Tag Archives: Bike Revolution

Steintrikes Wild One – Changing The Front Wheels

Klaus, with whom I regularly cycle, has a Steintrikes Wild One trike from Bike Revolution in Austria.

To read Klaus’s report on his wheel change, written some months after the event, you can go here (as long as you can read German): http://3-rad.blogspot.de/2015/05/km-11214-austausch-der-vorderrader.html

The Steintrikes is available in lots of different formats including a 26 inch or 20 inch rear wheel and for the front wheels 18 or 20 inches. Klaus originally chose 18 inches and thought the trike handled really well. However over time he discovered the limitations of 18 inches – not in terms of the trike but the options for different types of tyres. He could basically choose between Schwalbe Kojak, Schwalbe Marathon or Schwalbe Marathon Plus. The Kojaks didn’t last very long, the Marathons gave a great ride, and the Marathon Plus were never in the frame as they are so heavy.

But Klaus was continually toying with the idea of upgrading to 20 inch wheels and when the wheel bearings failed on his trike he decided to go ahead and order the new wheels (which also meant he had to order new mudguards to fit too).

Bike Revolution is a fairly small company run by the amusing and lively Thomas Seide but sometimes it takes a little while for spare parts to arrive. The wheels were ordered but the new mudguards took a little longer to manufacture, but eventually everything was ready and dispatched to Klaus.

Parcel has arrived

Unfortunately (for me) this was on a Wednesday which was my choir day. However I was really interested to see and help the wheel change event so decided to skip choir for that week and to be Bicycle Technician Assistant (and Photographer).

Changing from 18 inch wheels to 20 inch wheels

Klaus had prepared well for this job, making his own bespoke measuring tool for when we had to do the tracking. This is because with the different wheel size there would be a change in the tracking requirement and it involves measuring the wheel alignment from front to back.

Tracking rod

The tracking tool was an aluminium rod with a screw each end which could be screwed in or out and a nut to keep it in position – so a set width could be measured. He had also added a mark on the midpoint of the aluminium rod to help with wheel positioning.

Measuring Tool 1

So everything was ready – here is the box with wheels, tyres, tubes, screwdriver etc.

Wheels tyres tubes

And here is Killer (his name for the trike) ready to have his new wheels.

Ready to start

We removed the first wheel.

First wheel off

Here you can see the dead wheel bearing – worn away for some unfathomable reason. It runs really rough when you turn it with your finger.

Dead wheel bearing

The second wheel was removed – the bearing this side was not as bad but was still a bit rough so evidently failing. The two inner bearings (one on each wheel) appeared OK.

We then had to remove the mudguards which is a bit fiddly with the Steintrikes (compared to the very easy removal of the ICE Trike mudguards). It is a much easier job when there are two of you so we sorted it fairly efficiently. And then also the brake calipers.

Killer was now up on blocks.

Killer on blocks

Killer on blocks 2

The next job was to remove the disc rotors from the old wheel. I hope I never have to do this to my wheels as the bolts have rusted in place completely; Klaus’s bolts required a good bit of force from the screwdriver but eventually they all came undone. Phew!

Removing the disc rotors

Here’s one of the old wheels laid onto the new tyre to show how much larger the 20 inch wheels are:

Old wheel and new wheel

Once the disc rotors were removed we fitted them to the new wheels.

Putting the disc rotors on the new wheels

The lovely shiny new wheels had rather unshiny disc rotors. But we knew the wheels would get dirty soon enough!

The next job was to clean the axle area, now we could see it, and apply a bit of grease.

Cleaning and preparing the axle

Both wheels slipped on very easily and were tightened in place. Then they were lowered onto a bit of plastic to protect the edges of the rims before they had the tyres on. It is best to do the tracking without the tyres in place.

The start of the tracking

Wheels on tracks 1

Unfortunately Bike Revolution had sent no information about how actually to do the tracking. However common sense, plus experience from doing it on Alfie, meant we were pretty sure we knew what to do. Although because Killer has front suspension we knew it would be a little different.

The first thing to do was to measure the gap between the front of the wheels and see if the gap between the back of the wheels was the same.

Klaus with measuring stick 2

There was enough of a difference that we felt we needed to adjust the tracking. We did it with Klaus sitting on the seat so his weight would have the splaying effect on the suspension. There was about a 6mm difference in total which we felt was too much (ICE say 3mm is a good amount, in other words the gap between the wheels is 3mm narrower at the front than the back).

The way you adjust this on the ICE trikes is very simple – you undo the bolt at each end of the track rod and turn the rod and it extends or contracts the track rod until you have the right size, then you do the bolts back up again. However we discovered that this doesn’t seem to work on the Wild One – rotating the track rod made no difference. So Option 2 was to remove one end of the track rod from the mounting and then turn it so that it extended slightly.

This involved undoing a nut and bolt that were quite fiddly, with several tiny washers.

Removing screw for track rods

We rotated the track rode end two full revolutions, put it back together, did the same to the other side and then measured again. We decided that we had gone half a revolution too far so undid both sides again, rotated them back 180 degrees, and then put everything together again.

Klaus with measuring stick 1

This time, with the measuring, we had got it very well sorted! We decided it was good enough, certainly to test ride for a while.

It was then time to put the tyres on.

Fitting the first tyre

The Schwalbe Energizer Pros look surprisingly large!

It was then time for the second tyre, which took longer as Klaus’s track pump decided to briefly fall apart. But he fixed that and then both tyres were done.

Ready for the second tyre

The first seat on the new trike with wheels – it seemed bouncier than normal!

Sitting on new wheels

Although the brakes still weren’t attached Klaus went for a bit of a ride around the front of his house – first impressions were very good!

Killer looked surprisingly different with these new wheels. Much bigger and beefier.

Killer with new wheels

Now it was time to do the slightly fiddly brake caliper job. The old caliper settings weren’t right for the new wheels so we did the fiddling about with it all until it was reasonably correct.

