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The plan was for a 20k ride with Beautiful Daughter on the back, towards Stuttgart and then through a forest to a rather attractive castle. From there we’d follow a road through the valleys out into the countryside and wiggle back up through the hills to our village. The roads were dry and the wind had died down, so what could possibly go wrong?

Well, as we went past the local chemist their thermometer was displaying a temperature of -1°c. This wasn’t too much bother for me as I would warm up quickly hauling Beautiful Daughter up the hill, but it occurred to me that after 20km I’d probably have to chip my passenger off the back seat.

Then the Xtracycle gears decided was too cold and started playing up.

So we cycled around the local villages and followed the tram line for a bit then coasted back over the fields, and spent the next hour under a blanket drinking hot chocolate instead.

There’s always next time…


(Attempt at artistic photo utterly fails to show essential details.)


Most available brain capacity for the last few week has been taken up working out how to get the now cleaned frame, someone capable of welding and the Romanian braze-ons in the same place at the same time. There is such a person where I work, but getting the frame to him required some rather complex logistics arrangement involving Eldest Son, the commuter bike, several buses and a couple of trams.

After that it was a matter of saying what I wanted and not jumping through the door every five minutes to see if he’d finished.

By the time the bike was ready to come back I’d concluded that this sort of thing is what Xtracycles are for, so on my next Saturday shift -doing lighting and some stage management for an English speaking Panto group- I cycled down into the city and loaded up for the return.

I cheated for some of the way and took the tram on the worst of the hill.

Judging by the looks from other passengers people transporting freshly welded bicycle frames on a longtail are not a regular sight in suburban Stuttgart.

Work, my final dissertation, and family needs are combining to make sure I don’t have a lot of time for anything else at the moment, but looking at the weather forecast for this weekend I don’t think I’ll be planning any tours for a bit. They’re promising 88km/h (54 mph) winds and rain at 7.7 litres per m²

And typically, on the weekend when I’m working, so I have to cycle to the tram stop.

More news on the slow Ranndoneur conversion next week, if I’m spared.

Of the many problems the ugly bike had when we bought it, I felt being called a ‘Didgeridoo’ was probably one of the most serious, so with parts on order and making their way slowly from Romania,of all places, we decided to do something about the matter. As usual in our projects, “do something” generally meant “attack the problem with whatever seemed like a good idea at the time.”


We were pretty sure that the letters were stickers, rather than transfers, so we turned on the hairdrier and put it close against the frame.

Fifteen seconds later it overheated and tripped the circuit breakers.

A couple of minutes later we tried again, this time with the hairdryer a more prudent distance away and after what seemed a decent amount of time, I scratched at the sticker with a fingernail. This worked, but ten minutes later only two letters had been removed and so had most of my fingernails. Either we were going to have to work at a rate of two letters a week and allow fingernails to grow back in between or we needed another scraper.


We Started searching for a scraper, and found a Japanese 10 yen coin that I’ve kept for reasons far too boring to go on about here. This proved to be the ideal scraper: sharper corners than European coins, but soft metal so it didn’t damage the frame.

A few minutes getting rid of the sticky remains with a cloth and some cleaning alcohol, and we had:


Next step, sanding the frame and talking someone at work into adding the braze-ons for the gear levers. Of course that means getting the frame into Stuttgart and back, but I’ll think of something…

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Elder Son is now an apprentice bike mechanic. In Germany this is a two year course, mostly working in a bike shop with college one or two days a week. The college makes sure he has extra practical and theory lessons, and also theory, social studies, how and why the German government is built as it is, law and business studies: he’s not just being trained to be a bike wrench: he’s being trained to run a business.

And yes I am envious, even more so because it turns out he’s pretty good at it.

Take this week for example. As mentioned previously, we’d pulled most of the extra components off the bike frame ready for painting, but the cranks and bottom bracket (where the pedals go through the frame) needed some needed some tools I hadn’t got, so we arranged that Elder Son would ask his boss to lend us a couple. He was a bit unsure about this for fear of making a mistake (thanks schools system) but agreed to give it a go.

