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As I have a number of exams coming up, I should be concentrating on revision, but when there’s a sunrise that starts like this…

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…and then finishes like this…
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Then the only thing to do is drop everything and get out on a bike with Beautiful Daughter.

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Unfortunately the sun had decided to give up after the morning performance and the day had gone back to being grey, but it was a novel feeling not to have to ride on snow spikes…

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And we found cows and horses, which made up for any deficiencies in the weather as far as the cute one was concerned.

Due to some monumentally bad planning on my part, I managed to have four appointments in our local big town on different days last week. The town in question is only a bit over five kilometres away, which comes in at a mere 3.2 miles, but before you serious transport cycling types scoff, it is also almost 200m lower, or a rather more respectable 620 feet, most of which is crammed in a relatively short part of the ride.

The quickest way (down) is the busy, but straight main road.

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 but if I have the time, it is far more pleasant to use the old road…

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…which meanders without any urgency through the vineyards…

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…especially as this route is closed to motorised traffic, so I can stop and take pictures.

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This was another one of those mornings when I was reminded there are far worse places to live and ride a bike.

You really aren’t supposed to have this much fun on the way to an appointment, especially when the reason was to pick up my results for my carpentry apprenticeship…

Eldest son’s school seems to carefully plan parents’ evenings to be on the wettest day of the term, so as usual I arrived after a good invigorating shower. And, as usual, the evening went on… and on… powered by a group of competitive parents who wanted to know every way their child could get the best possible grades in maths and science (but who were notably silent when the art teacher asked for questions). By the end, it was nearly tomorrow morning and pretty dark. Thankfully it had stopped raining and the hours in an overheated classroom had dried off my clothes nicely.

I probably should have thought about the route back a little more, perhaps considering that as it was dark, the forest would be better avoided, and the surfaced route by a well lit road would be more sensible, but I was tired and cold, and the ‘begging buttons’ don’t work after ten, so I decided to take the short cut. What could go possibly wrong?

I know, I never learn. Things began badly when I was dive bombed by a bat*, then turned off the road into darkness and realised the crucial difference between this route and the other forest trail is that other one is straight, wide, and flat, and has the lights of the next town at the end as a guide. The ‘short cut’ has none of these advantages and is a winding, twisting strip of potholed gravel. For added fun there is a fork in the woods at the darkest point and a deep drainage ditch which could easily double as a tank trap if Stuttgart were ever attacked from the north.

In daylight this is a pleasant winding trail you can ride along thinking happy thoughts about squirrels**, whereas at night thoughts run thus: “This is dark… ouch… where’s the turning?… was that it? oof… no it isn’t… yes it is, brakes… tree stump… must avoid tree stump… and the ditch… ouch… hang on, it isn’t that steep in the day is it?  pothole… oof… corner… is that a lurking shadow creature hiding by the trail ready to attack unwitting cyclists… oh, no, it’s a bush… ow… with roots… Hat blowing off… must hold… oof, pothole… hat… corner… getting steeeeper…

And then as usual, just as I was starting to get the hang of things, the trail widened and I was able to see the lights of the next town.

Then it started raining again…

[Update: It seems I’ve been here before…]

*Either we have our own version of the ASBO Buzzard of Scotland or I sound like a bug on sonar. I’m not sure which is worse.
** When it isn’t raining, of course…

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People who hear I cycle to college often react with surprise and imply that I’m incredibly hardcore but I honestly don’t see it as a big deal: the ride is only 20 kilometres (12 miles) one way, and I get to sit down in a warm classroom all day before pootling back: essentially I get to have two short bike tours with a day at college inbetween. Besides, so far I’ve seen deer, rabbits, kestrels, red kites, buzzards, lots of smaller birds I’m gradually getting to know, and last week a fox ambled across the road as I went through a forest.

It helps that I only have to do it once or twice a week: I think I’d see it differently if I was riding every day.

