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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.



Xtracycle with snow tyres.

Notice clear sky, warm sunshine, and complete absence of any snow as far as the eye can see…

The picture says it all really. Apparently the main effect of fitting snow tires on the Xtracycle is to make the weather warmer. This is no surprise as I seem to have made it rain over Christmas by cleaning the Xtracycle the week before.

However, in the brief days between fitting the tyres and the change in the weather, I found they worked pretty well. After riding on semi slicks for more years than I wish to remember they’re a bit heavy and noisy, rather like trying to run in clogs, but they work about 99% of the time so I didn’t have to approach every unknown surface wondering if I’d soon be sitting on the road, and proved very handy several times when swerving or braking to avoid cars which were approaching sideways.

The only exceptions to this were a few places where the snow had drifted, compacted, then frozen and melted so many times it had given up and turned into and evil mix of slush and ice which is unpredictably solid or slippery and has one ambition in life, namely to make cyclists fall, slide or tip off their bikes*, especially as the local farmers are enthusiastically ploughing the fields in monster sized tractors and adding great wodges of clay soil to the surface. Just the thing when riding downhill in the dark…

I’d been riding for a couple of days when someone pointed out that I’ve been Doing It Wrong. Again. The local newspaper had kindly printed “instructions for snow cycling” which helpfully suggested we “Ride slowly and carefully” and sternly warned people using snow tyres to “ride at least 50km on clear asphalt and get plenty of practice before using the tires on snow” and to make sure that we “Ride on low pressure on snow, then pump them to high pressure for asphalt”. As I ride on a mix of cleared roads and snow covered cycle lanes this would mean I’d be inflating or deflating every half a kilometre or so and would arrive at work sometime after lunch. Thank goodnes I didn’t find out until it was too late…

But of course this no longer matters because we now have warm weather for the next few weeks until I change back to slicks. You’re welcome.

I am now accepting invitations to anywhere that needs a change in the weather.

*What is the cyclist’s name for this, by the way? I’ve called it ‘Choss’ after the climbing term for dangerously loose and unpredictable rock. Any other names out there?

Having winter tires and then riding on ice with semi-slicks seems silly to the point of irresponsible, so last night I manned up and went down to the garage to fit them before my hands froze up. As with most of my endeavours, this did not go quite as planned.

The first problem was how to get at the wheels, the local bike shop being inexplicably closed at 9pm. Resting the bike on a Brooks saddle on a concrete floor simply isn’t done.  No worries, I thought: remove new tyres from box, use box to cover floor, put bike upside down on the box and change wheels.

All went well until I let go of the upturned bike, whereupon the heaviest unsupported part, the Xtracycle frame, went down and the front wheel flipped up. How did I not expect this to happen? I caught the bike mid pirouette and managed to wrestle the back wheel off it*.

Then came changing the back tyre. Puncture proof Schwalbe Marathon tyres are very convenient to ride on and a pain in the backside to change, but I managed with minimal swearing and a minor injury to one hand.

I took the front wheel off the bike. The bike tipped backwards again. I put the rear wheel in the front forks so the bike would stay still and got on with the front wheel. More swearing and a bruise later and the new tyre was on the front wheel. I braced the bike against my knee, lifted the rear wheel out of the front forks and swapped in the front before I fell over.

With the bike the right way up again, I took the bunged up gear cable out, noting the rust, and squirted lube down the tubes. A shower of water, ice, several chunks of the local forest and one very dead beetle came out of the other end, reducing the weight of the bike by about a third.

Fitted new gear cable. I’ve discovered  that I can -just- use a normal gear cable on an Xtracycle. Some people would suggest that the fact I think this is interesting means I am a Very Boring Person, but those people regularly spend hours discussing mobile phone contracts. I rest my case.

I put the bike back together and took it out for a test run. It worked well enough for me to be confident about riding on the packed ice and snow that is normal here from January to March. returned to apartment feeling smug. Just before going to bed I checked the weather report.

Next weeks forecast: warm, with sunshine.

*Of course this meant turning the bike over again because I’d forgotten to release the brake and it is almost impossible to reach when the Xtracycle is upside down, but we’ll skip over that detail.

So that was… interesting. As far as riding on a snow packed road in sub-zero temperatures on a bike with unsuitable tyres in the dark can be ‘interesting’. Several times I realised the dark patch of road that had appeared in my front light was sheet ice covering the entire road for some distance, and had no option but to coast in a dead straight line and hope the ice would stop  before my momentum did, or I landed in a field…

Generally though, I found that I could ride on any surface I could walk on. And I quickly worked out how to tell the difference between clear tarmac and sheet ice in the split second it appeared in my light which must rank as one of the more obscure skills I’ve picked up in the last year.

It’s still pretty stressful though, and it takes ages. I’ll be glad when the spikes arrive…

Just got back from a weekend away to find the memo about it being ‘winter’ has finally got through and the temperature dropped like the speedometer of a Porsche approaching a traffic camera. I’ve finally stopped dithering and ordered a pair of fancy-schmancy spiked tyres: these will arrive at the end of the week (which I confidently predict will usher in several weeks of warm, sunny weather) but this still leaves me riding to work on semi-slick tyres until they do turn up.

It’ll be fine. As long as there’s not too much traffic. Or wind. And I don’t try to stop suddenly.

Updates soon. If I’m spared…

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