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Eldest son’s school seems to carefully plan parents’ evenings to be on the wettest day of the term, so as usual I arrived after a good invigorating shower. And, as usual, the evening went on… and on… powered by a group of competitive parents who wanted to know every way their child could get the best possible grades in maths and science (but who were notably silent when the art teacher asked for questions). By the end, it was nearly tomorrow morning and pretty dark. Thankfully it had stopped raining and the hours in an overheated classroom had dried off my clothes nicely.

I probably should have thought about the route back a little more, perhaps considering that as it was dark, the forest would be better avoided, and the surfaced route by a well lit road would be more sensible, but I was tired and cold, and the ‘begging buttons’ don’t work after ten, so I decided to take the short cut. What could go possibly wrong?

I know, I never learn. Things began badly when I was dive bombed by a bat*, then turned off the road into darkness and realised the crucial difference between this route and the other forest trail is that other one is straight, wide, and flat, and has the lights of the next town at the end as a guide. The ‘short cut’ has none of these advantages and is a winding, twisting strip of potholed gravel. For added fun there is a fork in the woods at the darkest point and a deep drainage ditch which could easily double as a tank trap if Stuttgart were ever attacked from the north.

In daylight this is a pleasant winding trail you can ride along thinking happy thoughts about squirrels**, whereas at night thoughts run thus: “This is dark… ouch… where’s the turning?… was that it? oof… no it isn’t… yes it is, brakes… tree stump… must avoid tree stump… and the ditch… ouch… hang on, it isn’t that steep in the day is it?  pothole… oof… corner… is that a lurking shadow creature hiding by the trail ready to attack unwitting cyclists… oh, no, it’s a bush… ow… with roots… Hat blowing off… must hold… oof, pothole… hat… corner… getting steeeeper…

And then as usual, just as I was starting to get the hang of things, the trail widened and I was able to see the lights of the next town.

Then it started raining again…

[Update: It seems I’ve been here before…]

*Either we have our own version of the ASBO Buzzard of Scotland or I sound like a bug on sonar. I’m not sure which is worse.
** When it isn’t raining, of course…

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The ‘BMX Track’ reopened in summer, having had more maintenance than most of the local cycle infrastructure has seen in several years,* so we spent part of an afternoon trying it out. Unfortunately the lumps are now just a bit too fierce for the Xtracycle, which provided a great excuse is why I had to be content with sitting in the shade and photographing the boys enjoying themselves instead.

Ah, the joys of being able to ride with short sleeves.

Only a few weeks until spring…

*Which is why most of the infrastructure looks like a BMX track.

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While on my way to an appointment in our local big town, I came across this.

For the benefit of our local councillors I should explain that this is called a ‘cycle lane’, and is a place where ‘bicycles’ can be used safely and conveniently by people of all ages and abilities.

Significantly this is part of a ‘cycle network’ which means lots of these are connected together, so that people have a choice of transport mode and don’t have to use a car.

I can explain the concept in detail if any local government officials are having difficulty with it. Judging by past experience I suspect that is most of them.

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People who hear I cycle to college often react with surprise and imply that I’m incredibly hardcore but I honestly don’t see it as a big deal: the ride is only 20 kilometres (12 miles) one way, and I get to sit down in a warm classroom all day before pootling back: essentially I get to have two short bike tours with a day at college inbetween. Besides, so far I’ve seen deer, rabbits, kestrels, red kites, buzzards, lots of smaller birds I’m gradually getting to know, and last week a fox ambled across the road as I went through a forest.

It helps that I only have to do it once or twice a week: I think I’d see it differently if I was riding every day.

The photo is on a new section of the route: I had to change because one of the towns I went through has closed a main road to lay a new sewage pipe and decided the cycle way is much more useful as a diversion for the Very Important Drivers rushing to the autobahn, and I don’t feel like dealing with stressed drivers trying to control their car and use their navigator while drinking coffee at half past six in the morning.

