Tag Archives: bike

Post-holiday update

Postcard stand in Obernai

Well, we’re back from Alsace after a whirlwind tour lasting some eleven days, and my memories and images are in some ways a bit of a jumble, rather like the postcards shown in the picture. I’m grateful for the old-skool pen-and-paper logbook I kept on a daily basis – that and the (not very many, admittedly) photos I took should help me to piece it all back together in due course.

This year’s tour was in some ways more arduous than previous ones. For one thing, I was a lot less fit when we started, my time in recent months having been rather occupied with non-saddle-related sedentary activities. A further factor was that we had planned almost exclusively to spend only one night at each camping site, which meant that we had the daily task of putting up and packing up our camping gear and were travelling with full luggage (him: a largish rucksack and trailer with ~20kg of gear; me: a small rucksack, two large saddle bags and the tent) almost all the time. On the other hand, experience has taught us how to pack effectively and efficiently, so we didn’t actually encounter any problems with the bikes or what we were transporting on them (with the exception of some saddle-soreness that I’ll spare you the details of – the moral of the tale being that you shouldn’t do a long tour with a new saddle until you are completely sure that you have broken it in…).

Our overnight stops were: Gieswasser – Cernay (2 nights) – Eguisheim – Scherwiller – Erstein – Kehl (2 nights) – Obernai – Rhinau. We cycled about 500km in all, an average of 50km a day for the ten days we were actually cycling; our main tours (but not smaller-scale local pootling about) are recorded here, in case anyone’s interested. We met lots of other touring cyclists, some of whom travelled a whole lot further on a daily basis, but we wanted to strike a balance between the cycling and the more relaxing holiday elements such as sightseeing and sitting around in the sun (or the shade: for the first few days the temperature was around 35 degrees) in front of the tent.

There’ll be a few pictures to follow on Flickr, in due course [update 3 September: a few are already up!], but I’m not going to attempt a full-blown account of everything I did. Just a couple of quick summaries…

Occasional frustrations

  • The rubbish corkscrew on my (el cheapo imitation) Swiss army knife was beyond frustrating and provided unwanted extra roughage in our wine on more than one occasion. We bought a new one in the end.
  • Once again, I failed to speak as much French as I could have.
  • Eguisheim, which I’d been really looking forward to looking around, was completely overrun with tourists – we’d coincided with the annual wine festival.
  • Also in Eguisheim, the plot I’d determinedly selected as “perfect” for us to pitch our tent had such hard ground that we wasted an hour trying to get the tent pegs in, only to have to admit defeat and move it ultimately (the silver lining to this, however, was that we ended up with neighbours that couldn’t have been nicer, and a quieter spot).
  • We got awfully lost in both Colmar and Strasbourg, despite good maps and GPS. In Colmar it was because a large logistics company had plonked its new plant right where our map said there was a cycle route, while in Strasbourg I have to confess that it was our fault for choosing unsuitable roads in an attempt to cut corners.

Unexpected highlights

  • The storks wandering around the camping site in Cernay, completely unperturbed by anything else that was going on.
  • A bottle of local white wine provided by the lady at the camping site in Scherwiller, after we arrived soaking wet and bedraggled.
  • Showers with temperature control AND without either a timer or coin-operation in Rhinau.
  • The stained-glass windows in Strasbourg cathedral – some of the finest I’ve seen.
  • Grapes on the vine ready for harvest right outside our tent in two of the places we stayed.
  • I managed to hit on exactly the right (minimalist) combination of clothing for the tour – didn’t run out of anything or return with unworn items.
  • I already knew that tent-pegs were called Heringe (herrings) in German, but I was highly amused to discover that the French call them sardines.
  • The infrastructure of cycling paths and lanes in Alsace is a million times better than what we encountered further south on our previous tours.
  • On two occasions we experienced the deep satisfaction of getting the tent pitched before the thunderstorm begins, and we managed entirely to avoid having to either pitch or pack up the tent in the rain.
  • Chocolate eclairs – not unexpected as such, but amazingly good from every bakery we got them from.

