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About 35 million years ago, the mantle in the earths crust sank between what is now Basel and Frankfurt, creating a rift valley 300 kilometres (190 mi) long and 50 kilometres (31 mi) wide and changing the direction of the Rhine from Basel from west to north. To the delight of future cyclists, this valley then filled up with sediment leaving a wide flat flood plain.

You’d think that being in a flat region with relatively cycle friendly policies this would mean I’m spoiled for choice. Unfortunately “flood plain” means what it says so there’s a complex network of drainage channels wriggling haphazardly across the landscape, and only a limited number of bridges over them, meaning the choice of routes is pretty limited unless I feel like making large detours.

My new employer is 15k (9 miles) north of where I now live, instead of a mere 5k (3 miles) and for some reason this was becoming a bit of a mental block, and the only way to change this seemed to be to actually ride it before starting work and show myself that it really wasn’t a big deal. It only has about 10m of up, for goodness sake, how hard could it be?

So last Saturday I got out the touring bike and set off. Of course, it started to rain as I did. Summer was last week apparently.

Once I’ve finished wriggling through the village, the commute follows the local “B” road, which is like an “A” road in the UK, and is straight, if a little dull. Despite promising myself I’d take my time, I found myself running out of upper gears in the middle ring, which I took as a good sign. On the other hand the humidity was making my work clothes a bit clammy, so I resisted the temptation to bung the chain on the big ring: There will be plenty of opportunities for that when I’m late for work.

The meagre drizzle laid off as I followed the cycleway north, leaving only a few droplets on the bike. These dried as I rode leaving a sort of leopard skin pattern in the pollen and dust.

The path continued past small villages in the valley sides, squeezed in to avoid wasting good farmland, and close to the local castle for when marauders came across the plains.

The only sizeable town between me and my new employer offers the choice is between riding through the old centre or along an “agricultural road” following the edge of the hills. As the town government recently rebuilt the centre at great expense, taking great care to make sure there was plenty of parking for cars and very little space for bikes, the quieter agricultural road is the route of choice.

It could be worse.

At the north of the town, the cycleway restarted; My work is in Herbolzheim, 4km away according to the sign but this is a cruel deception; the sign refers to the edge of the town where the next speed limit begins. Work is a bit further away.

The agricultural roads form a network for pedestrians and cyclists, all traffic free with the exception of the occasional tractor. This section is a zigzag between fields of wheat and potatoes, stained red by poppies. I was happily trundling along appreciating the scenery when It dawned that it had an unfamiliar feel, and I realised I’d missed a turning somewhere.

Eventually I found the way, reached the edge of Herbolzheim, and promptly missed the next turning in a nondescript mass of housing on the edge of the town.

Note to self: the signpost is there for a reason…

My workplace is unfortunately is situated in a building so full of 1990’s ugliness I won’t spoil your day by putting a photo on here. Depressingly, it didn’t particularly stand out.

I did find the 10m hill promised on the route planner though:

The return was a bit more relaxed, i.e. slower, because as is often the case there was a headwind. The wind seems to blow to the north in the mornings, and then change to a generally southerly direction in the afternoons, at least that was my impression at my last job to the south of my apartment, and I’m trying to be optimistic by telling myself it will work in my favour this time around.

I also had to do some shopping at the “Drogerie Markt”, the local version of “Boots” In another burst of optimism I bought sun lotion. We shall see…

Back around the next town; at some point I’ll try and get a better picture of the church in the distance… Apparently this route is not only the “Breisgau cycleway” but also the “Upper Rhine Roman Cycleway.” Part of me is delighted at the fact I get to ride on a tourist route every day, but my natural pessimism suggests this just means it’ll be full of tourists in summer if the lockdown is eased.

I took the scenic route back, as this detour is about 100m in total and much prettier and quieter than following the main road I think it will become a regular feature.

It took 48 minutes to get to work, which included pictures and wandering off down the wrong road on two occasions, so I think I can safely allow fifty for the ride. I just have to look on it as time gained cycling and reducing waistline, rather than time lost commuting…  

Freiburg has the great disadvantage of being about 160 kilometres (100 miles) from the family in Stuttgart, and in the absence of a personal helicopter this means I’m reduced to visiting at weekends. A ritual has developed on Saturday, where Beautiful Daughter and I eat Marmite in Toast and watch cycle touring videos.

