This week I decided that riding to the Rhine and following the French border again would be a bit dull.

Expatriate life is so hard sometimes.

Out came the map. I wanted a shortish ride because I had work the next day and I didn’t want to be exhausted, up to 50k (30 miles) was about the idea. On the map I found the ideal place, the Simonswälder Valley, a side tributary from the Elz Valley which I’ve followed a number of times. It’s fairly short but leads deep into the lower Black Forest. Also, being a weekday it would be quiet.

This isn’t the Simonswälder Valley; this is Waldkirch, where I got lost. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, my new apartment is a couple of hundred metres from the long, straight riverside cycle path which follows the Elz river almost the whole way to Waldkirch. I was rather enamoured by this idea so I just followed it instead of my usual route and ended up on the opposite side of Waldkirch to normal.

At this point I discovered the other reason: my map was on the kitchen table.

What with this and a lack of cycle signage I was a bit busy to take pictures but eventually I followed a long distance footpath sign through a housing estate, over a railway and under a road, and suddenly I was, finally, in the Simonswälder Valley.

The thing with the Black Forest, is that it’s very definitely the Black Forest; It’s not just that it’s obviously not say, Cleethorpes or Basingstoke, it’s also very different from the Rhine valley, a mere 20km/15 miles away.

25 km to the west from my village I’d cross the border into France, and unless you accidentally missed a bridge and landed in the Rhine, you’d not really notice. Here, it feels like I’m in a different country.

It can be a bit of a shock to stop at a bus stop and see the logo of the Freiburg Transit Authority on it.

For want of anything better, I’d aimed to ride to the Kapelle ohne Glocke, the “Chapel without Bells” which was almost exactly 25km from my apartment.

It turns out that the reason it’s the “Chapel without Bells”, is that they probably couldn’t fit any in.

I’d been climbing all he way and getting lost, et c, so it felt like I’d come a long way. Of course the return down the valley was rather faster, even with photo stops (and getting lost in Waldkirch again, but we’ll ignore that) and suddenly I was back in then open flat Rhine plain, following the cycle path by the river.

With one last crossing, a few more K’s and I was at the end of my street. I could get used to this…

Back at work this week. I’m still not sure how I managed to get this job but I’m not complaining. For those not taking notes, I work in a bike shop partially staffed by people with various difficulties. We get bikes as donations, from house clearances, and from several local waste disposal centres, so you never know what you are getting; it could be a barely ridden expensive mountain bike, or or a rusty old clunker with all kinds of hidden nastiness under the grime.

My first bike this week looked like it should be simple enough; a mid-range city bike in good condition. The “to do” list included changing the brake blocks front and rear, pumping up the tyres and turning the rear tyre the correct way around.

The front brake was lopsided, a turn of the wheel revealed that the wheel had so much buckle it could be a pair of boots. It took a long time and some… um, commentary, until I managed to get it to submit to laws of physics so I could reset the brakes.

Then I pumped up the tyre; the inner tube exploded. Oh dear, I said, or words to that effect… Dropped wheel, looked for new inner tube with the same valve, checked wheel and tyre, fitted tube, pumped; bang. On inspection both had popped on a seam on the inside of the tube. This has happened before so it could be the trouble was the batch of inner tunes.

Okay then, different tubes, but that would mean a different valve type, so I’d have to change the back wheel to match; not the end of the world as I needed to swap the tyre. Found a pair of car valve tubes, and to be on the safe side, some rim tape. Mount tube, mount tyre, wheel back on.

Go to back wheel; it’s a hub gear system, meaning the gears are hidden away in a big cylinder around the axle.. Hub gears are great when they work; Getting them to work can be a right fiddle. Unscrew bolts, drop innards of Sram on floor, retrieve, put in tray.

On cue I get a call from the sales team: a customer has a question they can’t answer. to till and back.

Remove tyre from wheel, swap inner tube, wheel back in droppers, pulling to tension chain with some difficulty, phone rings, It’s my colleague at the till again.

Wheel back on floor, go and sort customer out, back to wheel. Beginning to feel like Basil Fawlty.

Wheels on, brakes set, and wonder of wonders I haven’t lost any of the bits. Time for a test ride.

On cue it starts to rain, very heavily.

Test ride delayed to tomorrow; there’s plenty of other things to do…

In a not particularly surprising turn of events, the internet provider for my new apartment has gone from enthusiastically saying everything is fine to much tutting and “service not available at this address”, so I’ll be without any internet connection for a while. Of course it isn’t that simple; despite the company’s technician visiting and saying the required connection isn’t available, I now have to confirm with the apartment owner that this is the case, which will delay matters still further.