Yesterday evening he rang the bell and reported that he did have the tools, so I went downstairs to lend moral support. He’d already started, and waved the Mother Of All Spanners at me, saying “Hi dad, I thought you might like to see how this works”. He took hold of the bike, instructed me to hold it “Like that, no, a bit over here. That’s it…”
He waved the crank remover, fitted it, turned the lever and removed the crank.
I was instructed to rotate the bike. Next time I looked the other crank was neatly placed on the floor.
Then came the Mother Of All spanners. “This engages inside the ring here, look, my boss showed me this trick…”
The first screw loosened without protest
“Dad?”
“Yes?”
“Can you tun the bike around?”
“Oh, sorry.”
Spanner was applied again, Bottom bracket removed.
“Okay, so we can pack those up and sand the frame down.” He’d only taken the tools out of the bag three minutes earlier.
“Okay,” I said, “just one thing.”
“What?”
“Next time,let me have a go, okay?”
“I’ll think about it.”

You can’t buy that…

RND_10With Elder Son becoming more confident that he won’t break something vital while fixing stuff, we pulled the Ugly Bike out of the cellar to begin turning it into a beautiful randonneur/adax bicycle.

We’d decided to pull off everything we could with the tools we had in the drawer, up to and including a big hammer if the mood took us. For anything else we had an agreement of Elder Son’s employer and trainer that we could use some of the more specialised tools. Of course we could have waited until we had everything on hand but this bike really was just too ugly to be left any longer.

RND_09

Elder Son began at the back end with chain and dérailleurs while I got to grips, ha, ha, with with the handlebars. The grips themselves proved immune to persuasion, WD40 and bad language, and I ended up taking a knife to them before dealing with the combined brake and gear units. Normally this would be an opportunity to whine about the evils of capitalism as evidenced by the practice of combining gear and brake levers, and forcing users to replace the lot every time one element failed, but on this occasion we were changing to V-Brakes and drops and the gear shifters were worn out anyway, so I just dumped them in the bin without comment.

RND_12

We discovered that our tools aren’t the right ones to remove the crank and bottom bracket, but we changed the handlebars anyway, even though we’ll need a different stem, This was as much a statement of intent and a morale booster as anything.

Any suggestions we then coasted up and down the drive making ‘woosh woosh’ noises are pure fiction…

This box represents an big step forward in the InGermany household.

We’ve bought a new microwave.

Our previous Microwave was given to us by some friends with a slightly apologetic comment of “My Granny was throwing it out: It’s a bit old.” and it was, in fact it was ancient, but we needed a microwave and we figured we could replace it later.

That was about seventeen years ago.

People have commented at times at the age of the microwave, but we’d always had other things to do and it still worked, after a fashion. It was noisy and the light packed up several years ago, but we got used to that.

Then someone pointed out that the power consumption on the thing must be pretty high: I believe their actual words were “I can see the lights dimming whenever you cook something” so we started looking around for a replacement -until something came up, and then something else… you get the idea.

Anyway, Beautiful wife got fed up and went online last month. It took ten minutes to order a new one, and finally we have a microwave made in this century.

If things go on like this we may all have a smart phone by 2050…

Every now and again Beautiful Wife expresses the opinion that German food, while certainly filling, lacks a certain gastronomic variety, and that it’s time the boys experienced a little more of their maternal heritage. So last week we went of to visit the Asian supermarket in Stuttgart.

The catch-all Asian supermarket, like the informative bus stop, is a fairly new development in Stuttgart. Despite being an engineering centre the city doesn’t have an east Asian community anything like as big as the cities to the north, and it’s only recently begun to have a cosmopolitan feel. Last time I bought some Marmite I even had to order it from Cologne.

Possibly a bad example there.

The supermarket is on the main shopping street in the centre but hidden inside a large sportswear shop, of all things. Once  got past the piles of 2018 German football strips being sold off at reduced prices, we go down into the basement and landed in East Asia. Beautiful Wife went off in search of Green Tea ice cream and I went for a slightly nostalgic wander through shelves of “Healthy Boy Brand Chilly Sauce”, packed in what looks like glass lemonade bottles and source of some epic endurance contests amongst some colleagues in Thailand.

