Organising the bicycle workshop is taking longer than anyone expected, and keeps throwing up surprises. Last week I was trying to tidy up the bike store when I found a very large box full smaller boxes, all containing bicycle spokes, anything from 72 spokes to 500 in a box.

And then I found a bigger one behind it.

I worked in a bike shop for a while, and even rebuilt a wheel once or twice but I have no formal training, so pretty much all my knowledge about bicycle spokes was that they were rather important to the continued forward motion of a bicycle, and that they came in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes. This clearly was insufficient, so I went for my usual solution in these circumstances, and went online.

Well it turns out that as well as being all kinds of lengths, spokes can be different diameters. To make life even more complicated they can be narrower at one end than the other (“single-butted”), or in some cases narrower in the middle and wider at both ends (“Double butted”) Oh, joy,

Eventually I stole found some boxes from the depths of the sorting room and started by separating the single and double butted spokes, which thankfully was helped because the maker had colour coded the boxes, then slowly sorting all the boxes by length, which rapidly became sorting them into within 10mm of length because they were almost all different.

This took a while, partly because I had to clear another shelf to keep the sorted spokes in…

However, by the end of the day the floor was clear and most of the spokes were sorted (We’ll ignore those boxes on the top of the shelves for time being) and I am well on the way to being a spoke nerd.

Now all I have to do is remember how to actually build a wheel…

There are few things worse than waking up with a start at 4:30 in the morning; one is waking up with a start at 4:30 in the morning realising you forgot to set the alarm.

You may well ask why your correspondent is so concerned with getting up as such times in the morning.

Due to the increases in living costs, the German Government has made it possible for people to use local trains for a month with one 9€ ticket. It seems no-one stopped to think that with holiday season approaching, making rail travel throughout the country effectively free may mean a lot of full trains.

The previous week I’d learned the hard way that the only solution would be to get on the first train at silly o’clock in the morning. Unfortunately because it takes an hour to get to the main station, this meant an even earlier start, and now I was half an hour late.

After extensive experimentation, I can now say with some authority that swearing doesn’t slow time down. Fortunately I managed to catch the tram to central Stuttgart.

…and caught the train. Then I remembered that Stuttgart has a period in the morning when bike carriage on trains requires a ticket.

Unfortunately I couldn’t remember when that was, or when I would reach the edge of the Official Stuttgart Metropolitan area. I solved this by not saying anything when the ticket collector came by.

As we approached Freiburg, passenger numbers increased and I suspected I was approaching peak hours again, so I bailed at a place called Lahr im Schwarzwald and started what I call a “Utility Tour”; I was touring, but basically transporting myself from A to B. Not to mention schlepping all manner of stuff for being with the family…

Once out of the town of Lahr, there was the road, stretching away…

This being Germany, every few kilometres there was a village in the fields, which was a welcome chance to stop, get a drink and take some pictures and I absolutely didn’t get lost in any of them; honestly…

Soon I reached my old commuting route, so things got a bit quicker after that. On arrival I remembered that there was no food in the apartment, so out came the Xtracycle for a shopping trip.

With my usual level of organisation I went and bought a big pack of toilet paper, then opened the cupboard to find an unsealed bag full already there…

Beautiful Daughter and I have a tradition: when I’m staying with the family, we eat breakfast together, and watch a cycle touring video.

Then we tidy everything up, and we hit the road.

The usual destination is a forest, or as with this week, a local playground because the water pump has been switched on for the summer.

We got on with some serious civil engineering and learned a bit about water, flow, erosion, dam building, and of course what happens when you knock a dam down again…

Also, paddling was involved.

Tinybug is currently pushing to take our bikes to Japan when we next visit the family, so we can “go on bike tours”.

Flat hunting continues. This is resulting in a lot of interesting rides along new roads to attractive places, but unfortunately not, as yet, an apartment to move into…

As you can see, not much is happening here; again. This is partly because I have to move to another apartment within a month or two, so I’m getting ready for that and looking at possibilities.

The view above is on the way back from one such appointment: I organised this a couple of weeks ago, so I’m not sure how I managed to make it during the one half hour of rain we’ve had in the whole week. It wasn’t as if I’d even washed my bike…

When I was offered the opportunity to take over the bike workshop, I was told I would have to drive occasionally.

