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…

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…

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