Setting up the brakes

Another test ride – the trike rides really well!

We then fitted the new mudguards. Well, they had only sent the mounting brackets, not the mudguard sections, so we reused the old ones (but had to drill new holes as the brackets are different). This was slightly sub-optimal again, a bit disappointing that Bike Revolution hadn’t sent everything we needed.

And another thing to swap from the old wheels to the new – the spoke reflectors!

Adding the spoke reflectors

Adding the spoke reflectors 2

Everything was now complete. Klaus went for another ride around – he had to adjust the mudguard brackets a bit as the tyres were rubbing slightly on the mudguards (they are quite large tyres) but he got it reasonably well done.

Here he is looking very happy with his new trike wheels!

Job done

The first rides

As you can see from the photographs above, it was dusk by the time we had finished so he only had a quick ride. But the next day was a mill-bagging ride so a chance to really experience the new wheels.

Klaus’s immediate comment was that the trike feels really, really different. He felt that it rolled better, it had the same turning circle but perhaps was slightly different actually into the corners when riding fast.

As someone who regularly rides behind him or beside him, the trike actually looks very different as the underneath metalwork is now horizontal. Previously it sloped down towards the front wheels. And the fact that the wheels are slightly larger and the tyres are fatter really makes a notable visual difference. I think the trike looks more balanced with the larger wheels.

We rode again the next day, a longer ride to the Netherlands, and again he was really happy with how it felt. Some of the difference in feeling might be because of the different type of tyre but overall it felt stable (something that is important to Klaus) and it rolled really well. He had to do fine tweaks to the brakes as usual when you make a big change but all was going very well.

The new rim goes kaputt

Two days later it was time for another ride, this time also with Claudia and Lara so at a more leisurely pace. But at a nice ninety degree corner on a sandy track he enjoyed zooming round the corner, with me behind him… but then it appeared he had a puncture. He felt the trike wasn’t rolling right. But the tyre was still inflated!

The tyre had definitely looked wobbly to me so we checked for a broken spoke (what I thought the problem must be) but they were all fine – very tight in fact.

It didn’t take long for me to notice that the nice, smooth rim seemed to have ripples all round the spoke holes.

Dodgy felge 1

Dodgy felge 2

Dodgy felge 3

This was only on one side but clearly the spokes had deformed the metal of the rim.

This was a huge blow to Klaus who had been off the trike for three weeks waiting for the wheels and wheel bearings to arrive and had been so enjoying riding it again. He tried to adjust some of the spoke tensions to re-true the wheel enough for the ride home but they were so tight that this was only partially possible. A quick diagnosis was that the spokes were too tight and the stress of the corner (at less than 15 km/h) had deformed the metal. Clearly the rims were made of something more like cheese than metal – they had certainly felt a lot thinner than the old rims (and the rims on Alfie – still going strong after 40,000km and after I took the corner at the same speed).

So Klaus sent an email to Bike Revolution to explain what had happened to the new wheels and I took the old 18 inch wheels home with me, along with the two new bearings (they actually needed four not two, but two of the existing bearings were in a reasonable state) in the hope that I could find a bike shop to swap them out for me. This would mean we would have to refit the 18 inch wheels and go through all the brakes and tracking and mudguard adjustment again – but at least he would have a bike he could ride for an exciting long ride we had planned in six days’ time.

Options for new wheels

Klaus is not one to faff about so he decided to find some alternative options to the Steintrikes wheels, just in case.

He commented to me that he would be interested to know how much ICE would charge to build the wheels, seeing as I had ridden without issues on mine. So I sent them an email, including the photos of the deformed rims, and received the following reply just a short while later from the ever-helpful Neil Selwood:

Hi Helen,
Certainly looks like a case of rims made of cheese.

They seem to be single wall which is not necessarily bad (that is what we use at the moment) but it does look as though the material is either too thin or not of a sufficient grade and treatment of aluminium.

I can’t see from your pictures what the lacing pattern is but the less the crossing then potentially the higher the tension can end up needing to be to keep the wheel in line. Higher tension would deform the rim sooner obviously.

I don’t think we are particularly skilled or have some black art for building stronger and longer lasting wheels than anyone else doing a decent job. We just use appropriate materials and build carefully to a sufficient standard.

There is no question that we could build wheels stronger or with more accurate tensioning or straighter but what we do is generally suitable.
We have always been running with single wall rims on our sprints and adventures which are generally fine. A few issues will come up but they are well within acceptable limits.

Recently we noticed using our single wall rim on a hub motor system with low spoke crossing that on a 26″ wheel the rim was too flexy. Investigating this the rim turns out to be more flexy in itself than many other options. So we have selected a new rim primarily for the 26″ wheels but due to the mix and match nature of our wheel sets we are spreading those across the models as stocks switch over. The new rim is quite similar looking to what we have now but is box section and with some nice eyelets and just a little heavier than what we have now.

I am telling you all this to suggest that given suitable rims any good (and willing) bike shop would probably be able to rebuild his wheels at a price a good bit less than it would be from us.

I have attached a quotation including shipping the wheels back. Just one point – we only have 36 hole rims so if his hubs are 32 hole then we cannot help.

The price from ICE was competitive but his hubs are 32-hole so this would unfortunately not work.

Klaus had also investigated a company called Gingko Feine Veloteile who make lots of bits for trikes and velomobiles and other weird bikes. He sent them an email asking about the wheels and got an excellently-comprehensive answer back.

They provided plenty of information about what they would use, which included more elastic spokes which give a bit more cushioning and they’re only slightly more expensive. The price was higher than ICE Trikes’ quote but overall still within acceptable limits.

The third response was from Bike Revolution, the suppliers of the original wheels, saying that new wheels would be on their way shortly.