There were also assorted items I was quite glad to leave behind in Japan like the unfortunately named ‘Calpis’ sports drink, sold in concentrate, with the English boast that “with 1.5l you can make 7.5l of Calpis”, which never failed to amuse our boys. Not far away is the dreaded Natou (“Na-chow”) sticky beans, made -let’s be honest here- by allowing beans to ferment, ie, rot, packaging the result up and selling it as a delicacy.

But then being British means you can never be too cocky about other people’s tastes in food. As I was wandering about the cooking section which has the largest collection of woks I’ve ever seen, Beautiful Wife came around the corner waving a pot of Marmite.

Bike maintenance seems to be like buses: nothing for ages and then a load of it all at once. This is probably because I keep putting it off, but still…

Having managed to change my cassette and chain without breaking any more tools, I set out for work feeling appropriately smug to find that the bike had a new party trick. When I used the big ring on the front gears, the chain would refuse to drop back down to the middle again. As my cycling style could charitably be called “relaxed” this was arguably not a major problem, but still…

Normal procedure for this is to mess about with the tension on the cable, and there’s a little twiddly bit on the gear shifters for this very purpose. Twiddling this improved matters slightly, but then the chain started rattling at annoying random intervals. Eventually I found that I could force the issue by changing gears down until I was on the smallest front ring and then changing back up to the middle.

After a few kilometres the bike decided it had had enough of this and dropped the chain over the big ring and somehow wrapped it into the mech at the same time, before vomiting it onto the road.

Fortunately it is uphill from my village for most of the commute, although in accordance with the usual law of the universe I had just descended the only steep hill, so I plodded up to the summit and coasted back to the apartment.

I go to work pretty early to allow time to prepare the activities for my clients, so I wasn’t about to be late. Instead of taking the bus I decided to have a look at the bike. On inspection I discovered the link designed to join the chain had been torn out, along with another link or two. I also discovered that I’d been far too cautious as usual, and left the chain stupidly long to the point it was dragging on the frame in some gears. I removed several links so it looked less like a piece of damp spaghetti.

Twenty minutes later we were off again, and suddenly the chain was much smoother, which is not a surprise in the circumstances. Even better, the chain obediently drops out of the big ring on command. I’m still not sure if this is because of the shorter chain or because the front mech was bent into submission when the chain became an ugly shape, but hey, it works, so I’m not complaining…

This post is brought to you by a combination of poor planning and procrastination. For some time I knew the chain and cassette on my commuter bike were getting pretty worn: I’m not sure I changed them when I bought the bike about six years ago and they’ve done a fair bit of distance since, but they were still just about working so I decided to leave them until winter when I’d put a new chain on and put on the winter wheel with an equally new cassette. Of course, I’d actually said this about a year ago, but hey, the problem wasn’t urgent so I kept forgetting.

Fortunately the chain and cassette wear together, so I could get away with ignoring the problem as long as I didn’t change any components. So of course when I swapped my winter and summer wheels without thinking, the smallest (ie top) gear began to slip. I ignored it for a bit until the next one started to do the same and I realised I’d have to do something.

Most modern(ish) cassettes are held on with a locking ring that has ridges on it to stop it rattling loose, so the one thing you don’t want to do is make it very tight. Unfortunately whoever had put this lock ring on had not been told this as I discovered when I failed completely to move the ring at all.

The usual way of dealing with an over tightened ring is to clamp everything down firmly, and use a piece of tube on the cassette removing tool to gain more leverage. This in theory results in a clicking noise and a loosened cassette.

In my case it resulted in a loud snap and a broken removing tool.

Situations like this are why we have Bakfietsen. Off we went to the bike shop in the next town, where the mechanic applied a professional removing tool to the wheel. This didn’t work, so he called a colleague over to help. Eventually it took both of them and a length of what looked like scaffolding before the lock ring gave up. Now we have the new cassette on, new chain on, and I’ve got a commuter bike again…

Now, will I learn from this experience and get to grips with maintenance before it all goes to pot again?

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