I did wonder about writing to the council and pointing out that by pushing cyclists like me out of the town, it means we can’t stop and spend money in their supermarkets as we pass,  but then I remembered I’m too miserly to do that anyway, and besides the new route has views like this and no traffic whatsoever, so I didn’t bother.

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The kind people in charge of the carpentry department gave me permission to park in their delivery bay, so I can take my Xtracycle to college and know it is safe all day, albeit lightly coated in sawdust by the afternoon.

They think I’m very strange, but harmless, or maybe they feel sorry for me for being ‘too poor’ to own a car. I, on the other hand, spend the last hour or so of college dreaming of the ride home.

Today was a particularly stressful day with a modular test all afternoon which I may or may not have passed, and much time trying to understand maths equations. Knowing that this is what came afterwards made it bearable.

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Eldest Son goes to a school some distance away, which is a perfectly normal here: schools tend to be far enough away that children are sent off on their bikes or public transport to get there. This is a great thing, of course, because they gain independence and experience navigating the real world without parents (except when they are brought to school in Mummy’s SUV, of course, but there’s always one).

During school hours, there is a direct tram from the next town to a stop just across the road from the school. Unfortunately this useful service goes off to bed at about six, because grownup people don’t need public transport, obviously. So if there is a parent’s evening at the school, we need to get on a tram into the city, change to another tram back out of the city, change again, go one stop, and change a final time for the last bit of the journey to the stop for eldest son’s school. This seemed a little pointless, especially as the last change involved waiting for ten minutes for a tram journey that lasted exactly fifty-seven seconds, so this time I took my bike.

Whereupon the clouds above delivered rain in large quantities.

Thankfully the bike storage at the school is covered, so the saddle didn’t get wet*, and I met another cycling parent who showed me a way through the black hole of fast roads and contraflows in one of the lesser suburbs of Stuttgart, so we got home quicker than I’d have managed by tram. I used the extra time drying off clothes, but never mind. It’ll be dry next time. Hopefully.

*The main concern of a Brooks user when it rains: ‘Must keep the saddle dry.’ The madness is catching, I tell you…

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Now it is officially spring again, the cyclists are coming out of hibernation. The Xtracycle and I spotted this classy looking bike at a local metro stop.

Having more cyclists is a great idea in theory, as long as they remember they aren’t driving their car down the Autobahn and expect everyone to jump out of the way.

Eighteen months of cycling to the bus stop has taught me I need fifteen minutes for a relaxed ride, ten at speed, and about seven and a half when I forget my wallet and have to go back and get it. The bus leaves the next village at 0635, so I aim to set off by 0620.

How I expected to catch the bus on Wednesday after leaving home at half past six I’m not sure.

On arriving I cunningly worked out that I’d failed in this by the empty bus shelter and clock showing it was 0640. meaning I had to cycle to the railway station, five kilometres away from our village, and 200m lower, and the other end of a busy road. I’m a fairly experienced cyclist, I know how cars usually react and I know the road. The weather was dry and visibility clear. What could possibly go wrong?

Apart from, say, falling off at high speed and being run over by an SUV.

With this comforting thought I went through the traffic lights and dropped off the end of the world. There were a couple of interesting moments like the point the street lights stopped and we plunged into darkness on a sharp bend with a drop on the left hand side of the road. Fortunately a helpful driver assisted by driving close enough to my back wheel that he lit the road ahead of me. Stopping for traffic lights was interesting and my bottle dynamo will never be the same again, but I made it in plenty of time, and the bike was still in the bike shed -with wheels- when I came back in the afternoon.

I doubt I’ll make a habit of this as the ‘ride’ back took almost an hour of climbing via a road cycle-cross riders would reject out of hand, getting lost in a strange  isolated housing estate with a thousand identical houses and crossing a seriously muddy field.

On the other hand, I could look smug when the students who commuted by car came in late, again.

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With world-class cycle facilities like this, you wonder why there aren’t more cyclists around…

Ecologically sound bike parking in Stuttgart centre.

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It rained a bit while I was at college; Xtracycle reflections on a dip in the cycle way.

For some this is a reason not to cycle to college and use a car instead. For others it is a photo opportunity.

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