This steady stream of blatant Propaganda has resulted in Beautiful Daughter wanting to go on increasingly long bike rides, firstly on my bike, but now on her own as far as possible. She recently completed a 13k ride on her tiny bike, and had expressed a desire to go on a “really long bike ride”.

Today was the day.

Fortunately, we have the smug car fee hippy’s secret weapon:

The “Xtracycle” Longtail bike. Being able to carry Beautiful Daughter and tow her bike at the same time gives a lot more confidence taking her out: we can always get back regardless, and there’s a plan “B” for places which are too steep or where there are cars.

I chose a route around Stuttgart Airport: it’s a bit hilly, but everywhere is hilly around Stuttgart. This route would include most of the things vital for a successful ride with a small person: mostly on traffic tree roads, some interesting things to see, a forest which would keep the sun off, a very high viaduct that Beautiful Daughter loves to ride over and importantly, an ice cream shop at the most distant point.

Stage one, through the valley next to our village, followed by a “towing” section climbing back out through another village, so no pictures as I was distracted by things like breathing.

Once through the chaos of Stuttgart airport/exhibition centre/perpetual building site we inspected the end of the runway and watched a handful of planes fly in and out:

Past the entrance to the US military base and a memorial to the inmates of a local concentration camp.

Arriving at the furthest point. Beautiful Daughter about ready for that ice cream…

Raspberry and watermelon. “Because it’s pink”.

Beautiful Daughter had been flagging a bit but after her massive ice cream she rallied, and we followed the agricultural roads south of the airport. Halfway along we found a hollow tree which immediately became a “hiding place”, “camp”, and “Motor caravan” for twenty minutes:

More riding brought us past the other end of the airport, and to Beautiful Daughter’s “favourite Bridge” a 55m high viaduct across the valley which after some agitation from various groups finally has a cycleway/footpath.

This is a big hit wit Beautiful Daughter because of the view, and to the ageing parent because I means I don’t have to haul her out of the valley a second time…

From here we can see our village in the distance, and look down on trees and houses in the valley. And a sewage farm; this gave rise to much questioning about the destiny of poo.

We reached “our” side of the valley, and had some quick street riding lessons on quiet back roads. Beautiful Daughter is seen here drifting to the left…

After a while we were back on roads she knew so she rode ahead…

Until we reached a playground in the next village where we’d arranged to meet Youngest Son…

Of course BD found fresh energy and wanted to play… Fortunately Youngest Son came and relieved the Old Guard, and after sheltering for a bit from a thunderstorm, BD was persuaded to finish the ride by a promise of Salad and potatoes from Beautiful Wife.

BD and Younger Son completing the last couple of K’s:

Your correspondent being outpaced yet again…

A total of 28km (17mi) in about 5h, of which BD rode 23km (14mi) unassisted. Now she’s talking about an “even longer bike tour.”

I’m not sure how long I can keep up…

Another instalment in the occasional series of “Logistics For Smug Car Free Hippies”. In this case I’d finally finished painting a picture I’ve been working on for 5 years*, and had to think about how to transport it the 200 kilometres to the family apartment while maintaining that smug green glow…

Thank goodness for long tail cargo bikes, and the much maligned German railways.

The picture fitted snugly on one side of the bike, allowing other items to be packed in the usual bike bags and strapped down on the other.

To my surprise this had no effect when riding, although it did make pushing the bike along station platforms a little strange.

A small sketchbook would be more practical though…

*Or possibly more accurately “putting off for 5 years”. If procrastination was a sport I’d be a champion…. eventually.

Sunset in the village after a ride on the commuter bike.

My contract with my employer ended this week, and in three weeks I’ll be starting with another NGO, partly working with refugees and immigrants to help them get work, and partly… doing something else, probably with people with psychological and/or addiction issues, and if I’m lucky, working in a bike workshop where used bikes are refurbished and resold.

It also means a much longer if still picturesque commute. I’m not sure what my legs will make of it…

Things normal people use while maintaining their bike:

Screwdrivers, hex keys, tyre levers and the occasional large hammer.

Things I ended up using to maintain my bike:

4 metre long belt sanders.

