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It’s that time of year again when the snow turns to ice, glues itself to the road surface, and stays for weeks. I kept cycling as long as I could but eventually it came down to a choice of riding on ice or along a busy narrow road with drivers who rather object to sharing the space with anyone.
And then the weather report said it would get really cold. Even if the bike had had incredible ice tyres like Disgruntled, cycling in temperatures of minus ten would mean all kinds of cold weather clothing which I’d have to haul around all day, so I’ve been going on the magical mystery tour on the bus. This does nothing for my energy or mood.
To try and get some exercise back into the morning routine I’ve taken to abandoning the bus once we get into town and walking the final bit to the railway station. No time is lost by doing this as the bus goes wandering around the inner ring road and takes as long to reach the station as I do on foot.
I also enter the city via a stone bridge and a city gate, which gives a rather glamorous mid-European vibe to the start of the day.
Winter has kicked in with a vengeance, and for the last few weeks I’ve been leaving home before dawn and arriving after dusk on weekdays. Once out of the village it is pitch dark, and the wonderfully retro bodged halogen light I fitted on the commuter bike hasn’t got enough oomph to break through the dark and fog that are a feature of the ride, especially on the section where the local council has thoughtfully closed the pedestrian/cycleway to accommodate building work* and I have to navigate over the fields and around some trees largely by memory. When I’m riding in traffic I’m fine while I keep moving but as soon as I stop I become invisible.
I reckon I’ve got at least eight more weeks of this, so I’ve finally got a modern light, which actually lights up the road, and stays on for a few minutes when I’m not riding. It’s a bit of a risk having a better quality light on a bike I’ll leave in a public space most of the day, but the bike parking space seems pretty safe, and weighed against crashing into a tree or being run over, it makes sense.
If I muster up a lot more self discipline than usual, I may even fit it to the bike and take photos before next March.
*Because it isn’t a road, so it’s not like anyone important will be using it.
The other day was the sort where you can only find one glove. I’d been working late the night before so I was tired and therefore grumpy, and when I found the other glove (in the jam cupboard, don’t ask me) it was torn on one finger. By this time we were late and we barely got the boys to school in time via several Mercedes infested ‘traffic calmed’ streets. Despite the late working I was still behind schedule, and I had a theatre workshop to prepare for that evening; the job hunting wasn’t going well (although there’s been a bit of progress since, which I will hopefully, possibly hear more on soon); and it was raining with a damp grumpy drizzle that chills the air and your bone marrow. And the farmers had had a ploughing festival the day before where one of the main events was apparently “See who can leave the biggest pile of mud** on the cycleways”. Grump, grump grump.
Which would have made for a bog-awful morning except that:
Youngest Son gave me a huge smile and hug as picked him up out of bed and held on to me like a limpet for thirty seconds before being distracted by his advent calender.
On the way to work I was passing a tree and spotted a buzzard was sitting on one of the low branches, a bare two metres from me. I’m not sure which one of us was more startled by this, but for thirty seconds we stared at each other before he decided I wasn’t going to keel over and provide him with an easy meal, which I’m glad about because frankly, buzzards are pretty big when viewed from two metres, and flapped off to a tree further away.
*The nearest I reckon I’ll get to “Dances with Wolves”.
**I’m going to optimistically assume it was ‘Mud’.
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.
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’.
There’s an unusual amount of back-slapping at the moment in the hallowed halls of Ostfildern’s local government: the newest part of the town has been included in a video about sustainable development to be shown as part of the ‘Germany’ stand on the Expo exhibition in Beijing. Apparently it’s a ‘showcase town’. Wow, and I get to live here: well, in the next village, anyway.
Baden-Württemberg (a federal state of Germany) is desperate to look ecologically progressive, which is pretty hard to achieve when you’re landed with the main factories for Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, and Smart, so they are trying to show a different picture in Beijing, showing off their new kind of sustainable town, with wonderful high-density development, new insulation and heating with wood pellets using hyper-efficient furnaces. It’s so ecologically sound that the designers won a prize, and it’s part of a European-wide research project. Yes folks, just by living here you are green, green, green.
Until you try to go somewhere, that is.
