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A typical Xtracycle journey: business meeting in the next town, and Beautiful Wife asked me to pick up some shopping on the way back. I took five minutes to restock calories on the way home; the Xtracycle made a good footrest.
Sometimes people get quite concerned about our family and how difficult it must be for us without a car.
“We cope somehow” I tell them.
One of the things about being a non-car user in a car culture is that I’m beyond the scope of any conversation that involves cars. which is most of them. Sooner or later in any group someone will turn to someone else and say:
“What sort of gas mileage do you get on your Toyota Childsquasher?”
And they’ll be off talking about cars for at least the next hour, possibly a week, with subgroups breaking off to discuss power-to-weight ratios, cup holders, GPS Systems, and how that nasty government are making petrol prices so high. It’s impossible to join in these conversations without becoming the resident snotty treehugger.
Fortunately for me our bicycles start conversations. Not on their own, you understand, but indirectly, through people being interested in them. This happens a lot on trains, usually with someone giving the Xtracycle a hard stare around the back wheel, and then they start asking questions: ‘Is it a tandem?’; “It must be hard to ride”; and “does it have a motor?”
It’s quite a relief when this happens: as long as the questions are about the bikes it’s easier to to avoid Snotty Treehugger Syndrome, but it doesn’t always work, like the time on a train when a fellow passenger skipped the preliminaries and started with: “Why do you have that long bike?”
I gave my usual answer: “Transporting children, shopping, touring, taking recycling stuff to the tip.”
“We use it instead of a car.” (See what I mean? I was trying to avoid this, honestly)
Short pause. “So you don’t have a car?”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that, I need my car. I mean, how do you go shopping?”
“Well… we use this…”
“But what about when you want to go longer distances? You can’t go driving down the Autobahn on that.”
Unfortunately I couldn’t think up anything better than:
“When I need to go on a long journey I sit and relax on a train.”
This rather stopped the conversation.
So we decide to have dinner in the very smallholding. Sandwiches made and packed, bottles filled, and secret supplies of chocolate biscuits raided. We load the Xtracycle, set off, come back and collect most of what we’ve forgotten, set off again, through the old town, across housing estate, down the hill, onto the track and to the garden.
Hmm. Gate padlocked. Probably should have thought about that. Never mind, Beautiful Wife is a million times better organised than me, She’ll have remembered.
…or then again. Perhaps not.
Never mind, back on Xtracycle, up hill, back into village, down along high street as I’m on my own, back home, upstairs, into apartment, look in key basket.
Key basket empty.
Check trouser pockets. Check yesterdays trouser pockets. Go through wash basket checking all items of clothing worn in the last week. Search bags, desk, kitchen, and garage. Check Xtracycle. Find a ten millimetre spanner, three pencils, fifty Euro cents, one squashed Mars bar, three needle files, a box of slides from working in Nepal, one rope and several plastic bags. No keys.
Report back to family.
Beautiful Wife comes up with obvious solution: go somewhere else. Reload Xtracycle, ride around for a bit, find field, eat picnic. Boys eat several kilogrammes of raspberries and blackberries. Happy family, disaster averted.
Go home, call landlord and explain. He is very amused, fortunately, and brings a spare key over.
This week’s jobs list: find key or get a padlock with a combination lock…
The Xtracycle at our local ‘packstation’: these automated postboxes are being introduced as an ‘environmental’ way to get parcels, because they’re supposed to reduce truck movements. Of course they are often in places where you need a car to get to which rather spoils it, but at least I can be sure that at the 1.5 kilometres from here to our apartment are carbon free, thus maintaining my personal smug green glow.
An Xtracycle is very useful when, for example, having worked late last night I wake up at 07:30 and realise it’s not a school holiday as I thought, but that Eldest Son is supposed to be breakfasted, dressed, and ready for his first lesson in the school on the other side of the village in fifteen minutes: we can load his bag on to the Xtracycle while he cleans his teeth, have it by the door for him to jump on, ride up the traffic calmed at *cough* km/h over ‘walking speed’, race through the large housing estate the other side, ride through the school gate, across the playaground, and drop him off at the door just as the bell is going for the first lesson.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly Thunderbirds, but it was very satisfying, especially as I made it back and dropped the smaller boys in Kindergarten just before we had a whomping great thunderstorm.
I muttered last week about the project to make the Xtracycle’s hub dynamo actually produce some light for the extra weight it provided. Unfortunately this would involve working with electric circuits, which are populated by gremlins, which hate me.
When the front light worked first time it was, therefore, rather a surprise.
After soldering the switch on and making a complete rat’s nest of wires in the deluxe switch housing unit, I spun the wheel, and the headlight worked again. Much euphoria. I wired the rear LED light to the system directly to test it.
The back light worked too.
I wound the wire through the Xtracycle frame and connected the rear light again.
The back light was dead, and now the front was sulking too.
This was electronics as I remembered it. I poked at wires, checked what was connected to what, and put them back again exactly as they were before.
Suddenly both lights worked: I had a working dynamo light system and I hadn’t blown anything up. Medals all around, celebratory lap of the village, waited for sunset so I could test the lights out. Lights visible from space, started to think about about fitting capacitor so front light has continual beam at stop signs.
I’ll keep the battery lights to hand in case the Gremlins decide to get stroppy later.
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…
Youngest son got over-ambitious on a bike ride so the Daddy Recovery Service was called for.
Thank goodness for Xtracycles.