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So, here’s the smallest member of the family, almost eighteen months old, and collecting rocks. As you do.
She is currently at the ‘collecting things’ stage which is causing all kinds of problems especially as she recently ‘collected’ the key to the cleaning cupboard, which normally resides in a drawer well out of her reach, for obvious reasons. While she hasn’t mastered the art of opening a door with a key she has mastered the art of Putting Things In Strange Places. The key vanished.
Then the kitchen sink got all bunged up.
Usually the Tiny One can find things fairly quickly (Something she certainly inherits from Beautiful Wife as I frequently have to call my phone to find it), but when we asked her this time she just looked quizzical.
And offered us a rock.
Fortunately a few phone calls later and the Xtracycle was pressed into service to collect some borrowed Emergency Plumbing Equipment.
So now the sink is free from crud and usable again. Unfortunately we still don’t have a key for the cleaning cupboard.
On the other hand, we have plenty of rocks…
That isn’t the most exciting thing to happen this week. I should have something much more interesting soon, just bear with me…
I’ve long known that the world is run by extroverts, and last week I came across another example; for my seminar in Tübingen my employer only refunded one return trip for the week because “we have overnight accomodation”.
The accomodation is in shared rooms, so lots of contact with strangers 24 hours a day.
This is a bit like telling a left-handed person “Just use right-handed scissors.” It is not going to happen.
So I had to work out a way to travel to and from the seminar that wasn’t too expensive. After a couple of days experiencing the hilarity that is car sharing (Late one day because of traffic, and another because the driver had a flooded apartment and cancelled) I decided to spring for a ticket on the way to Tübingen, then cycle from Tübingen to Herrenberg on the way back. Herrenberg is on the edge of the Stuttgart transport zone, and as my railcard becomes an all lines pass within Stuttgart and region after midday, this meant I could catch a train to within a short cycle ride of our village and make the whole journey for nothing.
In practice it would have been less stressful if I hadn’t lost track of time visiting a good friend in Stuttgart (‘introvert’ doesn’t mean ‘antisocial’) and realised I needed to get to a station 25 kilometres away in about an hour and a half, on a route I didn’t know, uphill. And that I hadn’t eaten in several hours.
It worked out reasonably well though. The route was well signposted until I got to Herrenberg, where I was sent on to a major road into Stuttgart with lots of impatient drivers, but this is just a reminder to any tree hugging hippies from Tübingen that in the real world bikes are not a proper form of transport. I still made it in time for the train.
I got myself two fresh Pretzels as a reward. This is the second as I ate the first too fast…
The only real issue was that the S-Bahn/outer suburban trains are too short to accomodate an Xtracycle…
Observant people may have noticed that as well as having more daylight in the previous post, I’m also riding the Xtracycle again, after possibly the longest time out of service since I fitted the ‘Free Radical’ on the back of my Raleigh bike almost ten years ago.
I had got used to the normal sized commuter bike and I was a bit concerned that I’d feel the extra weight of the Xtracycle a bit too much, but it feels like I’m flying. I’m still not sure quite why this is, after all that plank on the back weighs a bit, and then there’s all the junk that accumulated in the luggage carriers that I keep forgetting to take out again -you can see some poking out of the back of the bike in the picture- but there you are. Riding is faster, smoother and more comfortable.
It isn’t perfect yet; the gears are still a bit strange, which is either because I’m still using the 19-year-old original mechanism, or possibly due to the incompetence of the bike wrench. I suspect the latter.
Unfortunately destiny means the Xtracycle and I will be parted for a few more days as I need to go to another seminar in Tübingen, so the commuter will be coming with me again.
Tübingen is known for having pretty good cycle infrastructure, so I’ll try to take pictures to bore you with when I get back.
On the way back from work, taken at the same place as this picture and possibly a few minutes later in the day, and we now have real daylight. The ground is actually starting to dry off and the geese no longer have to swim to cross the farm yard.
Of course it snowed for several hours a couple of days ago, and there was ice on the window this morning, but at least we can now leave work without crashing into wheelbarrows and stray sheep.
Or, how to make paperwork into an excuse for a ride…
The ongoing saga of applying for my college funding continues. I returned the bale of paperwork that the government office demanded, signed and sent off another bale, and then filled in a couple more forms that I got from another office. And waited. And waited…
Then an email came saying I’d neglected to send The Important Form that they needed to start the entire process. The Rules demand the Important Form, so they couldn’t start the process without it. I had to send the Important Form to them, like, now*.
