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Saddles are possibly the most important part of a bike when riding: a poor saddle can ruin any enjoyment of cycling, not to mention the quite unpleasant health consequences that are the stuff of cycling forums.

A long time ago I needed a new saddle for the Xtracycle and finally sprung for a Brooks, known as the Rolls-Royce of saddles, and after a few hundred kilometres of “breaking in” (either of the saddle or of my anatomy, opinions vary) it has been resounding success, with many more years still in it.

I decided to get one for the touring bike. Unfortunately about the end of the “breaking in” process, the protective upper surface began to rub off the saddle, which looked ugly and also meant it wasn’t going to last very long.  The shop in Germany quickly replaced the clearly defective saddle and all was well, except that the process repeated itself.

Brooks in the UK lived up to their extremely good reputation, offering to replace the saddle if I sent it. Then they went into C-19 lockdown.

There are more important things in life than a saddle, so I used the old one for a while longer. Last month an email came through that Brooks were open for business, the old saddle went off to Wolverhampton and a replacement arrived quickly, along with a large tin of proof hide, cloth, and very nice rain cover.

Now it’s fitted to the bike, and so far has travelled about 500k with no sign of untoward damage to the saddle or to me. Everyone is happy.

I was feeling a bit rough today and it was entirely self inflicted…

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By which I mean I stayed up reading late on Saturday, then went for ride into the hills on Sunday…

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…in which I completely failed to make a metric century, because just after taking this picture the sky went black and the resident cycle touring expert had completely failed to pack anything waterproof.

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This resulted in a race 40k back down the valley to get back before the weather went all apocalyptic. I made it back dry but exhausted and compounded this by not eating properly, sleeping badly, setting off for work this morning in a slightly muggy state of mind.

On previous occasions when leaving the apartment in this state I’ve been known to forget to lock the door, thankfully the apartment is in a rural area and invisible from the road, but I wasn’t about to make a habit of this, so today I made a point of turning the key in the lock and left feeling muggy but smug.

However, on my return this afternoon I remembered that while locking a door is important, I should also attend to other details.

Primarily, making sure the door is actually closed first…

 

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I’m visiting my family in Stuttgart this week which will involve lots of hugs, being pounced on by Beautiful Daughter, reading stories and visiting local farms, but not a lot of blogging.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

 

 

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It’s 07:30 on a Sunday morning. I’m supposed to be half way to France but instead I’ve overslept and now I’m fretting. I’ve fretted about my toolkit (checked, all there) my pump (checked), the post C-19 border situation (Checked: open apparently) and now I’m randomly fretting about my saddle and if it will suddenly become uncomfortable halfway through the journey.

Decide I’m being silly and set off, a cold breeze sets me off worrying that I should have packed an extra fleece.

The village is silent. This is because Germany closes down on a Sunday and only really stirs at midday. The cycleway is inhabited by dog walkers and other early morning cyclists. At a road island, cross the entrance of an industrial estate; nothing is moving inside.

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Up and over the main Karlsruhe-Basel Autobahn. Three cars trundle along it. Another cyclist, an older gent on a sit up and beg bike wakes me up with a hearty “Gute Morge” and utterly indecipherable comment in the local dialect.

Pass joggers who smile and wave, and a large group of large storks prowling through a freshly cut cornfield. A bird siting in the middle of the road turns out to be a Kestrel eating breakfast. He flies off to an electric pole and scowls.

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There are villages every few kilometres; they are built on the same theme of enclosed courtyards with high walls and big gates facing the road. A group of teenagers waiting for a Freiburg bound train chase each other along the station platform.

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I’m winding between willow trees and fields but a hundred metres north the extinct volcano of the Kaiserstühl rears out of the plain, draped in vineyards.

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Breisach minster is visible from several kilometres away. Unfortunately at this exact point the cycleway is blocked by a spiderweb of temporary fences and diversion signs to prevent people using about 200m of entirely open road.

Of course I follow all the diversion and don’t squeeze through the fence. Honest…

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On the approach to Breisach the wall of hills turns north and the road crosses a wide open plain. There are fishermen by the lakes, and increasing numbers of cyclists and joggers. In the last kilometre to Breisach I receive my first “Bonjour”.

Pass the Mother of All Wineries, a massive concrete block that would rival a nuclear power station. Outside is a pickup truck with a sign offering an “Emergency wine delivery service”.

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Breisach itself has a pretty, old town centre with old walls and a minster which would make it famous in the UK. It is built on a hill, and when the Rhine flooded, which was a lot of the time, it would frequently find itself an Island in the middle of the river.

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Being the only high point for miles and on a natural boundary it obviously was fought over quite a lot and at various points was occupied by most of the local powers. At one point it even belonged to Austria because… reasons.

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One of these days I’ll stop making excuses and actually go up that hill to see the view.