Unfortunately no-one told the transport planners this was supposed to be a green development. Actually, no-one told them it wasn’t 1960 any more.
I know what you’re going to say: you can’t just close a road and expect people to suddenly change how they travel. Except that before 1992 this whole area was a military base used by the US Government, closed off, surrounded by barbed wire and technically part of America. Between 1951 and 1992 these roads didn’t exist, and we somehow survived.
Here’s the town centre, which has some public transport links at least.
These routes run north-south and east-west through the former base, and together they make a superb new route to drive your Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, and Smart to the Autobahn to the fast road into Stuttgart in the Neckar valley. If you’re commuting (by car) to many large employers around Stuttgart, it’s a great place to live because you’re linked into this fast, effecient road network. And you get to live in ‘sustainable’ housing where cars are controlled and you can go cycling on the weekend, because then you don’t mind wriggling around the back roads and waiting a while at pedestrian crossings.
It would have been so easy to make the town pedestrian friendly and keep cars at bay, but of course that would slow down the Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, and Smart drivers, and we can’t have that. Better to tinker around the edges with flashy technology and keep the myth of ‘business as usual’ going, than risk doing something that might upset the motorists.
Yep, I’m afraid that the post I put up yesterday was an April Fools joke. Sadly, Ostfildern isn’t planning to invest in cycling in the future, even though most of the measures described are already being used within about 10 kilometres of here. Obviously my piece was a bit subtle- the local paper was less so, having a front page headline about the Mayor resigning over daylight savings time.
But if I’d posted the real news you wouldn’t have believed it either: Stuttgart and Ostfildern plan to build a new €200m bypass underground with junctions serving various villages and smashing their way through several nature reserves. The paper reporting this said that the Green Party were against this because it “May generate more traffic”. I think they “May” be right there.
But that’s Ostfildern: never mind that our dependency on oil is killing people and sending us headlong into serious economic trouble when the stuff runs out, and never mind that the rest of Germany is waking up to the idea that we can’t keep building more rat runs:, or that the Neckar valley has the worst air quality in Germany (Way over the EU pollution limit) mostly because of motor vehicles. Here in Ostfildern we’re going to need more roads, roads, roads, for our fast cars and trucks.
What a depressing thought. The next post will be a bit lighter, I promise.
Last weekend was warm enough to go out without a coat, so we had a with a picnic with friends outside of the village to celebrate Spring arriving. The Xtracycle brought Daddy, Middle Son, Middle son’s bike (we were a bit late and had to hurry) and some drinks, and these were joined by olives and nice cheese, German bread, and other niceness prepared by Beautiful Wife. The boys were torn between hunger and wanting to play and eventually the chance to splash about in the stream was too much so they made a good effort at flooding the surrounding countryside with a dam of sticks, stones and leaves while the Grown-ups talked, and came over to help move big stones and logs that were too heavy. In the end we all ended up playing.
Last week I was able to ride without gloves on dry roads, enjoy the sunshine and the silence you get when you aren’t splashing through puddles for the first time in about two weeks. The birds were singing, the buds came out on the trees and the promise of spring, in all its glory, hung in the air.
Last night it snowed. At the time of writing it’s late afternoon, and it’s been snowing all day, except when it’s been raining.
Yesterday I went out on a couple of errands. No big deal, probably less then a couple of K’s. Suddenly I was hearing this “Thunk… thunk” sound coming from under the Xtracycle: quiet but persistent, the sort of thing that could mean nothing or could be the prelude to the wheel dropping off. At the next stop I did a quick check of the back end. I guessed part of the Xtracycle was getting get friendly with the wheel, or the brake was catching, but the Xtra was miles away from the wheel and turning the wheel slowly didn’t bring anything odd. I turned the pedals: nothing.
I got back on, rode uphill to the main road, down into the traffic, and suddenly there it was again. At speed it sounded louder and harsher, but only when I coasted: pedaling stopped it. Something on the freewheel then.
Now I had a choice: do it myself or go to the shop? I need the bike next week, and I’ll need to organise workshop time to fix it myself, which probably won’t work until Tuesday at the earliest. I decided I need to be riding, not fixing, and took it to the shop. I’ll pick it up on Monday.
Well, it was raining all day today anyway.