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People who hear I cycle to college often react with surprise and imply that I’m incredibly hardcore but I honestly don’t see it as a big deal: the ride is only 20 kilometres (12 miles) one way, and I get to sit down in a warm classroom all day before pootling back: essentially I get to have two short bike tours with a day at college inbetween. Besides, so far I’ve seen deer, rabbits, kestrels, red kites, buzzards, lots of smaller birds I’m gradually getting to know, and last week a fox ambled across the road as I went through a forest.

It helps that I only have to do it once or twice a week: I think I’d see it differently if I was riding every day.

The photo is on a new section of the route: I had to change because one of the towns I went through has closed a main road to lay a new sewage pipe and decided the cycle way is much more useful as a diversion for the Very Important Drivers rushing to the autobahn, and I don’t feel like dealing with stressed drivers trying to control their car and use their navigator while drinking coffee at half past six in the morning.

I did wonder about writing to the council and pointing out that by pushing cyclists like me out of the town, it means we can’t stop and spend money in their supermarkets as we pass,  but then I remembered I’m too miserly to do that anyway, and besides the new route has views like this and no traffic whatsoever, so I didn’t bother.

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The kind people in charge of the carpentry department gave me permission to park in their delivery bay, so I can take my Xtracycle to college and know it is safe all day, albeit lightly coated in sawdust by the afternoon.

They think I’m very strange, but harmless, or maybe they feel sorry for me for being ‘too poor’ to own a car. I, on the other hand, spend the last hour or so of college dreaming of the ride home.

Today was a particularly stressful day with a modular test all afternoon which I may or may not have passed, and much time trying to understand maths equations. Knowing that this is what came afterwards made it bearable.

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We’ve got a long weekend, four days long to be exact. I need it as the Very Smallholding was getting seriously over grown and there’s only so much I can do with a couple of days a week and a scythe. Above is the Xtracycle in the ‘parking space’ by the road. When you need a scythe to clear the parking space the vegetation is getting out of hand.

However a couple of hours work and things are not exactly under control but at least not threatening the neighbours pristine lawns anymore.

Meanwhile, we’ve managed to make another big step forwards which involved your correspondent driving a van all morning, very stressful but worth it for the long-term benefits.

Will bore you about it all as soon as I’ve recovered.

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This is the ‘Wangerhof’, which marks the half way point between our village and the college I attend. If I’d used a better camera and had better light, you would be able to see, ten kilometres in the distance on the right, the spire from the village church poking above the skyline, and to the left, the hills near the town I’m aiming for. What isn’t as obvious is that this also marks the end of significant hills on the way in: from here it is mostly flat or downhill, with a very gentle climb towards the end of the ride.

Notice highly professional green rubbish bags to waterproof luggage, a trick I learned working in Nepal where bags were often carried on the roof of taxis in monsoon season. Having spent upwards of eight hours on some of my drawings I’m not about to let them get all soggy before I hand them in.

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We get our seed potatoes from a small farm shop in the next town which is 2.5 kilometres away as the crow flies, rather smugly in this case because crows don’t have to go down into the valley and up out the other side like we do. Or carry twenty kilos of spuddies back for that matter.

Eldest Son rode with me for the first time on this route, having discovered that with a grown-up bike that has better quality parts, hills are a lot easier to climb. He’s now of an age where he legally has to use the road, so I’m taking him out as much as I can to get some traffic experience, and as the next town was recently rebuilt to make sure cars had even more space to go as fast as they wanted, including a section of one way system, where better to learn?

I carefully navigated a way through back streets which brought us out right next to the farm shop without touching the main road at all, except that the shop had moved, meaning we had to ride the length of the town on the recently rebuilt road, but Eldest Son dealt with the situation very well, and I’m sure the large SUV behind us on the very narrow one way system was tooting encouragement.

Potatoes loaded at the farm shop with an explanation of the reason for the move (Someone bought the premises and they’re making a high-end office furniture showroom: “Just what a small community needs” as the person measuring our potatoes remarked.) and we were off back home, with Eldest Son happily negotiating the rest of the one way system.

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In the valley with Xtracycle full of potatoes.

The real challenge came on the way to our village which is at the top of a 1-in-4 (25%) hill (You can see the hill in the top picture although even that frankly doesn’t do it justice). The Xtracycle went up it very well, my legs less so. Eldest Son was kind enough to wait for me by a bench so I could collapse for a bit, before continuing home for tea and medals, or in my case, to transfer the potatoes into the Bakfiets to shift them to the garden.

