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I had several ideas for todays post, and was in fact thinking about it when Beautiful Wife came in and reminded me that I was Supposed to collect Middle Son from his school sleepover at ten, and it was half past nine. And Middle Son’s School is two towns away.

So being a dutiful, if slightly forgetful dad, I set off on the Xtracycle to get him. With fifteen minutes to go. The weather was fine, not too hot, but nice and dry, as in fact it has been almost all week.

As I left the driveway, it began to rain. Hard. Which I think is unfair: it isn’t like I cleaned my bike or anything.

Thankfully, I’m British and pessimistic* so I’d grabbed my elderly waxed cotton rain coat on the way out. This coat is the source of much dismay to those more fashion conscious than I -which is to say, everyone else- by virtue of being as old as me and almost as tatty around the edges. But here’s the thing: whenever I use a jacket that passes the fashion police, it tends to have the waterproofing of a sheet of loo roll. When I took this highly unfashionable item off, I was much drier than my more sartorially aware colleagues.

My nice smug feeling almost compensates for the fact it is still raining…

*There’s some redundancy I can’t quite place in that sentence…

 

 

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So here’s what we are up to at the moment: messing about on bikes and generally being insufferably smug because I get normal school holidays and thus have two weeks to be with The Boys and Beautiful Daughter.

So normal blogging may be a bit sparse for a while.

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I wanted some extra carrying capacity for transport in the city so I didn’t have to schlepp all my books and coursework on my back. I could use a pannier but I have been known to attach them the wrong way, whereupon they fell off, causing much embarrasment when I was called by a complete stranger and had to ride across the city to retrieve same. I figured this way I would have a secure way to carry my bag where I could see it, and I could look vaguely civilised when I carried my normal bag into the college.

The other reason was because I saw a French ‘Porteur’ rack on this excellent post by the Accidental Hermit and thought it looked cool. This is pretty much as logical as my decisions get I’m afraid.

Most porteur racks are welded steel or aluminium. Being utterly incompetent in metalwork I made the corners and joins from beechwood, which had the extra advantage of making the design approximately square without having to muck about with jigs and welding.

I wanted to be able to carry a bag large enough to hold an A4 ring binder. Looking at the rack now, I may have overdone this, but there we go.

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Some improvisation was needed to get the rack to fit the new bent handlebars.

I’ll need to find a better way to keep things strapped down than a bungee chord and move the headlight will need moving as well as it currently lights up the deck and nothing else.

Will wait on those issues until I’ve tested the design for a week or two.

We had a public holiday this week and by mid morning, Youngest Son -who is apparently made of energy held in by elastic- was bouncing off the walls, so we went exploring.

Down the hill…

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Across the river…

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And past the harbour, with the sort of large machinery that small boys enjoy…

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And off into Stuttgart, where we went to see my college, caught the rack railway up the hill again, and had so much fun we completely forgot to take any more pictures.

Ah, well.

 

I mentioned that I’d be taking the tram to college more often in future. This is a bit annoying as I’ve finally got the commuter bike working nicely, but cycling into Stuttgart is a steep learning curve.

Firstly there’s the scary hill of doom, the old road into Stuttgart now a residential street offering views across the city. I can get up on a rack railway, and very nice it is too, but going down a long steep hill is stressful enough without dealing with some of the drivers who I’m supposed to ‘share’ it with.

The route isn’t supposed to a through road, partly because it is narrow and there are several nice wide fast roads going the same way, but mostly, I suspect because the residents are wealthy enough to get what they want from the local government. This only deters the more law abiding drivers, leaving it as an unofficial rat run for the impatient entitled types who think they have a right to drive wherever they want, as fast as they want. Added to this the road is partly one way for cars but bidirectional for bikes, my least favourite kind of route because the ‘Bidirectional’ warning signs are tiny so drivers don’t see them and get upset when they see a bike coming towards them.

I’m getting better at the etiquette, but I’ll probably be cycling to a local station more often and taking the tram from there: some some drivers seem incapable of seeing those either, but at least in a tram/car collision the tram usually has the upper hand.

