A rough chain on the Tourer had been diagnosed as it being several links too long; it was so bad that in some gears the chain was rubbing against itself.

This clearly was urgent, so I dithered and tried to ignore it for a week or two.

Yesterday I decided enough was enough, and it was time to fix the chain. To do this I had to unclip the “Missing link”, the little gizmo in the picture above, using a special pair of pliers, shorten the chain with another specialised tool, and then clip the missing link back in. I didn’t have a tool to open the missing link, but I was not worried: I had found several online videos showing that it could be opened by wrapping a used gear cable around the missing link and pulling it with a pair of pliers, and stick it one to the capitalist-consumerist society.

I attempted this method, and it was a valuable experience. For one, it told me that it didn’t work.

I went to get my things together for another rattly commute. On the way, I reflected that I shouldn’t be downhearted: I’d learned from the experience and I would find another way forward. What, for example, would Napoleon have done?

Invade Sardinia, probably. This was not entirely helpful.

Suddenly a light bulb moment: I needed to remove several links from the chain. I had a spare missing link in my tool bag. I could remove the links around the old missing link, and then just clip another missing link in.

This was achieved, with a bit more removed than I was planning. I rode nervously around the car park: silence.

I cycled back from work marvelling at the lack of effort, and happy the bike was no longer clicking loud enough that small children came out to watch.

60km later the chain hasn’t landed on the road in a rather ugly mess: the bike is working, gears change first time; everyone is happy.

The cycleway to work is well used by local people and I’m getting to know the regulars. Mostly these are commuters but there’s a fair crop of teenagers riding to school or activities, and over the last few weeks I’ve exchanged greetings with most of them including four lads on creaky mountain bikes on the way to some activity or another.

When I saw the foursome on Friday the lead rider stuck out his gloved hand. I’m a bit dozy in the morning, and it took a second to realise this wasn’t an turn signal but an invitation to a high five. I stuck my hand out in return and got a 30km/h high five, with a resounding thwack noise and a shock up my arm.

The second of the four was ready with hand too, so thwack… ow, another shock up the arm…

The third and smallest saw what was happening and joined in… thwack, ow…

Obviously number four was ready by this time, thwack, ow…

Which was a pretty nice start to the day, and then another regular commuter was about 50 metres behind them and had seen the preceding events, and as I approached he grinned and stuck out a hand. It would have been rude not to…

Thwack, ow…

Had me smiling for the next few kilometres; you don’t get that commuting by car.

I hope they don’t plan on doing it every day though: my arm can’t take too much of this…

To make life more interesting for citizens in south West Germany, the railway between Karlsruhe and Basel was closed last week. This is the main freight route from Rotterdam to southern Europe, but more importantly, it’s the main line between where I work, and Beautiful Wife and family.

Obviously this mean things like “replacement bus services” and similar, which meant all kinds of problems.

Gradually a new idea formed: I could catch a train to the eastern edge of the Black Forest and then cycle the rest of the way. This would mean I could try out a possible route across the Black Forest itself, a step closer to finding a route all the way to Stuttgart by bike.

Thus your correspondent was to be found in Alpirsbach railway station last Friday, watching a local train disappear into the trees, and hoping he hadn’t forgotten something important…

The people running the national park in the Black Forest have realised that cycle tourists have money, and furthermore tend to spend it frequently, because there’s not much space on a bicycle for large amounts of food. They’ve therefore created a number of cycle routes along the valleys, including the Kinzig valley which runs from Freudenstadt, following a giant “U” shape to Offenburg in the Rhine valley.

This has been adopted to varying degrees of enthusiasm by different villages, but there was generally a traffic free if slightly wandering path between settlements, and best of all, this was all downhill; I sent a couple of hours following the signs, riding through extremely touristy towns, and generally following the valley,

It’s hard to get lost following a river valley: if you get wet you’ve gone too far one way, and if you find yourself climbing unexpectedly, you’ve gone too far the other.

Two hours and about 35km later I reached Heslach, which sounds like a suburb of Birmingham but which is at the southern part of the giant “U” of the Kinzig valley, and as such was where I had to start climbing.

This was the bit that had been on my mind: I had to climb up and over the watershed and into the Elz valley; the Elz empties into the Rhine, but rather helpfully goes past my apartment first, which is why I was aiming for it: once in that valley I would quickly be in familiar territory. Also it was downhill for the whole of the last 40 kilometres or so.

Unfortunately there was a whole lot of up between me and there. Very pretty up, though, with tree lined valleys and massive heavily roofed farmhouses. I had plenty of time to appreciate them, because they’d would appear high up above, and then I’d pass them on the same level, and finally lose sight of them disappearing far below.