Repairing and refitting the old 18 inch wheels

Since the new rim deformed it was a matter of urgency to get the old wheels back into service.

As Klaus spends all day pretending to work at a desk, I offered to take the wheels and see if I could find a bike shop who could change the bearings (as I was able to get out and about during the day). So I took the wheels home with me on Sunday and started to think of a plan of action.

Which was entirely overtaken by Frank, my landlord, who’s a car mechanic and excellent all-round chap.

He had a look at the wheels. I showed him that there were four bearings, two of which were OK and two shot. I showed him the two replacement bearings from Thomas Seide and he said “that’s not enough, you’ll have to change all four”. I was not convinced by this, but I had a quick google and discovered that the 6001RS bearings aren’t particularly uncommon so I thought I ought to be able to pick some up from a parts shop in Kempen. They cost about 2,50€ each so hardly a big investment.

However Frank then told me he would make some phone calls first thing the next morning about the bearings. OK, I thought, that’s useful as I’m not great on the phone due to being (a) half deaf, and (b) English.

The next morning when I went downstairs Frank and the wheels had disappeared. He reappeared several hours later without the wheels and reported “I checked with three bike shops, one in St Hubert, one in Kempen and one in St Tönis. The one in St Tönis can change the bearings and they will do it this afternoon or tomorrow.”

The next day Frank went to work as usual and I headed off to the VHS before he returned home. But I had a message from Gudula later to say the wheels were back and all sorted.

When I got home they were waiting for me on the stairs – two wheels with completely new bearings (four new ones – the two from Thomas and two others) and a bag with the four old ones.

Wheels with new bearings

Here is a close up of the four old bearings – I can see now why Frank insisted all four needed to be changed. They were all a right mess!

Old Kugellager 1

Old Kugellager 2

What is noticeable with the wheels is that one of the four new ones is less smooth than the other three. I’m not sure why this is, as they felt normal before they were fitted, but they are a colossal improvement from before and will hopefully provide many thousands of kilometres more service (not that will need to as he will be back on 20 inch wheels soon).

So the next thing was to return the wheels so Klaus could refit them. The obvious time was before Choir on Wednesday when I usually have a spot of tea at their house before going with Claudia to choir. Only I wanted to go by bike rather than car – so it seemed a good idea to see if I could fit the wheels into Penelope or strap them onto Alfie’s rack.

The answer is…

Wheels in Penelope 1

Wheels In Penelope 2

Wheels In Penelope 3

Yes.

However I was saved the effort of cycling with them (and possibly discovering I couldn’t steer) as Klaus picked the wheels up on his way back from work.

This enabled him to get the wheels changed once again, which he did in just half an hour.

Changing the wheels again

He didn’t bother adjusting the tracking or changing the mudguards over to the smaller ones, so the change just involved removing the disc rotors and fitting them on the replacement wheels and adjusting the brakes.

Here’s a picture of the two wheels side-by-side so you can see the size difference.

Two wheels

And this is what the trike looked like with the 18 inch wheels and 20 inch mudguards

Small wheels big mudguards

Mudguards and wheels

We had an enjoyable 30km cycle ride with his family, discovering a rather nice new Bauerncafé near Tönisvorst. Somewhere to visit again! The 18 inch wheels performed well although Klaus said they felt really different to the 20 inch ones. However they also rolled a lot better than before (because of the new bearings) so that was a very worthwhile change.

I’ve asked Klaus to try to describe the difference in feel between the two wheels but it’s quite tricky to put into words except the 20 inch feel a bit more forgiving (because of longer spokes, presumably), and they roll over some bumps more easily. The original idea that the 20 inch wheels roll better was more likely to be a result of the bad bearings on the old 18 inch wheels.

As a result of the bearing issue, I took the front left hand wheel off Alfie (the only normal wheel – the right hand side one is the SON dynohub) to check my bearings after 40,000km. They were fine, one perhaps marginally less smooth than the others, but nothing to worry about at all. They are also the same type as Klaus’s bearings. And in face he experimented putting my wheel on his trike (for the fun of it) and also using my axle (which is very slightly too short).

The difference in the axles may possibly have contributed to the bearing failure on the Steintrikes. On the ICE Sprint the bearings are recessed in the hub and the end of the axle is a flat section that encloses them completely from the elements. The Steintrikes axle is a giant bolt with a hexagon end and a rubber cap that goes over that, but it is possible that water can get in around the edge of the rubber cap and touch the bearings. So perhaps this is why, or perhaps it was just bad luck. I guess he’ll find out after 10,000km on the new wheels.

The replacement 20 inch wheels arrive

The day after this ride the replacement 20 inch wheels arrived – hurray!

Here is a shot of Killer wearing the 18 inch wheels so the right hand side (front) of the frame is nearer to the ground than the rear section (left hand side).

Downward Slope 1

And here is my attempt at a comparative shot with the 20 inch wheels – where the underside of the frame is horizontal (as opposed to sloping downward).

Killer with 20 inch wheels

And here is a close-up of the 20 inch wheel, fitting rather better within the overall mudguard shape.

Killer's new wheels

You can see a slight red tinge around the centre of the wheel – this is a slight view of the wheel bearing (they are red on these new wheels). You can see the bearing on the inward side of the axle too. This leads to the question as to whether the bearing being slightly exposed leads to its early failure, as opposed to a concealed bearing (such as I have on my ICE trike) having possibilities of failing if water gets in and cannot get out. With the exposed bearing water can get out as well as in. The proof will be in the pudding – if these wheel bearings remain OK we can put the failure of the bearings on the 18 inch wheels down to defective manufacture or bad luck; if these start wearing early then it’s perhaps a sub-optimal design in the hub. We haven’t heard of other Steintrikes bearing failures so perhaps it was a one-off. It is worth remembering that I had to change the bearings in one of the wheels on my old Trice Q after about 35,000km, although the others have been OK (and on Alfie all seems OK).

