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I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work out how not to get wet feet when I use the Xtracycle in the rain: I guess that’s one result of not having a television.
I could just go out and get a nice Brooks mud flap, but I figured that if other people can do stuff like make mushing belts from inner tubes I can at least try a mud flap, so a couple of weeks ago I spent a half hour in the garage and came up with this low- cost version using a mountain-bike sized inner tube, some tyre repair glue, and a couple of odds and ends.
To make it a bit tougher and stop it curling, I used two pieces of inner tube back to back with puncture repair glue: since getting puncture-proof tyres I hardly use this for it’s intended purpose anyway. I’m not sure how well that’ll work long term, but I can always try again with a different glue if it falls to bits. I drew the outline with a pen on the glued-together tubes and cut it out.
So far it’s holding up to the rough treatment I give it. In service it is about 6 cm/2 inches above the road which is low enough to keep me from getting spattered. I didn’t get it quite level and there’s a gap at the top so some water runs down the back. Maybe I’ll do something about that one day.
Last week I got the chance to test drive a new city bike for a customer, It’s not quite a dutch bike but it rides well and it’s a sensible design -with the oddity that the rear wheel has a back-pedal and V-brake.
A proper full chainguard would be nice.
(It’s a Victoria Malta,if you’re wondering)
Three schoolchildren coming the quick way home from the school in the next town: they will barely touch a road, much less a busy one because of careful use of the Feldwege, surfaced lanes mostly used by farmers working in the fields but closed to cars. For the sake of a few signposts they’ve been turned into a comprehensive network for cyclists. It’s clear that the main purpose is leisure cycling: some are indirect, and apart from the signs, very little has been done in the way of improvement or surfacing, but some, like this one, are straighter than the road between the towns.
But notice as well: these kids are cycling alone. No parents are hovering about in the background for the five kilometres or so they are riding. This is quite normal: children walk or cycle or take public transport to school alone. I used to take this for granted, until I saw this excellent blog in the US, where this particular freedom, it seems isn’t allowed.
Let us for now ignore the fact that a few hundred metres further on a new delivery entrance has been built across this route. and now cyclists are expected to yield to trucks.
When everyone else at my high school was getting hooked on their gameboys and playing football, I was building things in the woods and trying to make a leak-free roof out of old logs. Suburbia still makes little sense: everything from clothes to food to experience seems packaged and shrink-wrapped, made into a conveniently unreal commodity, so people can feel like they’re having an experience without any of the inconvenience of having to actually do things for themselves.
Yeah, man. Let us run free in the forest and become one with the trees.
I’m not really a live-in-the-woods-and-name-the-kids-after-forest-fauna type, and the more balanced families already living off grid already seem to be really hardcore and capable of anything, or blog in Norwegian.
However, after reading stuff like the Accidental Hermit and the Old Fool Blog, I figured I could try a night camping with the boys and see how things went, while giving then the chance to sleep under under canvas and contemplate the beauty of the night sky while taking a pee in the woods. Of course when I mentioned it to anyone they pointed out that it was March, for goodness sake, which meant cold, and where were we going to stay, and the tent has holes in it.
Practical people can be so annoying.
We asked around and found someone was willing to loan us a tent to freeze in. and an allotment a few kilometres away that we could put it up in, and another friend agreed we could collect water from their house nearby. We filled the bakfiets with tent, food, and blankets -especially blankets- and get it all up there.
And despite being wimpy townies, We survived. I taught the boys how to lay a fire, make fire lighters from newspaper (Growing up in an ancient house with no heating had its advantages) and how to tie a truckers hitch.
The next morning boys woke up as the sun rose. We had breakfast while learning the difference between a Kite and a Buzzard and the sun dried off the tent, then the boys played in with soil and sticks, and killed monsters in the woods. Then we went exploring for a bit, rolled the tent up, and came back home. No-one got food poisoning, stung, or frostbite. No-one used any soap either, but don’t tell Beautiful Wife.
Now I’m trying to work out the next step.
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.
After reading about snow chaos in the UK for a few days it’s our turn, with a snow front gradually making its way from south to north of Germany. One of the small extra jobs I seem to have picked up is clearing snow from in front of our boys’ kindergarten, so when the first flurry of snow came along, the neccesary tools went into the Bakfiets and off we went.
After stopping to get grit from a nearby bin we went to do battle with the snow. If the Xtracycle is the cycling equivalent of an SUV, then the Bakfiets is a pickup truck.
These were taken two days ago when the roads were still passable by bike. since then so much came down that I’m transporting things by sled now.
The youth centre I work at was having a clear out and I ended up tidying the workshop. No-one else wanted to do it, but then, no-one else wanted to scrounge lots of plywood offcuts and funny shaped bits of metal for creative projects. I think this is because they have a social life. So I parked the Bakfiets outside the door and loaded up while everyone else was sweeping. This is the second load, the first being about 60kg of firewood delivered to a friend. The third was enough dowel and aluminium tube to make a steampunk oil refinery.
You could shift this in a car, but why bother?
Coming home from the circus school with Eldest Son and JQ.
Apparently this is a highlight of JQ’s week: when I asked her mum if JQ would cycle home with us, she replied “She’s talked about this more than the circus school.”
This journey is 98% on traffic free roads or traffic calmed residential streets, otherwise it would be a near nightmare. As it was we delivered JQ bouncing with independence and the achievement of transporting herself home.
She wants to come again next week.
