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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.

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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.

I’ve been neglecting the whirry clicky bits of the Xtracycle of late and now it is making its displeasure clear: the chain has been making a noise like a bag of cats for months, despite oiling it regularly, and last week the chain finally wore down to the stage that the wheels wouldn’t turn no matter how much I pedaled, so I started looking around for a replacement before my smug green glow began to fade.

Some time ago I upgraded to eight speed shifters, mostly because my seven speed shifters were considering gear changes to be a request rather than a command (anyone see a pattern here?). I’d not bothered to change the cassette at the time, reasoning that I could do that later in the year. This was in spring 2011.

So this week, I ordered a new rear wheel with an eight speed cassette, two chains and a chain removal tool. This proved cheaper than getting a new cassette and hub mounted on my old wheel, and leaves me with a wheel ready to fit a spike tyre onto for next winter. For once I have actually planned ahead instead of waiting for things to fall to bits.

Any smug glow this may have created promptly vanished without trace when I decided -for reasons that are unclear- that the chain needed to be tensioned while on both the smallest cogs, instead of the largest as I had done the previous seven times, so the first time I tried to change gear I nearly pulled the rear derraileur off its mount. Fortunately the new chain gave way first.

Back to the Commuter Bike for a few more days, then. At least I’ve got plenty of bits for making bike chain chrismas tree ornaments in December.

 

For use in those parts of ‘civilization’ where the Xtracycle may prove just too tempting for thieves and vandals, I have a Commuter Bike, picked up as a very ugly looking mountain bike complete with yellow transfers bearing the name ‘Stampede’.

Wikipedia defines a ‘stampede’ as:

“…uncontrolled concerted running as an act of mass impulse among herd animals or a crowd of people in which the herd (or crowd) collectively begins running, often in an attempt to escape a perceived threat.”

Yes, that sounds just like a bicycle.

Anyway, I bought the bike back in 2012 and did the bare minimum to make it into a basic commuter bike that would present as unattractive a target as possible: I added some scrap mudguards, a stand, V-Brakes, a set of old tyres from the Xtracycle, some elderly lights and the cheapest dynamo I could find.

The bike then got on with its main purpose in life of not being nicked all day at the tram stop while I was at carpentry college. It managed this for two and a half years with no trouble at all, although the front light turned out to be pretty but useless so I changed it before I ran into something, or more likely before something ran into me.

At some point the awful foam handlebars turned back into whatever oil based slime they’d been made of, and needed a replacement quickly, so in desperation I fitted the only handlebar grips I had, which happened to be cork.

Then last week I took it out to see what I’d need to change for the new commute into Stuttgart, and noticed it isn’t looking that ugly anymore.

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And now I’m getting attached to the thing and wondering if I could give it some nice bar ends, or maybe at least get rid of those transfers and upgrade the luggage rack to one that doesn’t rattle… but that would defeat the object of having the bike in the first place. It’s there to be  ugly, dammit, or at least boring, so it doesn’t get nicked when chained to a lamppost in Stuttgart. Next thing you know I’ll be giving it a name…

Still, if anyone has an idea how to remove garish yellow transfers, please let me know…

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This rather poorly taken image on the way back from work shows something exciting: daylight. At nearly seven in the evening.

Admittedly not much, and sandwiched between some clouds that had just dumped a load of snow on us, and some clouds that shortly after rained on us, but still.

Soon we’ll be able to get ready to leave the farm without tripping over things or walking into trees and random animals. If we are really lucky this will happen before the rain makes all the puddles in the yard join together and create a new lake for the geese…

Or, how to make paperwork  into an excuse for a ride…

The ongoing saga of applying for my college funding continues. I returned the bale of paperwork that the government office demanded, signed and sent off another bale, and then filled in a couple more forms that I got from another office. And waited. And waited…

Then an email came saying I’d neglected to send The Important Form that they needed to start the entire process. The Rules demand the Important Form, so they couldn’t start the process without it. I had to send the Important Form to them, like, now*.

The problem was, I got this email on Tuesday night. The earliest I could get to a post office was Wednesday lunchtime. The form would then arrive on Thursday morning, but all forms have to go to the main office, not my local office where the file was. If the central office was having a good day, the Important Form may make it back to my local office on Thursday, or more likely Friday, and then someone may look at it on the following Monday.

Alternatively I could go to the local office on Wednesday morning, drop off the form as they opened and go to work. The office is in exactly the opposite direction to work, which meant going on a bike ride along the river Neckar into Stuttgart.

The next morning I got up at silly O’clock, rolled down into the valley, dropped the Important Form off at a quarter to eight in the morning, and pointed the bike towards Stuttgart.

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The Neckar Valley gets very industrial as you approach Stuttgart. Alongside this massive lock gate is an equally massive casting works for a well known car company.

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The cycleway diverts around the back of the harbour. Nice and quiet but with a railway on one side and a river on the other for about a kilometre I wouldn’t want to try it after dark.

Things went well for the first part of the journey and I had a good chance of making it to work on time. Then I was signposted off the direct route and down a side road. And then another side road. and an underpass, then back up a steep hill onto a narrow pavement. Which went back down the steep hill. Ten minutes later I was twenty metres closer to Stuttgart, and found the next part of the cycleway.

Which was closed.

A sign sent me back along the way I’d come until I could cross the river to this route:

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Still, at least I wasn’t on that massive road or stuck in that big traffic jam. Even with detours I was making better progress than they were.

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And, to be fair, the diversion was clearly marked and well signposted. Rather better than the normal route, in fact.

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As soon as I turned away from the river and into Stuttgart proper, everything became more civilised.

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They’re even trying out that tree-huggy new idea of a ‘Bicycle Street’, where bikes have priority and cars need to give way. To make sure drivers get the hint there’s a massive blue bike sign as you come into the ‘Bicycle Street’. I’d have taken a photograph, but unfortunately it was mostly covered by an illegally parked truck.

From the Netherlands.

I was late for work. Fortunately several colleagues have been through this process with this particular office before, so they know the score…

(Sorry for the rubbish picture quality: I was using a small ‘point-and-hope’ camera which didn’t like the lighting conditions at all)

*This is a rather free translation of the german.

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