This was not a quick process.

See that valley in the distance? I was in that valley, and that was about halfway up the hill.

Eventually the pass came into view, with a low, squat restaurant in the lowest point. Unfortunately this was still a very long way above me. I could see cars flashing past at the top of the hill, but down here was silence except for the stream, and a middle aged asthmatic wheezing.

After some pushing, aching legs and a few phrases that the locals probably haven’t heard before. When I reached the top an hour and a half after I started climbing I’d travelled 8 km and climbed 400m (5 miles and 1300′). I stopped in the windswept car park that reminded me of passes in the UK, in places like Wales and the Pennines in the UK. I expired for a bit and worried about the 18% downhill ahead.

The actual descent was shorter than the climb and worrying combined: within an hour of rolling out of the pub car park I was 20km away, back on familiar roads and could see the big skies and vineyards of the Rhine valley.

Looking at the map later I realised that I’d been through Alpirsbach a long time ago, on a three day tour from Stuttgart; so I can theoretically claim to have cycled the whole distance from Stuttgart to Freiburg.

The fact it took more than a decade means it was possibly marginally slower than I usually am…

Every few weeks the workshop at work receives a large delivery of “scrap” bikes. These are quickly sorted into two piles; the quick and the dead. The “quick” are refurbished and cleaned up for sale, and the “dead” are cannibalised with the frames sold as scrap and parts reused to refurbish other bikes.

I need a new project like I need a hole in the head, so naturally myself and a colleague always go hunting through the “dead” pile to find any lost causes that may be repairable. I’ve been looking for a potential new commuting/touring bike to restore in the same way as the one I worked on with Elder Son a few years ago, which is now my main transport for the approximately 150k (90 miles) of riding to work and back each week.

Elder Son has been known to make the occasional hint about ownership of the bike, and Beautiful Daughter, who is about 1m (3′) tall never lacking ambition, is also eyeing it up for future cycle tours. Also, in an entirely novel experience for your correspondent, I’ve found the rebuilt bike a little small compared to the other bikes I ride.

So when I found this rather dishevelled looking frame in the Scrap pile, I marshalled my excuses and rescued it to see if I could make it work.

So far it looks likely: the frame seems to be the essential Chromoly, a steel alloy which allows frame makers to use less material and make the frame lighter, and it has most of the fittings I want on a touring/commuter bike, so now the slow gradual search for parts will begin, along with much dithering about the really important question: what colour should it be?

Many thanks to everyone asking if we were okay or had been affected by the flooding in Germany this week. The really serious floods were well to the north of us near Belgium, or over on the opposite side of the Black Forest to the east. That region is partly drained by the Neckar river, which flows north through Stuttgart, and this caused some disruption in the valley but the family live in an attic apartment on top of a hill 100m (320ft) above the river; if they are ever flooded, then everyone is in trouble.

I’m in the Upper Rhine Valley. This is a massive flood plain at this point, which is probably why most rivers look like the one above: dead straight with wide channels and high levees, and generous basins to catch excess water and release it slowly. Of course these all drain into the Rhine eventually, which is why places like Cologne were so seriously affected, but the most serious problem I had was getting wet and having to take the train to work, and finding the fire brigade pumping out the subway at the station.

River immediately after the rain.

Now the weather forecast has changed to “Warm and sunny” and we’re all being warned to use sun cream if we go out from tomorrow…

As mentioned last week, I visit the family in Stuttgart every two weeks, or thereabouts. When I’m there, one of the jobs is to do a “big” shopping trip with one of the work bikes.


The bike of choice this week was the Xtracycle, mainly because it is lighter for the uphill section than the Bakfiets. On the other hand, loading up the bike is a sort of 3D game of Tetris, with the added challenge of not overbalancing the bike, squashing the bread or breaking the eggs…


Tinybug was determined to carry something and eventually settled on a bag of Müsli…


We went a different route to Beautiful Wife and Middle Son, and there was a small delay to investigate some local wildlife and a stick which apparently was quite unlike any she’d seen before…

But eventually we caught up with the others on the ridge road. As usual Tinybug raced ahead to ride with her big brother leaving the old folks in their dust…


Work is getting busy at the moment, and combined with the new commute over the last month…

…and gallivanting about to visit the family in Stuttgart, energy levels are dipping and I’m getting behind on things like blogging. I’ll catch up soon, just bear with me for a bit.

An example of a project at work. We have a group of Syrian refugees, and the day includes about 3 hours of practical work. This week we are making a “honeycomb” display for the local tourist information centre to sell local products, notably honey and beeswax candles.