My goodness but its been a week since I wrote anything here.: as you’ve probably gathered it’s been a busy one. This week, Beautiful Wife decided it was time to master the Bakfiets, and that the best way to do this was to go out for the evening with me alongside on the Xtracycle. Even Ostfildern manages to have sufficient cycle lanes to avoid running along a road much, and we followed these to a restaurant in the next town.
Her verdict: great bike, but a bit of a pull on hills, and probably not good to ride wearing a short skirt. She also found it awkward to make corners in a hurry. This we discovered when we missed a turning and she had to do a 240 degree turn to fit into the cycle lane. This was in no was due to my bad navigation. Not at all. And the driver of the car following was very nice about waiting for us to manouvre. We made the restaurant comfortably and parked the bikes be the hedge.
They are locked, although it’s not obvious. local bike thieves wouldn’t know that this is, let alone have a market for it, so we felt pretty safe, especially as we were sitting on the other side of the hedge. The meal was punctuated by overheard conversations like this:
“What is that?”
“Is it a bicycle?”
The weather has improved. This is good news. Even better is that my camera battery survived the storm in the night, wrapped up in a ziplock bag. My shoes didn’t do so well though: despite being wrapped thoroughly in a large rubbish bag, my shoes feel suspiciously heavy and before putting them on I pour enough water out to make a small puddle on the floor. Squelch to the unheated shower hoping that’s not the way the day will continue.
We leave a bit earlier than the previous day, in sunshine, and with a strong tail wind. Everything looks great although we all know we’ll probably get at least one soaking by lunchtime. We’re following dykes again. I’m fascinated by these as they are almost unheard of in the south, certainly on this scale. They provide a dual purpose of protection against the river and a flat means of communication between villages, and all we have to do is stay on the top and they bring us where we need to go. Or that’s what we think until the road stops abruptly in a farm. We see a group of walkers appear from behind a woodland, and the path they are using appears to be bikable . More to the point no-one wants to ride against the wind so we manhandle the bikes straight down the bank -I’ll say this for the Bakfiets, it has good brakes- squeeze through a wood, and find ourselves under a signpost for the Rhine bike way. Unfortunately we annoy the walkers who don’t hear the bike bells, and shout at us that we should whistle. That’s a new one.
We cross flat countryside and roll through small villages with brick built houses which still remind me of the UK. We’ve learned that the showers are short lived, and we’ve been soaked and dried off so many times in three days that no-one even mentions it when a particulairly violent squall hits when we are about a kilometre away from the nearest cover. True to form, the sun emerges straight after the rain and we’re dry in minutes. I suggest to Alex I could have saved myself a shower if I’d known. He grins.
„I’m sharing a tent with you, so I’m glad you didn’t know“
Duisburg creeps up on us. We’re riding through a picturesque village when we turn a corner and there is a blast furnace at the end of the street. A few kilometres later we reach the river once more and suddenly we’re in one of the centres of German heavy industry. Duisburg exists by an accident of geography. It’s where the Ruhr meets the Rhine.The Ruhr isn’t the biggest tributary of the Rhine, in fact it’s the 6th largest, but when the only option was hordes over some pretty steep hills, it made a handy route across the north of the country. The fact this link also led directly to the longest river in Western Europe, giving access to the sea and the cities to the south was an even greater bon us, so so there has been a harbour in Duisburg since records began, and probably long before. In the 19th century someone a few kilometres along the Rhur noticed that if they dug down a bit, there was lots of coal for the asking. Coal is heavy stuff, so this would have been of limited use, but with a but with a nice big river to take it away on, there was money to be made: the Rhine/Ruhr area became the centre of German heavy industry, and Duisburg, at the junction of the rivers, thrived.
More recently the city has become known for its enlightened approach to cycling infrastructure, as we cross the Rhine into the city we find ourselves on the sort of infrastructure that you dream about when following narrow painted ‘bike lanes’ through the door zone: segregated from traffic, bright red, wide and clean. Even better, we get a great view of the point where the Rhine and Rhur meet, so we stop for a few minutes to look at the meeting point of these two rivers which have affected the history of Germany so much.
A few minutes later I lose a foot. Not personally you understand, but from the Bakfiets. I stop to take a photo, and when I lift the stand the foot falls off onto the road. On closer examination it looks like the bolt holding the foot was overtightened and split the rubber. The bike wobbles a bit on its stand without the foot but that’s the only difference, well, that and the fact that for the rest of the journey my progress will be shown by small scratch marks wherever I stop. I’m literally making a mark wherever I go.
We get a lot of time to appreciate the infrastructure in Duisburg, mainly because we get lost. I don’t know what it is with cities on this trip, we don’t seem to be able to leave without making a grand tour. After following the road we think is correct for several kilometres, we stop to ask for directions. The pedestrian we meet is helpful and gives detailed advice, but clearly can’t understand the map we’re using, which leaves us none the wiser. Finally after some more asking around we meet a restraunt owner who not only tells us where we are (on the Rhine cycleway) but also how to get out of this maze of streets and south. It doesn’t look promising. We end up on a road bordered by some pretty shabby apartments on one side and a massive steelworks on the other, but then we cross the railway, go through some woodland, and suddenly we’re in fields again. Duisburg has stopped as suddenly as it started.
However, all this getting lost and then finding the way means it’s now mid-afternoon and we’re a long way north of Düsseldorf, which itself is north of our campsite on the banks of the Rhine. Either we have to ride through one of the biggest cities in Germany in a few hours, or we have to try some wild camping.