Tag Archives: ICE Sprint

Six Wheels In Germany – May 2016 (Month 26)

Cycling this month

Cycling statistics this month

Here are my rides for this month.

Statistics for month

And here’s VeloViewer’s Wheel which shows where I have ridden (except for a ride I did in NL). However, the total distance is wrong on this wheel – no idea why as Strava has the correct data (and it gets the data from Strava).

Veloviewer Heatmap Wheel

A word about cycling apps… at the moment the Velomobile community is rather annoyed with Strava (where many of us track our rides) because of the following message we received:

Hello, I’m from Strava Support. Please note that any activity performed while using a velomobile should use the activity type “Workout” or be made private and can not be marked as a standard bike ride according to our policy and outlined in our article, which is linked to below. This policy is in effect to protect the integrity and fairness of our segment leaderboards. https://support.strava.com/hc/en-us/articles/216919507-Uploading-E-bike-motor-assisted-or-non-conventional-bike-data-to-Strava-Guidelines

Any activity that is marked as a ride, but performed in a velomobile is subject to being flagged. Continued violation of the above mentioned policy may lead to the termination of a Strava account. We appreciate your cooperation in advance. Please submit a support ticket if you have any questions about this policy.

In the future, we do hope to add an activity type for velomobiles although we currently have no plans to do so. Please feel free to add your votes and thoughts on that feature request to the forum linked to below. https://support.strava.com/hc/en-us/community/posts/208837707-Support-Aero-Velomobiles-or-Rocket-bikes-on-Strava

Basically, if we mark our rides as ‘workout’ or ‘private’ they are not included in leaderboards with other riders and many other features are lost. Several people have left Strava because their rides are constantly flagged (even if just round the corner for a coffee, no speed records) so it seems we may move across to Garmin Connect as that seems to accept velomobiles at the moment.

One ride, two countries, three companions

Chum Oliver who rides a Mango velomobile had contacted me to ask if I’d like to meet up with him on his way back from a longer ride (back from Ede in NL to his home near Roermond). He said we could meet for a cuppa in Arcen and then ride together to Venlo or something. Of course I said yes as it would be great to catch up with Oliver again.

Sunday mornings is a time that Klaus often rides, starting early in the morning (7 or 8am sometimes) as he has to be home at midday for breakfast. We decided to ride together to Straelen and from there I would head to Arcen to meet Oliver and Klaus would ride home again.

1 ride 3 companions

So Klaus and I set off from my house and rode together the relatively short route to Straelen, doing a detour to Obereyll and Nieukerk on the way to stretch out the ride a bit, and because that section of road is fab (smooth, fast and empty).

I had to stop to take the photo of this amazing place name on the road sign – a clear mix of the local dialect of German-meets-Dutch.

Schpootenhuske

We arrived in Straelen and stopped at Hoenen bakery where I had their breakfast and Klaus had a piece of cake. We were very early as Klaus would need to head back by 11 at the latest and I wouldn’t need to leave for Arcen until midday, but I thought I could safely sit in a bakery for an hour on my own with no problems.

Just as I had finished my breakfast and Klaus his cake we spotted chum Uli cycling outside. He had seen the velomobiles so parked his bike and came in to see us.

Klaus and Uli

Helen Klaus Uli

He was on his way to Walbeck which was a bit further north to attend a Radio Ham Field Day. I know a bit about these as my father was a Radio Ham previously and went to a couple of these field days. Anyway, Uli asked if I wanted to come along as I had some time to kill so I said yes of course.

Klaus headed off home and Uli and I set off to Walbeck, about 10km further on than Straelen. There was some kind of event on in Walbeck that day which meant some of the roads were closed and traffic was a bit random but we found the field with the Hams in in due course – right next to this windmill.

Helen and Uli at Walbeck

The sights and sounds were familiar from my youth when my Dad did lots of radioing (before the Internet appeared).

Radio Field Day

The chaps there were impressed to know that I had experience of Ham Radio but seemed appalled I hadn’t got into it myself. But I find the internet rather easier and involves less equipment!

After half an hour there it was time to head off on my own to meet Oliver in Arcen, so I said goodbye to Uli and the other chaps and zoomed down the hill to NL, my second country of the day. I stopped at the usual café, sitting outside to wait for Oliver.

He was on a 200ish kilometre ride back from Ede and had given me a very vague estimated time of 12:30 but he was spot on – I heard the thunderous noise of his Mango rolling over the cobbles before I saw him. I waved to him and he stopped, parked near to Penelope and we sat down for some lunch together.

Helen and Oliver

After lunch we rode together to Venlo where we stopped briefly to watch what seemed to be a championship of Water Polo played with canoes. Great fun!

Venlo watersports

At Venlo we went our separate ways and I dragged myself up the hill back to Germany, reaching home with 75km on the clock at an average of 20.1km/h. A fun day out with three companions on my voyage to two countries.

Trike Treffen, Christi Himmelfahrt, Xanten

Two years ago, when I had just been in Germany a month, I attended the Trike Treffen at the Hariksee near Brüggen. This is organised by people in the velomobilforum.de and liegeradforum.de and was great fun. I met Oliver there, and met Klaus for the first time as well, and also got to know other people who I have subsequently seen again.

Last year the Treffen was miles away in the south but this year it was back in Niederrhein, in Xanten which is just 40km away, so Klaus and I hatched a plan to visit on the Thursday (a public holiday in Germany for Ascension Day). The group were going to do a cycle tour during the day and then meet back at the campsite; we decided because of the distance just to go to the campsite after they were back, so leaving my house at about 13:00.

On the day Klaus had to pull out for domestic reasons so I set off on my own in Penelope on a lovely sunny day to head to Xanten via the route Klaus had planned.

Trike Treffen Track

I started out riding the eastern side of the track which was a much more interesting scenic route, particularly when I got near to the Rhein and there was a lovely cycle path on a very quiet piece of land, the Bislicher Insel. The place was heaving with cyclists and the sun was shining and it was a lovely day to be out on a bike.

I stopped at a café for a waffle which was extremely good value at 3,50€ with a free cuppa.

Trike Treffen waffle

Here was my first view of the Rhein as I turned towards Xanten.

Rhein

The track Klaus had planned went round Xanten rather than through it (a wise move on a busy public holiday) and I was soon at the campsite which is marked with the little photo square on the map above.

It was impressive to see how many people were there with their tents and bikes.

Campsite 1

Campsite 2

Campsite 3

I walked around a couple of times looking at all the trikes and velomobiles. I loved this decoration!

Ladybird trike

And this Alleweder A4 had a Haribo dispenser on the side!