After last weeks hill avoidance session, I decided that this weekend my climbing legs needed a bit of exercise. It was time to go into the Black Forest, which isn’t as adventurous as it sounds because it’s about three kilometres from my village.

Friday evening I got the map out. Three kilometres from my village it erupts in a mass of contours like geographical acne.

I decided not to be too adventurous & substitute climbing for distance, but a goal was needed. The Hochburg bei Emmendingen seemed a good starting point: a castle ruin in the shoulder of some hills, which would give me a good chance to collapse while pretending I was appreciating the culture.

This would be followed by a descent and climb up one of the valleys to a town called Freiamt. On the other side of Freiamt was a pass which led into another valley; the plan was to get there, turn around and come back via a more direct route, having proved my legs were up to climbing. Buoyed up by this success I could repeat the ride later this year and drop into the valley beyond; it was psychology versus geography.

To tip the balance in my favour I packed a bag of Skittles too.

The way to the castle was a bit steep, but I guess that’s rather the point: it’s a castle, not a guest house so they were not interested in encouraging visitors.


Th castle has been made safe and generally restored for visitors but it’s free to get in. We don’t seem to have anything as ubiquitous as the National Trust and it’s looked after by a local organisation: It’s amazing the sort of charitable trusts which exist in every town in Germany.

It was also completely deserted so I could explore…


I wandered around for about half an hour, found some interesting tunnels which I filmed for Beautiful Daughter, and eventually decided I should probably get moving as this was supposed to be a “quick” ride…

This is where the real climbing started, through deep gorges with pine forests on both sides. The road got narrow and twisted alongside the river.


This is why I’d come early on a Sunday morning: I’d got enough “psychology” to deal on with the hill without lots of traffic to contend with as well. Every now and again I’d pass a single house, generally close to the road but sometimes impossibly high up the hillside in the trees. The discreetly ornate French style buildings had gone: rough stone and wood was much in evidence and heavy roofs to keep the snow off.


Villages were squeezed into the valleys, clumped together where there was space, wedged between steep hills and the flood  prone valley floor.


Also, I discovered steep sided wooded gorges don’t offer many opportunities for a discreet privvy break.

To my astonishment psychology (and bladder control) were winning: suddenly I saw the sky ahead, the trees fell away and I was in Freiamt: there were schools, and football fields, shops, and houses scattered across the rolling hills like they’d grown from seeds strewn across the landscape.

I found the “main” road to the pass I was looking for, and trundled along the ridge between the farms. This is a popular route for driving along, and I was passed on occasion by motorcyclists on massive bikes, the occasional classic car and on a couple of occasions quad bikers, riding in long convoys.


Everyone else was still asleep though (or at least they had been until the quad bikes passed) so there wasn’t much traffic and I had plenty of time to faff about in the middle of the road taking photos.

At this point I started to see signs for the pass and a new valley closed in, with the difference that I was now near the top. The designers of the road had apparently seen one of those cartoon “cliff edge” roads that winds through hills with a drop on one side, and thought: “Yeah, that’s just the thing we need” To my surprise though, the road wasn’t climbing steeply: I’d expected uncompromising gradients to a sudden summit, but it pootled along followed the contours pretty closely and I could just trundle along until I noticed it I was now going gently downhill, and realised I’d better turn around or get trapped in the next valley, which would add about 50k to my ride.


Next time…

Back along the cartoon road, I found a shop selling home-made ice cream. Well, I say a shop, it was more a freezer in a barn door next to a box with a slot in it. Unfortunately I didn’t have any change, so that will have to wait until next time too.


The ridge road followed the contours closely, an attitude I fully approved of. It went back through the centre of Freiamt, past a few isolated farms and over a couple of small summits with views over to distant clusters of red roofed farms surrounding a church. The tourists were coming more frequently now; car horns were blaring as drivers got in each others way on unfamiliar roads, so it  was a relief to be heading back into the forest.


The route back was more direct; the road followed the ridge again as far as it could, then dropped abruptly. Suddenly I was releasing all the potential energy I’d built up while climbing, and wonderfully, I had the road to myself and could indulge in wide sweeping curves around the hairpin bends.


As on previous rides the sudden change from apparently remote villages to our county town as a bit of a shock, not least because of the long dog-leg up being translated into mere minutes on the way down. Suddenly I was back near my home village; the rugged stone buildings and forest was gone again, replaced by vineyards and plastered, neat farmhouses with big courtyards.

I’d covered 50k, with a respectable amount of up, and found a route I can follow for the future. Psychology had won the day…

backed up by large amounts of Skittles, but we’ll ignore that…

When George Mallory the mountaineer was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he famously responded “because it’s there.” I take a different attitude when cycling: if it’s there, I’ll generally find a way to go around it.

