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downdown_01I think I’ve got the ride to work sorted out, apart from a couple of little hiccups we won’t mention like the Xtracycle’s rear gear cable snapping on the one place where I have to ride uphill in traffic*.

I’d originally planned to use the tram for most of the route between our village and the farm, with a bike at both ends to cover the first and last bit, but apart from the security issue, Stuttgart’s tram system mostly goes from the edge to the centre, whereas I wanted to go from one suburb to another, and those trams ran only occasionally, usually before or after I wanted to travel, and often thirty seconds before I got to the station.

After an embarrassingly long time riding into Stuttgart and back out again, it finally occurred to me that I was travelling off-peak in both directions, so I could carry my Xtracycle on the tram for free (British public transport providers take note: this is possible without the sky falling). Now I cycle to the local tram stop, ride the tram to the highest part of the route, which rather conveniently is the last station before it goes down into Stuttgart, and ride the rest of the way. Coming back I catch any Stuttgart-bound tram on the other line, hop off again near the top of the hill, and pootle back through the forest. No bikes are left to the predations of local vandals, and I get to ride the Xtracycle. Everyone wins.

Until it snows, but let’s not worry about that yet.

*It turns out that with some pliers and a lot of swearing I can -just- get a normal, standard-length back gear cable to fit on an Xtracycle. I’m probably the last Xtracycle user to find this out, but I put it out there anyway.


During school time the Farm is open Tuesday-Saturday, so from this week my weekend starts tomorrow. Normal blogging servce will be resumed then, with tales of cycle commuting, tractors, goats and flying gates.

In the meantime, and in an effort to keep the blog on subject, here is a picture of the Xtracyle fitting into a bus.

A friend asked me how I managed to commute to the farm and back, given my strange car-free habits. I explained about my original cunning plan, and his face lit up.

“You mean you leave the Xtracycle at the tram stop all day? One set of bolt croppers and I’ve got a new bike…”

This is why I use a bike pulled off a scrap pile…

My original idea for commuting to the farm was to have a bike at each end of the tram journey, cycle to the the local tram station, ride the tram across town, and pick up another bike to cover the last bit to the farm. This sounded great when I worked it out, but in practice there’s all kinds of problems, mainly that it relies on me being able to finish work, sweep the workshop, clean the privvy, unlock the bike, ride to a house within dashing distance of the station, lock the bike again, and leg it to the tram stop to meet the tram.

You will not be surprised to find this doesn’t work very well.

Of the three direct trams back from the farm, the first is long gone before I’m finished, the second usually leaves the station just as I come sprinting around the corner, and the next is far too late. If I even miss that one, we enter the twilight zone, that period the powers that be have decreed to be Off Peak, when no-one needs to travel, so the wait until the next connection is best measured with a calendar.

There are other trams, but they involve travelling into Stuttgart, changing and coming back out again. Either way I end up doubling the journey time. I know this because I missed the tram every evening so far.

So now I’ve come up with Cunning Plan 2.1. I can take a bike on the tram off-peak, and the farm opens mid-morning, so I can ride to the station at this end, carry the bike on the tram, ride to the farm, and then in the evening simply cycle home, thus saving all kinds of frustration. It would also mean I can use the Xtracycle, which solves the problem of the disintegrating panniers.

Spend enough time sitting on random tram stations and this sort of thing becomes interesting…


Yesterday I had the chance to visit a friend in Tübingen, about 50km south of us. I’ll post more pictures later but here’s part of the route.

It’s tough living without a car, but somehow I cope.

One of the joys of having an allotment the other side of town is the summer morning commute to water the plants in the hope of actually successfully growing something this year. This has to be done fairly early at the moment before the sun begins to come over the hills and I have to stop playing and pretend to be a grown up by looking for college courses and doing translations.

Yesterday the report promised rain. The view out of the window said otherwise, so I got the Xtracycle out and rode up the hill to the centre of the village and down the other side, down a bit more on the much steeper gravel track to the allotments.