Alleweder with Haribo

A very friendly chap who I had met at the previous Trike Treffen made me a cuppa and I sat chatting with friends, including Detlef who lives not too far from me and has a WAW velomobile (he let Klaus try it out before he bought Celeste). It was good to catch up with some people I knew.

After a couple of hours I decided it was time to ride home so I headed off, avoiding the huge hill at Sonsbeck by going round it and then taking the fast roads home. It was a very good route back and I averaged 22.4km/h for the day’s ride and hadn’t felt like I was riding particularly quickly.

I woke up very early on Saturday morning so made a last-minute decision to join the Trike Treffen tour that day. The plan was to drive with Alfie in the car to the campsite and join them on their tour along the Rhein around Xanten. So I quickly downloaded the track for my Garmin and headed to Xanten in the car.

Trike Treffen route

It’s impressive seeing so many tents and recumbents.

Camping field 1

Camping field 2

We had a little introductory talk about the route and then set off in a big group of what turned out to be 62 bikes and riders.

Bikes on Radweg

The Rhein was in sight during lots of this ride.

Rhine bridge near Xanten

Weird bikes in normal town

Xanten lakes

Xanten lake 2

I was very impressed by this topiary!

Duck topiary

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant next to a Rhine ferry crossing. We parked our vehicles under a tree as it was a very hot day!

Alfie and friends

Unusual trike

Wooden trike

Leitra and two Mangos

Trikes under tree

The organisers of the Treffen had booked food for the participants but as I hadn’t put my name down to come I bought my food separately in the restaurant. I started with a piece of cheesecake.

Cheesecake

And then had a Flammkuchen (a very thin pizza)

Flammkuchen

It was a really hot day and I was thirsty so had to order a bottle of water (they wouldn’t give me tap water). Look at the price of it!!!!

Rheinfaehre Bill

It was a very good sociable ride and I had lots of chance to chat to people underway. The pace was very sedate – we averaged 14.2 km/h for the 78.62km ride.

Group underway

I’ve ridden around here a few times so recognised some landmarks – Xanten is always easy to spot with the double-steepled cathedral.

Across fields to Xanten

Most of the group stopped off at a supermarket on the way back but I whizzed straight back to the campsite as it was time to get back to Poppy and I felt like stretching my legs a bit (using my electric motor to help me over the hill to Sonsbeck of course!)

I enjoyed the day very much and it was good to catch up with acquaintances and meet new people as well. There’s a lot of organisation that goes into these events but as a participant you don’t always appreciate how much work it is, so thanks to Walter who did the organising this year, as well as the others who helped him.

A short Rhine tour – part of my Metric Century A Month challenge

May is a strange month in Germany as it seems to consist almost entirely of public holidays. It feels like every week has at least one day off – Christi Himmelfahrt, Pfingsten, Fronleichnam…

Anyway, Pfingsten (Whitsun) was a free Monday. On the Saturday I was going to a Eurovision party with Claudia and Gudula but Sunday and Monday were completely free so I decided I would do a short bike tour. I’ve done the Rhein south of here lots of times but not really north of Kempen so I decided to cycle northwards along the Rhein. And for it to be my first ever proper tour in the Velomobile (overnight tour I mean).

Interestingly, you need almost as much equipment for a one-night tour as for a three week tour. You need two sets of cycle clothing and one set of casual evening clothing, including shoes that aren’t SPD/clipless. I also wanted my iPad. You need tools, wash kit, phone chargers etc. The only things I left behind were the charger for Penelope’s batteries (they would last no problem for two days) and the charger for my AA batteries for my Garmin.

What is notable about a velomobile on a bike tour is… other people can’t tell you’re on a bike tour. All the luggage is stored in the velomobile so as far as they are concerned you might be cycling round the corner to visit a friend. On a normal bike the touring panniers are a dead giveaway.

This is what Penelope looked like from outside and inside during my tour.

VM for touring

VM for touring 2

I had planned a route there which went first to Xanten (or near it, past where the Trike Treffen had been the previous week) and then on to the Rhein, following the southern bank until Millingen. That was the plan, but I changed it a bit underway.

Screenshot to Millingen

Anyway, I set off northwards to Geldern where I partook of a breakfast in the café overlooking the market square. I had all day, plenty of time for the 84km, and so I thought I would take it very easy. Also because Penelope was pretty heavy with my luggage (shoes, lock and iPad add quite a bit of weight!)

After Geldern I headed towards Xanten via Sonsbeck on the route I had taken home from the Trike Treffen Thursday evening meet. This had an excellent hill-avoidance diversion so I didn’t have to haul myself up the hill between Sonsbeck and Xanten, just looked at it to my left as I pootled along on the flat. A much better option!

I cycled past the road to the camping place for the Trike Treffen and then continued north, through Marienbaum and then eventually to the Rhein.

But before I reached the Rhein I had my first obstacle… Drängelgitter

Draengelgitter

These are a pain in the neck with velomobiles as you have to get out, manoeuvre the bike through and then get in again. My velomobile routes always avoid them if possible but I didn’t know these were here. Fortunately they were the only ones I encountered on my tour.

Soon I was up on the Deich/dyke and able to see my river, the Rhein. I was having a very relaxed ride, not overdoing it and being careful about my knee which has had a few problems recently. With a heavy velomobile and unknown route it would be easy to go too fast so I was careful. Well, that’s my excuse as to why the day’s average speed was only 18.9km/h.

Then I found myself on a familiar bit of road that I had cycled with Hartmut first, and then Klaus on the way back from Dronten – the bit before the bridge to Rees. I had been considering the distance of my tour – only 84km. I wasn’t sure if I would have another opportunity for a 100km ride this month and thought it sensible to extend the ride so I could bag the Century. I thought therefore it might be nice to cross at Rees and head to Emmerich for tea/cake as that ought to add on up to 10km. So I decided to follow the cycle signs to Emmerich (rather than my Garmin), and found myself riding up an extremely steep slope up to the bridge. I almost didn’t manage the slope because of traction issues… when I had crossed the bridge with Hartmut and Klaus we had gone on the road. The cycle path was definitely less suitable although I managed it.

You can see here how narrow the bridge pedestrian/cycle section is.

Bridge to Rees

But of course a lovely view down the Rhein.

Looking down the Rhein

It was an extremely windy day and once I crossed the river and turned north west and west I was directly into wind and even in Penelope I noticed it. It was actually quite a cold day and I had chosen unwisely when I wore a short-sleeved cycling jersey – long sleeves would have been better. Thank goodness for my buffs too, to keep my head and neck warm too. We had had a week of very warm temperatures in Germany (27-28 degrees) and then suddenly overnight it had gone down to 14 degrees and I was not accustomed!

