valentine 2016

I’ve been a bit quiet about my resolution to make presents for people this year. I’ve been making different things, the trouble is that when I finish something or someone I give it to the intended owner before remembering to make any photographs.

Doing everything at the last minute doesn’t help either.

valentine_2016_1

Still, at least I remembered Valentines Day, possibly the first time I’ve managed to do so in fifteen years of marriage, and last week I finally got myself into gear and made this heart for Beautiful Wife, on the basis that she deserves something for putting up with me.

Will try and be a bit better about photographing the next projects…

Although not so much came back as ‘Sat in a field waiting for its owner to find it’ just close enough to the road that I could see the top sticking out above the grass, but naturally about five metres from where I gave up searching last night.

I since learned the winds were clocked at 85km/h (which sounds much more dramatic than 52mph for some reason) and that there was a severe weather warning in our area. Everyone else knew this of course because their smart phones told them, or because they were organised enough to check the weather before ending up in a field in a gale.

In other news, I just discovered it is Winter bike to work day today. And the forecast is for snow…

One of my strange cycling habits is wearing an Australian-styled leather hat, simply because it keeps the rain/snow/hail off my face and neck when riding. I find that riding in he rain is much improved by not getting a face full of rain every time I run into a headwind.

Which makes it all the more of a bummer that said hat is now in a field somewhere between here and the local tram station.

Last night I came home in some of the worst winds I’ve ever known here, and ended up with a choice of holding onto hat and being blown off the bike or putting both hands on my brakes to stop before I was picked up and thrown off into a field. As the Xtracycle was moving diagonally at the time I reflexively braked, and felt the hat lift off my head and vanish into pastures new. Literally.

Frantic searching in a muddy field failed, which is hardly surprising as 1: searching for a brown leather hat in a couple of hectatres of brown mud the dark is unlikely to yield results, and 2: The speed the hat was moving I fully expected it to be a good kilometre distant by the time I was off the bike anyway.

I wish to apologise to any dog walkers within hearing distance who will have heard a considerable amount of vernacular English applied at high volume, but I happen to think it was justified.

By the time I got on the bike, the wind had died down and the rain had gone from ‘monsoon’ to merely ‘torrential’, and today the sun is out and the wind back to nearly nothing. I’ll have a look on the way in to work in the hope the hat hasn’t been blown into the next town or wrecked by the weather, otherwise I’ll have to start trawling Amazon…

Can someone explain how time becomes elastic when you are trying to catch a tram?

The ideal tram to get to work, the one which goes where I want to go, with plenty of space, leaves at 0831. This is exactly one minute into ‘off peak’ times when I’m allowed to carry a bike.

On a good day, I leave the apartment at about ten past eight, and pootle off up the hill in my usual way, coast past the farm, ride across the main road and past the field where they sell Christmas trees earlier each year (October, this time, I expect they’ll reopen in Summer this year), and get to the tram stop at about 0820. Which is fine, except that in winter it is a bit nippy standing on the edge of the fields waiting for a tram to turn up.

So last week I tried an experiment and went a bit later; actually that was less a plan and more because I forgot my keys, lunch and water, and remembered each item after I’d come back from retrieving the last one, but I was able to leave at about 0815. This was okay, because I still had a buffer of 5 minutes, but I decided to to move as quickly as a not particularly fit bloke with asthma can, pushed up the hill, raced past the farm, nipped across the main road between cars and arrived at the station at 0832, to see the tail lights of the tram as it wandered off to Stuttgart…

Explanations please…

[Update: Post finally updated to remove typo that ruined the already feeble punchline. I tried to do this earlier but the WordPress mobile editing page is even worse than the useless ‘Improved’ normal page]

Once again we’ve been collecting illnesses and sharing them on a democratic basis. and once again I’ve been hit by a cold. I’d blame the boys but as my job currently means being coughed and sniffled at by various miscellaneous sprogs from all over Stuttgart it is likely I caught this one All By Myself.

It’s annoying as it comes at the end of an eventful week where several of the events are blog worthy, and during the day I’m fine -cycling in to work and working partly outdoors help a lot- but right now my feelings are about the same as in this post I wrote almost exactly a year ago, so I’ll leave you to that and go back to feeling sorry for myself.

 

nosnow

Xtracycle with snow tyres.

Notice clear sky, warm sunshine, and complete absence of any snow as far as the eye can see…

The picture says it all really. Apparently the main effect of fitting snow tires on the Xtracycle is to make the weather warmer. This is no surprise as I seem to have made it rain over Christmas by cleaning the Xtracycle the week before.

However, in the brief days between fitting the tyres and the change in the weather, I found they worked pretty well. After riding on semi slicks for more years than I wish to remember they’re a bit heavy and noisy, rather like trying to run in clogs, but they work about 99% of the time so I didn’t have to approach every unknown surface wondering if I’d soon be sitting on the road, and proved very handy several times when swerving or braking to avoid cars which were approaching sideways.

