This post is brought to you by a combination of poor planning and procrastination. For some time I knew the chain and cassette on my commuter bike were getting pretty worn: I’m not sure I changed them when I bought the bike about six years ago and they’ve done a fair bit of distance since, but they were still just about working so I decided to leave them until winter when I’d put a new chain on and put on the winter wheel with an equally new cassette. Of course, I’d actually said this about a year ago, but hey, the problem wasn’t urgent so I kept forgetting.

Fortunately the chain and cassette wear together, so I could get away with ignoring the problem as long as I didn’t change any components. So of course when I swapped my winter and summer wheels without thinking, the smallest (ie top) gear began to slip. I ignored it for a bit until the next one started to do the same and I realised I’d have to do something.

Most modern(ish) cassettes are held on with a locking ring that has ridges on it to stop it rattling loose, so the one thing you don’t want to do is make it very tight. Unfortunately whoever had put this lock ring on had not been told this as I discovered when I failed completely to move the ring at all.

The usual way of dealing with an over tightened ring is to clamp everything down firmly, and use a piece of tube on the cassette removing tool to gain more leverage. This in theory results in a clicking noise and a loosened cassette.

In my case it resulted in a loud snap and a broken removing tool.

Situations like this are why we have Bakfietsen. Off we went to the bike shop in the next town, where the mechanic applied a professional removing tool to the wheel. This didn’t work, so he called a colleague over to help. Eventually it took both of them and a length of what looked like scaffolding before the lock ring gave up. Now we have the new cassette on, new chain on, and I’ve got a commuter bike again…

Now, will I learn from this experience and get to grips with maintenance before it all goes to pot again?


Yesterday I decided that the bikes were filthy. Actually, I’d decided that some time ago and then put off cleaning them for ages, but I’d been using the Bakfiets to move gardening things and it was looking appropriately like a farm trailer inside and out, and the weather report was promising a lack of rain, so out came the Big Black Bucket.

The Commuter bike was done first, so that I can find and/or get at important moving parts and attempt some vague maintenance next weekend. Even though bikes are astonishingly low maintenance, after riding it about in all weathers for several months it reached the point where I need to spend actual money on it.


Essential tools of rural Bakfiets hygiene are a dustpan and brush and a large lump of wood. Close inspection of the moving parts below the box revealed some serious rust around the bottom of the steering column, so I’ll have to get the Hammerite out over summer.

Despite my lack of organisation I actually managed to finish all three bikes. I’m now hoping that the weather holds for the week so I can get on with fixing the commuter bike when the parts arrive…

 

 

 

 

Meet Mr. Ugly, a bike only a mother could love. I’m guessing this dates from sometime in the mid 1990’s, because I can’t imagine another time when a design committee would have looked at a mountain bike and a colour chart, stared at each other an in unison whispered ‘Purple‘.

As if that wasn’t enough they then went and upped the ante by giving it the name ‘Didgeridoo‘.

Close up the bike is a small rolling museum to 90’s MTB technology. It is almost identical to the original setup on the Raleigh bike that became the front half of the Xtracycle.

 

So the goal now is to turn this into a retro-styled drop handlebar commuting/touring bike. Just because.

 

Step one is to replace these handlebars with a pair of drops salvaged off an elderly racing bike and hoarded for six years in case they might become useful, and add some bottom bar levers from the same source.

If we get on with the drops we’ll make the world a slightly better place by taking the bike to bits and spraying it a different colour.

Then we’ll add mudguards, breaks and wheels from the hoard of bike bits that infests the cellar (and apparently includes a breeding colony of straight handlebars) to make it an all weather bike with luggage rack. Otherwise we’ll do much the same but with straight shifters.

That’s the plan anyway. the problems, deviations and other issues will doubtless appear here…

We’ve finally succeeded in finding a bike. It is thoroughly ugly, but we can deal with that bit as the idea was always to repaint and convert the bike into a hybrid with drop handlebars and bottom bar shifters.

The over ambitious conversion plans are partly simply because we want to try it, but as Elder Son pointed out, he doesn’t want to ride an ugly bike so it doesn’t get stolen. Making a bike with drops and friction shifters hopefully will mean that it is hard to sell, and therefore not worth stealing, so we can make a bike that looks attractive and that he can enjoy commuting on, especially as it will combine the whole ‘forget it it’s not worth nicking’ vibe with solid bike locks.

Having got nowhere with the bike shop I decided to try online adverts. I wasn’t very hopeful, and as expected spent the first few minutes having a hearty laugh at attempts to sell cheapo supermarket bikes for three figure prices.

After some more searching I found something that looked like it might work. It was a foul colour, but the frame was clearly steel and didn’t have any obviously large rust holes. I called Eldest Son over and warned him to wear sunglasses. His response of “Woah, welcome to the nineties” was expected, but once he got past that he saw the frame shapes and agreed to make an approach.