This is why my last ‘big’ excursion was around the extinct volcano near my apartment and not over it.

It’s probably also why I’m an occupational therapist in Germany rather than a very famous mountaineer, but hey ho.

First step was crossing the main road through the village. This is usually full of cars racing towards the river bridge, but on Sundays Germany has a collective lie-in which is why it looks like we’ve had a zombie apocalypse.

Leaving the village the first major obstacle is the Autobahn. I’ve lived here twenty years and I still find the idea of just driving or riding into Switzerland incredibly exotic.

The route around the volcano is roughly triangular; section one is along the south to Breisach and the French border, which runs along the Rhine.

We have a “Mediterranean climate” here apparently, which doesn’t explain why it has largely gepinkled it down for the last few months. Nonetheless the hills to the north are terraced with vines growing on them, and every village has a fairly large wine cooperative. The vineyards are terraced and every bit of land is used, long fingers of land pointing out into the sky.

The wine wholesalers and bottling plants get bigger until a massive concrete bunker announces the edge of Breisach. This is the regional wholesaler and has all the charm of a nuclear bunker. Fortunately Breisach recovers pretty quickly and the centre is a very pretty place, with the old town standing on its own bonsai volcano right against the Rhine river.

These two facts of course meant it was very handy real estate for anyone in France or Germany with territorial ambitions. You know how it is: you aren’t actually at war but you may need this bit of high ground if you did end up in a war, so you start a war to make sure you’ve got it, just in case. As a result it has been burned down and occupied several times.

In keeping with my general principles regarding hills, I’ve been to Breisach many times but I’d never climbed the hill in the centre. This time I’d decided to find out what was up there.

The summit features a the Minster of St. Stephen, which is visible from a very long way away, but seen close up is smaller than some parish churches.

I found myself watching a pair of kestrels feeding their young on the roof of a house below, and talking with a Sri-Lankan German who gets a mention here by having immense taste and discernment; he said my bike looked cool. He switched to English when he realised I was from the UK; he has many happy memories of holidays in England, although he always ended up spending his spare cash in the Indian restaurant, because he didn’t like British food “They gave me beans in tomato sauce; for Breakfast…“.

The summit of the hill used to be the centre of Breisach until one army or another ransacked the place and they rather sensibly rebuilt the market and associated buildings down to the plain. In the days of the hilltop centre water supply was obviously a preoccupation and this tower housed the town pump, which was apparently operated by a treadmill. It also housed the town jail and torture chamber.

Back down on the plain I headed north between the Rhine and the Kaiserstühl again. If I had a hankering to take the direct route back to my apartment, I could go straight up that hill and down the other side. I doubt it would be any quicker than going around though.

The villages change here and feel more isolated; we’re away from the Freiburg suburbs and into the rural Breisgau region, historically more isolated and cut off from Freiburg by the Kaiserstühl itself. We’re also so close to the French border that I was frequently closer to a French mobile phone mast than a German one, so I’d get messages “welcoming” me into France. The villages seemed to agree with the phone company and took on a distinctly French feel.

All of these villages are also surrounded by vineyards: it must have been a relief when the railway came in 1895 so they could transport it to other places and didn’t have to drink it all up themselves.

Now crossing to the north of the hills, I wandered through a couple more postcard worthy villages before deciding that instead of taking the rather indirect cycleway I’d risk the road. I hadn’t cycled on a main road for a very long time, and there was no cycle lane, but It was in the middle of nowhere, and it was mid morning on Sunday; as usual the only people up appeared to have gone to church. Also it was only 4k so what could go wrong?

Nothing much as it happened: I was passed by very few cars who generally gave me plenty of space, and arrived in Endingen faster than usual.

Endingen is the centre for the north of the Kaiserstühl, as Breisgau is the centre for the south, except that being more isolated it’s a fair bit smaller. It’s one of those really pretty towns in Germany that would be famous, except that there are about twenty similar towns nearby. It also belonged to Austria for some time because… reasons something something, someone died, Hapsburg Monarchy. If you just change the names this sums up history for a lot of regions of south Germany.

Oh, and surprise surprise, it also makes wine.

It was also rather busy; either people wake up earlier there or I was meeting the Sunday tourists coming the other way.

The next section after Endingen always comes as a surprise. Endingen has the feel of an isolated rural market town, but it’s a fairly short hop the next town of Riegel, which is completely different. Riegel is perched right on the corner of the north east corner of the Kaiserstühl massif, the hills disappear and suddenly we are in the “main” part of the valley again, with fast roads and trains to Freiburg.