Anyway, I pootled on following the signs after Rees to Bienen (German for “bees”) and then eventually to Emmerich.

I rode through the rather deserted town centre not seeing any likely cafés for lunch but soon realised that they would all be facing the river and found a long strip of food establishments with masses of bikes parked outside.

Emmerich Rheinterasse

Rhein and bikes

The hardy Germans were sitting outside but I was still cold and so decided to sit inside. I chose a waffle…

Waffle in Emmerich

After a relatively short stop I carried on, heading for the bridge to cross back over the Rhein.

Emmerich bridge and statue

It was really windy going over the bridge and the lady cyclist in front of me was weaving all over the place. I was a bit worried about the wind blowing my phone away so I didn’t take any photos!

Once back over on the left hand side of the Rhein I rejoined my Garmin’s track and cycled into a howling gale, overtaking lots of other cyclists on upright bikes who were really battling the elements.

I had a wonderful display at one point of a huge bird circling around… and I realised it was a stork. It was trying to join two other storks on a nest but they seemed not keen on this idea and chased him/her away. Here are the storks on the nest.

Storks

Seeing these enormous birds flying is amazing!

As I got nearer to Millingen I realised I still wouldn’t hit the 100km, I would be six short. So at one junction I saw a likely-looking detour along some quiet roads which would take me south west (side wind instead of headwind) and then I could go north-east back a little way, doing two sides of a triangle. I guesstimated it would be about a 6km detour so should do the trick. So off I went.

There was a fringe benefit for this detour – this excellent road name!

Dingdung

And then I found myself crossing the border from Germany to the Netherlands directly at the sign for the town of Millingen.

Millingen border

I found my hotel which I had pre-booked. It was pretty cheap (57€ for a single room including breakfast) and seemed fine, although the restaurant menu proved too expensive for me so I went to the chinese restaurant round the corner.

I ordered satay chicken and rice and a pancake roll. The pancake roll was enormous and the rice had, rather bizarrely, two slices of ham on it. Very Dutch I suppose!

Chinese

I had completed 100.69km for the day with an average heart rate of 130bpm which is lower than normal. A nice relaxing tour and although my back was hurting at the end (I have had back trouble for a month now) it wasn’t too bad and my knee had held up well.

After my Chinese I went to bed, pretty tired after the cycling.

I slept 10 hours which is extremely unusual for me – but shows again that cycle touring is a very relaxing holiday!

My route back to Kempen was much shorter as it was more direct, going round Kleve but through Goch, Weeze, Kevelaer, Geldern and Stenden. I’ve ridden to Kleve before on Alfie so vaguely knew the route, but had decided to take a different route to Goch which seemed to go through some kind of forest/wood.

Screenshot home

Of course, what I had failed to notice during my planning is that this route took me over a mountain…

Mountain

Here it is in the distance as I pootled my way across the landscape which was subtly different to my bit of the Niederrhein (more trees perhaps).

Different scenery

The forecast was for rain today and I was followed by some menacing clouds quite a lot of the time. Today of course I had a rather good tailwind so I felt like it was much easier riding – which is evidenced by my overall average heart rate of 110 with the maximum of 148. My average is usually around the 140 mark.

I decided I would stop at Weeze or Kevelaer for cake and had decided to just press on for home today rather than do any sightseeing but my plans changed when I spotted an RAF flag fluttering through some trees, shortly followed by a light aircraft landing and glimpses of more planes. There was tape preventing people from parking on both sides of this main road but then I saw a chap in a fluorescent tabard sitting on a chair beside a road closure gate and decided to go and investigate. I cycled past this chap, and also past some people who had money belts on (I later discovered other visitors were paying to go to see the airfield! Oops!) and found myself at an airfield where there was some kind of Open Day taking place.

This plane was called the Red Baron and you could have flights for 60€. It turns out to be an Antonov AN-2T Albatros from 1957 so not the actual Red Baron plane…

Red Baron plane

There were lots of other small light aircraft there, a beer stand, Bratwurst stand, seating area in the hangar and various displays from local sponsors (banks etc). Although I have to say there weren’t that many people there, perhaps because of the unfavourable weather forecast.

Planes

This plane had a Union Jack flag attached to the propellor. It’s a Slingsby Sedburgh with Dutch registration so no idea of the UK link.

Slingsby Sedburgh

But the UK link was very obvious on this plane (rather zoomed in so sorry for the quality!)

BAE Hawk model

The announcer told us over the tannoy that this plane was a one-third scale model of a BAE Hawk which has all the features of the real Hawk except a pilot! He told the crowd that the Hawk was the Red Arrows plane, and would now do a display including the coloured smoke. So this was definitely worth hanging around to watch!

Here is a small collage of some of the photos I took during the display, which was great fun and felt really, really close. That thing flies brilliantly!

Model Hawk flying

I’ve seen the Red Arrows a few times at air displays and this was just like seeing one of them… the size wasn’t really noticeable when up in the air. But he flew just 50 feet above the airstrip at some parts of the show which was fun. Apparently the chap built it himself which is amazing, and it runs on proper jet fuel and weighs 25kg.

After watching this display I was getting very cold (again, I didn’t have the right clothes really for this tour) so decided to continue on. I rode through Goch and then found myself leaving it on the way to… who knows!!!

Goch to where

Again, the landscape felt different than Kreis Viersen; more forests and not so wide views. But nice.

More trees

When I arrived at Weeze I decided it was time to stop for cake as I realised my track didn’t go through Kevelaer but round the outside and I hadn’t visited Weeze for a while. So I found a nice café which offered me a good selection of cakes… and I chose this very light moussy number.

Cake in Weeze

Having dodged a few raindrops during my cake session it was time to set off for the last 30 or so kilometres, all very easy and relaxed.

I went around Kevelaer and made a couple of detours to keep me off the B9 road where there is no cycle path (previously I rode on the road but with some ramps over railways I was slow at times and it was a bit uncomfortable with the fast cars). And on one of these small detours I spotted this rather large bike!

Giant bike 1

It was on a trailer.

Giant bike trailer

I liked the Schwalbe sticker on the tyre.

Giant bike schwalbe

The white pipework is I guess some kind of lighting for winter.

Giant bike 2

I think I could have fitted my entire foot on this pedal.

Giant pedal

I think the chain needs a bit of work to be effective!

Giant bike chain

Here is Penelope again with her new friend.

Penelope and giant bike

It was a very cool bike and I would have loved to try to sit on the enormous saddle but of course it was Zutritt Verboten.

The rest of the route home was very familiar from my recent Sunday rides into Kreis Kleve and went quickly apart from my brief detour into Geldern where the circus had closed some of the roads which made things a bit slow. I was home nice and early for a hot shower and some warmer clothes!