I unlocked our allotment gate, locked it behind me: one of the neighbours has a large Rottweiler: soft as a warm marshmallow but possessed of an enormous amount of poo and an urgent need to distribute it as widely as possible.

I climbed down the steps, hung up my jacket and took the lid off the water barrel, whereupon the first raindrops fell.

Ah, well, I suppose I asked for it.

And how was your weekend?

So there I was riding along a nice gravel trail towards our village: I turned a corner, saw a bike coming the other way, pulled on the brakes too quickly, the Xtracycle went in a different direction to me and I made sudden and unwelcome contact with the Federal Republic. Considering that I basically dived into the gravel like an olympic swimmer making for gold, I came out rather well: just a couple of bruises on my hands and a rather dramatic graze on my shoulder which made first contact.  My face managed to get away with a near-invisible scratch, which is good as people ask awkward questions when you turn up with an obvious facial injuries.

Annoyingly, this is the second time I’ve fallen off my bike in three months. Earlier this spring I went wide on a blind bend and locked handlebars with an oncoming rider. No real damage was done but I was wondering why this would be. Am I getting old? sloppy?

I have a less embarrassing theory: both times I was taken by surprise by oncoming cyclists. All winter I’ve had the cycle ways to myself, and now the hibernating cyclists are returning and I’m not ready for them. On a road, I’m riding defensively, seeing dangers, taking the lane, etc. When I get onto a bike lane I relax. Apparently a bit too much.

We cycle infrastructure advocates will bore the pants off anyone about how cycle lanes make people feel safe, but perhaps we should add a disclaimer that you still have to look where you are going…

*With apologies to Disgruntled.


We discovered another use for an Xtracycle: Bringing Youngest Son back from football practice when we needed him here quicker than a kickboard would allow.

Yesterday was a challenge: I had to go to Eldest Son’s school to help prepare for the summer festival,* then get back to our apartment to take youngest off to the dentist in the next town (and naturally the opposite direction) then bring him back to go to a school party in the afternoon.

Which would have been fine if I’d remembered this before half past seven in the morning, and then remembered to take something to eat, instead of panicking and racing off having eaten four slices of toast early in the morning and then nothing until mid afternoon.

I’m told that some people are organised…

*This is an introvert survival strategy: if I help prepare for the festival I get to decide what I do during the day itself, and making nest boxes is infinitely preferable to playing basketball in a ‘parents vs. children’ match.


I’ve discovered a traffic-free route to the next big town. It even includes this bridge over the river so instead of fighting my way down a steep, traffic filled hill or across a multi-lane junction I can now go straight from my preferred route down the hill and onto the cycleway that takes me into the centre of town and hardly have to deal with cars for the whole route.

Black and white photo an attempt to make ‘where I went on my bike’ shot look artsy.

I call it the Bridge of Irony because it was mainly built to link two sections of the huge Mercedes plant in this part of the valley…

I’ve said before that cycling into the next big town is a simple matter of pootling through vineyards and gardens. Unfortunately riding back out again is rather harder work.

Step one is simple enough: find the shortest traffic free route through the suburbs of the town and  avoid being run over by the dustbin lorries that seem to infest these back streets.


The next image was taken about 500 metres behind the church seen above. The weathervane on the tip of the tower is directly behind the camera, which makes this hill seem rather excesive, frankly.

This road is closed to cars, but there are always one or two who decide to take the short cut. Inevitably they decide they want to overtake on this section.

At the top of the climb is a housing estate in a forest built in the days when everyone was going to use cars, and therefore with no infrastructure for bicycles whatsoever. Often when I ride here the local drivers have tooted encouragement, waved enthusiastically out of the window as they pass, and for some reason pointed frantically at the pavement.

I don’t know why this happens often here but almost nowhere else. Perhaps they just aren’t used to seeing cyclists on the road.

The secret exit out of the top of the housing estate into fields.

And the top of the climb looking back to the north, 20 minutes and about 200 metres after the first photograph. The reward for this climbing is a magnificent view towards the distant hills that mark the watershed between Rhine and Danube. Typically on the day I had my camera, it was too cloudy to see beyond the next plowed field.

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