This is because the bike workshop doesn’t have a massive amount of storage space, so the bikes from the local government recycling centre have to be taken to a building in another town, where a team of clients separates the serviceable bikes from the wrecks, and then dismantles the wrecks for any usable parts.

My part in this highly developed infrastructure of supply is to occasionally drive a van over and collect any usable bikes or parts the team have for me. Thankfully, this a relatively rural area; drivers tend to be more relaxed than I’m used to in Stuttgart, and other vehicles are in any case further apart.

Thus it was that a couple of weeks ago, I tentatively drove a rather battered transit van from the workshop accompanied by a colleague/chaperone/lookout and navigator to make sure I didn’t make the van even more battered, or indeed get lost: a less obvious aspect of living car free is that I can ride between two towns more times than I can remember but still haven’t a clue how the roads connect to each other.

Having achieved the journey both ways without causing my colleague to scream, I’ll be driving there and back every two weeks.

The irony of this situation is not lost on me; I got the job because living car free meant I learned to repair bikes, and now I’m not only driving but getting paid to transport bikes around the countryside…

I’m now officially managing the bike shop, known as “Fair Bike”. I’m debating whether to lobby for a change to “Fair Cycle” or if that would be a pun too far. Besides, I think I may be a bit too busy.

The workshop gets a steady supply of bikes from the public or the local authority waste department; better bikes are refurbished in the shop, while the really broken bikes are cannibalised for parts then sold as scrap. In our case most of the staff are people who have been unemployed for a while, and who are trying to gain skills and confidence so they can get a job.

My department is in a fairly large second hand shop offering various opportunities to about forty people. The shop is partly financed by the Job Centre but it has to raise a lot of the funds itself through sales, so each department has to run like a small business.

Unfortunately, the person previously in charge of the bike department has been ill for a while, and as is often the case this meant people just did their thing and no-one had any overview of the department. The next few weeks will be simply getting to know my clients, building trust, sorting out the stores and trying to find the floor.

I made a start yesterday; after a couple of hours I’d thrown away a lot of broken bike parts, one mirror, two broken radio control cars; and a model dinosaur missing one leg. This meant I found the windowsill, so I could clean the windows…

Small steps…

I moved to the Freiburg region a couple of years ago because I was offered a job working in a protected workshop for people with disabilities. As with many jobs in social care the initial contract was a year with the option of extending long term. At the end of the first year my employer told me that while they could see I cared for my clients and worked well with them, I “Didn’t fit the organisation’s concept.” Having seen the concept I was quite happy with this assessment; I’d have been upset if it was the other way around.

Almost by accident I ended up getting a different job locally working with long term unemployed people. This was good, but it meant I was back in the insecure 1-year “Let’s see how things work out” contract, which was not so good.

This week my current employer decided that I really do fit into their concept and they want me to stay. They added that they know my interest in bicycles, and the current head of the bike department is retiring, so would I be interested in taking over the department? I’d be working full time helping people build up skills and become more confident and capable, while learning how to repair bicycles.

I told them I could live with that.

My employer has found some extra loose change and they’re extending my contract, which means a family move to the Rhine Valley is likely at some point. Exactly when that will happen is another question, given the need to work around schools and other matters.

My work will change slightly and go in a very interesting direction which I can’t really talk about until it’s announced officially, but it’ll be relevant to the blog so should mean slightly more frequent posting.

The flip side is that now I’m going to have to find a new apartment as the owner of this one wants to move in here, which will involve furnishing the future home. Thankfully the new job will be based in the same building as the second hand furniture store…

Commuting is getting easier as the weather improves; sunset on the way back to the apartment.

I’m still here, for now; my contract will technically run out at the end of May and it’s a bit unclear what will happen next. My employer would like to extend my contract and they’re “working out how that will look in practice” which I’ve taken to mean they’re doing the institutional version of looking behind the sofa cushions for loose change. They are working on several ideas, some of which are really quite exciting, and as soon as these are vaguely concrete I’ll be able to blog about them…

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