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My trusty bike

Here it is, my trusty Shanks’ pony, wire donkey or whatever you want to call it. I’ve had this bike almost 14 years now, and I think it’s benefited a lot from having always been kept inside. It’s also been excellently maintained in recent years (though I have to give the credit for that largely to someone else…).

Today I did my first longish tour on it since it received a new saddle and various other bits, plus a general overhaul. I’m a bit saddle sore, as I think the saddle needs to be tipped forward a bit more than it is, plus the chain came off when I had to do some radical gear-changing going up a steep hill.

Still, I have now reported back to the Chief Mechanic and he’ll have it sorted by Tuesday, at which time we hope to try it out again…

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December 22 – Travel

How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

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December 10 – Wisdom

What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

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VeloCity

Recently I have posted about bikes and the problems I have with taking pictures of whole objects. The two are closely related.

The main problems I’ve had when I’ve wanted to or been asked to take pictures of a bike are (1.) having to deal with less than ideal backgrounds (clutter and distractions, whether indoors or out) and (2.) getting the actual bike sharp in focus – I think something is slightly out of kilter with my autofocus, my lens or (just as likely) my ability to focus on the thin lines of the frame when obviously you have to take a picture of a whole bike from something of a distance to get it all in (another reason why I prefer detail pictures).

Today I went out with the express purpose of finding some better backgrounds against which to take some pictures of this gorgeous Giani Motta racing bike. The picture at the top turned out to be my favourite – the background is part of the hoarding around a building site, showing an architect’s model of how the finished “product” will look. I really liked the slightly disorientating effect of the juxtaposition of real and imaginary in a context that almost looks realistic but is visibly not quite so. The slightly bluish colour cast on the hoarding picture contrasted with the more natural tones of the foreground adds to this, I think.

What I was looking for originally was a simple bit of wall that would offer minimal distraction from the main subject. There were plenty of walls to be had, but it’s surprising what hazards abound in such contexts: wonky wall lines, straight wall lines but sloping ground, weeds, litter, cracks, you name it. The best wall I found was in the end this rather “imperfect” one shown below, with its graffiti and dead bits of creeper. I came to the conclusion that sometimes the search for perfection is futile.

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Back in the saddle

As some of you will already know from Facebook or Twitter, I have a new bike – my first racing bike. It’s been built for me, or rather it’s been built up on the basis of a classic Peugeot ladies’ frame, cleaning up and recycling some of the other parts from the original bike and replacing others with newer, more attractive and/or more efficient components. I particularly like the Brooks leather saddle and handlebar grips, which have a wonderfully classic retro feel to them (and the saddle is surprisingly comfortable, contrary to my original expectations).

I have a very good Stevens “regular” road bike that I’ve been using up until now for all purposes, but I had been promised that the lighter load of the racing bike together with much thinner tyres would make a huge difference in terms of effort and speed. I went out for the first proper test run on Wednesday this week and another one yesterday, and sure enough, it’s a dream to ride – I’ve even started to relish hills!

I’m not interested in competitive cycling and it’s certainly not my aim always to get from A to B as fast as is humanly possible on two wheels, but I’m REALLY looking forward to the better weather and exploring more of the fabulous countryside around here and further afield.

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Cycles of nature

Mellow fruitfulness

Mellow fruitfulness

A long and rambling account of a bike tour I did – it is mainly intended as a personal log and probably only of interest to anyone else if you like cycling, are a map nerd or are interested in this area and in the very diverse range of flora / seasonal produce it offers.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of cycling lately, partly because I have more time now that term is over, partly because I need and want the exercise, and partly because the weather has been (mostly) really good of late. It’s also wonderful to live in a place where you are out in open countryside within a matter of no more than a quarter of an hour.

There’s a fantastic network of cycle paths and less-travelled routes suitable for bikes in this area. You can get special maps and guides for cyclists, though I have got into the habit of just looking roughly where I want to go beforehand and then watching out for the well-placed signposts, which give distances, meaning you can adopt an ad hoc “yay or nay” approach to whether you want to go via a particular place.

