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Xtracycle basking in the sunset. One of the advantages of using a bike to get around, instead of a metal box, is that I notice things like this and can stop to watch them.
Not that I was enjoying myself really: it’s all hard slog motivated by concern about global warming, honest…
I got an email from a friend this Monday saying they knew of a ‘very overgrown’ piece of land whose owner was desperate for someone to look after it; by Tuesday I had an appointment to go and look at the land, and by Thursday evening I was in. Considering you usually don’t get any information about land unless your great grandfather lived in the village, this is quite a shock.
The land is 13 Are, about 1300 square metres, which isn’t quite as massive as it sounds, but it’s still pretty big compared to a balcony.
It’s about 50% brambles and 100% south-west facing hill. The brambles are so rampant that I can’t get within about ten metres of the bottom edge of the property. But it isn’t overlooked by too many houses so I shouldn’t get into too much trouble with nosy neighbours with my strange permacultural ways.
Pictured is the all important privvy/outhouse. At least I think that’s what it was: at the moment it’s full of windows and shutters from some long-forgotten building project.
So this is where all my fancy talk about ecology and self sufficiency will hopefully become reality, and blog material.
Spring sunrise on the way home with shafts of light bursting through trees, buds breaking, and birds singing.
And all the cyclist could think was: “Another §$%&/ hill…”
My Xtracycle is built onto a Raleigh bike, and not just any old Raleigh either. If you click on the picture you will see the words ‘Nottingham, England’ in gold on a black background.
For some reason I’m irrationally proud of this, even though the gears are Japanese and made in Indonesia, the tyres are German and the Xtracycle frame was made in Taiwan.
The bike is an ‘M-Trax 80′ and was built in the last years before production in Nottingham ceased and frame building moved overseas. I bought it in 1997 from Shepherd’s cycles in Wellington, Somerset, UK, and the shop badge is on the main bar with their address and telephone number. It cost three hundred pounds*.
My previous bike had been a second hand not-quite-supermarket-special which had come with its own tribe of gremlins and gave me trouble pretty well all the time. I’m still convinced parts would work loose just sitting in the garage. The back brake was somewhere down near the bottom bracket, convenient for catching mud but useless for adjusting, and was made of plastic. The wheels, I seem to recall, were steel. If bikes were airline seats, changing from the old bike to the M-Trax was like upgrading from Ryanair to Singapore Business Premium.
For about a week after I got the M-Trax I was the worst customer imaginable and kept going into the shop because of some imagined rattle or something not quite as I wanted it to be. I was nineteen and three hundred pounds was the most I’d ever paid for any single object, but the fact remains that Mr. Shepherd was most patient when dealing with this arrogant teenager.
For all my complaining, some of those parts are still on the bike now. I replaced the saddle within a week on the basis I needed to walk straight at work, but the brake levers and shifters are the ones upgraded (free) by Mr. Shepherd all those years ago, and several other components are still doing well despite hitting the road frequently in the first month when I wasn’t used to commuter cages on my pedals and failed to put my feet down fast enough at traffic lights**. The frame is even still under guarantee until next year. In fact, considering it has since been used under a very heavy and often well loaded Xtracycle, in all weathers and with sometimes indifferent maintenance, the three hundred pound bike Mr. Shepherd advised me to buy is still doing very well fourteen years later.
Made in England, you see. Except the bits that aren’t.
*The bike, not the badge.
** I’m not saying this happened a lot, but I believe the newsagent in town was running a book.
Now that my Brooks saddle has finally broken me in and feels reasonably comfortable, I’m determined to keep it that way. Apparently an important part of this is keeping the thing dry, so a saddle cover was called for. In my usual classy way I used a plastic bag but they have a tendency to disappear in high winds, low winds, or when someone sneezed within twenty metres , so a friend took pity on me and gave me a garish red saddle cover he picked up as a freebie from the city of Stuttgart.