It’s also a startlingly short hop from my apartment: after leaving the touristy centre and a cut through an industrial estate (featuring a large stable and horse accessory wholesaler which shows a lot about local requirements), I was back on the river path following a dead straight route back to my village. I arrived about twenty minutes later feeling like I’d teleported back in to normality…

On the other hand I’d just cycled 60k for the first time in a while but I didn’t feel like my legs were about to drop off, which was nice. If it doesn’t get stupidly hot next week I may just be a bit more adventurous, maybe even involving hills…

About 35 million years ago, the mantle in the earths crust sank between what is now Basel and Frankfurt, creating a rift valley 300 kilometres (190 mi) long and 50 kilometres (31 mi) wide and changing the direction of the Rhine from Basel from west to north. To the delight of future cyclists, this valley then filled up with sediment leaving a wide flat flood plain.

You’d think that being in a flat region with relatively cycle friendly policies this would mean I’m spoiled for choice. Unfortunately “flood plain” means what it says so there’s a complex network of drainage channels wriggling haphazardly across the landscape, and only a limited number of bridges over them, meaning the choice of routes is pretty limited unless I feel like making large detours.

My new employer is 15k (9 miles) north of where I now live, instead of a mere 5k (3 miles) and for some reason this was becoming a bit of a mental block, and the only way to change this seemed to be to actually ride it before starting work and show myself that it really wasn’t a big deal. It only has about 10m of up, for goodness sake, how hard could it be?

So last Saturday I got out the touring bike and set off. Of course, it started to rain as I did. Summer was last week apparently.

Once I’ve finished wriggling through the village, the commute follows the local “B” road, which is like an “A” road in the UK, and is straight, if a little dull. Despite promising myself I’d take my time, I found myself running out of upper gears in the middle ring, which I took as a good sign. On the other hand the humidity was making my work clothes a bit clammy, so I resisted the temptation to bung the chain on the big ring: There will be plenty of opportunities for that when I’m late for work.

The meagre drizzle laid off as I followed the cycleway north, leaving only a few droplets on the bike. These dried as I rode leaving a sort of leopard skin pattern in the pollen and dust.

The path continued past small villages in the valley sides, squeezed in to avoid wasting good farmland, and close to the local castle for when marauders came across the plains.

The only sizeable town between me and my new employer offers the choice is between riding through the old centre or along an “agricultural road” following the edge of the hills. As the town government recently rebuilt the centre at great expense, taking great care to make sure there was plenty of parking for cars and very little space for bikes, the quieter agricultural road is the route of choice.

It could be worse.

At the north of the town, the cycleway restarted; My work is in Herbolzheim, 4km away according to the sign but this is a cruel deception; the sign refers to the edge of the town where the next speed limit begins. Work is a bit further away.

The agricultural roads form a network for pedestrians and cyclists, all traffic free with the exception of the occasional tractor. This section is a zigzag between fields of wheat and potatoes, stained red by poppies. I was happily trundling along appreciating the scenery when It dawned that it had an unfamiliar feel, and I realised I’d missed a turning somewhere.

Eventually I found the way, reached the edge of Herbolzheim, and promptly missed the next turning in a nondescript mass of housing on the edge of the town.

Note to self: the signpost is there for a reason…

My workplace is unfortunately is situated in a building so full of 1990’s ugliness I won’t spoil your day by putting a photo on here. Depressingly, it didn’t particularly stand out.

I did find the 10m hill promised on the route planner though:

The return was a bit more relaxed, i.e. slower, because as is often the case there was a headwind. The wind seems to blow to the north in the mornings, and then change to a generally southerly direction in the afternoons, at least that was my impression at my last job to the south of my apartment, and I’m trying to be optimistic by telling myself it will work in my favour this time around.

I also had to do some shopping at the “Drogerie Markt”, the local version of “Boots” In another burst of optimism I bought sun lotion. We shall see…

Back around the next town; at some point I’ll try and get a better picture of the church in the distance… Apparently this route is not only the “Breisgau cycleway” but also the “Upper Rhine Roman Cycleway.” Part of me is delighted at the fact I get to ride on a tourist route every day, but my natural pessimism suggests this just means it’ll be full of tourists in summer if the lockdown is eased.

I took the scenic route back, as this detour is about 100m in total and much prettier and quieter than following the main road I think it will become a regular feature.

It took 48 minutes to get to work, which included pictures and wandering off down the wrong road on two occasions, so I think I can safely allow fifty for the ride. I just have to look on it as time gained cycling and reducing waistline, rather than time lost commuting…  

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