The problem was, I got this email on Tuesday night. The earliest I could get to a post office was Wednesday lunchtime. The form would then arrive on Thursday morning, but all forms have to go to the main office, not my local office where the file was. If the central office was having a good day, the Important Form may make it back to my local office on Thursday, or more likely Friday, and then someone may look at it on the following Monday.
Alternatively I could go to the local office on Wednesday morning, drop off the form as they opened and go to work. The office is in exactly the opposite direction to work, which meant going on a bike ride along the river Neckar into Stuttgart.
The next morning I got up at silly O’clock, rolled down into the valley, dropped the Important Form off at a quarter to eight in the morning, and pointed the bike towards Stuttgart.
The Neckar Valley gets very industrial as you approach Stuttgart. Alongside this massive lock gate is an equally massive casting works for a well known car company.
The cycleway diverts around the back of the harbour. Nice and quiet but with a railway on one side and a river on the other for about a kilometre I wouldn’t want to try it after dark.
Things went well for the first part of the journey and I had a good chance of making it to work on time. Then I was signposted off the direct route and down a side road. And then another side road. and an underpass, then back up a steep hill onto a narrow pavement. Which went back down the steep hill. Ten minutes later I was twenty metres closer to Stuttgart, and found the next part of the cycleway.
Which was closed.
A sign sent me back along the way I’d come until I could cross the river to this route:
And, to be fair, the diversion was clearly marked and well signposted. Rather better than the normal route, in fact.
As soon as I turned away from the river and into Stuttgart proper, everything became more civilised.
They’re even trying out that tree-huggy new idea of a ‘Bicycle Street’, where bikes have priority and cars need to give way. To make sure drivers get the hint there’s a massive blue bike sign as you come into the ‘Bicycle Street’. I’d have taken a photograph, but unfortunately it was mostly covered by an illegally parked truck.
From the Netherlands.
I was late for work. Fortunately several colleagues have been through this process with this particular office before, so they know the score…
(Sorry for the rubbish picture quality: I was using a small ‘point-and-hope’ camera which didn’t like the lighting conditions at all)
*This is a rather free translation of the german.
The Xtracycle as fitted onto my bike, consists of a frame, big panniers, and a piece of wood on the top, as seen in the picture above. On mine, the wood has been showing signs of wear and tear lately. Actually it’s been showing signs of wear and tear for several years, but as it wasn’t a ‘urgent’ problem, I naturally did nothing about it.
When I started working at the farm I realised I had access to wood and the right sort of tools to make a replacement. True to form I faffed about until last month, when I finally went hunting in the wood store for materials.
We’ve had various bits of hardwood donated over the years, which we rarely use as the children prefer to use softwoods like pine. The hardwoods end up at the back of the wood store gathering vast amounts of dust, so I dug up some Ash for the majority of the board, with a centre line made of beech, and two stripes from some walnut veneer. Notice the “carpenter’s triangle”. I’d like to think this gives my work an air of professionalism but we all know it is mostly there so that when I drop the lot on the floor I know what order they should be in.
After dropping the whole lot on the floor -twice- I glued it liberally and put the result in clamps. You are supposed to have surfaces that fit perfectly but my wood warped slightly as it had been stored for so long. I solved this by clamping the planks together very heavily, leaving then for 48 hours and hoping for the best.
There are no pictures of the cutting, planing and sanding, mostly because I needed both hands to stop the wood flying away and also because I wasn’t sure if this was going to work at all, so the next image is of the old and new spraydecks together. The new one is a bit heavier, but compared to the stuff I carry about normally, this is hardly going to be a problem. I hardly ride at breathtaking speeds anyway.
At this point I realised I’d probably better makes something to fit the board to the bike. Being fussy I wanted the new spraydeck to clip onto the bike like the old one, and also to have no screws visible on the top of the deck. Being pessimistic I also wanted to keep the old spraydeck in case something went horribly wrong, so using the old clips was out of the question. Eventually I settled on two beechwood clips. Pretend you haven’t noticed that the holes aren’t exactly in line.
Brackets fitted, as much by eye as measurements. This backfired when I realised the deck was slightly too far to the left, this was another reason to have the screws underneath: the mistakes are underneath too…
Being a tree-hugging hippy, I oiled and waxed the deck instead of varnishing it. This allows me to go on about how you can feel the wood, and whine about modern finishes being all plastic and chemicals, at least up until the deck falls apart.
So far it has survived the foul weather of the last week, not sure how it will react to the temperature changes of Spring though, I’ll get back to you on that…
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…
I cracked: I cleaned the Xtracycle again…
I even took the panniers of the back and removed the accumulated crud of Autumn, thus reducing their weight by about a third.
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…