My ride back had been 73.87km at an average of 18.7km/h but I only burned 1,069 calories as I wasn’t working hard at all.

My conclusion about touring with the Velomobile – it works well, you can cover ground quickly, you keep warmer and if it rains it would have been ideal, but it’s harder to manoeuvre to park and through gates and things and some really steep ramps for cycle paths on some of the official routes might defeat me.

Riding with Kajsa Tylén

I have mentioned in previous blogs that a cycling acquaintance Steve Abraham was going for the Highest Annual Mileage Record (HAM’R) last year, which was over 125,000km. He broke his leg partway through the attempt after a drunken moped rider hit him so didn’t get the record but Kurt Searvogel from America did.

Anyway, this interest in the men’s record of 67,000 miles in a year also awakened interest in the women’s record, set by Billie Fleming (née Dovey) at 29,603.7 miles (47,642.5 km) which she set in 1938. There are currently three women undertaking this record, Kajsa Tylén from the UK, Amanda Coker from the USA and Alicia Searvogel (wife of Kurt who holds the men’s record) also from the USA.

Kajsa started her attempt first, on 1 January 2016, and has been very successful with updates to supporters on Facebook, plus articles elsewhere such as the BBC. She encourages people to ride with her, although as she is riding to Guinness rules she is not allowed to draft. Several UK friends have ridden with her and said it was a really good day out.

I noticed from her website A Year In The Saddle that she would be travelling from the UK to Sweden in May/June and wondered if I could intercept her.

So I sent her a message through her Facebook site as I saw that she would be in NL for a few days which might work for me. She replied that she’d love for me to cycle with her and after a bit of diary-checking I realised the only day I could do this would be a Saturday when she was riding from Delft to Dedgum in Friesland.

I initially thought I would get the train to ride with her but Dedgum is miles from any railway places so in the end I concluded I would have to do a there-and-back ride, driving to Dedgum and then riding towards Delft, hopefully bumping into Kajsa along the way. Fortunately she has a spot tracker which gives her position every 10 minutes or so which meant I would be able to know when to expect her. She had also sent me a GPX track of her route which she intended to follow (with possible diversions on the day if necessary).

So on the Saturday morning I loaded Alfie into the car and headed off to Dedgum, which was a three hour drive. I arrived at the campsite and fished Alfie out of the car.

Alfie and Roomster

Here is a map of NL (with Kempen off the bottom, just to the south west of Essen) which shows where I rode.

IJsselmeer

And this is a close-up of the track. (The boxes show where I have taken photos and uploaded them to Strava).

Afsluitsdijk

The forecast for Kempen was 25 degrees and sunny but I knew on the coast it would be cooler. It was probably around 19 degrees so I was glad I had my windproof jacket on. The sun wasn’t really breaking through and there was a lot of wind – these turbines were turning pretty fast.

Windmills

I set off without using any e-assist. Although I was riding into wind I thought I might need all my motor’s help for the way back with Kajsa as she’s a lot faster than me. So I had a pretty slow trundle to Zurich where I stopped for a very overpriced ham roll.

Zurich

I stopped here to prepare for the next 30km which would be on the Afsluitdijk, a causeway built in 1932 that separated off the IJsselmeer. It is an impressive engineering feat and I was keen to have a look and cycle over it – twice.

Afsluitdijk 2

My Garmin map was very blue!

Garmin

Looking back over both sides – the North Sea on the left, the IJsselmeer on the right.

Both sides

After about 5km there was a curve and I could see the causeway stretching out into the distance.

Curve in road

There were a couple of motorway service stations along the 30km route which were accessible by bike but I kept going.

What was less pleasant were the huge clouds of insects that I found myself cycling through. I had to ride with mouth firmly closed, breathing through my nose, and could feel them hitting my face… You can see on this photo lots of little black dots – the insects.

Insects

There were patches where there weren’t any insects but for most of the journey across they were annoying.

When I got to the other side and got off the trike there was a visible tide mark of insects on my seat where my legs had been…

Insect tide mark

Once I was across the causeway I found myself in Den Oever. Kajsa’s track headed away from the village through some woodland but I checked the tracker and saw she was 20km or more away so decided to stop for food as I didn’t know if she would want to stop on the way back and I hadn’t really passed anything suitable anyway.

So I wandered into Den Oever and found a burger café which did me a burger and chips for a reasonable price.

lunch

As the day was warming up I decided to have an ice cream and photographed my Magnum next to the village’s windmill.

Magnum and windmill

It looked as though Kajsa was now about 5km away so I decided to start riding in her direction – as this would get me another 100km for the day as I had already done 49.

The track went through some woodland and was rather pleasant.

Woodland track

I checked the tracker again and she was less than a kilometre away so I stopped at the top of a small rise and watched the track in front of me. Soon enough a small figure came very fast towards me…

Kajsa

I settled in to cycling beside her, impressed at how well she was going after 150km. I had my electric motor on now to adjust to her speed and soon we were riding side-by-side quite effectively. If there was ever a reason to single out I was either a long way in front of her (so she couldn’t draft me) or behind.

I warned her about the insects on the causeway which she clearly wasn’t looking forward to but the reality was they had all been blown northwards by the time we got there. We were fast across the causeway with the tailwind Kajsa had had all day helping us to an average of 25-26km/h. Over 25 my motor switches off so I was using my leg power too!

Here we are – I had ridden ahead to try to get a selfie.

Selfie on Dijk

And here is a pic that Kajsa took of me.

Helen cycling with Kajsa

We had a really good chinwag over the time we were riding. It was fascinating talking to her and hearing about this mammonth undertaking. I’d been watching her videos on Facebook over the year so it was also a weird experience seeing her in real life for the first time as I felt like I already knew her.

We whizzed along, soon off the causeway and back into the Frisian countryside.

Kajsa realised that she would arrive at the campsite with 196.4km on the clock so we clearly had to do another four. We agreed to divert just before the campsite up a road but turned a bit too soon so we needed to do another 500 metres. This involved riding into the village of Dedgum where we met a lady on a horse and Kajsa managed to photograph the moment the horse saw my trike and clearly wondered “whatever is that!!!!????”

Scared horse

I had only used half of the battery in my trike despite riding for 60km with it on level 7 or 8 (out of 9) so I was pleased with that, although it’s party explained by us riding at above 25km/h in some sections which means there is no e-assist.

We got to the campsite and Kajsa kindly offered for me to have a cup of tea and slice of apple pie with them. She had a quick sit on Alfie too but after a 200km day had no wish to actually ride anywhere, especially as she had the wrong cleats.