We did a test ride of 107km on the new wheels and they performed very well. Although the rims look like they are the same as the others, the hope is that the spoke lacing is a little kinder and so hopefully all will be well with them.

The wheel change turned into a bit of a project and took longer than initially expected, with a few hiccups along the way, but as Klaus says he is now expert at adjusting disc brakes and also he feels like he has had three completely different bikes – the 18 inch wheels shod with Kojak tyres had one feel, when he switched to Marathon tyres the trike felt really different and now with the new size wheels and different tyres again (Energizer Pro) he has once again a completely different trike. It’s clearly been a fun experience for him trying out all the various options of tyres and it is noteworthy how much they change the feel of the trike. I found the same with Kojaks on my trike.

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Filed under Recumbent Trikes, Trike maintenance

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 3

So it’s now the end of Month 3 in Germany. What have I noticed this month?

(You can read about Month 1 here and Month 2 here).

People I’ve met

Gundi in Köln/Cologne

I have a German friend called Gundi who lives in Colchester and who I met through a cycling group there. Gundi contacted me to say she’d be in Köln/Cologne for the weekend and to ask if I’d like to meet up. It sounded like a great idea so I said yes and we arranged to meet for Brunch at a restaurant called Maybach just off the Hansaring, a fifteen minute walk from Köln main station.

It turned out that the Rodday family were going to be away for the weekend so I would need to bring Poppy with me as the whole day would be too long to leave her alone.

So we headed off early on the Sunday morning to Kempen railway station. We went in the car and I’d checked earlier with Frank about parking – he said it was free. That seemed rather unlikely (I am used to paying lots for parking at railway stations in the UK) but he was right – no ticket machines whatsoever!

However, people still park stupidly. This car was on a bike lane. It was next to a car park with lots of spaces. Sigh.

Parking on bike lane

We got on the train (once per hour on a Sunday) and stayed on it through Krefeld (where there is the option to change), getting off at Meerbusch-Osterath where you can also change onto the same train that you would at Krefeld. There’s nothing at Meerbusch but it meant it was the same platform and I didn’t have to drag the dog around lots of people to change platform.

Poppy seemed to tolerate the train journey but not particularly enjoy it. She sat on my lap the whole time.

Dog on train

The journey to Köln Hauptbahnhof was just over an hour and we arrived at half past ten. The weather was very warm, 32 degrees for the day, and the forty minute walk to the Brunch place was pretty sweltering. It should have been twenty minutes but I got on the wrong road and didn’t realise for a bit. However I did pass this interesting gilded winged car on top of a building!

Winged car 1

Winged Car 2

Gundi and I enjoyed a very leisurely all-you-can-eat buffet lunch at Maybach. Drinks weren’t included and would have increased the cost significantly (it was already 16,95€ each) except I had brought a bottle of water for Poppy and we just refilled it with the taps in the loo. We bought a couple of teas/coffees but apart from that drank water.

Gundi was getting the train back to London so we walked back to the Hauptbahnhof together, passing this interesting tower.

Koeln tower

We got to the station quite early so Poppy and I posed for a photo in front of the side of the cathedral.

Poppy and Helen at Koeln cathedral

And then we stopped for another cup of tea. Poppy sat under the table – she was exhausted from such an exciting day, I think, plus the heat.

Hot tourist doggie

Klaus and his Wild One recumbent trike

I was really pleased, on the 1st June, to have my first bumping-into-someone-I-know experience when cycling 10km from home. I was riding on a field path and could see a flag coming towards me from a side path; the path curved and I saw a rider heading my way. He stopped beside me – and it was Klaus (occasional commenter on this blog) who I’d met at the Trike Treffen four days before. He was out riding with his family and we had a good chat and I tried his trike and he and his daughter tried Penelope.

Klaus and family

Klaus had some very unusual clipless pedals on his trike which I think he said he had made himself.

Klaus's magnetic pedals

They were basically magnets, and he had special cleats which worked with the magnets.

Klaus's magnetic shoe cleats

It meant that the smaller SPD cleats on my sandals were also able to stick to the pedals although the attachment wasn’t strong enough for me to feel particularly confident. It means that you can also use normal shoes on these pedals though.

It was interesting how much I appreciated bumping into someone I knew – I remember the same thing when I moved to Tonbridge when I got married. You arrive somewhere new and don’t know anyone, but the first time you bump into an acquaintance you start to realise you are feeling at home. The same happened here which was great.

I have ridden with Klaus a few more times this month as our speed (when I am on the trike) is very compatible and he’s trying to increase his riding distances – it helps to have company if you’re riding further as you have someone to chat to. He’s an extremely useful cycling contact as he knows the local routes and can often be persuaded to send me a GPX track of a recommended ride when I’m out on my own so I have somewhere new to visit and someone has already checked the route for recumbent-friendliness!

Riding a velomobile alongside a trike isn’t always ideal – with Penelope it’s less easy to ride together as the paths can feel narrow when you can’t see your front wheels to gauge the width.

Riding with Klaus

I also think I deserve some credit for tricking a German chap into riding a trike with the British flag during the world cup!

Klaus has a Steintrikes Wild One recumbent trike (from Bike Revolution in Austria) and one one of our rides I tried it for about 5km and it was great fun – the front suspension is good when you go over tree roots. The two trikes feel quite different, although Alfie’s seat definitely works better for my lady’s backside, which is rather too broad in the beam for the hard shell seat on the Wild One! When I returned to riding Alfie the steering felt quite twitchy as it’s so direct – I was used to it again within a minute but it was interesting to notice the difference between the two trikes. They may be the same general layout but they do feel different.