Follow a cycleway around the hill to the bridge, tailed by a courier van that ignored the signs and promptly gets stuck. This route comes out above the bridge over the Rhine, and as it comes into view there’s a steady stream of cars and pedestrians in both directions, and not a policeman in sight, so I guess I’m allowed to go to France. The Cycleway goes under the main road and between casinos and cafes in the old customs building and a row of trucks from different countries with their cab curtains drawn, drivers resting ready for tomorrows journey. One has a satellite dish hanging off the mirror.

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Then there’s a sign saying “France, 400m” and a short climb to the bridge. The first French road sign I encounter says “Chausee deforrmee” and it isn’t joking. The Chausee is very deformee and to make it worse the sign was right on the first deformee on a downhill section.

On the other hand, I’ve made it I’m in France. There are French signs and people speaking French, although to be fair the buildings are largely the same and there’s a lot of German being spoken. There are even German murals painted onto houses showing that the culture on both sides of the river is largely the same.

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After celebrating this universal humanity by fulfilling a universal human need in some trees, follow a sign to “UNESCO Heritage site, Neuf-Brisach”. On the first corner there’s an irrigation machine doing to the road what I so recently did to a bush but Le scale grand. It dumps a torrent of water in front of a cyclist whose comment is instantly understandable in any language. After a few minutes waiting for the thing to spray in the direction of the field it is theoretically irrigating there’s quite a group of cyclists at the edge of the damp bit of road, and as soon as it turns we all race across damp section like an ecologically conscious invading horde.

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I’ve been riding through the outer fortifications of Neuf-Bresach for a while before I realise. The town was built after the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. This brought an end to the Nine Years War between France and just about everyone else, although as was usually the case in Europe at the time, it was basically a ceasefire because everyone had run out of weapons.

Part of the treaty said the French should give up Breisach so they retreated in Le huff magnifique and built Neuf-Brisach a few kilometres away to be much bigger, better and more star shaped.

Three hundred years later they are still calling it “New” Brisach. It is a Vauban fortress; a massive construction big enough to contain a town, designed to withstand attacks by the new fangled cannon and with a complex maze of bastions, revetments and trenches to swallow entire battalions without trace. The gates, when I finally found them, were long cuttings through the walls which gave way to a grid of streets centred around a perfect square with a church. This being France on a Sunday, the square was hosting a flea market, and it was packed. I decided not catching any nasty bugs was more important than investigating this piece of French culture and headed west.

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The next destination was Wolfganzten, west of Neuf-Brisach and where the cycleway meets the road to Colmar and the Voges mountains, which are a future goal. I find all of these fairly easily, but unfortunately the local farmers had inconsiderately planted maize all around the village & I couldn’t get a clear image of the Voges, so here’s a picture of the church instead.

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This done It was time to return to Neuf-Brisach and do battle with the traffic in the central square; if France has a 2m passing rule French drivers don’t observe it.

At the border all the flags on the bridge are pointing south and stretched by the wind. Decide to scratch plans to ride north around the hills. There’s still a headwind on the other side of Breisach, but I convince myself I’ll be sheltered once I go behind the hills.

I’m wrong.

The highlight of the return turns out not to be beavers. Something very beaver like nearly becomes an ex-non beaver when it runs across the road, and I nearly drive into the ditch watching a second. When I see the third I actually have the sense to stop and we watch each other for a bit before he gets bored and wanders into the undergrowth. His tail isn’t the flat beaver tail though and I’m later informed they are Coypu, an invasive species from S. America. “Coypu” being a south American term for “Rat that evolved to look like a beaver so dumb Europeans will leave it alone”

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Wiggle back from village to village; pass churches, farms, wine merchants, and a very large gentleman on a tiny purple motor scooter. Cross the Autobahn again and see our local church tower ahead. I ran out of energy a few kilometres back so I persuade my legs to keep going over the last bit with the promise of a late lunch. At the edge of the village I cut through the gap onto my road.

There’s a paper in the letterbox and chickens all over the garden.

Time for some toast…

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Last week I finally made it over the border into France, see evidence above. It was… different, in a strange way: an odd mix of German place names and French street signs.

I will return to the subject at some point, but I’m visiting the family this weekend so it’ll have to wait for a few days.

 

 

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So I built a ramp.

I know, I can’t stand the excitement either.

Things at work and the apartment are gradually getting into a routine meaning that I have a bit more time and energy to spare, while a combination of introversion and a certain virus means my social life consists of Internet forums, building chicken runs and visits from the Landlady’s dog. Therefore I decided it was about time to make something interesting and use some of the machines being used for boring stuff like making pallets. I was also fed up with lifting the bike up the step outside the apartment.

