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On the last day at college we went to visit a machine factory. The reason for this escaped me, and it didn’t help that we were allowed out a bit too late for the train home and just as a massive storm began. Note to tutors: most of us don’t have cars, it does not gain you any friends if you decide you’d like to see “one more thing” and make us miss our train, then get in your car a and drive off past us as we are running towards the station in the rain*.

As we arrived at the station the rain really started properly so we waited for a soggy half hour, then caught the train which took exactly six minutes to the main station.

There were two trains coming. The first would trundle a down the line for seven minutes then stop in the middle of nowhere. I’d then have to change for another train to Esslingen, our ‘big town’, where I would have exactly one minute to catch a bus up the hill. The next train ran direct but would get me to Esslingen just in time to see my bus leave and sit another half hour waiting for the next one to turn up.

I got on the first train, changed, arrived in Esslingen on time. ran through the station, out to bus station and arrived at my stop with seconds to spare. Victory.

Except that the bus wasn’t there.

Half an hour later the bus after the bus that wasn’t there also wasn’t there and none of the staff knew anything and I abandoned all hope and went looking for any bus that may be going roughly the right direction. Thus it was that I had a tour of another town some distance from home, found to a tram to the next village, and then had to walk across Next Village to where my bike was thankfully still locked to a bike rack, and cycled home. Total travel time: three hours. For a twelve kilometre journey.

All because my tutor wanted to look at a saw.

On the other hand, our system allows me to use my travel card on all public transport, so it didn’t cost me anything, it took so long I’d dried off by the time I was home, and at least it gives me something to blog about.

Perhaps I need to get out more.

*The ‘information’ we were given about the venue gave a long detailed description of roads and options for car parks, including a map, then concluded “If you are coming by public transport, you’ll need to work out where the station is”. Thanks for that.

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Sometimes I have to bring my work home with me. This is a holder for large steel rings, as used in some of our machines. I’m not sure what use such a thing would have at home, but there we go.

We are making a chair this week. This presents interesting logistical challenges.

More useful, though.

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That strange distant glow is the sunrise, finally coming early enough that we could see it on the commute into college.

At the current rate I’ll be able to see the outside of our house in daylight on weekdays. I’m not sure I can take the excitement.

I finally got myself moving and replaced the front light on the commuter bike. The old light had been flickering for a while and expired one morning on the way to college, naturally after I left the street lights of our village but before the short section on a busy main road. Fortunately there isn’t that much traffic at half past six in the morning.

At some point in the not too distant future I’m hoping to get a hub dynamo to replace the bottle dynamo I currently use, so the light has its own switch and a lot of wire that I’ve wrapped together and secured on the forks with tape.

This adds to the already chic apprarance of the bike no end.

I was going to leave the old light on the bike but the casing reflected most of the beam from the new light into my face, so it has gone in the spares drawer.

As an added advantage I no longer become invisible when I stop in traffic, and I can see where I’m going.

The bike is probably filthy as I’ve been riding it through puddles, mud, and runoff from the fields for a few days, but I haven’t seen it in daylight for weeks, and with three modular tests coming up at college cleaning will have to wait.

At least the light is now strong enough that I can see to avoid the horse poo.

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.

It turns out that you can, with some effort, make a hole in ‘puncture proof’ tyres. I do not recommend this, of course, and it does take a surprising amount of work and incompetence, but I have managed it as follows:

Pump tyres up to 4 bar, (one bar under the maximum, but the person who worked this out probably thought the tyres would be used as they were meant to be: on flat roads. Under a lighter bike).

Take Xtracycle to garden for family picnic.

Before going home, load Xtracycle with remains of picnic, a bag of compost, several gardening tools, a large plant pot and some work boots.

Decide Youngest Son is too tired to ride home on his own.

Put youngest son on already overloaded Xtracycle. Strap his bike on to tow it home as well.

Consider leaving some things but then realise that means coming back to get them in half an hour. Decide you can’t be bothered.

On the way home, drive up a very steep, badly surfaced road, putting entire weight of (overloaded) Xtracycle, Youngest Son, and and a rider that is ‘cough’ kilogrammes heavier than strictly necessary, onto the back wheel.

Mash pedals to get up hill.

Fail to notice one particularly sharp bit of gravel embed itself into the thickest part of the back tyre under the pressure.

Continue riding (and probably overloading) the bike for the next two days.

Result: one unscheduled visit to the bike shop for a replacement tyre and inner tube.

I guess that’s why the tyres are sold as ‘puncture proof’ rather than ‘idiot proof’.

Xtracycles can pull more than people think.

Spring is coming, but one of the rules of bureaucracy seems to be that for every form filled in, another two ae generated, so I’ve spent a lot of this week filling in and posting applications for grants rather than being outside, but at least I’m doing it in daylight now. Besides, cycling every day means I can notice the changing of the seasons as part of my everyday routine.

Of course, come November I probably won’t be as happy about that last bit, but theres always the option of staying indoors and filling in forms. Or burning them.

Bakfiets making friends at the local supermarket.

Germany has a lot of ‘utility’ or transport cyclists, although the majority seem to hibernate for winter.

I can’t help thinking that if Ostfildern actually made some slightly better infrastructure and kept the cycle lanes clear we would get a lot more, but then my cynical side wonders if more cyclists is exactly what the local government is trying to avoid.

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.

Check Hull.

Oh, dear.

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.

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