Here’s a photo nicked from Klaus’s blog of his trike:

Another difference is that this Wild One has 81 – count ’em, eighty one!!! – gears. Of course there are huge overlaps, but the main reason for this large gear number is that there is a SRAM Dual-Drive in the rear hub which gives three gears that you can change whilst stationary (alongside the normal 3 x 9 derailleur system). I guess things would be easier with one internal hub gear like an Alfine-11 or Rohloff but 81 gears sounds cool and was not quite as spendy!

The other notable thing about the Wild One was its different wheel sizes – it has a 26″ wheel at the back (that’s mountain bike size) and two 18 inch wheels at the front. Klaus has a slight issue with finding tyres to fit the front wheels as he is limited in choice because so few manufacturers make this size. It’s a nice trike though and he’s getting good usage out of it. You can read Klaus’s blog – in German – here). There is also a Google Translate option for each webpage (if you don’t speak German) but be aware that the translations are a bit weird.

Oliver and his Mango velomobile

Oliver (who I met last month for cake, and a couple of times at the Trike Treffen) had organised me some replacement wheel covers for Penelope as he was visiting the place that makes them. So we had to arrange to meet for him to hand them over to me – and for some cake to be consumed of course!

Oliver was looking after his son Max on the relevant day so we decided to meet a bit nearer to Oliver this time – it was a 20km ride for him and a 30km ride for me to Brüggen.

Oliver in his Mango with Max in the trailer were waiting when I arrived in Brüggen.

Weird bikes in Brueggen

Max had a quick look inside Penelope.

Max in Penelope 2

I think he liked her!

Max in Penelope

We enjoyed some cake and a chat and Oliver handed over the wheel-cover kit which, apparently, you need four hands to assemble so I shall wait until I have some useful help to do it.

Here are Max and I outside a church in Brüggen.

Max and Helen at Brueggen Church

Oliver’s usually a very speedy velomobile rider but with the trailer on the back his speed was cut by almost half. So more like my average speed then!

My parents

I celebrated my birthday this month and my parents came to visit for three days. We had a cultural day in Düsseldorf where we went up the tower for cake:

There’s a great view from the top!

We had Currywurst and Pommes for lunch.

And walked along the Rhine past the Altstadt.

I also took my parents to the chocolate factory!

Camilla and her dog

I met this nice lady in Viersen-Rahser. Her dog was very well behaved to sit in the basket without a lid.

Dog in basket in Rahser

He/she looks like he/she is having a fab time!

Dog in basket in Rahser 2

I saw Camilla and her doggie a second time when I was riding through Viersen-Rahser – quite a coincidence as this is 15 miles/25km away from where I live).

A week in England

In case you’re wondering what work I am doing here in Germany, I am actually one of that rare breed, a true teleworker. I remember 10 years ago we were all going to be working from home and not commuting vast distances to our offices but that doesn’t seemed to have panned out for many other people – but I am lucky and the company that I work for just require me to have a decent internet connection. So my move to Germany has made pretty much no difference to my work.

Four times a year we have a meeting which it is useful for me to attend so I booked a week’s holiday back in England to incorporate that day-and-a-half meeting in Eastbourne on the South Coast.

Poppy and I travelled back using the Dunkirk-Dover ferry (so it was less stressful for her) but seven hours of driving wasn’t too pleasant for me so she’ll have to put up with the Hook of Holland-Harwich ferry from now on. It was a good feeling to see the White Cliffs though.

Driving back to my corner of Essex was a very interesting experience, having spent two and a half months in Germany. Firstly, the roads seemed very narrow. Everything also looked a lot dryer – the weeds growing in the central reservation of the motorway were straw-coloured, so there’s clearly been less rain in the UK than in my bit of Niederrhein. I also initially found it a bit weird to be driving on the correct side of the road, although I was soon used to it.

The thing I noticed immediately as I arrived in the Colchester area is how hilly it is. This part of England is thought of as flat but it isn’t actually, it’s slightly undulating. I am now used to real flat which is Niederrhein. I took my old Trice Q out on a ride to Colchester and back – 16km – and did the same amount of climbing on that short ride that I would have done on my 50km Kempen-Viersen circular route.

Of course other English people would think that part of Essex is dead flat but I have more experience now and I know that’s not the case! I also begin to have doubts about the suitability of Penelope to this terrain – if I return, it may be wise not to bring her back with me.

The other thing I was reminded of was the incomprehensibility of British taps. Non-Brits had commented on this before – why don’t we have mixer taps? Why do we have a separate hot and cold tap which means you either freeze or burn your hands when washing them. I was sort-of used to it before but now I am returning to it, having used mixer taps for three months, it does seem bonkers.

(I have been given some explanations for this, such as not wasting water by running the mixer to cold, not scalding hands, being able to keep water at a better temperature against legionella, but as someone with a weak arm/hand individual taps are a right pain so I like the German system!)

We took a visit to the lovely village of Dedham to visit some friends along what I always thought were very quiet country roads (they seemed to be so when I rode along them over the last six years) but I now discover they are actually quite busy. My concept of a ‘normal’ amount of traffic is completely different. I also felt like the air seemed less clean somehow, perhaps a slight bit of pollution (it was quite humid when I was back in the UK) or perhaps it was just something psychosomatic.

The wide skies of Niederrhein aren’t so different to the farmland around the Tendring Plain as in Essex the farmers also grow potatoes, wheat, onions and sweetcorn, but the hedges along each road make the view from a bike quite different. It makes the roads seem narrower too, even if the asphalt is the same width. And of course the roads near where I live in Essex have all been surface dressed/chipsealed so the surface is rough, uneven and noisy. Not so good for cycling! And there were some massive potholes in Colchester which had developed since I last rode there – fortunately when I rode there James was with me and could call out a warning.

There are some great things about England though. One real convenience is that shops are open pretty much all the time – after cycling to church on Sunday I popped into M&S for a few things, then to Waitrose for some food for lunch. Each time James and I paid for something we did it with Contactless – we waved our credit card over the machine and the transaction was done in half a second, massively quicker than the slow, clunky German chip & pin machines.