The only exceptions to this were a few places where the snow had drifted, compacted, then frozen and melted so many times it had given up and turned into and evil mix of slush and ice which is unpredictably solid or slippery and has one ambition in life, namely to make cyclists fall, slide or tip off their bikes*, especially as the local farmers are enthusiastically ploughing the fields in monster sized tractors and adding great wodges of clay soil to the surface. Just the thing when riding downhill in the dark…

I’d been riding for a couple of days when someone pointed out that I’ve been Doing It Wrong. Again. The local newspaper had kindly printed “instructions for snow cycling” which helpfully suggested we “Ride slowly and carefully” and sternly warned people using snow tyres to “ride at least 50km on clear asphalt and get plenty of practice before using the tires on snow” and to make sure that we “Ride on low pressure on snow, then pump them to high pressure for asphalt”. As I ride on a mix of cleared roads and snow covered cycle lanes this would mean I’d be inflating or deflating every half a kilometre or so and would arrive at work sometime after lunch. Thank goodnes I didn’t find out until it was too late…

But of course this no longer matters because we now have warm weather for the next few weeks until I change back to slicks. You’re welcome.

I am now accepting invitations to anywhere that needs a change in the weather.

*What is the cyclist’s name for this, by the way? I’ve called it ‘Choss’ after the climbing term for dangerously loose and unpredictable rock. Any other names out there?

Having winter tires and then riding on ice with semi-slicks seems silly to the point of irresponsible, so last night I manned up and went down to the garage to fit them before my hands froze up. As with most of my endeavours, this did not go quite as planned.

The first problem was how to get at the wheels, the local bike shop being inexplicably closed at 9pm. Resting the bike on a Brooks saddle on a concrete floor simply isn’t done.  No worries, I thought: remove new tyres from box, use box to cover floor, put bike upside down on the box and change wheels.

All went well until I let go of the upturned bike, whereupon the heaviest unsupported part, the Xtracycle frame, went down and the front wheel flipped up. How did I not expect this to happen? I caught the bike mid pirouette and managed to wrestle the back wheel off it*.

Then came changing the back tyre. Puncture proof Schwalbe Marathon tyres are very convenient to ride on and a pain in the backside to change, but I managed with minimal swearing and a minor injury to one hand.

I took the front wheel off the bike. The bike tipped backwards again. I put the rear wheel in the front forks so the bike would stay still and got on with the front wheel. More swearing and a bruise later and the new tyre was on the front wheel. I braced the bike against my knee, lifted the rear wheel out of the front forks and swapped in the front before I fell over.

With the bike the right way up again, I took the bunged up gear cable out, noting the rust, and squirted lube down the tubes. A shower of water, ice, several chunks of the local forest and one very dead beetle came out of the other end, reducing the weight of the bike by about a third.

Fitted new gear cable. I’ve discovered  that I can -just- use a normal gear cable on an Xtracycle. Some people would suggest that the fact I think this is interesting means I am a Very Boring Person, but those people regularly spend hours discussing mobile phone contracts. I rest my case.

I put the bike back together and took it out for a test run. It worked well enough for me to be confident about riding on the packed ice and snow that is normal here from January to March. returned to apartment feeling smug. Just before going to bed I checked the weather report.

Next weeks forecast: warm, with sunshine.

 
*Of course this meant turning the bike over again because I’d forgotten to release the brake and it is almost impossible to reach when the Xtracycle is upside down, but we’ll skip over that detail.

Just as I got used to riding on snow with slick tires, the Xtracycle developed the same annoying habit as it usually does in winter: The cable to the rear mech froze solid after I’d been riding for five minutes leaving me riding a singlespeed in whatever ratio I happened to be using at the time. The only solution to this is pulling the cable out and spraying with WD40 or similar, and yes I should have remembered to do this earlier as in south Germany it tends to be cold this time of year (-9°c overnight, thanks for asking), and the Xtracycle freezes up like this every time.

In other news, Stuttgart has been ticked off again because the particle pollution is far and above the legal limit in the centre*, so they’re telling people to ride their bikes in and leave the car at home. Of course this would be far more effective if they actually cleared the snow off the cycle lanes, and hadn’t just taken the bicycle trolley off the only tram that carries bikes around the clock “because it is snowing and people don’t ride bikes when it snows.”

Meanwhile, the winter tires have arrived.

*Remember all those reports in the 1990’s about all the pollution in East Germany, and how the west was held as a shining example of how capitalism allowed growth with out environmental damage? Someone didn’t get that memo…

So that was… interesting. As far as riding on a snow packed road in sub-zero temperatures on a bike with unsuitable tyres in the dark can be ‘interesting’. Several times I realised the dark patch of road that had appeared in my front light was sheet ice covering the entire road for some distance, and had no option but to coast in a dead straight line and hope the ice would stop  before my momentum did, or I landed in a field…

Generally though, I found that I could ride on any surface I could walk on. And I quickly worked out how to tell the difference between clear tarmac and sheet ice in the split second it appeared in my light which must rank as one of the more obscure skills I’ve picked up in the last year.

It’s still pretty stressful though, and it takes ages. I’ll be glad when the spikes arrive…

Just got back from a weekend away to find the memo about it being ‘winter’ has finally got through and the temperature dropped like the speedometer of a Porsche approaching a traffic camera. I’ve finally stopped dithering and ordered a pair of fancy-schmancy spiked tyres: these will arrive at the end of the week (which I confidently predict will usher in several weeks of warm, sunny weather) but this still leaves me riding to work on semi-slick tyres until they do turn up.

It’ll be fine. As long as there’s not too much traffic. Or wind. And I don’t try to stop suddenly.

Updates soon. If I’m spared…

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