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It’s one of my favourite times of the year again, when the weather department realises it is spring and suddenly we go from freezing cold and rain to sunshine, flowers, and very nearly not a needing a coat. This also means I can ride most of the way to college instead of using the tram, and thus avoid the centre with all its annoyances without getting too muddy.

Most of the route is on routes through the forest and across fields where cars are supposedly not allowed.They are therefore indifferently tarmacked or gravel, and used as a turning circle for tractors ploughing. (The local town once made a big thing about how they employed a sort of park ranger who apart from anything else should keep these roads clean, which gave us all a laugh).

Having mudguards helps of course, as well as an improvised mudflap which is surviving far longer than I dared hope, but it is good to know I can ride through the forest and not hit mud or puddles.

Which made last week just the wrong time for the owners of the local forest to decide to play with their big tractors, and close the routes to Stuttgart so they could mess up all the trails undisturbed. It gave the journey an extra edge of adventure, especially as they only reopened them when they’d made sure there were wheel ruts across the trails wider than some local cycleways.

Just a small reminder that for all the hot air, we don’t really consider bicycles to be a proper form of transport.

Meanwhile, our version of Stuttgart is developing, slowly…

One of the best things about spiked tyres is the feeling you get when you swap back to normal tread again. Ah, the silence.

On the other hand, I discovered that the bell doesn’t work any more. I’m not sure how this happened. I mean, how do you break a bell? I didn’t use it much in winter because sensible people don’t go outside when it is below freezing, and anyway, the spikes sound like a truck driving on gravel so people heard them when I was some distance away.

So now I’m back to riding most of the way to college every day or so instead of sharing a tram with lots of dozy commuters. Of course that means I’m occasionally sharing the road with dozy drivers instead, but that may not happen for much longer because a community group in Stuttgart has brought a private prosecution against the Mayor of Stuttgart for “Körperverletzung mit Todesfolge”, which translates as “Actual bodily harm causing death”. This is on the basis that the pollution is reaching lethal levels and he’s doing stuff all about it.

Apparently fifty years of giving cars as much space as is conceivably possibly need and then some in a city surrounded by hills has resulted in The Mother of All Traffic Jams and a fug of pollution so far above the European Standardised ‘Danger, breathe out only’ levels that when the City Government tried their usual tactic of sticking their finger in their ears and shouting “Cars are safe, Cars are safe, stop talking about this la la la, can’t hear you” they had a coughing fit.

Who’d have thought it?

German law allows for the government to ban motor vehicles in places when pollution gets so thick citizens can surf on the top of it, so our government could legally stop through traffic tomorrow if they wanted, but that may annoy some Very Important Drivers and a certain large car company who like driving big trucks back and forth to deliver to their main factories.

All that happened so far is a rather pathetic advertising campaign to get people to use public transport at half price. This is having as much effect as you’d imagine.

It will be interesting to see what effect the legal proceedings have. So far we’ve been entertained by a number of entitled motorheads having tantrums and demanding that people who don’t like breathing particles ‘just move somewhere else, duh.’ so they can keep driving where they want. Bless.

Meanwhile a rather cleaner version of Stuttgart is emerging on the classroom wall

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slushy

It’s that time of year when cycling is reduced to the bare minimum, of muck and slush and plans to start dog sledding.Of wrestling with the rain cover because without it Beautiful Daughter would start to lose extremities from the windchill.

And still people say she’s ‘Got it good’ while shovelling kids into their heated cars.

Yesterday the Elder Son and I spent twenty minutes changing the tyres on our shared bike for spikes. He’s discovered a new reason to go the next town and doesn’t want to have to wait for the ice to melt to ge there. I’ll need them next week to commute to college without ending up in a ditch somewhere on the way and many of the cycleways are currently under thick layers of hard packed snow and temperatures are reaching -14°c (Very cold °f).

If last year is anything to go by, expect reports of sudden warm weather in southern Germany for the next few weeks.

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Since working at a local bike shop and maintaining the ever expanding family bicycle fleet (currently at nine bikes for six people, one of whom can’t ride yet, and your point is?) I generally think I’m pretty competent at basic cycle repairs, but there are some days when I wonder if I should be allowed out with as much as a hex key in my hand.

Take Wednesday as an example. After successfully not losing one of the wheels while juggling them between bikes, I’d also fitted Elder Son’s saddle to the commuter bike, as mine apparently wasn’t up to snuff. This done, we toddled off to prepare ourselves for the 80k ride the next day (ie, get lots of chocolate).

In the morning, we were just climbing the first major hill, when The Elder Son mentioned that his saddle had moved. When I tested this by poking it a couple of times, it wobbled and almost fell off.  We flagged down a fellow cyclist and were directed to a shop in a town a few kilometres away, where I shamefacedly confessed to not having fastened the saddle properly. The owner came and had a look, and announced that I had also managed to put the post on backwards. Fortunately he was sufficiently amused by this to not charge us for fixing it properly. I expect that story will go around the regulars for a while…

 

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Elder Son thought that his brakes may be snagging as well. I lifted the bike and checked both wheels. They turned freely. I harrumphed at this lack of trust in my maintenance skills.