I’m not sure why it is but German internet providers seem to be required to follow this process every time they are asked to make a new connection. I’m not sure if it’s in the constitution or simply the notion that actually should provide a service for the payment they receive is a bit confusing to the poor dears, but if they would spend half the time actually sorting out connections that they put into delaying responses to people who have already paid them and now can’t get online, then Germany would have the best internet access in the world.

And yes, I am supposed to confirm that I can’t get online using an online form…

I can’t say progress on the “Wayfarer II” is blisteringly fast but it is moving forward slowly. Of course it’s made worse because I insist on using parts and methods the rest of the world abandoned years ago, so I have to spend ages finding the right bits, like these bosses and cable holders that recently arrived in a small jiffy bag from the US, of all places. If I’d just used normal modern parts I’d probably be finished by now, but where’s the fun in that?

However, they are now here, and the in-house welder at work has agreed to weld them to the frame. In the meantime I’m waiting for a quote from a local spray painting company and I’ve bought a bottom bracket to replace the one we wrestled out of the frame a couple of weeks ago, which I’m almost convinced is the correct size.

This is good, because there are rumours of a tour with the Boys in April so we’ll need another bike…

The lack of posts over the weekend was due to the rather sudden end to the flat hunting saga with the discovery of an affordable apartment close to work, and my previous landlady deciding she didn’t want most of the furniture in my current apartment and offering it to me at a very good price.

This was good news as it meant I now had a bed to sleep in, but instead of moving a few cardboard boxes I now had to transport lots of heavy wooden objects. Enter Middle Son who volunteered to come and help with the heavy lifting. The weekend thus involved shuttling backwards and forwards in a company van until all the furniture was in the correct place. This was probably the first time he’s been in a car with me driving in a decade and was thus remarkable for the lack of screaming.

Finally I was able to hand the key back to the manager and get back on a more civilised form of transport for the journey to Stuttgart and the family.

On arrival I discovered that Tinybug has all kinds of activities planned involving bike rides, making things from sticks, and Lego.

If you need me I’ll probably be in a forest somewhere…

One of the issues visible on the latest project bike was that the bottom Bracket was jammed. The Bottom Bracket is the bit where the pedal cranks meet, the frame:

Jammed bottom brackets aren’t unusual: they’re right where all the much and water is thrown up from the front wheel, which can wash the grease out, if indeed the assembler even bothered to use grease in the first place.

All attempts with spanners, pipe wrenches and bilingual swearing failed, so when I had to take a delivery of bikes to another centre, I went to ask a colleague if we could use the monster vice in his workshop. My colleague loves bikes and loves challenges, and was fed up with writing reports so we clamped the removal tool into the vice and turned the frame.

The tool was turning visibly, in fact the vice was moving slightly as well.

So this was it, the end of the story. We’d played nice and tried the mellow hippy approach and it hadn’t worked; it was time to get serious.

I work for a very unusual company, and we have an in-house car workshop, and so the frame was taken down there to be introduced to Mr. Impact Screwdriver:

The operation was complicated by the mechanic assigned to the case not being able to speak more than a few words of German, and yours truly managing to forget the German for “Impact Screwdriver”, but after some mutual misunderstandings, he applied the machine to the Bottom Bracket. Nothing.

After some sign language to communicate the fact that bottom bracket screws are reversed on one side, we had more success; thirty seconds later:

Uses for a bicycle number 198342: Bedsheet dryer.

This was it, I had to make a decision: Forward or back?

I hadn’t really planned to come this far: Yesterday evening a good friend had called and got me all motivated about going for a ride this morning. I’m not sure how, seeing as we’d mostly talked about his job, but nonetheless, after getting off the phone, I’d decided I’d go on a ride.

But not too far; let’s be sensible here.

A quick 50-60k around the Kaiserstühl, a very extinct volcano in the middle of the Rhine valley; yes, that sounded good; it was flat, I knew the route well, so I could just trundle around in my usual way and get back by lunch with plenty of time to tidy up the apartment, which was frankly getting right out of hand, and sort myself out for important things like work the next day, followed by an appointment to view an apartment.

So why was I in France, deciding whether or not to go exploring right across to the Voges mountains?

I’d woken up that morning with the feeling that following my usual route would be a bit dull, a bit lacking in adventure.