Sitting on trike

So they fortified me with apple pie…

Apple pie

Then I headed off for the three hour journey home.

All in all it was a great day, some interesting new scenery and the Afsluitdijk was really cool to ride over (twice), and 109.44km for me at an average of 18.4km/h.

Every couple of days Kajsa does a video diary and here is the one where she mentions riding with me:

ADFC Sternfahrt Mönchengladbach

The ADFC (German cycling club) periodically organises things called Sternfahrten (Star Rides) where people ride from lots of different directions to a central meeting point. Mönchengladbach, which is a rather car-overrun city, has had two before and the last one was very successful. So the Sternfahrt for this year was planned… and a couple of ADFC acquaintances asked me to come along with the Velomobile.

One of the feeder rides was starting in Kempen so I persuaded various people (Klaus, Gudula and Frank) to come with me and to first of all have breakfast of cake in Kempen. Which we did.

Jochen, who was leading the ride from Kempen, joined us at the café. He is currently seriously considering buying a velomobile, probably a Strada, so he and Klaus had a lot to talk about!

We set off at 11:30am from Kempen with a few other riders, having decorated our bikes with ADFC-coloured balloons (blue and orange)

Balloons on bikes

Here is the track of our ride.

Sternfahrt Track

The feeder ride stopped also in Vorst (Tönisvorst) and then Viersen where we picked up more people. At each stop Jochen could be seen looking at Celeste and talking to Klaus about velomobiles…

Jochen velomobile fixated 1

As we were quite early to Vorst we also had ice creams.

Sternfahrt Eis

Eventually we arrived in Rheydt where the ride would start.

At Rheydt
(In the above picture you can see Jochen gazing at Celeste again)

And here he is again..

Jochen fixated by Celeste 3

More and more people were arriving – as were the rainclouds. Rain had been forecast but we were lucky that it had so far held off. But then it started.

As everyone began to put on their waterproofs a small peloton of velomobiles and recumbents arrived… some people from the Velomobilforum including Düssel who Klaus and I have met several times.

VMs at Sternfahrt 1

At just past three o’clock it was time for the ride to start. There were several police vans plus police motorcyclists and cyclists who would close the roads for us – fun!

Velomobiles are quite hard to ride in groups so we decided to all go at the back for the ride. The ADFC Facebook site had this great photo of the ride though, and Gudula and Frank are visible in it.

Sternfahrt Gudula and Frank

And there was also a video taken – the velomobiles are in the last few seconds!

The ride was just 10km long and very slow because of all the bikes. It was also raining a lot as you can see from this shot I took whilst riding.

Ride through P's windscreen

It was fun being in a group with the other VMs.

Sternfahrt Velomobiles 1

Sternfahrt Velomobiles 2

Passers-by were standing watching and cheering and it was good fun except for a few dodgy motorists near the end. There was a near-accident with a bus (who got a good stern talking-to by a policeman) and Klaus witnessed a policewoman knocked off her bike and he had a close shave. Still, it was great fun and lovely to ride in such a big group with people of all different abilities and ages.

When we got back to the square we lined ourselves up for a photo.

A row of weird bikes

Sternfahrt VM noses

And at some point the semi-official photographer got a shot of Klaus and I… and of course Jochen gazing fixedly at Celeste again!

Helen Klaus Jochen

We then rode back in the rain and I was very glad to be dry and warm in the velomobile.

I ended up with 82km for the day which wasn’t bad and brought me to the brink of 4,000km for the year.

If the weather had been good they would probably had double the number of participants but it was still fun and I enjoyed catching up with cycling friends who I’ve met over the last two years. I look forward to the next Sternfahrt!

Some other ride pictures

Here are a few other pictures taken on rides this month.

This was Burg Linn near Krefeld early evening.

Burg Linn

And this was a beautiful morning scene on my way to work one day.

Landscape sky

And on my way home one evening

St Hubert by sunset

And here was a very interesting velomobile that whizzed towards where Klaus and I had stopped for some soup on an evening ride. The rider stopped and had a great chat with us about his Go-One Evo R. He lives in Kaldenkirchen so not so far away from us!

Evo 1

Look at the size of that chainring!

Giant kettenblatt

And you can use it as a knife if riding in reverse!

Sharp rear of Evo

It was very good to chat to the owner Oliver. He says it is a really fast machine but not particularly comfortable on long journeys – it’s a stripped-down racer without rear suspension.

3 VMs 2 chaps

3 VMs

Life in Germany

Just a quick note to say that after two years here I appear to be beginning to assimilate. I found myself buying a jar of Rotkohl to have with my Bratwurst one evening…

Rotkohl

A visit to the Oberhausen Gasometer

I had several days off work as there wasn’t enough for us to do and this coincided with both Gudula and Frank also having a day off so we decided to go on a trip to visit the exhibition within the Oberhausen Gasometer.

There exhibition was ‘the wonders of nature’ and consisted of lots of photographs of nature with accompanying text. Lots of the images were from the BBC’s Planet Earth series.

Gasometer

Gasometer 2

Gasometer 3

Inside were two huge floors with the picture and video displays and then the floor above was something else altogether (more anon).

Here are some views of the ground floor.

Ground Floor 1

Ground Floor 2

And the first floor which was crisscrossed by girders and beams, most of which had spongy material on them in case you bumped your head!

First Floor 1

First Floor 2

I spent about an hour and a half looking at these two floors and then it was time for the third floor… which turned out to be a real surprise!

It was a huge, huge space with a giant globe suspended from the room of the Gasometer onto which were projected slowly moving images of the earth taken from the ISS and other space expeditions. The images slowly changed from night to day with the earth very slowly rotating. It was beautiful to watch, especially as there were beanbags for you to lie on so you could look up at the globe in comfort.

Here are some of the photos I took.

Earth 1

Earth 2

Earth 3

Earth 4

And here I walked around a bit away from the stepped seating area which you can just see at the bottom of this photo.

Earth and steps

I watched the images for half an hour and then they restarted – it was a very impressive show and quite hypnotising.

I met back up with Frank and Gudula and they said we should take the lift up to the top. We had to queue but they said it would be worth it – and it was!

Firstly, it was a glass lift so we were able to watch as we went above the globe, almost to the very top of the gasometer.

Looking down on globe

The above picture looks a bit like a jellyfish but it is looking down onto the globe and then lower onto the lit steps where people sit to watch the globe.

At the top we are almost 105 metres above ground.

104.94 metres

There was a slight extra bit to climb to get to the very top of the structure.

Climbing up

Where there were some excellent views over the industrial areas.

View from Gasometer

View from Gasometer 2

And lots of evidence of landscaping by humans.