The camera is working again, as in we gave up the search for a USB connector and got a new one on Ebay. I now confidently expect the old lead to turn up within 24 hours.

Anyway, On the card was the latest quick and easy project I blatantly copied from someone at college:

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I’d promised my parents a set of plates made of leftover pieces of wood as a Christmas present, and we’d agreed they could pick up when they came to visit us for easter: naturally I left actually making the things to the very last minute. Of course, after I’d cut everything to size the night before they came and carefully arranged the strips into a pleasing pattern, glued and clamped them, they fell out of the clamp and spread themselves all over the floor, but that is the way these things must be and they turned out okay in the end.

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As Spring had officially arrived I made the annual trip down the Hole To The Centre Of The Earth to turn the water on, without getting attacked by anything.

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With the Bakfiets out of service for a week to avoid frightening animals when we used the brakes, we also had to use the Xtracycle for shopping which is perfectly practical but having got used to the nice clean lines of the Bakfiets, a bit untidy. To add extra spectator interest, I forgot the rule that when loading the Xtracycle, always start with the heavy stuff on the kickstand side, or the bike tips sedately away from you to the amusement of anyone watching.

Another rule I forgot today is that you should never cut towards your finger with a sharp blade or chisel, which is why I’m typing this with a plaster on my left index finger* after cutting dovetails in a way that would certainly have had marks deducted if I were in college.The damage was very slight, which was fortunate as my first reaction was to be pleased at how sharp my chisel was…

*This is the finger which has a slightly numb patch since I severed a nerve twenty years ago making models, and come to think of it, the cut was caused by doing exactly the same thing….

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Found a shortcut through the forest between us and the next town. This has the advantage that we cross over the busy arterial road into Stuttgart on this bridge rather than having to zigzag through traffic lights.

Having grown up in the UK, the ability to travel cross country without using a major road still feels like a luxury..

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I always find the whole business of Christmas presents rather stressful. Finding the ‘right’ present for people is fraught with difficulties and seems to be missing the point in any case.

A few years back Beautiful Wife and I decided it was much simpler to tell each other exactly what we’d like for Christmas and then leave it at that, and this year she requested a Cajon bass tube to annoy the neighbours with, while I asked for two new woodworking chisels. My parents have also adopted this system and very kindly bought me a  brass bell from Lionworks in the UK, photographed (badly) above.

Presents for three boys are less stressful: lots of Lego. Of course I had to spend the afternoon building things with them.

It’s a tough life.

How was your Christmas?

The carpentry apprenticeship is taking up a lot of time, because apart from the regular work we still have a couple of days at college a week and the regular module tests, and we have to learn technical drawing,  Now I can draw reasonably well, but my “scribble until it looks about right” style is having trouble adapting to the need to make all drawings to Din 199 (ISO 10209-1 if you are interested*). Any variation from the industry norm, right down to the font size, is marked with the Big Red Pen of Doom. We are supposed to have about six drawings this year which sounds fine until you realise that each one involves at least three A3 sized pages plus extras for details, and each page takes about three hours on a good day.

In the real world, of course, everything comes as a quick sketch on the back of an order sheet, fax or whatever the boss had on his desk as the time.

Writing about this is as interesting as watching paint dry. Having started on the “Paint and varnish” module, I now know this takes anything from 15 minutes (touch dry) to 36 hours (transportable) depending on whether it is a single component or two component paint, but only when the air humidity is kept at 65%.

So now you know.

On the plus side, I’m making a bed for Youngest Son, which is much more exciting but unfortunately difficult to photograph because it gets dark in the evenings when I can use the workshop, and I now have a safe place to keep the Xtracycle at college, which means I can now cycle there with all the fat textbooks I’m supposed to carry and not get sweaty back syndrome. So far it seems to be working.

More on that soon, or as soon as I’ve finished the next set of drawings.

*Probably not.

portage

At the Very Smallholding there is very little shelter, apart from a small section of the patio which is under some overhanging trees. So naturally when the rain started while I was doing some gardening I carried the Xtracycle down the steps from the gate and put it under cover.

Then went back out in the rain and carried on gardening.

It was only later I realised this may be considered slightly strange.

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