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A long-term friend in the UK is getting married next year, which means I have to find out a way to get to Newcastle via my parents house in York. Normally we go to the UK via the channel tunnel, but this time there’s a small complication because he’s getting married in August, when there will be some kind of sports event in London, so the city will be full to bursting point and beyond.
Fortunately my destination is Newcastle, far up in the frozen north where trolls live, so there are alternatives. Most likely is a train journey to Rotterdam, a peaceful nights sleep (optimism springs eternal) as we cross the North Sea by ferry and next morning, catch the train to my parents hom in York. Simple.
Except that the railway stations of both cities are some distance from the ferry terminals.
Okay, so take a bike: cycle from Rotterdam Centraal to the ferry, and from the ferry to Hull station, and while I’m at it, from York station to my parents house.
Look Rotterdam up on Google Earth. Can’t find a bike lane anywhere. Mutter dark mutterings about the claims of these blogs then realise the ‘road’ I’m looking at is a cycle lane. With a white line down the centre. Follow same from station to ferry port. Hooray for Dutch cycling infrastructure, and apologies to the above named bloggers.
There’s only a few kilometres between port and railway station, but it looks as navigable as a set from ‘The Matrix’ and slightly more dangerous. The roads are a mess of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts with enough space in the centre for a small farm, built when city planners knew cars were going to be the only way to travel*. There’s the occasional cycle lane for a couple of hundred metres, usually ending at road islands and dual carriageways.
Obviously the chief trolls don’t use bicycles very much.
I could give up and use a taxi through Hull, but that would mean I don’t have transport for the week or two that I’ll be in the UK, which would seem a bit silly for the sake of six kilometres, and nor would I be able to ride in Rotterdam.
The other alternative would seem to be finding a native guide, or at least a map.
So, if there are any cyclists in Hull who are versed in the secret ways of the Matrix, I’d be glad of any tips, decent maps, or better still, a local cyclist willing to guide me through hostile territory between ferry and railway station and back again a couple of weeks later.
Please get in touch through the comments or contact box. Many thanks.
*This was ensured by making lots of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts so it was impossible to travel without a car.
I went to visit the Area Hermit recently to pick up a pepper plant he’d babysat for me while we were in Japan. He’d given me the plant as a welcome present, and I’d left it with him rather than risk the thing dying while I was away. So I went to the gate and called him -it’s always better not to startle a seventy year old hermit, especially one with a gun and a large dog- and after a few minutes he emerged.
“You forgot to put a hole in it.”
“The pepper plant. You forgot to put a hole in the pot.”
Oops. Just before I went to Japan, I’d realised the terracotta pot the plant came in was a bit small, so I’d quickly re-potted it in a big bucket I’d got free from a flower shop before delivering it to The Hermit, neglecting the obvious point that the bucket was designed for cut flowers, and as such wouldn’t have holes in the bottom.
“I kept watering the thing and feeding it, and it kept dyin’. Then I looked at the bottom. Poor thing was drownin’”*
“So I shot it.”
“I got my air gun and shot two holes in the bottom of the pot. It’s happy now”
He handed me the plant. With pot.
“Put holes in the bottom next time”
He’s happy we’re back. He tells me most of the neighbours think he’s strange.
*Of course he didn’t say “Drownin’” as he was speaking German. Frankly the whole of this exchange does lose a lot in translation from the original dialect.
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.
…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:
(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.
An Xtracycle is very useful when, for example, having worked late last night I wake up at 07:30 and realise it’s not a school holiday as I thought, but that Eldest Son is supposed to be breakfasted, dressed, and ready for his first lesson in the school on the other side of the village in fifteen minutes: we can load his bag on to the Xtracycle while he cleans his teeth, have it by the door for him to jump on, ride up the traffic calmed at *cough* km/h over ‘walking speed’, race through the large housing estate the other side, ride through the school gate, across the playaground, and drop him off at the door just as the bell is going for the first lesson.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly Thunderbirds, but it was very satisfying, especially as I made it back and dropped the smaller boys in Kindergarten just before we had a whomping great thunderstorm.
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’.
What with Christmas, family holidays, and other matters, I haven’t had time to post about the statistics I got from WordPress over new year. According to the email they sent:
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.*
There followed a lot of nice comments, and statistics: apparently I made 75 new posts. Where did I find the time? from the dashboard I noticed that the comment count has recently passed 1000, which frankly astounds me: when I started this experiment in writing and cycling in 2008 I thought I’d see what happened for three months: I never thought many people would read my nerdy bike-related ramblings, let alone take the time to comment, so many thanks to you all for making the time. Your encouragement has kept me cycling, helped us make the decision to buy the Bakfiets, and helped me fix and build our bikes, all of which enriched our family life no end. Thanks also to David Hembrow, Mark in London, Yubaboy, and 2whls3spds and whoever it is in Facebook who keeps linking here: apparently you sent quite a few people into this little corner of the bike blogging world. I hope those who came here looking for Stuttgart 21, workbike, Brooks mudflap, and Omafiets into search engines, found something useful.
