Yes, I know, it’s well on the way into the second month of the year, but still…

Last year managed to be pretty eventful without having any particular resolutions, to be fair; I started unsure of where I was going and then was offered the opportunity to take over the bicycle recycling workshop, which was a pretty good outcome. Still, a few goals in general wouldn’t be a bad thing. so here goes.

Finish tourer 2.0

This really should be a lot more to this then a slightly rusty frame hanging in the bike store. It needs the appropriate lugs to take bottom bar shifter and a few other alterations besides, a coat of paint, and maybe if I’m feeling adventurous, a set of decals. We shall see. On the subject of paint, the original tourer would benefit from some touching up as well, and the Xtracycle is looking a bit tatty…

Ride more

Because of the location of the bike workshop and my new apartment my commute dropped from 20-30k (12-18 miles) to walkable in ten minutes. I went out for a ‘regular’ 60k ride a couple of weeks ago and my goodness but my legs were letting me know about it by the time I got back, so as the weather improves I’ll increase the commute and take more rides to recover my fitness, especially with a possible tour coming up in April…

With these developments I really should write more, especially here. Writing is like riding: if I don’t do enough the ability goes away and you end up in a vicious cycle, so I’ll try and post here more regularly and get that back into action.

One of the many advantages of my job this month was being able to build Beautiful Daughters bike for her. Unfortunately this didn’t work out as planned because some parts needed replacing and our supplier dropped the ball in the last weeks before Christmas, but we’ll gloss over that.

After someone further up in the company than I had words with the supplier, the missing parts for several bikes arrived. Unfortunately this meant I had to prioritise the showroom bikes, but at least I can get on and finish the bike fairly soon.

I’ll have to move quickly though, as Middle Son also needs a new bike and there is talk of a bike tour in April…

Oh, yes; happy new year.

I’ve gone on at length since moving here about the novelty of having a flat, short commute to work at last; so why, you may ask, was your correspondent to be seen wheezing his way up the side of the Black Forest last week?

Well, it turns out that suddenly changing from riding 20-30km a day to riding less than 2 km is not good for general fitness levels, especially with the underlying Asthma. I’d barely settled into the new route when I was floored by my first cold in years, so I’ve been looking for alternatives for the morning routine that involve a bit more exercise.

This ride had started out relatively sensibly. I’d set off from my village towards the extinct volcano known as the Kaiserstühl, and the French Voges mountains. In theory anyway, as there as a layer of fog and low cloud, but they’d been there last time I came this way so presumably they were still there somewhere. This takes the rider over the Autobahn, and past the big sign directing cars to “Karlsruhe” or “Basel (Switzerland)” which still feels incredibly exotic, and certainly more exotic than the industrial estate next to it. This is dominated by huge concrete silos owned by a firm making septic tanks. On the other hand local companies like this are what stops small villages dying or becoming dormitory towns, so I shouldn’t complain.

The next village is Nimburg. At first it’s quiet but suddenly I find where everyone has gone: there are cars everywhere, on the road, pavement, up grass verges and in every flat corner. People are streaming in and out of a gate under a grand sign announcing the entrance of “Nimburg Stadium”, the grandness slightly tarnished by the fact it’s longer than the gate itself, which would not look out of place on an allotment. The annual festival is clearly running and doing a roaring trade, as would a traffic warden should they choose to wander this way.

After negotiating what seems to be half of the county, then the entrance to the local small animal society, and various groups getting one last barbecue at the local picnic ground, I reach the forest; this is mixed beech and oak woodland growing in the fertile flood plain. It’s also apparently damp enough to need lots of drainage channels. A sign proudly says that some of the channels date back to Roman times, and judging by the surface, so do some of the trails. If Julius Casear had used a bicycle his first words on arrival here wouldn’t have been “Veni, vidi, vici” but “Ow, Ow, Ow…”

Thankfully the jarring soon gives way to a surfaced road, which passes yet another sports centre; (Germany must have the highest density of sports centres per head on the planet) and then to a main road which is supplied by a good segregated cycleway. I’m cycling from one route I know well to another so I’m soon back in familiar territory, and back onto the river path to the local county town.