After a rather cautious discussion with the seller -on my side because I thought he’d want a couple of hundred for it, from his side I later discovered because the last possible buyer offered a fiver- we agreed a ballpark figure and I took the Elder Son to have a look. I checked that there were no obvious cracks, and even found it was chromoly steel, which was a nice surprise, and Elder son took it for a test ride and came back happy.

So now it’s in the garage, giving the spiders headaches while we wait for the money tree to recover enough to make the next step.

Eldest Son is pricing up paint…

Still settling in at work, so there’s not a lot of energy left for blogging, but I’m determined to keep posting more often. To this end here’s another list. This time it’s the good and not-so-good things about where I work:

Good things:

  • Working with a great team of people who love their work and have a shed load of experience.
  • Therefore, I’m learning a lot about social work and Theatre.
  • Most of the clients are great to work with. And the more awkward clients usually get fed up and leave after a few hours.
  • The other staff all dislike meetings, so they survive them by taking the mickey out of each other between business.
  • I’m close enough to my old college to continue the training as a therapy dog trainer.
  • I’m working in a theatre again, and not just any theatre: it’s in a re-purposed art-deco power station.
  • Standing up and moving about all day is good for a waistline that expanded in two years of sitting at a desk.
  • Because I’m the first Occupational Therapist in the organisation, I’ve got a fair bit of freedom to work out how I fit into the team.

Not so good stuff

  • It’s in the middle of the city, and I really don’t do cities.
  • The commute into the city is shared with approximately 3749 children going to school, with high pitched voices.
  • I’m still getting used to this business of standing up and moving about at work…
  • It’s really in the middle of the city…
  • There isn’t a workshop to play do projects in.
  • It can be stressful when I have several clients who need something to do, and I can’t give them a job because of lack of experience and technical understanding on my part (But we’ve figured a possible solution for that…)
  • I’m essentially an intern, which means ‘cheap’, but it’s only for a year until I get my state recognition.

Overall the good outweighs the stuff I’m less than thrilled about. At least for the next 12 11 months.

I also have to write reports in German which isn’t easy. On the other hand someone has pointed out that I can see that as a kind of revenge on the Job Centre who have occasionally made life miserable in the last five years: some pen pusher in an office over there has to decipher what I’ve written…

Mwahahaaa…

 

The Elder Son -who made his debut on this blog riding a bike with stabilisers- needs a new bike to go to work. This it a matter of some urgency because at the moment he’s using the commuter bike, and it is only a matter of time before ‘my’ commuter bike becomes ‘his’ commuter bike unless I find an alternative.

So we’re going on a bike hunt.

The charitable organisation I work for runs several local bike shops as a way to help people gain skills and get back into work. They also recycle bikes and at this time of year there are usually a dozen or so refurbished items in unfortunate colour schemes in front of the shop, perfect for the rebuild/repainting we had in mind.

So we went to see what we could find. There are two such shops on the other side of the city, so we’d have plenty to choose from. The weather report threatened storms from mid afternoon., but there was no sign of them after lunch, and anyway, we were following a tram route the whole way, so we could always leap on the tram and come back in the dry. We snorted in derision at the weather report and set off.

Of course, after we’d been riding about half an hour -ie, we were far enough away from the apartment that it would take a soaking to get back- it started NAR. This, UK readers will know is ‘Not Actually Raining’; a very gentle drizzle or spit of rain that makes it clear that a good soaking is entirely possible.

We arrived at the first bike shop. instead of the line of bikes I was expecting, there were three: a mahoosive upright town bike, a tricycle, and a pink bike with stabilisers and plastic flowers. I suggested to Elder Son that the pink bike would suit him, but he’s fussy about things like that and wouldn’t even try it out. Young people these days.

The second shop had no bikes at all unless you counted a pile of bent scrap frames out the back.

Then the rain finally came. Not the British style of spring rain, that falls solidly but gently for hours: this was a German ‘auditioning to be a monsoon’ rainstorm, which hits the ground so hard it bounces twice and cracks flagstones.

Thank goodness we were at the tram stop, we agreed smugly.

Then we found that the station was closed for repairs and there were no trams running for the weekend…

 

The exams are over, certificates handed out, My new contract is signed and I am once more a commuter. For the next year at least.

I’m even sort of being paid, as this is a probationary year to get ‘proper’ accreditation so I’m only a ‘sort of’ Arbeitserzieher/Occupational Therapist. Of course the local transport authority doesn’t recognise this distinction so instead of having an ‘all zones’ student card I now have to pay more for a two zone commuter railcard. Still, it was good while it lasted.

