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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.

Just as I got used to riding on snow with slick tires, the Xtracycle developed the same annoying habit as it usually does in winter: The cable to the rear mech froze solid after I’d been riding for five minutes leaving me riding a singlespeed in whatever ratio I happened to be using at the time. The only solution to this is pulling the cable out and spraying with WD40 or similar, and yes I should have remembered to do this earlier as in south Germany it tends to be cold this time of year (-9°c overnight, thanks for asking), and the Xtracycle freezes up like this every time.

In other news, Stuttgart has been ticked off again because the particle pollution is far and above the legal limit in the centre*, so they’re telling people to ride their bikes in and leave the car at home. Of course this would be far more effective if they actually cleared the snow off the cycle lanes, and hadn’t just taken the bicycle trolley off the only tram that carries bikes around the clock “because it is snowing and people don’t ride bikes when it snows.”

Meanwhile, the winter tires have arrived.

*Remember all those reports in the 1990’s about all the pollution in East Germany, and how the west was held as a shining example of how capitalism allowed growth with out environmental damage? Someone didn’t get that memo…

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…

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…

I’d just like to apologise to the cyclists in our area for the weather we had over the weekend.

On Friday the weather report was very upbeat, predicting sunshine and a the odd fluffy cloud, and even enough warmth to leave your coat at home. On Saturday the sun shone, I was out building a shed with friends, the weather forecast was showing bright yellow symbols into next week, sheep gamboled in the fields* and all was right with our world.

Then, on Saturday night we had monsoon-standard rain. Certain people will put this down to meteorological conditions, warm air rising from the hills et c but there is in fact a simple explanation.

On Saturday evening I washed the Xtracycle.

I knew it was a risk, but the poor thing had been rather neglected all summer and was looking, appropriately, like it had been in a farmyard for some time. I knew I shouldn’t, but I figured that just a quick clean wouldn’t hurt, and then I’d have a nice shiny bike for the rest of the week.

Now, of course the roads are soaking wet and the gravel trails are full of muddy puddles and the bike was once again filthy by the time I got to work.

So, like I said… Sorry…

*Presumably. We don’t have any near the village right now, but it was good gambolling weather so I’m assuming that somewhere gambolling was taking place.

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At first glance this may look like yet another random picture of the Xtracycle on its travels, but allow me to draw your attention to the orange bike in the background.

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That is a Yuba Mundo, a longbike similar to an Xtracycle, and clearly used as a family transport bike judging by the setup and presence on a tram stop bike rack on a cold and damp October morning, when ‘normal’ people would have used a car.

Despite having a reputation for being a stroppy rebel who goes out of their way to do everything differently to other people, it is very encouraging to know I’m not the only person trying to get around like this…

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.

Xtracycle_inna_bus

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…

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