Why Not, I reasoned as I tried not to burn my toast on the grill, go over to Neuf Brisach in France and then find European Cycle Route 15 north, and then follow that to… I consulted Google again, spraying crumbs liberally on the keyboard… “Merckolsheim… and then cross back over into Germany?” it’d make the route a bit longer and a bit different, and it’s a canal, canals are flat and you can’t go wrong easily. My leg muscles registered disquiet, and my map only went as far as the Rhine, but undeterred I checked google one more time and made a highly detailed topographical representation of the route:

Two years studying for Geography A-Levels well spent, I think, not to mention GCSE Graphic Design.

Off I went, through the local villages, reached the border and crossed over the Rhine into France, through the curious concrete labyrinth of the planned French town on the other side and into Neuf Brisach, a Vauban fortified town and UNESCO heritage site. It’s also a normal town so there were great monuments and grand gateways next to the plumbers and post office.

Following the highly accurate map and some handy signs, I found Route fifteen and headed north.

The distances the signs showed to Colmar were shorter than I’d thought. At first I ignored this but as they kept getting shorter, my Sense Of Adventure began to agitate, whispering:

“it’s only a few kilometres, and it’s flat…”

“Excuse us” answered the Leg Muscles, “But we’ve not done anything like this for quite some time, so we’d like to just keep going and head back home, thankyouverymuch.”

The distances kept going down: 24km to Colmar… then 20km, then 18… and suddenly the junction of the canal turned up and the sign said “Colmar 15km.”

“Look” said my Sense Of Adventure. “15km, dead straight and dead flat. On Tarmac by the looks of it…”

“That’s 30km there and back” Butted in the Committee For Being Sensible, “It’ll take at least two hours longer. And there’s washing up to do, and the bedding needs cleaning, and have you seen the state of the floor?”

“Yes, and we would like to lodge a formal complaint at the treatment we are being given” added the leg muscles. “We are not used to this sort of thing, and…”

“Only 15km…”

“Ow.”

“Shutupshutupshutup…”

At this point some cycle tourists passed heading for Colmar.

You can guess what happened next.

Back to EU Cycle route 15 and north to Merckolsheim. It wasn’t far from the junction.

“Strasbourg 49km” said the sign.
“Don’t even think about it” said the legs…

There is talk of myself and a friend taking a bike tour in April 2022. Actually, we’ve been talking aout that since we picked up the Bakfiets in Amsterdam over a decade ago, but life always intervened.

On our previous ride we had to catch the train from Koblenz, a little over half way, and the plan had always been to go to Cologne and ride the second half in a more leisurely manner and on more appropriate bikes. This just kicked up a gear when Eldest and Youngest Son both said they would like to join, which I really didn’t expect. It also means I’m one adult sized bike short.

While tidying up the depths of the bike workshop I found this…

The wheels are worn out, and the bottom bracket (where the pedals go through the frame) is rusted solid and will need a Big Spanner to get it out, but it’s worth it for the frame itself.

Elder Son wants to make a new version of the “Wayfarer” bike we built a couple of years ago; this one has 28″ wheels instead of the 26″ of the original Wayfarer because Elder Son is a bit bigger than me, and also I’ve noticed the only issue I have with ‘Wayfarer 1’ is that the frame feels a tiny bit small.

After the tour, assuming Elder Son doesn’t hold onto it, this could replace the original Wayfarer as my commuting bike, so we could put the original Wayfarer back on light duties as I’ve ridden over 6000km on the poor thing over the last year or so.

That sounds like enough plausible sounding excuses reasons, time for the Big Spanner…

I’ve been spending money on bike stuff this week. Unfortunately not on my bike, but equally, it wasn’t my money.

I needed urgently to get some spares and tools for the bike workshop, and now I’d tidied up sufficiently that new items wouldn’t simply vanish in the pile, I placed a few orders.

We have half a dozen donated pumps and they’re all pretty rubbish, so these were top of the list.

I’ve used this make of pumps for over a decade and haven’t managed to break one yet so I’m pretty confident these will work well for us.

The workshop did have a compressor but I don’t like them, and it turned out the “workshop” compressor belongs to the previous mechanic, so I wanted it in storage where it couldn’t go wrong/get damaged.

We also really needed a cassette removal tool, which is this strange looking device, used to help take the rear gears off a bike axle. This was to replace a cheapo version that broke as soon as you waved it at a cassette. I’d ordered one from our regular supplier but it wasn’t turning up and we had several bikes waiting for a replacement.

On Friday morning I called to chase up said order; It turned out that the supplier hadn’t received the email containing last month’s parts and tools order, so I had to give it over the telephone and add this month’s order to it, which rather destroyed my cunning plan to order a bit each month so we don’t break the budget.

The accounts department is going to have a collective heart attack, but they did say to get what I needed…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Contact me

"]

Archives

Categories