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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.


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…


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.


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.


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:

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.


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


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


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.


The Xtracycle as fitted onto my bike, consists of a frame, big panniers, and a piece of wood on the top, as seen in the picture above. On mine, the wood has been showing signs of wear and tear lately. Actually it’s been showing signs of wear and tear for several years, but as it wasn’t a ‘urgent’ problem, I naturally did nothing about it.

When I started working at the farm I realised I had access to wood and the right sort of tools to make a replacement. True to form I faffed about until last month, when I finally went hunting in the wood store for materials.

We’ve had various bits of hardwood donated over the years, which we rarely use as the children prefer to use softwoods like pine. The hardwoods end up at the back of the wood store gathering vast amounts of dust, so I dug up some Ash for the majority of the board, with a centre line made of beech, and two stripes from some walnut veneer. Notice the “carpenter’s triangle”. I’d like to think this gives my work an air of professionalism but we all know it is mostly there so that when I drop the lot on the floor I know what order they should be in.


After dropping the whole lot on the floor -twice- I glued it liberally and put the result in clamps. You are supposed to have surfaces that fit perfectly but my wood warped slightly as it had been stored for so long. I solved this by clamping the planks together very heavily, leaving then for 48 hours and hoping for the best.



There are no pictures of the cutting, planing and sanding, mostly because I needed both hands to stop the wood flying away and also because I wasn’t sure if this was going to work at all, so the next image is of the old and new spraydecks together. The new one is a bit heavier, but compared to the stuff I carry about normally, this is hardly going to be a problem. I hardly ride at breathtaking speeds anyway.


At this point I realised I’d probably better makes something to fit the board to the bike. Being fussy I wanted the new spraydeck to clip onto the bike like the old one, and also to have no screws visible on the top of the deck. Being pessimistic I also wanted to keep the old spraydeck in case something went horribly wrong, so using the old clips was out of the question. Eventually I settled on two beechwood clips. Pretend you haven’t noticed that the holes aren’t exactly in line.



Brackets fitted, as much by eye as measurements. This backfired when I realised the deck was slightly too far to the left, this was another reason to have the screws underneath: the mistakes are underneath too…

Being a tree-hugging hippy, I oiled and waxed the deck instead of varnishing it. This allows me to go on about how you can feel the wood, and whine about modern finishes being all plastic and chemicals, at least up until the deck falls apart.


So far it has survived the foul weather of the last week, not sure how it will react to the temperature changes of Spring though, I’ll get back to you on that…

Although not so much came back as ‘Sat in a field waiting for its owner to find it’ just close enough to the road that I could see the top sticking out above the grass, but naturally about five metres from where I gave up searching last night.

I since learned the winds were clocked at 85km/h (which sounds much more dramatic than 52mph for some reason) and that there was a severe weather warning in our area. Everyone else knew this of course because their smart phones told them, or because they were organised enough to check the weather before ending up in a field in a gale.

In other news, I just discovered it is Winter bike to work day today. And the forecast is for snow…

One of my strange cycling habits is wearing an Australian-styled leather hat, simply because it keeps the rain/snow/hail off my face and neck when riding. I find that riding in he rain is much improved by not getting a face full of rain every time I run into a headwind.

Which makes it all the more of a bummer that said hat is now in a field somewhere between here and the local tram station.

Last night I came home in some of the worst winds I’ve ever known here, and ended up with a choice of holding onto hat and being blown off the bike or putting both hands on my brakes to stop before I was picked up and thrown off into a field. As the Xtracycle was moving diagonally at the time I reflexively braked, and felt the hat lift off my head and vanish into pastures new. Literally.

Frantic searching in a muddy field failed, which is hardly surprising as 1: searching for a brown leather hat in a couple of hectatres of brown mud the dark is unlikely to yield results, and 2: The speed the hat was moving I fully expected it to be a good kilometre distant by the time I was off the bike anyway.

I wish to apologise to any dog walkers within hearing distance who will have heard a considerable amount of vernacular English applied at high volume, but I happen to think it was justified.

By the time I got on the bike, the wind had died down and the rain had gone from ‘monsoon’ to merely ‘torrential’, and today the sun is out and the wind back to nearly nothing. I’ll have a look on the way in to work in the hope the hat hasn’t been blown into the next town or wrecked by the weather, otherwise I’ll have to start trawling Amazon…

Can someone explain how time becomes elastic when you are trying to catch a tram?

The ideal tram to get to work, the one which goes where I want to go, with plenty of space, leaves at 0831. This is exactly one minute into ‘off peak’ times when I’m allowed to carry a bike.

On a good day, I leave the apartment at about ten past eight, and pootle off up the hill in my usual way, coast past the farm, ride across the main road and past the field where they sell Christmas trees earlier each year (October, this time, I expect they’ll reopen in Summer this year), and get to the tram stop at about 0820. Which is fine, except that in winter it is a bit nippy standing on the edge of the fields waiting for a tram to turn up.

So last week I tried an experiment and went a bit later; actually that was less a plan and more because I forgot my keys, lunch and water, and remembered each item after I’d come back from retrieving the last one, but I was able to leave at about 0815. This was okay, because I still had a buffer of 5 minutes, but I decided to to move as quickly as a not particularly fit bloke with asthma can, pushed up the hill, raced past the farm, nipped across the main road between cars and arrived at the station at 0832, to see the tail lights of the tram as it wandered off to Stuttgart…

Explanations please…

[Update: Post finally updated to remove typo that ruined the already feeble punchline. I tried to do this earlier but the WordPress mobile editing page is even worse than the useless ‘Improved’ normal page]

Once again we’ve been collecting illnesses and sharing them on a democratic basis. and once again I’ve been hit by a cold. I’d blame the boys but as my job currently means being coughed and sniffled at by various miscellaneous sprogs from all over Stuttgart it is likely I caught this one All By Myself.

It’s annoying as it comes at the end of an eventful week where several of the events are blog worthy, and during the day I’m fine -cycling in to work and working partly outdoors help a lot- but right now my feelings are about the same as in this post I wrote almost exactly a year ago, so I’ll leave you to that and go back to feeling sorry for myself.


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