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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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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.

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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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The Millennium bridge in York, part of the city of York orbital cycle route which I’ve been using a lot in the last few days.

The white arrows at the bottom of the picture are three speed bumps. This is essential to stop anyone riding too fast off the bridge and along the straight, wide cycleways on either side. Presumably this important safety feature will soon be added to all road bridges.

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Middle Son watching a tram pass near our village. There are a lot of routes all around Stuttgart using these serving the local towns (unfortunately not including ours). According to Wikipedia the trams are 3.7m high, 2.6m wide, and 38m long. They are, as you can see, bright yellow and have headlights, indicators and rear lights, and being rail vehicles they tend to follow the same route every time they pass. You will notice the crossing is protected with lights and signs.

So, I’m wondering, how do you manage to drive a car into or in front of one, or otherwise cause a collision?

Apparently drivers in Stuttgart manage this several times a year, and last month one managed to get tangled up with a tram on a straight road in broad daylight. I happen to know because I was waiting for said tram to come and pick me up so I could go home. Nothing happened for about half an hour, whereupon I gave up, walked to the railway station and caught the train instead. I appreciate that having the choice of tram or train, a service that runs more than once an hour* and a ticket I can use on both, marks me out as spoiled and I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m still wondering.

It turns out that a driver on a straight road parallel to the tramlines simply turned onto a crossing a couple of metres in front of the tram. As the car weighed about 1.5t and the tram is 55 tonnes empty, plus passengers, the car came off rather worse out of the situation.

This is why I don’t bother with reflective high-visibility clothes: if there are drivers out there unable to spot a massive yellow box full of lights, I don’t see that making myself look like an isotope is going to help very much.

*or once a day/week/month, delete as applicable.

 

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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Now it is officially spring again, the cyclists are coming out of hibernation. The Xtracycle and I spotted this classy looking bike at a local metro stop.

Having more cyclists is a great idea in theory, as long as they remember they aren’t driving their car down the Autobahn and expect everyone to jump out of the way.

Life is intervening, again. The last few weeks have been a right thumper of an exam session because all the tutors decided that with the half-year report due very soon, they need to have a test at the same time, so I’ve been doing lots of revision, amongst other things about an hour of maths each night which is not very exciting blogging material, hence lack of posts, and replies to comments.

I’ve been feeling slightly guilty for a while about this post giving the impression that our local transport system was run by incompetents or possibly monkeys and that isn’t the case. (Having grown up in the UK I have experience of a transport system run by incompetents, or as they are known ‘politicians’. I think monkeys could do better) so in the interests of balance here is a ‘normal’ commute home.

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When things are working, the last lesson finishes about ten minutes before the train and gives plenty of time to walk to the station One thing German education does fairly well is make sure schools have public transport connections.

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The novelty of being on a top deck coach will never wear off. Bay seating fortunately hasn’t gone out of fashion in Germany.

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Large amounts of bike space and a massive disabled privy downstairs. The things I photograph for you, honestly.

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Cavernous bike and push chair (stroller) friendly doors.

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Off train and on to bus which leaves exactly six minutes later. The bus takes longer to cover the next five kilometres than the train needed for 20, but saves me cycling 200 vertical metres so we’ll gloss over that. I can get off at the next village to ours and comfortably ride the last few kilometres straight over the fields, while the bus goes off on a tour of local landmarks, so I save about ten to fifteen minutes and I can start on assignments fresh and awake from the ride.

I don’t of course: I faff about and end up trying to solve maths problems when I’m half asleep before rushing to get ready for the next day, but never mind.

Half year reports are coming next week, so the pressure should let off for a bit.

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Pulling my back muscle last week meant I couldn’t get Youngest Son’s bed quite ready before the workshop was shut down for Christmas, but we went ahead and got a matress to fit anyway (assuming it will fit and I haven’t made an awful mistake measuring the wood).

Personally I’d have preferred to make our own mattress with a straw filling but I couldn’t see that plan going down too well, so we all headed off to the big city, or at least the nearest bit of it in the next town but one, and confused a salesperson by insisting that we could transport our mattress home by bike. As the picture shows it worked pretty well: we had to go the long way to keep The Boys off a busy road but it was worth it for all the incredulous looks from passing drivers. Notice, despite my whining, that we are on a segregated pedestrian/cycleway and didn’t have to ride on a road apart from the one we live on.

The white bunker-like object on the left is an expensive piece of sculpture installed by the town to emphasise ‘working together’ or something. This is the same town which decided the best way to mark the geographical centre was with a giant carrot and circle of plastic lagomorphs, so we shouldn’t really be surprised.

On arriving at the apartment we decided to have a chinese takeaway so The Bakfiets was pressed back into service. Perhaps overkill in this case but there we go.

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Notice rope coiled up ready for use. If I remembered to do this more often it would probably give a better impression.

I haven’t written much about using bicycles lately, especially considering how much use our bikes get.

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The Bakfiets spends much of its time being a tractor, as seen above delivering compost and a load of wood to the garden for making the Mighty Steppe. Without the Bakfiets we’d probably not be able to keep our crazy hippy lifestyle going, as it is the main way of transporting stuff back and forth to the Very Smallholding. I could probably fill one of these if I had one, which would remove almost all need for a car except for the occasional long trip, but I always end up deciding I’m better off with what I’ve got.

I may make a flat bed for the Bakfiets as soon as The Boys are too big to ride in it (that’s if I don’t make a coffee bar instead).

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Meanwhile the Xtracycle remains my vehicle of choice for going to the next town and beyond, visiting friends and running errands, not least because it means I can combine trips.

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This of course means it is out in all weather, and I’m going to have to get myself into gear and replace the wooden deck at some point: it is made for sunny California, not cold damp Germany.

People still shake their heads and tell me it is much more convenient to have¬† car, but when I hear stories like this I’m not so sure…

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