The photo is on a new section of the route: I had to change because one of the towns I went through has closed a main road to lay a new sewage pipe and decided the cycle way is much more useful as a diversion for the Very Important Drivers rushing to the autobahn, and I don’t feel like dealing with stressed drivers trying to control their car and use their navigator while drinking coffee at half past six in the morning.

I did wonder about writing to the council and pointing out that by pushing cyclists like me out of the town, it means we can’t stop and spend money in their supermarkets as we pass,  but then I remembered I’m too miserly to do that anyway, and besides the new route has views like this and no traffic whatsoever, so I didn’t bother.

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There was some sort of cycling event recently in York, and one of the ways the area celebrated was by hanging lots of yellow bikes off the sides of buildings. This one is one of my favourites, hanging on ‘a pub for grown-ups’ in the city centre.

 

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The Shambles in York. Ghost town like appearance is because sensible people are still in bed.

Later in the day the tourists will come out and cycling is not allowed, although you can barely walk down here during the day, let alone cycle.

After we passed Eldest Son’s previous bike to his brother we noticed the brakes had the stopping power of a damp sponge. On closer inspection it turned out that it was because they were worn down almost to the metal, so Eldest Son and I took an hour or so to sort the problem out. I always found practical things like fixing bikes a very mysterious thing and never really felt confident to try and I want the boys to feel much more confident in this sort of area.

Eldest Son was understandably nervous about making a mistake that could result in his brother ending up in a pile at the bottom of a local hill, but after I assured him that I’d be with him as he fitted the brakes and that I’d also check the brakes after he’d finished and make sure they were safe and tight he was happy to have a go. As he started it occured to me that a few short years ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to adjust my own brakes, let alone be the person who checked someone else’s bike.

Judging by the speed with which by Eldest Son sorted the brakes out, I don’t think I’ll be getting much practice in the future either.

The logistics of getting this workbench into this room required half a dozen elements to be in the right place at the right time, including, but not limited to a van, a good friend willing to haul a forty kilo lump of beechwood and steel into the van and put up with my driving, in return for having his bike fixed…

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…a patient previous owner who was willing for me to scrape together the money and get my backside into gear to collect, instead of just putting the workbench on Ebay (where he could have got a much higher price), and some very kind people who have allowed me to make a mess in their former bakery until the end of the apprenticeship without demanding rent.

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Bakfiets demonstrating yet another advantage of bicycles for those of a lazy disposition: no need to carry stuff from the door to the workbench.

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In theory this is a practice space to get ready for exams. Except that with three boys, there are far more interesting things to do than just make dovetail joins, especially when mum has a birthday coming up, and there is the possibility of making presents.

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I can always do the dovetails after the present is finished.

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Hopefully. If I’m allowed to.

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Eldest Son passed a milestone on this birthday by getting his first proper adult bike. After the initial excitement of finding his new present in the living room, he quickly realised that the potential of a bike is very limited in an attic apartment…

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So once he had got back from School and we’d got it down to ground level we went off for a test ride, where he demonstrated his pleasure with his new bike by vanishing over the horizon whenever I wanted to take a picture.

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German children and teenagers ride the sort of bikes I dreamed of in the UK. This one even uses a hub dynamo which Eldest Son was particularly insistent about as he was fed up with having a bottle dynamo whirring away and slowing him down whenever he had to go somewhere in the dark.

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It is in a different league to the heavy mudguardless mountain bikes I had as a teenager, but then, so was the price, so I guess it works both ways. One question remains though, how did his handlebars end up being higher than mine?

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We were accompanied by Middle Son, who was very happy at the new arrangement as he inherits Eldest Son’s ‘old’ bike and can now go much faster.

This is why we decided to pay the extra for a very good bike this time: we will be using it at least ten years several times a week and in all weathers, so it will have a lot to cope with.

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…besides, they’re worth it…

You are driving downhill on a narrow road and are faced with a gap that is currently occupied by a heavy truck struggling up the steep hill. Do you:

1: Wait for the truck to drive past.

2: Drive into the gap in the confident expectation that said truck will magically vanish.

Eventually the driver realised that this wasn’t going to work and got out of the way.

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