The supermarkets in the UK weigh your fruit at the checkout rather than you having to do it as you sometimes do in Germany (I forgot to weigh my bananas when back in St Hubert and the checkout lady looked at me very sternly. I apologised and said I’d just got back from England and that clearly explained it all – things are weird in England).

English supermarkets have a much better selection of quality British food, of course (yes, there is such a thing! – more later).

One of the things that I have missed the most (which has come as a bit of a surprise) is the church that I attend in Colchester. I think it’s because the church, Lion Walk United Reformed Church, is very well known for its music. I suppose I had partly taken for granted the fact that every week there would be wonderful music played throughout the service by hugely accomplished musicians, and that the organ at the church and the grand piano are both excellent quality. It was wonderful to go back and sing with the people there again and in fact I found I had missed it so much that I delayed my return to England for a day so that I could attend the service the following Sunday too. Although I’ve found a church in St Hubert which is friendly and enjoyable it doesn’t quite scratch the itch that I now know I have!

I filled my car up with various things that people requested, or that I needed, and I have laid most of them out here (not the block of cheddar or the fresh bacon and sausages from the local butcher in Great Bromley)

Stereotypes – from the other side

I had a couple of conversations with German people which included comments by them about stereotypes of British people. All Brits know that Germans are organised, have no sense of humour and are punctual, for example. I wondered what the Germans and also the Dutch (as they are just around the corner from Niederrhein) think of the Brits.

So I asked a whole bunch of my German and Dutch friends to give me a few random ideas about how Brits/English people are considered in the media and elsewhere.

I initially also asked for Austrian opinions but apparently the Austrians don’t think much about the UK – we’re too far away and “British tourists seem to behave themselves usually” which is a surprise! Apparently most of the stereotyping is reserved for their neighbours, the Germans!

Thanks to the following for the answers: Alex, Gerhard, Gudrun, Jet, Klaus, Lara, Marieke, Olaf and Oliver.

One German friend started his response with one of the major issues:

First of all we must take into consideration that most Germans probably equal “British” with “English”.

He’s right, and because I am English, and because most people used ‘English’ in their answers, I will use that word from now on. But I suspect lots of the stereotypes also cover the Welsh, Scots and Irish too! The words seem to be used interchangeably by Germans and so, in this list, they are also used interchangeably (sorry to other British readers!) Also please note that these are not necessarily the personal views of those I talked to, they are what they report that the media suggests!

The Germans’ view of English people and England

  • the English are usually friendly
  • The food is terrible
  • All men have tattoos
  • Some Brits appear to believe that they are driving on the correct side of the road!
  • the beer is warm, and beans are eaten for breakfast
  • English people are always eating sandwiches. (The amusing thing about this comment was when I received the message I had just eaten a sandwich).
  • People are much better at queuing
  • The beer is warm
  • Pubs close at 23:00
  • England always loses at penalty shootouts
  • “During work English people are very correct; later in the evening after some beer they show a completely different side… best colleagues and friends. The next morning they are reserved again.”
  • They drink lots of tea, it doesn’t matter what time it is
  • The English don’t eat as healthily as the Germans – they might have a bag of crisps for lunch
  • they all watch loads of soaps like Eastenders or Emmerdale
  • British food is known to be the worst in the world (only true as far as porridge and pudding are concerned, I don’t know if the Haggis may be counted)
  • Brits are generally eccentric
  • Brits like to stand in line, e.g. while waiting for a bus (‘stand in line’ is American for queuing)
  • Brits, when it comes to holidays in the south, are the worst drunkards (apart from the Russians) and they have a horrible taste in clothing
  • British football fans are generally hooligans
  • Brits are enthusiastic about the royal family
  • Brits bet on everything
  • Brits love all kinds of racing (horses, dogs, cars) and they are football-mad
  • Brits have no idea how much they benefit from the EU
  • They have Shakepeare and Oxbridge but not much else in art and culture
  • British cars are absolutely rubbish in build quality, although some have great style
  • British gardens are great
  • British humor is weird

Gerhard (who supplied some of the above general stereotypes) also gave some of his personal views from his experiences of interacting with Brits and watching our TV.

  • They seem to be very much involved with the past – e.g. all Victorian or Edwardian stuff is always of great interest.
  • They seem to be very much into antiquities and auctions.
  • They are still traumatised with the war and dig into that history whenever possible
  • They hold the military in higher regard than seems to be fit
  • Many live in incredibly small/narrow and/or old houses
  • They tend to marry quite early
  • There are problems with education and social values by which many young people are concerned
  • They build their lives around a mortgage
  • There’s a health and safety craze going on
  • They seem to be incredibly backwards when it comes to energy and resource matters, e.g. house insulation, renewable energies. I’ve heard that some houses still have no meter for fresh water and I’ve never seen a coin box for electricity in Germany. Central heating appears to be not so common in Britain
  • Instead of trying to solve social problems the governments tend to criminalise every movement outside the norm and there are more people sent to jail than ever before
  • Britain’s got a real problem with illegal immigrants
  • British pop music is best
  • They haven’t overcome the class system completely yet
  • These days they are obsessed with food and statistics say that more than of the population half are obese

The Dutch view of Brits/English people and Britain/England

  • “The” British have a very dry sense of humour. That’s what “the” Dutch think, at least
  • The queueing bit is indeed true, something the Dutch cannot quite grasp.

I also had two longer responses from Dutch friends (marvel at their amazing command of English!)

This is what Marieke had to say:

What the Dutch think about the Brits:

All Brits drink tea during the day and go to the pub after work to drink beer (without foam, yuck). When they go home for the fish n chips or something else they call food, they watch the telly for a while before going to bed. That’s very understandable, because what the Brits lack in tasty food they make right in TV series and humour.