Which is all fine, but brought up the question of how I was going to get it back to said apartment. For the last decade the answer to this would be a choice between using the Xtracycle or the Bakfiets*, either of which could have hauled this quite handily. Unfortunately both are still in Stuttgart.

Plan ‘A’, making some kind of cunning system to make the ramp fold down or assemble simply on arrival was rejected in the initial enthusiasm to make stuff, so now I had a 1 metre (3’3 5/8″) long wooden frame and a standard luggage rack.

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In the end I added two wooden cross pieces to the bottom of the construction whose main purpose was to fit snugly around the sides of the rack and survive for the fifteen minute ride. I backed this up with two trekking straps so the whole thing didn’t fly off at the blistering speeds I expected to achieve, and declared it good to go.

To my surprise this actually worked pretty well. I had to remember not to try riding through any narrow gaps and the weather was thoroughly uncooperative by sending a headwind, but on the other hand cars gave me a nice wide gap, and I didn’t get airborne.

Even better, it actually fitted my step. Plans to hold a proper opening ceremony were ruined because the Landlady’s Dog claimed a prior appointment.

Still had fun ‘testing’ it for a bit in front of an audience of bemused chickens…

*It really is ten years since I bought our cargo bike in Amsterdam, so it’s even longer since I started blogging: I’m getting old.

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Last time I returned to Freiburg from visiting the family I hopped off the train at a place called Lahr and rode the last 30km on a warm Sunday afternoon. This doesn’t feature in a blog entry because I didn’t have a camera and there are limits to how much of my prose you can handle without pictures to break it up occasionally. However that ride showed that this was a possible strategy and would undoubtedly be even faster if I didn’t take a wrong turning leading to a 10 kilometre diversion around the German countryside.

Looking at a map, I reasoned that the next time I could get off at Offenburg, a mere 20k north of where I’d de-trained last time, giving a bit more of a ride before arriving in my village.

On the other hand, 50k isn’t a quick and easy ride, and I did have work the next day.

Much fretting ensued, ended by German Railways (who were, it has to be said, having a bad day generally) announcing that their shiny new train had thrown a sulk and would be staying in Offenburg.

Problem solved, I got on the bike and followed signs into the town, which it turns out has a very pretty centre including revolving bronze cartoon birds.

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I’m not sure why either.

I’m not going to go exaggerating the difficulty of riding this trip. Okay it’s about 50k, but that’s almost 50 thoroughly flat kilometres on nice smooth cycleways, signposted most of the way.

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Yeah, I’m spoiled.

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Well, until I came to a village, when the cycleway vanished and I had to dodge traffic, but you can’t have everything.

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The sun was slowly heading for the horizon so I was pushing it as much as a moderately unfit middle aged bloke can, and the ride settled into a rhythm of long straight cycleway, village, mad dash through traffic, back to cycleway. In my concern to keep time I ignored many signs pointing to marketplaces, baroque churches and historic gates, so I’ll have to visit those on another ride. This time it was about the road, stretching off into the distance, and the setting sun.

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And later on the list became a bit longer with the addition of “aching legs”. It was quite a relief to reach villages which are now becoming familiar and not have to stop and look at the map any more, and even more when the church spire for the Village Across The River came into view and I only had to haul my sorry self up and over the railway line and the river, wiggle through the old town, check the post, and crunch over the gravel to my front door.

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I’d managed 50k in about 2 ½ hours, which is about an average speed of 20km/h. Any smugness about this was thoroughly destroyed by the complaints from my lower limbs the next morning…

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The weather report here was warning us to ignore the large yellow object in the sky as a cruel trick, put there to lure people out side to be caught by the rain, storms, followed by more storms, more rain and then some storms that moment. However, there was a short window in the afternoon where they claimed they could reliably predict things would be reliably dry(ish).

So your correspondent waited all day indoors ignoring the apparently sunny weather and doing sensible things like the washing (thank heavens for a large wide veranda) and got ready to go out in the short bit of time when it wasn’t actually raining, and of course as I took the bike out of the house it started raining.

I didn’t want to go back inside so I pootled around the village for a bit, then noticed it was a bit clearer to the south and decided to risk a short loop.

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By the time I got here, it was looking a bit more pleasant. This is the village of Eichstetten, home to some beautiful buildings and half a dozen monumentally badly positioned electricity pylons.

The lop I’d planned was fine for a drizzly day, but a bit short now that there was actually blue sky, so I decided to risk a detour up into the vineyards of the Kaiserstuhl, the long extinct volcano in the middle of the Rhine valley. Apart from anything else, I hadn’t cycled up any real hills in weeks, so it was about time I got some practice.

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Worth it for the view, too, although there were still clouds covering a lot of the Black Forest.

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Most roads in the area are closed to cars but open to bikes which means the road down the other side of the hill was traffic free and I could just let the bike roll.

