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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.

 

nosnow

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…

Hmpf…

So yesterday my main concern was avoiding the worst of the puddles on the way to work, so I wouldn’t have to wash the Xtracycle again this week…

Then this happened…

snowtyresyes

Six hours of snow. mostly horizontal, &  -3°c.

Looks like I’ll be getting those snow tyres…

Esslingen_Cycle_signs

There’s a massive effort in several local towns at the moment, probably connected to the end of year spending and the belated recollection by a few officials that they’ve signed up to the ‘cycling friendly towns’ scheme. If the evidence so far is anything to go by, to be a ‘cycle friendly’ town means painting a couple of hundred metres of dotted white lines on the edge of some roads -apparently with the express goal of channeling cyclists into the door zone or onto a roundabout- scattering a few bike racks about, and most importantly, Putting Up Signs.

This last one is by far the most popular because it has the advantage of making it look like you are providing lots of things for cyclists while not actually giving the cantankerous treehuggers any actual road space or slowing down the Very Important Drivers, so there’s barely a lamp post on my way to work that hasn’t sprouted a little green bicycle and an arrow, several of which point the right way.

I saw these examples in our local big town of Esslingen this week -forgive the quality of the photograph but I was hosting a friend who hasn’t reached this level of geekery and I couldn’t stop to try again- and noticed that they have little extras like a castle symbol and warnings that there may be a hill coming up. As all the destinations on these signs are on the top of steep hills, this seems like a cruel joke on the part of the sign makers, or the locals are so used to hills that only the most murderous gradients are considered worthy of mention.

I cracked: I cleaned the Xtracycle again…

cleanXtra_01

I even took the panniers of the back and removed the accumulated crud of Autumn, thus reducing their weight by about a third.

cleanXtra_02

If last time I did this is anything to go by, expect Christmas in south Germany to feature sustained foul weather and plagues of mud.

Still, I hope that wherever you end up, and whatever the weather in your end of the world, your Christmas will be a happy and peaceful one…

Drivers: you may have noticed a lot of white stuff hanging about recently? That is called ‘fog’: It stops you from seeing quite so far as usual, I don’t know if you noticed. Actually, I suspect you probably didn’t, judging by the numbers of drivers who pass me while texting, reading their phones, navigators, and in one case a paperback.

However, take it from me, if you were to look up from these important activities, you’d probably notice the fog, or at least the fact you can’t see more than about a hundred metres.

In the circumstances, I’d like to ask a favour. No, don’t worry, I’m not silly enough to suggest you slow down, stop at red lights or even that you switch your phone off: I understand that your very important phone calls and text messages simply cannot wait until you reach your destination (how did society survive without your wisdom being constantly available?). My request is that you might, perhaps, consider turning your lights on when you are driving through the fog. Thus, when you are reading your text message/novel et c whilst racing toward or through the next set of red lights, we can see you and keep out of the way.

If this isn’t possible, could you at least refrain from the rude gestures aimed at us when we have the temerity to be occupying the road/pavement/cycleway/pedestrian crossing when you want to be driving on it. The reason we are interrupting your important journey (or conversation, or novel) is that we didn’t know you were there…

So yesterday I went back to have the bandage changed on the smallest industrial injury ever. I was a bit apprehensive about this to be honest because I wasn’t sure where the surgery was, and after the faff we’d had driving there I thought it may well be in the outer reaches of Karlsruhe, or possibly Paris.

Then I looked on Google and found that this same surgery that had taken almost an hour of stop-go traffic to reach, was ten minutes away by shared use pedestrian/cycle roads and residential streets.

It isn’t supposed to work that way: cycling is supposed to be really inconvenient, fine for a trundle on a summer Saturday but not a serious way to get anywhere you need to go. I know this because I’m told by several people a week. Driving -even allowing for taking wrong turns, shouting at the navigator when it claimed we were at our destination when we clearly were not, and getting stuck in a one way system- must still be faster. Because cars are faster. End of story.

I suppose this has one advantage of making sure the cycleways are empty. If the drivers of Stuttgart collectively notice how much easier it is to cycle even on the paltry facilities we have, then the currently quiet cycle ways may well be filled with ex-motorists all trying to cycle as if they’re driving along an Autobahn, scattering slower cyclists and pedestrians then promptly collapsing in a heap and blocking the way at the slightest hill, and no-one will be able to get anywhere…

Or maybe it will become safe to cycle along those wide, smooth, well-maintained roads and a virtuous cycle will start, of ever improving cycle facilities and ever decreasing car use, causing drastic reductions in urban pollution and traffic deaths, so the only thing visible in the otherwise entirely clear sky will be the flock of pigs flying overhead.

I can dream. Still, cycling is a lot faster and easier than people think. I’m just saying…

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