However, no matter how polite he or she is, every Brit turns into a hooligan when seeing a football. Even more than the Dutch, which says a lot! Even their posh accent seems to get affected and turns into something no-one can understand.

Apart from their amazing sense of humour they know their cakes. Brits can even create something amazing out of carrots, it’s close to magic!

It is worth mentioning here that Marieke has come to stay with me several times in the UK so perhaps this is where she has got her English view from!!!

Here’s the view from Alex:

I was brought up on a vision of an idealized, slightly eccentric, upper middle class england…

GB comedy: mostly about class; NL comedy: mostly about social embarrassment.

The Dabbler on Edith Sitwell’s death: “She died according to the code of her class, not wanting to make a fuss – her own splendid attitude to Death. Her last words were, ‘I’m afraid I’m being an awful nuisance.'” This, to me, epitomizes Britishness…

I suppose what I find interesting is a sense of desperate entitlement. So completely different from the Dutch, who always feel uneasy about their spoils, as if they can be taken away just like that. “The embarrassment of riches” Schama calls it, and he’s right.

Alex and I proceeded to have a wide-ranging discussion which was fascinating – he introduced me to lots of interesting Brits of yore, such as Richard Francis Burton, and his wife Isabel, with the comment “personages like those, we don’t have them in Dutch culture”. Although he later talked about Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje who was a pretty interesting chap!

He then further added:

I think figures like that [Richard Francis Burton] are the product of British Empire. Because he’s not a singular polyglot Victorian. Indeed that imperialism and its psychological influence is very British, in my opinion. NL had its own imperialism but came to it late, in the 1920s, and always thought that British colonialism was ‘weird’. And the first world war happened partly because Germany wanted to be an imperial power in its own right, ‘just like Britain’. Of course it’s my scholarly bias, but I think a lot of ‘Britishness’ has its roots in the Empire.

And just a footnote to this discussion – a British friend of mine, when seeing some of the comments, said:

“What…Germans, Dutch and Austrians said British food is horrible? Have these people ever eaten in their own countries?”

English/British food

As you can see from the above comments from my German and Dutch friends, there seems to be an idea that food in England/Britain is pretty appalling. I have had a quite a lot of ribbing on this subject from a German chum who feigned fear for my health if I had to eat British for a week. So I decided to document my week’s food – you, the blog reader, can decide if it looks good!

Saturday – home-made Chicken Pilau by James.

Monday – Curry at the Ganges Restaurant in Eastbourne (a work meal)

Tuesday morning’s full English breakfast (I had cereal to start and a fruit salad afterwards)

Tuesday lunchtime – light meals at the Beach Hut, Eastbourne (work again)

Tuesday evening – a Turkish restaurant in Tonbridge in Kent.

Wednesday evening – Steak & Ale Pie at the Haywain Pub, Little Bromley. Proper home-made shortcrust pastry pie, absolutely fab!

A caramel apple torte for dessert

In Britain I feel that we have a pretty good selection of food and it’s generally tasty although the more traditional English food is rather more suited for winter (hearty casseroles and pies, for example). However, despite the insults from the Germans, at least SOME of them might like British food as Aldi are just running British Food Week…

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 11.32.29

Life in Germany

Life in Germany continues very good, and having returned from a week in England I feel very at home here again. Here are some more of my random thoughts about differences to life in the UK.

Cigarette ends

I think I commented on the large number of smokers in last month’s post. Anyway, as a corollary to that I have noticed that cigarette ends seem to be everywhere. Do people not consider them litter (they don’t tend to litter with anything else generally). Platforms of stations feel like they are several centimetres deep in cigarettes as people chuck them away as they get onto the train. It makes some areas look really messy. I saw one chap just chuck his cigarette butt onto the floor and wanted to remonstrate with him but it’s probably not the form!

Public footpaths

This is something that confused me a bit – where am I allowed to walk in Germany? When out walking Poppy I met a chap, Jürgen, walking a golden retriever, and we chatted for a while. He said the thing he didn’t like about England is that you’re not allowed to walk everywhere. He then said you can wander all over the place in Germany.

This sounded a bit unlikely but it was confirmed to me by Gerhard (regular commenter on this blog) who said that indeed you are allowed to walk pretty much anywhere unless it’s specifically forbidden (or someone’s garden or something). Obviously you shouldn’t walk over fields of crops but fallow fields and woods are all fine generally.

Although I now know this, it still feels a bit odd to walk in a random field. I quite like the Public Footpath system as you know that definitely no-one can stop you walking there. And I am always worried about breaking one of the many German rules!

Wildlife

Here in the Niederrhein I’m only 300km as the crow flies from my home in Essex. As such, much of the wildlife is fairly similar. However I have noticed there are very noisy frogs in a lot of the local ponds – their volume seems many times that of frogs in the UK.

I spotted this dead shrew on a walk – it was tiny!
Dead shrew

I think I also saw a stork in a field, or it was possibly a heron but seemed a bit big. I believer there are storks in the general area so it is possible.

Soldiers and heroes

As I type this I am wearing my ‘Help for Heroes’ rugby shirt. Gerhard, a commenter on this blog, said that he finds the concept of soldiers being ‘heroes’ as a strange one as they are just doing their job (as are firefighters etc). I think this is a significant cultural difference, possibly related to the general histories of the two countries, but the mood in the UK does tend to be that our armed forces are heroic as they are putting their lives at risk fighting in wars that most probably don’t think are just (but were required by the politicians). Whatever, the Help for Heroes charity has been really successful in raising awareness in the UK of the risks to British soldiers. Living near Colchester, which has an army base, brings it home too. In Germany I gather that soldiers aren’t given any particular respect or attention.

Cashback

Oh how I miss this!