I had actually spent money on the commuter bike last week. I don’t generally do anything this rash but the route to college involves a drop of 207 metres (670  ft) in 1.7 kilometres (1 mile), so it seemed sensible to make sure the brakes would work, which meant replacing levers.

The brake levers and gear shifters are one big unit, so I had to replace these too. I cannot understand why you would combine two such complex items, but suspect it was to ensure customers have to spend far more money than really necessary.

In such ways do the powers that be maintain global capitalism.

Having fitted these expensive bits I mentioned to the local bike shop owner that my wrist was hurting when I ride. He suggested a new handlebar, but that was way beyond the budget for this month. On hearing this, he went and dug one out of his scrap pile and gave it me for nothing.

Now the wrist doesn’t hurt and the bike feels far more comfortable to ride.

Take that, Global Capitalists…

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I’ve long known that the world is run by extroverts, and last week I came across another example; for my seminar in Tübingen my employer only refunded one return trip for the week because “we have overnight accomodation”.

The accomodation is in shared rooms, so lots of contact with strangers 24 hours a day.

This is a bit like telling a left-handed person “Just use right-handed scissors.” It is not going to happen.

So I had to work out a way to travel to and from the seminar that wasn’t too expensive. After a couple of days experiencing the hilarity that is car sharing (Late one day because of traffic, and another because the driver had a flooded apartment and cancelled) I decided to spring for a ticket on the way to Tübingen, then cycle from Tübingen to Herrenberg on the way back. Herrenberg is on the edge of the Stuttgart transport zone, and as my railcard becomes an all lines pass within Stuttgart and region after midday, this meant I could catch a train to within a short cycle ride of our village and make the whole journey for nothing.

In practice it would have been less stressful if I hadn’t lost track of time visiting a good friend in Stuttgart (‘introvert’ doesn’t mean ‘antisocial’) and realised I needed to get to a station 25 kilometres away in about an hour and a half, on a route I didn’t know, uphill. And that I hadn’t eaten in several hours.

It worked out reasonably well though. The route was well signposted until I got to Herrenberg, where I was sent on to a major road into Stuttgart with lots of impatient drivers, but this is just a reminder to any tree hugging hippies from Tübingen that in the real world bikes are not a proper form of transport. I still made it in time for the train.

I got myself two fresh Pretzels as a reward. This is the second as I ate the first too fast…

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The only real issue was that the S-Bahn/outer suburban trains are too short to accomodate an Xtracycle…

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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”

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

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Observant people may have noticed that as well as having more daylight in the previous post, I’m also riding the Xtracycle again, after possibly the longest time out of service since I fitted the ‘Free Radical’ on the back of my Raleigh bike almost ten years ago.

I had got used to the normal sized commuter bike and I was a bit concerned that I’d feel the extra weight of the Xtracycle a bit too much, but it feels like I’m flying. I’m still not sure quite why this is, after all that plank on the back weighs a bit, and then there’s all the junk that accumulated in the luggage carriers that I keep forgetting to take out again -you can see some poking out of the back of the bike in the picture- but there you are. Riding is faster, smoother and more comfortable.

It isn’t perfect yet; the gears are still a bit strange, which is either because I’m still using the 19-year-old original mechanism, or possibly due to the incompetence of the bike wrench. I suspect the latter.

Unfortunately destiny means the Xtracycle and I will be parted for a few more days as I need to go to another seminar in Tübingen, so the commuter will be coming with me again.

Tübingen is known for having pretty good cycle infrastructure, so I’ll try to take pictures to bore you with when I get back.

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On the way back from work, taken at the same place as this picture and possibly a few minutes later in the day, and we now have real daylight. The ground is actually starting to dry off and the geese no longer have to swim to cross the farm yard.

Of course it snowed for several hours a couple of days ago, and there was ice on the window this morning, but at least we can now leave work without crashing into wheelbarrows and stray sheep.

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