At this point I could just follow the river path to my own village, but at this point I decided to try out my Very Silly Plan. This involved riding through the county town and taking a turn towards the hills.

The edge of the plain is a sudden climb into the foothills of the Black Forest with little warning. This is actually useful: I’ve forgotten my map, but generally travelling in the direction of Up means I find the way and I’m soon following a steep sunken lane more reminiscent of Devon than Germany, leading to the village of Malterdingen.

I manage another wrong turn here but soon I’m out of the village and following the cycleway up through the last of the vineyards, squeezed onto the few south facing hills before the forest takes over. As I cross a bluff the castle in Landeck, my goal for the ride, comer into view. Unfortunately it’s a fair bit higher than I am, just below the clouds and clinging to a bluff that would probably make it famous if there were not dozens of similar castles all around the region.

More climbing on a thankfully surfaced road, and then there’s another summit with a commanding view of the valley, the Kaiserstuhl, and the French Voges mountains beyond. I know this because there’s a large colour picture with all the sights labelled. This is what sensible people who don’t come up on a cloudy day get to see. My view, on the other hand, shows the last half mile or so of the road I just climbed, and then a lot of greyness.

Finally the road reaches proper trees and the actual cloud layer, as opposed to mist. it also meets the main road out of the forest on a cartoon hairpin just above the village and its castle.

Landeck is the sort of village where houses have two floors more on one side; the street entrance for several buildings is effectively in the attic. The only vaguely flat bit is taken up by the castle, with a tiny space left for the town hall and fire station, and a war memorial. The castle itself has long been a ruin, but it does give one of the best bus stop locations I’ve seen in a long time:

Eventually I point the bike down the road into the valley. Not for the first time I’m startled to find that it only takes ten minutes to roll from the apparently remote village in the hills to the busy valley. Soon I’ve passed back through Malterdingen and I’m approaching the main road and railway line; about three minutes after that crossing the river on the last few metres of my normal route to my apartment.

I’m sure a day will come…

…when commuting here seems normal or boring…

… but it hasn’t happened yet.

The chain on the my long bike (above) had been making rattling noises for some time, and the bike had long regarded gear changes as suggestions which it would think about for a bit and then possibly follow, or maybe not. Frequently it would jump gears or more likely, wait a bit until I’d forgotten about it and then suddenly change at an awkward moment.

This clearly would not do, especially now I have a workshop at my disposal, so this week I put the bike on the stand and had a look at it.

The chain on a bike will eventually wear out with use, and as it gets worse it starts to wear the gears, so it should be changed every few thousand kilometres. I couldn’t actually remember when I’d last changed any of the parts on this bike, but I knew it was before I moved to the Breisgau a couple of years ago, and possibly even before I cycled my first imperial century back in 2019, so it was probably overdue.

Many years ago I’d reluctantly changed from a seven speed system to an eight speed, simply because it as getting difficult to find spare parts for seven speed gear systems. The Xtracycle had always refused to accept the march of progress and had consistently jumped a gear. Strangely the gear was different depending on whether I was changing up or down.

I’d accepted this as part of life’s rich tapestry, because of the sheer length of cable on a long bike, but with some more experience in setting gears I wanted to see if I could persuade it to cooperate. I’d noticed that even a few centimetres difference on a gear cable could affect performance dramatically so I decided to see how I could make the new cable as short and straight as possible.This meant applying the “scientific method” ie: Trial and error. I ran the new cables along a route that seemed a good idea at the time and cable tied it to the frame where I could. This is about as close to engineering as I get, I’m afraid.

To my astonishment, it worked, and that without having to drag the gear levers back and forth as before. It also had ceased to make sufficient noise to frighten wildlife and small children.

