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havetoolswilltravel

Just to show I do get outside occasionally. The Xtracycle carrying the chisel and saw rolls from my workbench to my employers workshop.

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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We’ve got a long weekend, four days long to be exact. I need it as the Very Smallholding was getting seriously over grown and there’s only so much I can do with a couple of days a week and a scythe. Above is the Xtracycle in the ‘parking space’ by the road. When you need a scythe to clear the parking space the vegetation is getting out of hand.

However a couple of hours work and things are not exactly under control but at least not threatening the neighbours pristine lawns anymore.

Meanwhile, we’ve managed to make another big step forwards which involved your correspondent driving a van all morning, very stressful but worth it for the long-term benefits.

Will bore you about it all as soon as I’ve recovered.

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We get our seed potatoes from a small farm shop in the next town which is 2.5 kilometres away as the crow flies, rather smugly in this case because crows don’t have to go down into the valley and up out the other side like we do. Or carry twenty kilos of spuddies back for that matter.

Eldest Son rode with me for the first time on this route, having discovered that with a grown-up bike that has better quality parts, hills are a lot easier to climb. He’s now of an age where he legally has to use the road, so I’m taking him out as much as I can to get some traffic experience, and as the next town was recently rebuilt to make sure cars had even more space to go as fast as they wanted, including a section of one way system, where better to learn?

I carefully navigated a way through back streets which brought us out right next to the farm shop without touching the main road at all, except that the shop had moved, meaning we had to ride the length of the town on the recently rebuilt road, but Eldest Son dealt with the situation very well, and I’m sure the large SUV behind us on the very narrow one way system was tooting encouragement.

Potatoes loaded at the farm shop with an explanation of the reason for the move (Someone bought the premises and they’re making a high-end office furniture showroom: “Just what a small community needs” as the person measuring our potatoes remarked.) and we were off back home, with Eldest Son happily negotiating the rest of the one way system.

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In the valley with Xtracycle full of potatoes.

The real challenge came on the way to our village which is at the top of a 1-in-4 (25%) hill (You can see the hill in the top picture although even that frankly doesn’t do it justice). The Xtracycle went up it very well, my legs less so. Eldest Son was kind enough to wait for me by a bench so I could collapse for a bit, before continuing home for tea and medals, or in my case, to transfer the potatoes into the Bakfiets to shift them to the garden.

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After getting its fifteen minutes of fame a couple of weeks ago, the Bakfiets is now back doing the usual job, carrying 20kg of seed potatoes, 1 kilo of onions, some shopping bags for shopping in the next village, several pieces of very beautiful wood that is apparently uneconomical to work with and therefore fit only for burning unless I took it out of the workshop, three bags of rather smelly compost, a candle and a ‘rubble bucket’ How long before the poor thing gets as filthy as before? I reckon a week.

For those interested the seed potatoes are half earlies and half lates, we are supposed to plant after May the 20th  here because the climate can still throw a wobbly and freeze before then, so I’m not too late this year. As usual I read the label showing the variety very carefully and promptly forgot it before I’d left the shop.

The camera is working again, as in we gave up the search for a USB connector and got a new one on Ebay. I now confidently expect the old lead to turn up within 24 hours.

Anyway, On the card was the latest quick and easy project I blatantly copied from someone at college:

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I’d promised my parents a set of plates made of leftover pieces of wood as a Christmas present, and we’d agreed they could pick up when they came to visit us for easter: naturally I left actually making the things to the very last minute. Of course, after I’d cut everything to size the night before they came and carefully arranged the strips into a pleasing pattern, glued and clamped them, they fell out of the clamp and spread themselves all over the floor, but that is the way these things must be and they turned out okay in the end.

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As Spring had officially arrived I made the annual trip down the Hole To The Centre Of The Earth to turn the water on, without getting attacked by anything.

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With the Bakfiets out of service for a week to avoid frightening animals when we used the brakes, we also had to use the Xtracycle for shopping which is perfectly practical but having got used to the nice clean lines of the Bakfiets, a bit untidy. To add extra spectator interest, I forgot the rule that when loading the Xtracycle, always start with the heavy stuff on the kickstand side, or the bike tips sedately away from you to the amusement of anyone watching.

Another rule I forgot today is that you should never cut towards your finger with a sharp blade or chisel, which is why I’m typing this with a plaster on my left index finger* after cutting dovetails in a way that would certainly have had marks deducted if I were in college.The damage was very slight, which was fortunate as my first reaction was to be pleased at how sharp my chisel was…

*This is the finger which has a slightly numb patch since I severed a nerve twenty years ago making models, and come to think of it, the cut was caused by doing exactly the same thing….

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It turns out that riding the Bakfiets in all weathers as a family car/removal van/pickup truck/farm tractor, on and off-road in some very hilly places does make an occasional bit of maintenance necessary. Last week the brakes began to protest at my callous lack of attention to their needs by making a high-pitched squeal that caused dogs to howl, horses to bolt and cows to go off milking every time we tried to slow the bike down.

Not having any real experience with roller brakes I sent off an email to the nice people at Workcycles, who as usual responded extremely fast with the advice that the brakes need greasing now and again, preferably about every six months: the Bakfiets is nearly five years old so it was probably a good time to start, once I’d worked out how.

A quick search with the mighty Internet returned lots of advice, mostly with pictures of people dismantling entire hubs and rebuilding them, which was a bit beyond my capabilities, but the Shimano website helpfully showed an exploded diagram of the hub with two little holes which were apparently there for the purpose of adding the grease, but not just any grease, oh, no: this job called for the super-duper Shimano wonder goo which costs the same as molten gold but obviously absolutely essential as with a normal inferior grease the whole brake system would be destroyed. If I hadn’t managed this already.

I rode the Bakfiets over to my friendly bike shop for advice, and after the owners’ ears had finished bleeding from the noise he confirmed that grease was needed. I asked tentatively how much the whole operation would cost, given that the brakes were badly abused in the first place, possible removal and replacement of the hub, and the liquid gold that would be needed to avoid disaster.

He got out a syringe and squirted normal gearbox grease into the two holes. Sorted.

I showered his tips jar with gold, bought two brake levers for the Xtracycle (another story I’ll bore you with sometime) and cycled home. Not a squeak from the brakes.

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Found a shortcut through the forest between us and the next town. This has the advantage that we cross over the busy arterial road into Stuttgart on this bridge rather than having to zigzag through traffic lights.

Having grown up in the UK, the ability to travel cross country without using a major road still feels like a luxury..

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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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