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TÜ_02

Last week I was in Tübingen, for a seminar connected to work. Unfortunately this meant not much time to enjoy the scenery or cycling facilities, although I did find time for a quick ride around.

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On the other hand, as my friend from Tübingen said: “In Stuttgart, people will scowl at you for being a tiny bit different. Here, riding an Xtracycle and wearing a big Akubra hat is not in the slightest bit unusual, so no-one will look twice”

TÜ_05

He was right too. It was nice not to be the resident wierdo for a change.

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downdown_01I think I’ve got the ride to work sorted out, apart from a couple of little hiccups we won’t mention like the Xtracycle’s rear gear cable snapping on the one place where I have to ride uphill in traffic*.

I’d originally planned to use the tram for most of the route between our village and the farm, with a bike at both ends to cover the first and last bit, but apart from the security issue, Stuttgart’s tram system mostly goes from the edge to the centre, whereas I wanted to go from one suburb to another, and those trams ran only occasionally, usually before or after I wanted to travel, and often thirty seconds before I got to the station.

After an embarrassingly long time riding into Stuttgart and back out again, it finally occurred to me that I was travelling off-peak in both directions, so I could carry my Xtracycle on the tram for free (British public transport providers take note: this is possible without the sky falling). Now I cycle to the local tram stop, ride the tram to the highest part of the route, which rather conveniently is the last station before it goes down into Stuttgart, and ride the rest of the way. Coming back I catch any Stuttgart-bound tram on the other line, hop off again near the top of the hill, and pootle back through the forest. No bikes are left to the predations of local vandals, and I get to ride the Xtracycle. Everyone wins.

Until it snows, but let’s not worry about that yet.

*It turns out that with some pliers and a lot of swearing I can -just- get a normal, standard-length back gear cable to fit on an Xtracycle. I’m probably the last Xtracycle user to find this out, but I put it out there anyway.

TÜ_002

Yesterday I had the chance to visit a friend in Tübingen, about 50km south of us. I’ll post more pictures later but here’s part of the route.

It’s tough living without a car, but somehow I cope.

Or: how to make a simple job more complicated.

1: Leave apartment to deliver letter, notice plastic ready for recycling. Take it downstairs.

2: Dither in hallway before deciding that as I’m using the Bakfiets, and I’ll be going through the garage, I’ll drop the plastic in the Bakfiets, take the Bakfiets out of the garage,  close the garage door, and transfer the plastic to the recycling bin, thus saving myself a trip of ooh, about ten metres.

3: Open garage door.

4: Drop the plastic in the Bakfiets, take the Bakfiets out of the garage,  close the garage door, ride off.

5: Reach top of hill. A couple of dog walkers look curiously into the Bakfiets. Realise why.

6: Ride 200m back down hill.

7: Transfer the plastic to the recycling bin.

8: Ride 200m back up hill.

At least I’d remembered to bring the letter. I guess I’ll go and cross out ‘multitasking’ as one of my skills on my CV…

So there I was riding along a nice gravel trail towards our village: I turned a corner, saw a bike coming the other way, pulled on the brakes too quickly, the Xtracycle went in a different direction to me and I made sudden and unwelcome contact with the Federal Republic. Considering that I basically dived into the gravel like an olympic swimmer making for gold, I came out rather well: just a couple of bruises on my hands and a rather dramatic graze on my shoulder which made first contact.  My face managed to get away with a near-invisible scratch, which is good as people ask awkward questions when you turn up with an obvious facial injuries.

Annoyingly, this is the second time I’ve fallen off my bike in three months. Earlier this spring I went wide on a blind bend and locked handlebars with an oncoming rider. No real damage was done but I was wondering why this would be. Am I getting old? sloppy?

I have a less embarrassing theory: both times I was taken by surprise by oncoming cyclists. All winter I’ve had the cycle ways to myself, and now the hibernating cyclists are returning and I’m not ready for them. On a road, I’m riding defensively, seeing dangers, taking the lane, etc. When I get onto a bike lane I relax. Apparently a bit too much.

We cycle infrastructure advocates will bore the pants off anyone about how cycle lanes make people feel safe, but perhaps we should add a disclaimer that you still have to look where you are going…

*With apologies to Disgruntled.

After living in a car focused town for so long, it comes as a shock to find genuine, well designed bike lanes just a few kilometres away.

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Bike lanes, no less, which go all the way along this side of the main road, inside of the parked cars and in to the centre of the town. I’m not sure why they look so shabby, in particular why someone decided to spend time and money scraping the red surface off at this point, as it was very much present further along (where I naturally forgot to take a photo). The blocked area is so drivers pulling out of side streets can see oncoming traffic without blocking the pavement and cycle lanes.

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Riding along it was a novel experience of knowing it was going where I needed to go, and not having to watch cars everywhere. It was also a shock not to have to dig out a map every five minutes to see where I was being taken next and how to avoid it.

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It also made a nice change not being the only wierdo on a bike.

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And thanks to the driver of this vehicle (under contract to the German Automobile Club, no less)* We can see that the cycle ways are not only direct, they are wide enough for two bikes to ride side by side, or for one truck to park.

*The nice people who sent us free Hi-vis vests a few years back.

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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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Living car free is easy, but the expectations of the car culture around us can be a problem. For example, when I have to get to several different places in a short period of time, and the public transport connection is just too tight or too long to be sure of making the appointments.

Enter the commuter bike which finds itself dumped at some distant tram or bus stop where I’d never dream of leaving my Xtracycle, while I follow some complex itinerary to get where I need to go.

Here it is towards the end of a rather complex journey involving two appointments in different places which required a round trip on several busses, trams and trains.

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The Millennium bridge in York, part of the city of York orbital cycle route which I’ve been using a lot in the last few days.

The white arrows at the bottom of the picture are three speed bumps. This is essential to stop anyone riding too fast off the bridge and along the straight, wide cycleways on either side. Presumably this important safety feature will soon be added to all road bridges.

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Found a shortcut through the forest between us and the next town. This has the advantage that we cross over the busy arterial road into Stuttgart on this bridge rather than having to zigzag through traffic lights.

Having grown up in the UK, the ability to travel cross country without using a major road still feels like a luxury..

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