All this is a roundabout way to say this year I’ll be taking part in the WordPress Postaweek2011 challenge. They are running a postaday challenge as well, but I write as fast as a snail sprints so I don’t think that’ll happen. My goal is to have a shiny new, preferably coherent post up every Saturday morning. I’ve been aiming at this for a while now, but this may just give me more ideas and motivation when it’s snowing and I’m not getting any cycling time. I’ll try to keep putting a weekly photo up each Wednesday as well.
And yes, I know the challenge started two weeks ago. With my (dis)organisational ability two weeks is remarkably fast.
Update: Broken links fixed, thanks to David Hembrow for pointing out the problem.
*I bet they all say that.
We get a lot of reactions and comments when we’re out and about on the bikes. Most people -or at least most people not in a car- are positive, and I’m frequently asked if I built them myself, which is flattering considering I wouldn’t know a welding torch if I fell over it. But there’s one comment which I frankly don’t understand even though it comes every second day: “My goodness, your boys have got it good” (“Die Jungs haben’s gut”).
See what I mean? It sounds like I’m spoiling the boys by transporting them on the bikes. Now that would be fine if the commenter was expecting their kids to walk to kindergarten seven kilometers each day, barefoot, while subsisting on a diet of mouldy beans and sawdust, but frequently people say that and then shovel their kids into a two ton car to take them the kilometre or so home.
Frankly I’d sit in a Bakfiets in preference to a car any day, but why is it a ‘luxury’ to carry children in a plywood box, but carrying them in a tin tank is normal? (Unless of course, they’re all envious of us and the fresh air we’re getting)
Anyway, yesterday I heard a great response to this. The kindergarten were having a ‘forest day’ so we had to pick the boys up from the edge of the village. I waited in the company of several mums, all holding car keys. Just before the children came, the mum from the one other car-free family in the village turned up. She’s a walker rather than a cyclist, and she’d had to pick her six year old son up from school and then get to the meeting point for the kindergarten, about 2 km away, in about five minutes. Her son was exhausted, so she’d put him in a big stroller and pushed him.
And the comments began: “Excuse me young man, you’re a schoolboy now, you can’t expect your mummy to push you about all the time any more” etc. Car Free Mum patiently explained the reason several times, before deciding she’d had enough. Turning to the most vociferous commenter she smiled sweetly and said “When I see you riding your bike occasionally, I’ll listen to that comment.”
Schlepping the boys about on the Bakfiets is very well, but Middle Son is way overdue for a bike of his own. It’s a mark of respect: he’s growing up and we want him to see we trust him to travel independently, and he’s getting competition for his laufrad from his little brother Besides, he’s getting heavy.
So we got him a bike. And not just any old bike: a new one with mudguards, a stand and a proper luggage rack so he can transport stuff like Daddy. It’s the sort of bike I dreamed of when I was growing up: I remember at about age ten asking for a bike that had these ‘features’ in the UK, and and the guy in the shop just laughed. I didn’t get a bike with a stand until I bought the Xtracycle two years ago. (Mind you, I’ve made up for lost time by breaking four stands since).
Middle Son’s bike doesn’t have stabilisers. In Germany stabilisers are far less common than the UK: small people learn to balance on a Laufrad where they just push with their feet and then when they are stable enough and can race off at the speed of a scalded rocket, they graduate to pedal power. Instead of stabilisers, this bike has a solid handle built into the saddle for me to hold him up (or down, or back) which beats trying to grip on a few bits of foam and plastic. With Eldest son we left the stabilisers on his bike, and as a result it took weeks for him to learn to balance alone. Middle Son learned in three hours, and now he can be seen only as a speck in the distance, if he decided to wait for me.
Spring arrived last week, and it seems to be staying this time: The grass is green, the birds are singing and the bike lanes are finally usable again. Last week was our beautiful God-daughter’s 4th birthday and we were invited to a small party with her family to celebrate. So naturally we cycled. Eldest son cycled himself, as usual: This is a great way for him to learn independence, and besides, it was uphill and he’s getting heavy. Beautiful wife has now got the hang of the (“her”) Bakfiets, but I carried youngest son on the Xtracycle.
It was the first family ride this year that we didn’t have to wear gloves. I’d forgotten what my handlebar grips feel like. It was nice to see the scenery again instead of having to scrutinising the surface just in front of the bikes for ice or blackened lumps of snow waiting to throw us off our bikes.
Our hosts let us park in their underground garage, (which is wonderful for security and keeping the bikes dry, but a bit of a pull back out ) and we went to see our god-daughter enjoying being a princess for the day.
On the way home Beautiful Wife has suggested she’d like to wear a long-ish skirt on the bike but she’s a bit concerned about it blowing up as she rides. As I’m not in the habit of wearing skirts on or off bikes any suggestions from more experienced skirt/dress wearing cyclists would be welcome.
She’s also keen to get her own bike working, (so am I: she’s frozen onto the Bakfiets) so I’ve been spraying primer on the frame of the old clunker we were given. Unfortunately this revealed cracks in the weld so next week I’ll be talking to a metalworker friend of mine about how serious they are, and if they can be fixed. I’m not too worried if it turns out to be a problem, as it’s been a good practice piece and I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out.