Until I came around a corner and suddenly found myself in a village area: German towns are compact and tend to start suddenly…

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Brief stop to allow the brakes to cool down outside a very French looking restaurant.

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All this exploring is well and good but at some point though I’m going to have to go in the other direction, as my medium term goal is to ride a two day tour to Stuttgart, hopefully when I have some holiday in October. This means I need to find a route through the rather intimidating hills over the other side of the valley in the Black Forest.

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To be continued…

I rather spontaneously decided to ride into Freiburg today, on the basis that I really should visit the city as I’ve lived just outside for a month. It turns out the city is a lot quicker to cycle into than I thought.

They have trams. With some seriously bright colour schemes:

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It also has lots and lots of cycleways, which are direct, and link up to other cycleways, and hardly ever send you somewhere you think you’re going to get run over. This is a bit confusing because I’ve lived for over ten years by Stuttgart which treats cyclists as pedestrians with wheels, so the cycleways are generally on the pavements and you have to watch the pedestrian lights. Freiburg treats you like a car with pedals so I suddenly have to follow traffic lights.

Once in Freiburg I did the touristy thing.

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The Martinstor is one of the most famous sights in the city, which is why I kept this photo despite it being a bit rough. Apparently the city council compromised with the fast food chain occupying the gate: they were allowed to put their name outside but not in red and yellow…

After pretending to be all cultured:

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…and sampling some more of the cycle infrastructure, including the rather wonderfully named “Wiwili” (pron: Vee-Vil-Eee) bridge which is a “Bike street” connecting the two sides of the city for cyclists and pedestrians…

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I decided I’d experienced all of city life I wanted for a while and headed back north. It really is astonishing how fast you can get somewhere on a bike when there are direct, well signposted cycleways.

Unfortunately, this advantage doesn’t help if you then take a wrong turning and get lost in a random field somewhere…

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Still, I’ve established there is a fairly direct and ridable route into Freiburg. Now all I have to do is make sure I follow it next time…

A few kilometres from the new digs is the Kaiserstühl, a small range of volcanic hills in the middle of the wide plain of the Rhine valley. I’d worked out that if I cycle west, across the bottom of the hills to a town called Breisach am Rhein.

The border is currently closed, so I planned to follow the river north, past the lumpy bits, and back across open fields to the new base of operations, without climbing more than a few metres. This appealed for obvious reasons.

(map from Bikemap.net with additional labelling using Gimp; both are free.)

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The region is known as the “German Tuscany”: it is famous for having a Mediterranean climate and as a result most of the southern slopes are covered in vineyards. It also has a lot of things like this (Pic 1 on the map above):

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Apparently it’s a wine press. I’ve no idea how they work but it apparently required a donkey. This one is restored as a sort of village monument and would make an excellent cooking/eating point for long distance touring. Hopefully some other villages will have one.

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(Pic 2) There are villages every few kilometres, all of which are stunningly beautiful and beyond my skill with a camera, but I won’t stop trying. They often seem to have a river running down the high street, as seen here, a couple of churches and a cooperative dedicated to the sale of grape-based liquids of all kinds, the one in this village being the large glass fronted building on the left.

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(Pic 3). In contrast to the region around Stuttgart the older churches tend to be Catholic. This is the church at Wasenweiler. Notice as usual that your correspondent is not riding on the hill in the distance but the nice flat land in front.

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Finally after several detours because I’m easily distracted I reached Breisach (Pic 4). This is smack on the French border, and is built on a plug of rock surrounded by flat lowland, as a result it has changed ownership more times than a poker chip on a Saturday night. The railway used to cross the river which is why it has such a massive station building to accommodate the customs officers that they needed when this was a major stopping point between Paris and Vienna.

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After a brief detour around the harbour, the Rhine cycleway manages to follow the river for some distance (Pic 5).I know you’ve seen this one before but I still can’t get over the proximity of different countries in Europe.

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Apparently this is European Cycleway #15 riunning from lake Constance to Rotterdam (pic 6). There are information boards like this every few kilometres with local information in several languages, including of course places to eat, sleep and otherwise spend money.

After leaving the river I could cross back to where I live. This took me through Endingen which I visited a couple of days ago so I knew the way back from here. That’s forward planning, that is.

It turns out they have a rather nice city gate (pic 7):

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And a pretty town centre (Pic 8):

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Now I knew where i was going I was able to speed up and follow the cycleway back along the river to my new home town. I was feeling pretty tired but also rather pleased with myself, which all went to pot when I realised I was definitely no more than 500m from my apartment but I didn’t have a clue how to get there:

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(Pic 9) Bike waiting patiently while twit owner works out where the heck he is…

Now I’ve got my cycling legs back, it’s time to investigate the other direction, and get a bit further into the Black Forest…

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