over side roads like in Germany, and it would have been even better if the one I was using hadn’t given up after a couple of hundred metres and pitched me into the road, but it wasn’t too bad.
In the other hand, I liked these nifty speed lumps in the roads. I’m sure you’re all used to them by now, but humour me while I ramble on about them like some country cousin discovering electricity: they are just narrow enough for a car to drive over them fairly quickly without spilling the drivers coffee, so cars seem utterly focussed on keeping their wheels either side of the things. I soon noticed that vehicles overtaking would go over (round?) the more distant bump, giving me a reasonable amount of room. Just as well as I was on the road all the way to my friend’s house and back: if I’d followed the designated cycle route I’d most likely still be out there.
Come to think of it, none of the drivers who passed were using their phone either, because they had to concentrate on the road to avoid leaving part of the car on the road. If only we could get them to treat pedestrians with the same respect as their own vehicles…
**The others being Bristol and… where are the others exactly?
I’m currently visiting family in York, UK and generally being a tourist, as in wandering about in a bewildered manner getting confused by the simplest things. So far these included the inability of the bus driver to sell me a return ticket, how to ‘tender exact change’ in unfamiliar currency, looking the wrong way when crossing the road (which coupled with the apparent disregard for the pedestrian crossings shown by UK drivers could end badly) and working a self-service till.
Fortunately York is on the tourist trail and full of similarly bewildered foreigners, so I fit right in. I’m even stopping at random to take photos, although on getting home I realised that having walked along the walls, along the river, through the centre and past the minster, surrounded by 800 years of history, my camera card was filled with pictures like these…
Oh, well. I’ll try again, once I’ve mastered crossing the road.
This weekend is likely to be a bit busy as we’re off to a friends wedding in Freiburg, which if all goes to plan will involve picking up a car share car at a railway station in the middle of nowhere, driving to the wedding and thence to the reception and back without driving into anything, coming home on Sunday and then catching a train to Rotterdam to meet the ferry to hull on Monday, so I leave you with a small dilemma I discovered this week.
On one of the routes I cycle frequently here, there’s a point where the mandatory cycleway I follow alongside a busy road becomes a mandatory footpath, meaning I have to go onto said road or ride illegally. Nothing new there of course, but there’s a catch. I have about two hundred metres of this road before turning left (and crossing two lanes of traffic) onto a quieter road. These two hundred metres are on a blind bend, and we all know how aware most drivers are of cyclists on blind bends. There is no way there will ever be a cycleway on this bit of road: even a filter lane into traffic was dismissed out of hand by the town as it ‘would be abused by cyclists’, presumably by cycling on it…
Where the cycleway ends there’s a pedestrian crossing with lights, and I’ve discovered that if I press the button on the lights and ride onto the road, I can pedal around the corner and be turning off before the first car catches up, saving me the stress of being buzzed or possibly overtaken dangerously closely on the blind bend. Is this adaptive use of poor infrastructure, or abuse of a pedestrian crossing?
(Tales of the UK come next week: I doubt there’s W-lan on the ferry so responses to comments may take time…)
Beautiful Wife asked me to get some emergency pizza when I picked Youngest Son up from Kindergarten. No problem, I thought, we can swing past the shop on the way.
Except that Youngest Son likes to cycle home on his bike these days, and the only shop in the village is directly on the main road, which happens to be one of the routes into the Stuttgart/Neckar valley industrial region. There’s no way he can ride there with all the cars and trucks and buses rushing into Germany’s sixth city, and of course, we can’t remove the right to choose your transport mode by say, slowing people down or stopping through traffic: then there would only be three fast roads, and imagine the pain and hardship that would cause.
On top of this a child under seven has to ride on the pavements/sidewalks in Germany. The idea, as I understand it, is to get them used to things like a high curb whenever they have to cross a side road; pedestrians appearing from buildings; and how to jump out-of-the-way* of Very Important Drivers coming out of driveways, opening car doors or just using the pavement as their own private parking space.
In this way children quickly learn that ‘cycling’ is what you do on a Sunday afternoon, and if you want to go more than twenty metres from the front door, get Mummy or Daddy to drive you there.
I’m being cynical: It’s probably just a cheap way to avoid building proper cycle lanes.
Either way, it’s surprisingly difficult to ride down a busy road and keep contact with a small person cycling on the other side of parked cars while Mercedes man leans on his horn because I’m delaying him in his Very Important Journey and distracting him from his Very Important Conversation on his mobile phone.
Now I’m sure some people (probably the people leaning on their car horn) would say I should get off the bike and walk along the pavement, thus getting out-of-the-way** of the Very Important Drivers, which would be fine except that because we are ever-so-special tree huggy types we are usually trying to get somewhere on our bikes.
Which makes it even more annoying that having made an extra trip to get the pizza, and riding all over the village to find quieter traffic calmed streets, we still ended up with an SUV behind us revving his engine and generally expressing his annoyance at our presence on the road.
*WordPress is convinced I need these hyphens. Do I? or is WordPress being nannyish?
** See previous footnote.
The mill race again, with lamp post for no apparent reason whatsoever.
Maybe I went a bit too far and reached Narnia.
… can I keep it?
I found this elderly ‘Den Haag’ Dutch bike on a pile of rubbish waiting for collection. It’s a beautiful machine, if rather battered and rusty, with mudguards, lights, massive chain guard, frame built from girders, and a luggage rack that can carry all your shopping, three friends and a dog. Unfortunately it would be a pain in the backside to get up hills, and if you go cycling more than a few kilometres here, hills will feature in the journey. I’m guessing this bike was left in the garage for some time after the owner got bored or too old to keep pushing it up hills, or lost the nerve to go down them. The bike certainly hadn’t moved for many years when I saw it waiting to be chomped by a dustbin lorry. There is no way I was going to let that happen so I rescued it.
As an added bonus I’ve found an
excuse reason to keep the bike, as I’m commuting to a local hospital at the moment (as part of the learning to be an ambulance driver fightback) and one of the joys of living on the edge of the public transport system is that the metro passes us every ten to fifteen minutes, but the bus seems to leave just before the tram gets in, and even less off peak, which is when I’m usually travelling because of the hospital shifts. It is only a few kilometres to the tram stop, but there was no way I was going to leave the Xtracycle to be trashed there all day, but I can leave this bike chained to a fence and feel pretty safe that it will still be there when I get back: only a very strange person would want a Dutch three-speed around here. With this as my commuter bike I’m saving myself about half an hour and a couple of Euros a day. Considering the bike came free I reckon that’s a pretty good deal.
Most importantly, when riding the Den Haag I feel incredibly chic and cosmopolitan, right up to the point I drove through a pile of horse poo.