Today I decided I wanted to do something other than the there-and-back type tours I’ve done frequently, opting instead for more of a circular route. I identified a 33km route described in a guidebook and decided to base my tour on that. In the end, it was such fun that I widened the circle and it was about 45km in all, and it took 3 hours from leaving the house to returning. There were short breaks to drink lots of water en route, and a couple of points where I got slightly lost and had to double back.

After negotiating the inner-city ringroad (which has a cycle lane), I got onto the cycle path that runs along the Dreisam river and went north-west-ish to Umkirch. The river is quite straight (due to human intervention) and slightly dull as a result, but it makes for easy progress. Towards Umkirch you hit the maize fields, which accompanied me for quite some distance today. Oh, and there are some rather impressive blackberries for the picking just past the bridge in Lehen on the south side of the river.

After Umkirch I went in a more southerly direction for quite some time, passing through Waltershofen, Opfingen and Tiengen. Opfingen is definitely asparagus country, and it was interesting to see that whereas the asparagus fields are not much to look at during the early summer asparagus season (as most of the growth is underground, white asparagus being the favoured variety here) and are mostly covered in plastic during that time (this extends the harvest, apparently), by August the wonderful feathery leaves have grown to quite some height.

More maize fields followed: in one there was such a growth of convolvulus tendrils among the corn plants that it looked as though they had these weird white flowers. I also saw some sunflower fields and some extensive cabbage patches, though not nearly as many as I saw on another route a couple of weeks ago. I always wish I’d brought my camera when I go past the sunflowers…

After Tiengen I toyed with the idea of going on to Breisach and maybe over to France, possibly to visit the star-shaped fortifications at Neuf-Brisach, but I’ll do that on another day and via a more direct route. So on I went in the direction of Schallstadt and it was at this point that I took a couple of wrong turns, even going up quite a steep hill unnecessarily (but it reminded me that I have leg muscles, so hey ho!). I passed a number of apple and pear orchards and the fruit was looking juuuust ripe enough to eat (but that would have been naughty!).

Schallstadt proving difficult to locate, it was at this point that I decided to extend the tour and make for Bad Krozingen (via Mengen and Offnadingen), and from there I almost made it to Staufen, the medieval town associated with the Faust legend, but the signposting was a bit weird and I only saw the prominent castle mound of Staufen when I was already on a perpendicular route heading more back in the direction of Freiburg, which to be honest seemed rather more appealing at that point (plus the last time I was in Staufen it was overrun with both tourists and a plague of flying ants, so I wasn’t too awfully disappointed).

It was uphill then to Pfaffenweiler, but I love this area (known as the Markgräflerland) as it is full of vineyards and time-forgotten villages with higgledy-piggledy houses and the odd sleepy hostelry. By now I knew I was about two-thirds of the way through my tour and so I kept up speed even though I was flagging.

I even managed to find Schallstadt on the way back – hurrah! – and although the route wasn’t quite so picturesque after that (mainly being next to a busy road), I was still absolutely staggered by the amount of edible stuff just growing by the wayside. Along this stretch of a few kilometres alone, I could have found enough to make a lifetime’s worth of jam and other preserves: a lot more blackberries; plum, damson and mirabelle trees; blackthorn sporting lots of sloes; heavy sprays of elderberries; and a whole avenue of walnut trees bearing a lot of (still unripe) fruit.

Now I’m not an idiot when it comes to knowing that fruit grows on trees etc., but this bounteousness really was pretty staggering even though I grew up in a rural area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite such diversity of food growing – quite a bit of it wild – for a long time.

Re-entry to Freiburg after St Georgen had a certain bathetic irony to it – no longer was I noting this or that fruit tree or crop field, but there, suddenly, were the golden arches of McDonald’s looming in front of me. Needless to say, I did NOT go in!

But I do wish I’d taken along a container to pick some of the wild blackberries and the like…

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