Unfortunately the cover worked well in light summer showers but turned out to be less than useful in winter. This is very much like the infrastructure in Stuttgart since the green party decided they wouldn’t clean or salt cycleways in winter for ‘environmental reasons’*. Anyway, after one rather soggy ride I realised that the cover was not only leaking, it was also spreading the water around the saddle, so I forked out for a ‘genuine’ Brooks cover. Just as the ‘Stuttgart’ cover reflects the attitude of its makers, the Brooks one does the same, being thick canvas and very solid. It also just covers the saddle itself, if you pull hard and force it around.
I am now paranoid about getting the saddle wet again, so I cover the saddle in all weathers and even in the garage. This causes much mirth from other cyclists, but I just know that the one day I forget will be the day the bike isn’t under cover and it rains. This may be overkill but at least the saddle stays dry.
I may be eccentric, but I’m comfortable.
*I did not make that up.
Misty morning out in the fields. I brought some of the weather back on my bike.
Memories of a bike ride: Middle Son’s bike with the Xtracycle in a meadow during late summer 2010 when we had dry roads and warm sunshine.
Ah, well, from today things can only get better.
Every journey south from here begins with a ride downhill and ends with a long slog back up. This is a fact of life, like death, taxes; and Mercedes drivers seeing pavements* as mere extensions of the road. On this occasion it was early morning and I wasn’t quite awake so I chickened out of the 500 metre hope-the-brakes-work-at-the-bottom race down the main road (11%) and the Scary Hill of Doom (So steep a gradient sign would frighten people). Instead I went via the indirect but slightly less precipitous route through the woods,
I was riding across several valleys, so I developed a ‘clothing strategy’. It worked (or rather didn’t) as follows:
Climb halfway up hill and decide I have too many layers. Get off bike; take off wind proof jacket. Realise bike is rolling down hill. Catch handlebar and stand precariously with one hand gripping handlebars while trying to extricate other arm from jacket. Try and regain control of bike. Fail. Using the one free hand, haul bike so it is at an angle to the hill. Remove jacket, shove same in Xtracycle. Get back on bike. Realise it is in high gear, pedal to summit slowly; wait for heart rate to decrease. Ride down hill for 100 metres. Stop, put jacket on. Reach bottom of cold valley, start climbing, repeat…
It was early on a Saturday morning, that’s my excuse anyway.
Breakfast. Normally there’s a view from here to Stuttgart (about 15km away) but the clouds were exceptionally low so you’ll just have to believe me.
Just as it’s a disaster for this hippy car-free cyclist to give motorists directions, it’s equally foolish for me to take directions from motorists. I learned this the hard way in Metzingen, where I wanted to go and see the ‘Seven Celts’ which are allegedly based on buildings put up by the original Celtic inhabitants of the town. Helpful people directed me onto a busy road where I ended up traveling three times as far as I needed to, although it did give me a great opportunity to practice vehicular cycling with irate taxi drivers.
After a further magical mystery tour of Bempflingen, due to their interesting ideas on cycle signage*** I arrived in Bad Urach late via several back roads, a builders yard, and the Magura Factory, jumped off the bike, took this panorama of the town centre, jumped on again, and set off for home.
The obligatory ‘Where I went on my holidays’ shot leaving Bad Urach. That’s a castle on top of that hill. Honest.
‘Radweg’ (‘cycle way’): creative signage on the way home, put up by a farmer who I suspect was fed up with confused cyclists knocking his door and asking the way to Reutlingen.
‘Where I went on my holidays’ again: this time in Reutlingen. When you live amongst towns like this, it’s easy to take them for granted. So I deliberately took photos.
Edge of village, 30 minutes late; 100km on bike computer; legs like jelly; Brooks saddle broken in; happy cyclist.
* Sidewalks, if you’re American.
** Taken while pulling wind proof on. Or off.
*** Or, it occurs to me, my inability to interact with signs, as I seem to have been struggling to interact with my own clothing. I’ll get back to you on this one.
Middle son on his bike. As well as learning to be independent, he’s also being blisteringly cool.