I even had time to fine tune the brakes, so now the bike will start and stop on command.

There are rumours of a bike tour with the Boys in a few months; I’d originally intended to use the Wayfarer tourer but now that this bike is working better, possibly than ever before, I’m wondering if this would make an acceptable ride, so I’ll have to try some medium distance rides on it over the next weeks.

It’s tough, but I think I’ll manage it…

“A customer has come with a bike,” said the sales team on the phone “She said she bought it last week and the gears don’t work”

“Oh dear.” I replied, or words to that effect anyway.

The customer had changed into a lower gear while riding up a hill and suddenly there was no resistance; she nearly fell off her bike. I’ve mentioned before that the local culture is sometimes very “British” and here’s another example: the customer actually apologised for bringing the bike back.

The problem was intermittent and I couldn’t replicate it but her description sounded like the cable tension was insufficient. The system used on this bike relies on the cable being to just the right length; I’d set it according to the instructions, but it turns out that theory doesn’t always work in practice.

This time I reduced it by about 3mm, put the plastic top on, nearly lost the tiny screw to hold it down (again), rebuilt the bike and tested it for a good ten minutes to make sure it worked.

It didn’t do anything unpleasant so hopefully I won’t see it again until the 6 month service…

The Great Tidying for the upcoming Health and Safety inspection continues. The bike store has gone from this…

To this…

I’m getting there, slowly.

Meanwhile in the bike workshop, I’ve found the worktops and most of the floor.

An external health and safety inspection is to happen at work; the Great Tidying has commenced.

This has advantages. For one it’s the ideal excuse to tidy some of the areas I’ve been too busy to deal with up until now.

First on the list is the Bicycle Wheel Infestation. This has been a problem for a while because we have upwards of a hundred wheels of all shapes, sizes and states of repair. They’ve been piled up in the corner of the store and I’m fairly sure they breed;certainly there seemed to be more every time I looked. Looking for one for a bike or customer has until now meant clambering over the foothills while holding onto something to avoid falling over.

This clearly will not do so last week I set to with the intention of “dismantling” any that were not immediately usable, and hopefully finding a place to hang the rest.

The quickest way to dismantle wheels is the less than subtle approach of cutting the spokes. I’d lay a wheel flat on a fairly solid box, cut all the spokes, and drop them into the box under the wheel, put the hub in a basket for later, empty the wheel of leftover spoke bits, and dump the rims on a pile to be sold for scrap.

Of course this isn’t as neat and tidy as it sounds; spokes are under a lot of tension in a wheel, and have a habit of pinging out of the wheel to places unknown; the stubs then would then drop out of the rims, and leftover rim tape, it turns out, will stick to just about anything.

And of course it was just at this moment, with the room looking like it had witnessed the dismemberment of some steampunk leviathan that had been fighting back for the entire process; your correspondent centre stage wielding a large set of bolt croppers in a pair of orange gloves, size 41 boot on a half dismembered wheel, spokes flying into the distance, and unnoticed rim tape hanging off a sleeve like entrails, that the door opened and the boss arrived unannounced leading some local teachers on an impromptu tour…

Climbing from Stuttgart to my home village yesterday after getting off the train. Stuttgart is built largely in a couple of fairly narrow valleys and in the ten kilometres (6 miles) from the railway station to our village there’s about 200m or 650 feet of climbing. I can now reliably inform you that from bottom to top takes about thirty minutes of riding, pushing and complaining.

I know what you’re thinking:

“But this is Germany, surely there are trams or something that would carry your bike up that hill in a matter of minutes?”

Indeed there are, dear reader, indeed there are. In fact, there is a tram line running right next to this photo location.

So why was I cycling?

Answer: your correspondent had forgotten that there is a ban on bicycles on trams from 4 to 6:30pm, spent too long with some former work colleagues in Stuttgart, and had turned up at the tram stop too late to be permitted on board…

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…

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