Despite this we made it to Gutenberg. This is at the end of the valley and going further means climbing about 350m in 3 km (830ft in 2 miles), and I’m much too lazy for that sort of thing. So we took a not at all posed picture of the bikes in front of the church door and set off.

 

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After a quick break for lunch…

After our return I found the cause of the ‘dragging brake’. The valley that I’d assured Eldest Son was nice and flat climbs 300 m in 25km. Thats just under a thousand feet in fifteen miles.

Need to work on navigation skills as well as maintenance…

 

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Fresh wheel delivery by Bakfiets

The Elder Son has frozen onto my commuter bike as his preferred form of transport, and was ready to go on a bike tour. This meant moving his saddle over to the commuter and fitting a new wheel with a hub dynamo, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, but as usual I faffed about and didn’t get on with it.

The wheel intended for the commuter bike was on the Xtracycle, bought as an emergency replacement in January when the original wheel rims finally split after being worn down over twenty years of use. Last week I finally bought a better wheel for the Xtracycle, so now we had to move the wheel on the Xtracycle over to the commuter, after removing the tyre, put the new wheel on the Xtracycle and take the older, dynamo-less wheel off the commuter. this would donate its tyre to the wheel off the Xtracycle before disappearing into the cellar.

Because we can’t do things the normal way, we added another elderly front wheel out of the cellar, and used that to prop each of the bikes in turn as we worked on their wheels. I have no idea why I have so many used bicycle wheels.

There was one interesting moment when I thought the brakes on the commuter were acting up as I couldn’t set them straight, but this was solved by pushing hard on the handlebars, which knocked the wheel in straight and suddenly everything made sense

I then made exactly the same mistake on the Xtracycle, but as we are taught at college, Occupational Therapists don’t make mistakes, we have ‘learning experiences’.

At some point when I’m less embarrassed about it I’ll tell you about the learning experience we had with the brakes and the saddle on the next day…

 

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Beautiful Daughter is now big enough that she doesn’t need a baby seat to travel in the Bakfiets, which means we can carry other things besides the resident small person, and we can go on a ride without Daddy mucking about with a rope for ten minutes to make sure the child seat is properly secured, the Japanese makers having neglected to make it compatible with a Bakfiets for some reason.

The Small One also approves because in her new sitting position she can see what is happening, instead of watching her dad pedaling away. From her point of view, this is a definite improvement.

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Three months have just vanished. We’ve gone from ‘getting to know you games’ to the first exams, and the first internship is starting after the summer holidays (did I mention that I have full school holidays? Six weeks off? just checking).

Meanwhile Eldest Son, who originally featured in the early days of this blog riding on a bike with stabilisers, is now able to ride on the commuter bike, hence the presence of both bikes at the end of the local tram line.

I feel old…

Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be allowed out alone.

Yesterday we had good cycling weather, so I cycled to the tiny tram stop at the edge of the valley to catch the tram down the hill. I’ve found this is far easier than dealing with the Scary Hill of Doom with impatient motorists first thing in the morning. The tram stop is hidden away in a quiet corner of the city, and comes complete with a convenient railing. I locked the bike to this (a bike rack would be preferred, but you can’t have everything), waited a few minutes, and got on the tram.

Leaving my cotton cap on the bench seat in the tram stop.

It wasn’t until I got off at the bottom of the hill that I noticed a distinct lack of headgear.

Fortunately the locals are too honest, or too wealthy* to be bothered with such things as a grubby hat, and ignored it for the seven hours it took me to come back and find it.

*Judging by the size of the houses, I suspect the latter.

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Well, it turns out there’s a lot to be said against using hardwoods for luggage racks. Sure, they’re nice and solid, but it made the bike turn like I’d cable tied a stack of bricks onto the front forks. As the route to college has a number of those ridiculous chicanes made to slow everyone* down when the cycleway crosses a road, it became a decision between taking up weight training just to get the bike around corners, or taking the whole contraption off. The rack also developed the interesting habit of sliding forwards and downwards, something I really should have expected if I’d been paying attention.

I think I could probably sort out most of the problems: I could make the rack lower, and about 8 cm shorter so it didn’t hang over the front of the bike as far, and add another fixing point to the forks so it doesn’t try to keep going whenever I brake, but at the moment what’s left of my brain is mostly engaged in trying to remember enough of my course to survive the first theory tests, so any bike related projects will have to wait for a couple of weeks until there’s spare capacity available.

*Excapt cars of course, because… er…

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Finally made the practical exam and got a 1,05, which is a pretty good grade, as the system starts at 1.0 and goes down to 6. This is largely due to the kindness of the College in letting me do the exam without the whole class watching (lovely people, to be sure, but doing an exam with 20 pairs of eyes on me was not going to work), and despite my reprinting the report at the last minute and managing to forget an important section, but I was allowed to bring that on Monday. My tutor is clearly still in a good mood having just become a dad…

Now I can relax, until the mid-term theory exams…

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