Hill

It was well worth a visit to the Gasometer and I will probably go back again to see the next exhibition as it was all so well displayed.

Fixing my CD Player

A long time ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth people listened to CDs rather than MP3s or streaming music. Because CDs only contain about 45 minutes of music you had to keep changing the CD in the player. Except Sony invented a CD player that, like a slide carousel, held 300 CDs in one machine and worked rather like a jukebox. I had one of these.

I bought it back in 1992 or thereabouts and have used it ever since as the sound quality is much better than an MP3 player. However, it had started making some strange noises when rotating the carousel or selecting the disk… and eventually it stopped working altogether, just making slight noises but not playing anything. It was also not possible to open the door to get the CDs out.

Clearly I would have to get it repaired but I had no idea how much this would cost and whether it would be possible. So after procrastinating for a month or so I decided I would take the lid off myself and have a look. After all, to transport it to a repair person I would need to take all the CDs out so they didn’t fall out and get stuck.

Here it is before I attacked it with a screwdriver

CD Player

And with the lid off – you can see all the CDs lined up inside.

CD player with lid off

And from the side (I have removed a whole bunch of CDs here to get a better look).

CD player side view

Aha! The problem becomes evident. A rubber band has fallen off the two spindles.

Rubber off spindle

Nils came to help me and we decided that we would attempt to get the rubber ring back on the spindle. Whether this was the main issue we didn’t know but it was worth a go. So we had to find the right tools for the job…

The right tools for the job

We had to remove a lot of the CDs so we had space to move, and then Nils did his surgery.

Nils does surgery

He managed to fit the rubber ring back on the spindles. We turned the machine on and things started to happen but it didn’t entirely work right and when we stopped it the rubber ring had fallen off the spindles again. Perhaps it was a bit perished and had stretched (after all, it’s over 20 years old). But we tried again, removing some of the grease from the rubber ring with our fingers (it had dropped into a grease reservoir).

And then, the second time, it was working perfectly! So we put the lid back on, I put all the CDs back in (which is rather time-consuming) and now it is back in pride of place working excellently.

Working again

Top marks to Nils and me for our engineering geniusness!

Buying a watch

My Dad was always keen on watches and clocks and so I decided to buy myself a nice automatic watch as a way of remembering him.

I obviously needed to do some research so wrote to some of the brands I liked asking for their catalogues. I got some amazingly posh catalogues back, including the catalogue from Sinn which was more like a really high-quality hardback book.

Watch catalogues

Eventually after lots of studying and thinking I narrowed down my choice to two different watches by the firm Mühle Glashütte. A jeweller in Kempen had some of their products so Gudula came with me to have a look. I rode Penelope, Gudula used Alfie.

Gudula on Alfie

I tried on several watches at this jeweller (they didn’t have the specific models I wanted but had others in the range) and decided which one I would go for. I had identified one in stock at a jeweller in Nürnberg and had negotiated quite a good discount so I ordered it and it arrived a few days later. It’s a Mühle Glashütte Antaria Tag Datum and very lovely!

Antaria Tag Datum

Cakes this month

Because this blog post is rather long and difficult to download I have gathered all the cake pictures together for this month into one image. Enjoy!

May Cakes

Friend Lara had her twelfth birthday and she and I made a Käse Sahne Torte the day before.

Lara's birthday kaese sahne

Her mother also made a Strawberry tart

Lara's birthday Sprudel

And a chocolate ‘Sprudel Cake’

Lara's birthday strawberry

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

Alfie gets an electric motor

So Alfie has ridden 41,932.27km and it was time for an upgrade… so I bought a Bafang 8Fun bottom bracket electric motor, fitted it myself (with the help of Klaus) and have now ridden with it for 300km. Here is the story of the motor fitting…

An electric motor? At my age??!!!

The first thing to say is, why the heck have I bought an electric motor? I’m only 44!!

I can blame riding-partner Klaus for this as he first started talking about it many months ago. He thought an e-motor would be a good addition to his trike, particularly as his SRAM Dual-Drive in the rear wheel has started packing up. He decided he would buy a new rear wheel with an electric motor in it (in place of the Dual Drive) and spent a lot of time looking at a website, elfkw, and choosing exactly what he would have.

Klaus and I cycle at a very similar speed on the flat, although he is way quicker on hills. I am possibly marginally faster around sharp corners but apart from that he is probably always a little quicker than me and our compared average heart rates show this when we ride together (his is usually 5bpm less than mine). No problem in normal usage, but if he had an e-motor I would never be able to keep up!!!

So…

I started to think about them myself. I had previously said that I wouldn’t need electric assist until I was 60 but the more Klaus talked about it, and he talked about it A LOT, the more I started to think it was a good idea. But I would have to have a different option as I like my Alfine-11 hub gear and so wanted to retain the existing rear wheel set up. The only real option was a bottom bracket motor (where the pedals are). I began seriously thinking about this.

I emailed Neil at ICE who gave me some advice. ICE used to fit a bottom bracket motor (by Sunstar) but now only supply a rear wheel motor. However, Neil suggested I considered the Bafang 8Fun motor which he knew had been fitted to some ICE trikes.

Marc, a reader of this blog who also has a blog at https://etrike.wordpress.com/, pointed me to a thread on BentRiderOnline (a recumbent forum) from a chap who had done this very job on his trike… and there were some useful photos.

8Fun on trike photo

So a couple of months of googling, reading all about the subject… and then I saw a good deal on an 8Fun from China and pressed ‘buy’.

There are lots of different wattages – from 250 to 1000 watts – but European laws say maximum 250W with a cut out if you go over 25km/h. Bafang make 250, 350, 500 and 750 watt motors so the 250 is the weakest. Everyone suggested I went for a 350 or 500 but I was aware of the law and if I had an accident when using a more powerful motor than is legal I could be in a lot of trouble. I didn’t think it worth the risk so stuck to the fully legal 250W. It would also mean the battery would hopefully not drain as quickly.

This is what would come in the kit.

8Fun kit

I had a few issues with delivery of the motor and its 12aH bottle battery – I was a bit of a numpty and didn’t realise I would have to pay customs and VAT on the motor. But it arrived in due course and the whole kit cost just a shade under 800€ – pretty good value!

Motor arrives from China

Motor in box

And here is the battery and its holder.

Bottle battery

Bottle battery holder

I had done plenty of reading, as I said above, and realised I would need to buy a speed sensor extension cable as on most bikes the bottom bracket is very near the rear wheel but mine is a long way away. The cables are just 5€ each so I bought three (from Australia) as I wanted to make sure it was long enough. A good thing, too, as I needed all three.