The Deck on the Xtracycle was looking a bit faded after about six years use, and was mostly a uniform dark brown. As I’d spent some time many years ago making it from several different woods to give a nice striped effect this was not ideal, so I gave it a bit of a going over at work to get past the sun bleached layer and find the original colours. After this it needed oiling and of course that meant I had to let it dry overnight, which gave the Xtracycle a strange appearance for a few hours:

The next morning I gave the whole lot a second coat of oil before work started, then fitted the cross pieces back on and dropped it back into the frame at lunchtime ready for the ride back to the apartment.

In other news, I’ve been offered the job I applied for, so in a few weeks the daily commute will go from about 10k to 30k a day. I hope my legs can take this…

I would be the first to admit I’ve been a bit lax about cycle maintenance, but that’s not why I still have spiked snow tyres on the commuter in May.

The thing is, the traffic free agricultural roads in Germany give a great network for cyclists, but they aren’t cleared or gritted in winter, so I wanted to be sure I had frost proofed transport for work. Temperatures haven’t been below freezing for a while now, so I decided it was time to swap tyres on the commuter. This way I’d have two usable bikes again, which would take the pressure of the Xtracycle which really does need some attention after a long winter.

I expect this will now result in a week of apocalyptic level winter weather in the upper Rhine valley; sorry about that.

So after getting back from work, I dug out the commuter bike, and went to get the tyre levers. These live in the little tool bag which… wasn’t there.

A memory of the tool bag on the touring bike last weekend presented itself for attention; in Stuttgart, 200km away.

I considered the options. I didn’t want to buy yet more tyre levers when I had a tool bag and a drawer full of the things. On the other hand, I did need a second bike, and I wanted to swap the commuter for the touring bike next time I went to Stuttgart, as part of the complex never ending logistical exercise of keeping all the bikes where I and other family members need them. I trundled across the village to the local bike shop on the Xtracycle. They were thankfully open and after the usual discussion (“That’s a long bike” “is it a tandem?” It must be really heavy”) paid for two bright orange tyre levers; the colour may be handy as well, knowing my ability to lose things in a phone box.

Back to the apartment, flipped bike over, removed front wheel. Bike tipped backwards immediately because tyres full of metal spikes are rather heavy. I learn this every year.

I swapped the tyres and pumped them up using touring pump which was fortunately in the Xtracycle, and squelched back to the bike shop on soggy tyres to avail myself of the free track pump outside.

Once the tyres were fully inflated the front brake jammed against the tyre. Having no tools due to the aforementioned inconveniently distant tool bag I disconnected the front brake and rode back very slowly, thankful that I’m in a small, quiet village with lots of back roads.

At the apartment I realigned the brake, noting as I did so that it really needed replacing. There’s always something…

Xtracycle on the way back from another interview. On the other hand this was with the same organisation as last time; I’m taking that as a good sign.

The interview went pretty well, I think, and there is talk of offering me a job much closer to where I live for at least part of the week, so this scene could become part of the daily commute. There are worse places to ride every day.

There’s a couple of other advantages as well, I’ll write about those if I get the job.

This is the time of year when being a car free hippy is very easy. I’m usually riding to work as the sun comes up and the local bird population is letting everyone know that they are awake; the Storks are back and at the moment at least, the roads are ice free.

Fortunately this particular road is also closed to motor vehicles. The main road is a couple of kilometres away, full of cars and going through a rather ugly industrial estate.

Notice that the Xtracycle is still in use, because I can’t decide if I should remove the ice spikes of the commuting bike or not. Usually doing this causes sudden freak storms, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures for a week.

I think I’ll leave it until after Easter, then see what happens…

It was a bit cold on the commute this week; so cold, in fact, that my rear gear changer froze solid while I was taking pictures.

I’m used to this as it happens most winters, it’s an unavoidable drawback of the extremely long gear cable; usually I can pull the cable a bit and get it to work again, but this time it was frozen solid.

At some point I’ll get myself into gear (ahem) to deal with the problem, which involves taking the cable apart and slooshing it out with lube or replacing it altogether, depending on the level of crud.

This may take a while though because fortunately the weather generally warms up by the time I’m coming back, which of course means that I completely forget about the problem until the next morning…

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