I even have the luxury of two different routes to work -you’re excited, I can tell- but as one means going into the main railway station during rush hour (So… many… people…) I opted for the slightly slower way that trundles down the hill into the city to within a fifteen minute walk to work. There is a bus which in theory comes every eight minutes, but I soon discovered that bus timetables are a work of fiction when the drivers of Stuttgart all decide to go into the city at once. Besides the bus clearly likes to visit every corner of the suburbs before finally going to where I work, so there really isn’t much difference in time.

Of course, you will now be wondering why I don’t just cycle into the city, and it would be nice, as it is only about 12km one way, but Stuttgart is in a 200m deep valley, and in an effort to make sure everyone has lots of ‘choice’ about how to travel, the city has built several very wide fast roads which ensures that you can get there any way you want, as long as it is in a car.

Besides, most of what I’ve seen in my first month commuting has confirmed that the average driver in Stuttgart is not only unable to see a large yellow tram with three headlights from about ten metres away: they also have trouble noticing pedestrians, other cars, ‘no parking’ signs, mahoosive dayglo pink fire engines with flashing blue lights,  and the difference between a road and a pavement, so I don’t want to test if they will see a bicycle or not…

Well, week actually, but never let reality get in the way of a title.

This week was supposed to be one of being generally relaxed and pottering about, catching up on all the annoying jobs that get forgotten while revising. Of course it hasn’t worked out like that because of the demands of different offices that we fill in the correct form and/or turn up for an interview Right Now because my change of status to not-really-unemployed to not-really-employed had sent their systems into a hissy fit.

This is not very exciting to blog about.

Fortunately, once the forms were gone we could do all the things that were neglected in the last few months.

One of the most important of these as far as Beautiful daughter was concerned was going out for adventures on the Bakfiets, so we’ve been exploring.

We went to see some horses,

…and found out how useful dock leaves are after stumbling through some nettles on the edge of the forest.

Beautiful daughter found a warm space with some interesting shaped seeds and nice soft soil…

And of course we had to visit a river to throw Great Big Rocks into

While not finding interesting new places we had time being creative, and made a poster for Grandpa’s birthday.

Meanwhile a pile of revision notes has been sitting forlornly in the corner waiting for me to decide what to do with them…

 

On the tram approaching the stop for my finals, I found a some notes I’d mislaid for the ‘Learning and Development’ exam lurking in the depths of my bag. The title said “The four main factors essential to learning” and although they were definitely in my handwriting I couldn’t remember ever having set eyes on them before.

This isn’t the first time this happened: in my written exams I was floored by a question which I couldn’t begin to answer having mislaid the index card early on in my revision. In that case I’d had about 25 other questions and four hours to answer them in so I wasn’t too worried, but this time the education ministry had decreed that the entire two years of learning would be examined in four fifteen minute interviews. I’d have a total of three questions in ‘learning and development’ so if the ‘four factors essential to learning’ came up and I didn’t know the list by heart I’d lose a third of my grade. I slipped the notes into my shirt pocket, and kept checking them while I recited the ‘four factors’ all the way into college.

I was directed to a ‘waiting room’ in one of the classrooms. We were told that we’d be picked up by our examiners, taken to our interview room, and brought back to wait for the next one. I was duly picked up by the first examiner and we went to the interview room where I had to take three random cards off a pile, read the questions on the other side, and answer them. This set the pattern for the next hour: go to interview room, take random questions, try to answer questions without brain freezing, back to waiting room.

In ‘Learning and development’ the first randomly selected question was inevitably: “Name the most important factors for learning.”

After the fourth interview I was legally obliged to push off and not come back for a couple of hours, so I duly pushed. Two hours later I found my colleagues in a very good mood, mainly because we’d all finished a rather long examination process, and in several cases because they’d spent the intervening time in the bar down the road. We gathered in our now former classroom, which already looked a bit forlorn with tables pushed to the walls and old projectors and flip chart frames dumped in the corners.

When my name was called out I went to the front, took my certificate, shook hands with the tutors, and rushed back to sit down and look at the grades.

To my absolute astonishment I’d passed with a ‘1.5’, a comfortable margin as a pass is anything up to a three or four.

Suddenly two years of training ended, with a sense of anticlimax. Most people went to celebrate, but I exited via a back door and headed back to the tram. As I got on I felt something crackly in my shirt pocket and retrieved a piece of paper.

I’d been carrying the answer to “The four learning principles” all the way through my exams.

The long silence has been due to the continuing inconvenience of exams intruding on life. The week long practical exam of the last post was followed by a couple of written exams a week or so later, and finally today I have to go and do four fifteen minute interviews. This, I strongly suspect is because the education ministry has realised it’s cheaper to grade us with oral exams than pay for someone to mark written papers.

It is a strange feeling that to have exactly one hour left of a two year course.

On the other hand, it means by this evening we’ll all know our grades and whatever has happened everyone can generally relax: I’ll have two weeks off before I start work, and I won’t have to spend them looking at index cards…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Contact me

"]

Archives

Categories