Speed sensor cables

Research had told me that I also needed a few other tools in order to fit the motor.

It was time to buy a proper bike toolkit – James has one in the UK but I didn’t have one here and they are good value on eBay so I bought a 44-piece bike maintenance kit.

Bike toolkit

I would of course have to remove the old pedals and bottom bracket and so asked Neil at ICE if I needed a special tool that wasn’t in my bike toolkit. Yes I did, a Shimano Hollowtech II tool (my bottom bracket was a SRAM GXP which is the same time) so bought one.

IceToolz BB tool

From reading the thread on BentRiderOnline it also appeared that a lockring tightening tool would be needed to stop the motor rotating under its own power. A Park Tool was suggested with this photo:

Lockring tightener tool from BROL

So I ordered the relevant tool, also some bar-ends (as I realised there would be a lack of space for the display unit), some new SPD pedals (as I was very unsure if I would get the old, silver ones off) and a new rear light for Alfie.

Pedals, lockring tool, bar ends

So everything was ready. Everything had arrived in the post and Klaus had booked a day off work to come and help me with the challenge of fitting the motor to my bike. We were all set!

Fitting the motor to the trike

Klaus and I have done lots of bike maintenance over the last year or so. With three trikes and a velomobile doing reasonable mileage there’s lots to do. We have moments of incompetence but also many successes and I tried to decide how successful we would be with this install.

My estimate was that fitting everything on the handlebars would be a problem but the biggest issue would be to fit the new brake levers (which have a cut-out for the motor) on the right hand side handlebar due to my Alfine trigger shifter. I reckoned that could take us two hours. Klaus was slightly more positive about our skills, but we both realised we were going to be using a lot of guesswork.

The day Klaus had booked off work was a bit damp. Rather than work in the cramped and cold garage I decided we would do the work in my lounge so I brought Alfie upstairs.

Alfie upstairs

I had some large sheets of cardboard left over from last month’s furniture building so I laid that on the floor to protect it.

Klaus arrived and after a cup of tea and some biscuits we set to work.

Removing the old pedals and bottom bracket

First job – to remove the pedals and old bottom bracket.

Item one was to remove the screw from the left hand side pedal.

My special tool was put into service – it’s what the small middle bit on the right hand side picture is for:

But it didn’t fit!!! OH NO!!!!

Fortunately a standard large allen/hex/imbus key fitted this slot but it took us a while to find one large enough and long enough so we could exert enough force to unscrew this screw. I think it took fifteen minutes.

Removing first pedal

This was slightly worrying as this was literally the first step in a quite long procedure and it had been very difficult. I would not have been strong enough to do it myself alone. Possibly a bad sign.

But it was done, at last – hurrah!!!!

We had watched a video on YouTube about how to remove these pedals (or equivalent ones) – my iPad is hooked up to my TV and we watched several videos to give us a bit of a clue. So we knew that after removing the screw from the pedals we had to take out a little plastic widget and then pull the pedal off. It should just pull out. But did it?

No.

Really no.

We tried and tried and tried, including knocking it lightly with a hammer (we didn’t want to bend the medal of the frame at all so had to be super-careful).

Absolutely no luck.

Then Klaus suggested I check for videos on a Kurbelabzieher as he thought that would be a tool that might do it. So I found a couple and it seems there is a tool you screw into the pedal thread and then you can undo the pedal.

This is what we were looking at on the trike.

Kurbelabzieher thread

The YouTube video makes it look very easy – as long as we had the right tool. I said to Klaus, “Can you check if there is a Kurbelabzieher in my toolkit?” and he had a look and he said “no”. This was another major problem – we had now been working for an hour and only managed to undo one screw. There was nothing for it but to head to the biggest bike shop in Kempen and hope they had a Kurbelabzieher of the right size. I took the photo (above) with me to refer to in the shop and we hopped in the car to Metternich, the big bike shop on Vorster Straße.

They had two Kurbelabzieher in stock, looking very different to each other. One clearly wouldn’t fit, we hoped the other would and so bought it for 7€. The chap said that if it didn’t fit and we didn’t damage the packaging at all he would give us a refund.

Kurbelabzieher

We arrived back, having used 1 hour 45 minutes of our day to remove one screw. If this Kurbelabzieher didn’t work then the whole project would fail at this early point.

Removing pedal

Fortunately it did work. Hurrah!

So the 7€ tool was used once, took about two minutes, and then I went to put it into my bike maintenance toolkit – at which point I noticed that there was one in there after all. And it would indeed also have fitted. So I now have two pedal removal tools, if anyone ever needs one!…

We tapped out the right hand side pedal (having split the chain earlier) and progress had finally been made… after two hours we had removed two pedals.

Pedals off

The next thing was to remove the bottom bracket. We prepared ourselves by watching another YouTube video and then offered up my special tool to the bottom bracket. Hallelujah, it fitted!!!!

Because it wasn’t very deep it kept slipping off but eventually Klaus managed to unscrew the bottom bracket left hand side. It was then a very easy job to remove the other side and slide the entire bottom bracket out.

BB out

And this is what was left.

Hole in frame for BB

We had been working for two and a half hours and it was now lunchtime – I had made a chicken biryani for us to eat so we took a break to eat it. I was wondering how much progress we would actually make today as I had choir at 7:45pm and Klaus would have to be home before that. And this was just the easy bit we had done! Still, the biryani tasted nice and we fortified ourselves with a few more biscuits before resuming.

Fitting the Bafang 8Fun motor

This was the easy bit – and it was really easy!

We just had to screw the chainring onto the motor (with the supplied bolts) and then screw a plastic guard on the other side of the chainring. This lot was then all slotted into the bottom bracket. Easy!

There was a lockring and a plastic cover. We discovered the difficulty of doing up the lockring, first doing it by hand and then using the special tool I had bought. Except…

The correct tool, which I had bought, is a Park Tools HCW-17. Here is a picture of one in action on a normal fixed gear bike:

And here is the picture of the tool from BentRiderOnline that I had seen:

Lockring tightener tool from BROL

Can you spot the difference? The nose is missing from the tool being used on the trike. This is because the motor fouls a bit of the frame. So we couldn’t do the lockring up as tightly as we wanted. Oh well, it’d have to do.

Motor and lock ring

Once the lockring was as tight as we could make it we put on the black plastic cap.

Motor locked in place

The new pedals cranks went on very easily and we fitted the new SPD pedals to them.

Pedals on

That took less than fifteen minutes, but now we had the challenge of the wiring, the brake levers, the speed sensor, the thumb throttle and fitting the display and the on/off switch.

