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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 haveĀ  car, but when I hear stories like this I’m not so sure…

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Whenever we are cycling beyond the next village, we don’t need to ask if there will be a hill. The question is how many hills there will be. Accompanying Eldest Son to his Saturday activity -3 kilometres away- involves a steep downhill into a valley, followed by a steep climb up the other side. We then do the same in reverse. I’m not suprised that Eldest Son isn’t always very excited to go.

The constant presence of hills is one problem we have when trying to encourage cycling here. Hills are very clearly, very visibly there, all the time, and they look much, much steeper when you are at the bottom riding a bicycle.

In the other hand, you do get a nice view from the top.

This argument has failed to win over the masses to cycling, although that does leave plenty of space at viewpoints.

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Xtracycle taking it easy on the metro service. Taking a long bike on a narrow train can sometimes be a test of diplomacy skills. I often end up jumping off and back on at various stops to allow other people to exit.

This occasion though, I had the train pretty well to myself.

My experience with the infernal combustion engine is limited, which was fine until someone at work realised that the apprentice lurking in the corner could drive back to the workshop and get whatever had been forgotten, so I’m getting a lot of quality time with the two company vans. These are both rather elderly and probably not in showroom condition. Other vehicles seem to be magnetically attracted to them and roads magically become narrower as I approach. I have yet to successfully make a hill start in the largest of the two, and every gear change is an adventure.

So last week, when I was working within the village and I’d just got back to the workshop to collect something, I realised I had an empty van and threw the Xtracycle inside before anyone could object, on the basis that I’d probably be sent back to get something else fairly soon, and sure enough, my supervisor found he was missing a small but rather important bracket that he needed, as in, now.

Downstairs, Xtracycle out of van, off we went. Through industrial estate, round shunting trucks that would have held up the van, a braked briefly for driver turning in front of me because despite having lights on I was still apparently invisible, into the village proper, past some children playing, into residential streets, where I was buzzed by a large SUV until we came to cars parked on both sides of the road that left him trying to squeeze through the remaining gap without losing his mirrors, and through the secret bike and pedestrian cut through (although not so secret that the town hasn’t managed to add a chicane halfway through to make it that little less convenient). I popped out of the other side, through more houses, over the main road and down through the old village centre to the workshop.

Off bike, searched workshop, no sign of bracket.

I got back on the bike, made the same journey in reverse*, and used all my acting skills trying not to look smug at “How did you get here so fast?” look on supervisors face.

We found the bracket under a toolbox.

*Even down to being buzzed by another SUV: it was one of those mornings…

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Here’s some of the family transport out in the sun being washed for spring. I really should have done this a lot earlier: not only was there the remains of rust from road salt, but some bikes had autumn leaves stuck in the mudguards.

Cleaning bikes, of course, is a pretty sure-fire way of making sure it will rain for the next day or so. While I was washing the bikes the weather went from bright sunshine to heavy rain in the space of an hour and it carried on all night, so all the jobs I had lined up for the weekend in the Very Smallholding, like finish digging over the awkward veggie bed, get the scythe sharpened and cut the Almost Hayfield while I still could see over the top of the grass, and prepare some kind of space ready to stack the wood from the monster tree when I finally get someone to cut it, etc, probably aren’t going to happen.

This is frustrating, specially as I was already getting behind with everything. So much for this being a way to drop out of the rat race and relax.

On the other hand, I can still plant a fair number of seeds in my home-made starter pots, and the boys are all growing things in containers on the balcony, so we can make a start on that as well.

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Having cleaned the Xtracycle I finally got around to replacing the brake blocks. The last ones are were cheap no-name parts and made a noise like fingernails being pulled down a blackboard whenever I used them. They were also nearly through to the metal. This time I got slightly more expensive versions in the hope they last a bit longer: the blurb claimed they are made of all kinds of high-tech compounds so they work better over time instead of squeaking.

They have orange bits and mysterious letters on the side which will of course improve their performance dramatically.

Passing a station in a tiny village in the hills this summer. With the carpentry training going full swing now, I don’t think I’ll make a century like I planned to this year. I’m creaking when I move at the moment.

The first week is supposed to be the worst: after that my system should get used to it.

On the other hand, I’m learning about carpentry, which is good, even if it hurts.

Went out with The Boys to ‘Haus Des Waldes‘; a permanent, interactive exhibition about forests, ecosystems, biodiversity, and their role in our lives. They like making sculptures of of natural materials and this one cropped up since our last visit.

I’d like to think I could make something like this in the Very Smallholding, but I probably wouldn’t have the determination to collect all those sticks.

The mill race again, with lamp post for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Maybe I went a bit too far and reached Narnia.

It turns out that you can, with some effort, make a hole in ‘puncture proof’ tyres. I do not recommend this, of course, and it does take a surprising amount of work and incompetence, but I have managed it as follows:

Pump tyres up to 4 bar, (one bar under the maximum, but the person who worked this out probably thought the tyres would be used as they were meant to be: on flat roads. Under a lighter bike).

Take Xtracycle to garden for family picnic.

Before going home, load Xtracycle with remains of picnic, a bag of compost, several gardening tools, a large plant pot and some work boots.

Decide Youngest Son is too tired to ride home on his own.

Put youngest son on already overloaded Xtracycle. Strap his bike on to tow it home as well.

Consider leaving some things but then realise that means coming back to get them in half an hour. Decide you can’t be bothered.

On the way home, drive up a very steep, badly surfaced road, putting entire weight of (overloaded) Xtracycle, Youngest Son, and and a rider that is ‘cough’ kilogrammes heavier than strictly necessary, onto the back wheel.

Mash pedals to get up hill.

Fail to notice one particularly sharp bit of gravel embed itself into the thickest part of the back tyre under the pressure.

Continue riding (and probably overloading) the bike for the next two days.

Result: one unscheduled visit to the bike shop for a replacement tyre and inner tube.

I guess that’s why the tyres are sold as ‘puncture proof’ rather than ‘idiot proof’.

Exciting new spiraly bicycle path under a railway station. This was a vast improvement on the steep steps we had to deal when we cane through here last year. There was even a ramp back out of the other side as well. Even better, there was a wide, traffic free cycleway across the river about 500 metres away.

It would have been perfect if the route between the spiral and the bridge had been a traffic free cycle route instead of a car park, a patch of waste ground, and a busy road.

Still, one thing at a time. Maybe that’ll be sorted out by next year…

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