For those who don’t live in Britain (or another country that has cashback), this is a system where when you pay with your debit card in the UK you can also ask the shop to give you some cash out of their till. If your bill was £2.50 you could also have £20 cash so your Card would debit £22.50 and the supermarket cashier would hand you £20 in notes. This is really convenient as it means you don’t have to go to the bank – I can’t think of the last time I actually got cash out at a bank in the UK.

This is not an option in Germany, as far as I am aware, so it means I have to go to Deutsche Bank in either Kempen or Süchteln (they are the two I have found so far that are on some of my regular cycling routes) to get cash out. Which can be a pain.

Interesting buildings

I have whole blog posts about all the churches I am visiting but on the way back from bagging a few churches I spotted this impressive thatching job going on in Kehl.

Hobbit house thatching

Motorists

I find the German motorists generally very courteous when I’m out walking or riding the bikes. The one notable difference is when I’m out walking on country lanes with the dog and cars pass, they don’t seem to slow down very much at all. I haven’t felt unsafe but I am surprised that they don’t slow more in case the dog suddenly does something unexpected (fortunately I’ve trained her to stick close to me when cars are passing, and she’s almost always on the lead at that point anyway).

The Choirs

The Willich Choir which practises monthly also does a few extra bits occasionally. I discovered they were doing two Bach Cantatas in a church service at the end of October so I signed up for that too – with just four practices (one of which I will miss as I’ll be in the UK) it’ll be a nice challenge!

Bach Chorale music

Birthdays

June was a busy month for birthdays in my Wohnung – both Poppy and I celebrated becoming a year older.

Poppy’s birthday was on 4 June and I gave her an Octopus, named Paul of course after the late Octopus in Duisburg zoo who predicted World Cup football results four years ago.

Poppy and Paul the Octopus

My birthday was on the 18th June and I was slightly older than Poppy.

The summer is here

Germany had a bit of a heatwave in June. Temperatures of 32 degrees from midday till after 6pm make it pretty hot to go out walking or cycling so I switched to using Alfie rather than Penelope when it was really hot. Poppy learned the coolest spots in the house.

Hot dog

My car is getting more assimilated

I finally got round to getting an Emissions sticker for my car so it can experience the joys of Krefeld, Düsseldorf, the Ruhrgebiet etc. I had to take along my V5 (vehicle document) and pay a small fee of 5,50€ and now my car has a shiny sticker.

Car green sticker

Weird other vehicles I’ve seen on my travels

There are all sorts of bicycles that I see riding around with various baskets and panniers hanging off them, but on a ride to Süchteln I spotted something rather different.

It had gull-wing doors:

The owner was in the garden and came to chat to me about it. It’s all electric and does about 90km on one charge, with a maximum speed of 90 km/h. It has regenerative braking as well. Road tax is 25€, insurance about 100€.

He let me sit inside – here’s the driver’s view:

And here am I inside.

There’s a seat behind the driver and the passenger’s legs go either side of the driver’s seat. Apparently it works OK although you have to move the driver’s seat forward to get into the back seat.

The chap seemed very happy to talk to me about it and said he doesn’t get asked about it that often. Considering how regularly people talk to me about the trike and the velomobile that surprises me!

Royal Mail, Deutsche Post and the Dutch Postal System

When I was in England I bought four postcards to send to friends. I posted them on Monday morning, three to Germany and one to the Netherlands.

The three German cards arrived on the Wednesday (i.e. they only took two days to arrive) and the one Dutch one didn’t arrive until Friday (although it was only about 40 miles from the German ones!) From this we can conclude that Deutsche Post appears to be more efficient than the Dutch post. We can also conclude that the British post is expensive – 97p for a postcard to Europe! Sending one to England from Germany is about 75 cents I think (about 60p).

Other random discoveries

  • In Germany if you’re happy you’re on Cloud 7, not Cloud 9!
  • In Germany a dodgy car with lots of faults might be referred to as a Monday Morning car – in the UK it would be a Friday Afternoon one.
  • An English friend works with a German who says that they have the phrase “englisches Einkaufen” (English shopping) for shoplifting, although a couple of my other German friends hadn’t heard for this (although they had similar things for Polish people).
  • The mobile phone signal out in the countryside with Vodafone in Germany is much better than the phone signal on O2 in the countryside in the UK – in Germany I almost always have 3G access but in big chunks of Essex there seems to be only GPRS (including where our house is).
  • Sometimes German hyphenation doesn’t work in English!
  • Using a Velomobile to collect Pizza isn’t the optimum option due to having to store the pizza on its side behind my seat…

Cakes this month

The traditional monthly cakes roundup follows.

Windbeutel in Suechteln

World Cup German Cake

Eerdbeerschnitte

This cake was eaten in England (it’s a Tesco cream sponge)

This cake was my consolation prize when I accidentally revisited two churches in Süchteln – I hadn’t removed their waypoints from my Garmin!

Chocolate cake thing in Suechteln

This Amerikaner was eaten whilst underway on Alfie the trike.

Amerikaner on bike

This cake was given to me to eat in the car on the way to choir by Anja. She said it was a spare slice of cake that they had at home. Who on earth has heard of spare cake?????? It was lovely thought!

Cake from Anja

My landlady made some Donauwelle when my parents visited – this plate was left on the stairs and Poppy nearly got very lucky but unfortunately for her I saw it first!

This football-themed cake was enjoyed in Anrath. But why only 1-0?

Football cake

It was one of the Da Capo (local) choir member’s birthdays so he brought in a whole lot of home-made Schnecken.

Choir Schnecken

Cycling statistics for this month

Here is a map of all the journeys I have done around Kreis Viersen this month.

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The month’s total statistics are as follows:

735.06km cycled
Average speed 18.4km/h
Maximum speed 62.4km/h (this was whilst I was in England – we have hills there!)
Total time spent cycling: 39 hours 22 minutes 57 seconds.

That brings my yearly total up to 4,140.21km. I am aiming for 10,000km for the year so am rather badly behind. I will need to do some more riding!!!

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