Considering the wiring

It was clear from the first moment that the power cable from the battery wasn’t long enough for my preferred initial position (on the back of the seat or in the sidepods), but should work from the water bottle holder area on the boom which would do for the time being although would mean there was rather a lot of weight forward.

Anyway, what was the bigger challenge was to get the old brake levers off and the new ones on. I was dreading this as I thought I’d have to dismantle the Alfine shifter. Fortunately the cable for the Alfine shifter was narrow enough that we could squeeze it through the small gap in the brake levers and fit them without completely disassembling the shifter. I thought that would be a two hour job but we managed it in ten minutes.

New brake lever

We then had to fit the speed sensor which is used to automatically power off the motor when going over 25km/h (this is a European law). We found a good mount for the sensor near the back wheel and had to use all three extension cables to reach it, but that worked fine.

The wiring for the Bafang is easy – there are colour-codes and it was dead easy to work out what went where. We fitted the bottle cage mount and the bottle and wired everything up.

Motor locked in place

My excellent foresight in buying bar ends was rather less efficient than I had thought as the bar ends were oval, not round, so the display for the motor didn’t fit on them. Klaus spent ages trying to work something out and eventually succeeded with the use of some cable ties. I knew I would have to order some properly round ones as soon as possible.

As we had removed the front derailleur (not needed, there is only one front chainring with the Bafang) we also needed to remove the JTek friction shifter for the gears. We could not undo it. But as we weren’t going to need it again Klaus collected a giant mole wrench (called an Englisch, in German apparently) and pulled the whole thing off. It looked rather sad and crumpled afterwards but wouldn’t be needed again.

We also fitted the thumb throttle and touched it briefly… and the trike rolled across the floor. It works!!!!!

The room was like a bomb site!

Room bombsite 1

Room bombsite 2

The fitting of the various electronic bits had taken hours, partly because there just simply wasn’t room on the handlebars for all the gubbins. I had to keep moving my existing bar ends (which I rest my hands on, and which hold the bell and mirrors) and we fiddled about with lots of options, but the main problem was that the on/off and motor assist level switch was on an extremely short cable to the display so had to be right next to it – and there wasn’t room. Oh well, something was cobbled together and so it was time to carry the trike outside and test it as it was already 6pm.

So we carried Alfie downstairs, got everything ready and I pedalled down the road – VERY FAST.

Wheeeeeeeee, it was great fun! A strange sensation but nice and quiet and it worked well.

After 100 metres I turned round and it was Klaus’s turn. He travelled a few metres, then nothing. Everything stopped. No power. Uh oh…

A quick look and the cables between the battery and the motor had come apart. So we tried to plug them back into each other but the two ends no longer reached each other. Why not???

We soon noticed – the motor unit had rotated under its own force and was just stopped by my headlamp. Clearly our lockring needed to be tighter but the tool was too big. Frustratingly we had to leave it there for the day – a bike with lots of wiring messily cable-tied to the frame and a rotating motor.

Still, excellent progress had been made and it was clearly going to work OK – if we could tighten that lockring up enough.

Frank to the lockring rescue

Frank my landlord is extremely good at mechanical things and when I showed him the problem (and the photo of the tool with the cut nose) he instantly set about fixing it.

Tool frank cutting off nose

The result had a sharp edge

Tool nose cut off

So he ground it down a bit

Tool smoothing nose

Et voilà.

Tool with nose cut

Frank then used this tool on the lockring and was able to turn it at least an additional 180 degrees so much, much tighter. Since then it has stayed put so this was a success and well worth modifying the tool.

Fitting the battery to the trike

My reading of reports about motors on trikes suggested that battery placement is rather important for the handling.

Friend Kim, who fitted a rear wheel motor to her partner’s trike, had told me that having the battery on the rear rack was sub-optimal in terms of weight and centre of gravity when cornering. She wished she had been able to mount it much lower down.

Marc (who has etrike.wordpress.com) had offered this advice to me:

I got a battery on the boom of my second Sprint with the big wheels, but even while having a hub motor as ‘counterweight’ in the rear of my Sprint, the rear wheel gets awfully light when braking…
In your case, I’d mount the battery to the seat as well. It will help in preventing lifting the rear wheel while braking.

Don’t use the rear frame triangle to mount the battery! You don’t want the heavy battery attached to the rear swing arm!

If you can fit your battery directly under the seat, fine! Depending how the battery gets mounted into its frame mount, it will likely be very fiddly to take it on and off, though. Probably its better to just use the inner two cross beams of the seat and mount the battery on the left side under the seat. As near to the frame as possible.

He pointed me to this picture of one mounting possibility that he uses:

sprint-battery-mounts

As mentioned above, initially the battery cable wasn’t long enough to have it anywhere but the bottle bosses on the boom, so that’s what I did at first to test the trike. It rode OK and the weight wasn’t too bad, although the back was definitely lighter (and it was a bit awkward to wheel it as when I lifted the back end up the nose wanted to really drop), but I did notice a very strong shimmy if I took both hands off the handlebars when riding at any speed. It happened within a second and was very strong, shaking the trike from side to side, so I had to always ride with one hand on (which is difficult when putting on gloves underway, for example). I experimented with riding the trike without the motor running – still shimmying. Then I experimented with removing the weight of the battery from the boom and riding along – no shimmy. So clearly the battery on the boom was unbalancing it.

Marc had sent me a few options of things I could use to attach the battery to the seat. I showed these to Frank who thought about it a bit (as always) and said he would get back to me as some of the eBay options would work out quite expensive. Frank had decided to use a piece of aluminium as a frame which would be attached to all three seat crosspieces.

Seat mount areas

Thus I needed three clamps to attach it to the frame and the nice clamps Marc had showed me were 16,50€ each. Ouch!

The first thing Frank did was to lengthen the cable for me so I could temporarily ride with the battery in my sidepods.

Soldering cable

I took the trike for a 20km ride like this and it was fine but I had problems with the cable trailing out of the sidepod onto the ground and also the weight on the sidepods meant they kept slipping to the left hand side.

Frank of course had some kind of brainwave and produced these items for me a day later:

Clamps and aluminium

A piece of aluminium for the frame and three clamps that are something to do with sewage pipes (I didn’t enquire too deeply).

Here is a close-up of one of the clamps on the frame:

Single clamp

And here are all three, roughly in position.

Clamps in place

The next thing was to drill holes in the aluminium sheet of metal to fix it to the clamps.

frame in position

It looked like it would all fit, so the next job was to paint it.

Preparing to paint the frame

Painting the aluminium

After the first layer of paint had dried Frank decided to drill the holes for the Battery clamp.

Frame with hole for bottle bolts

Then it was time for the second and third layers of paint, black to match the trike.

Second coat of paint and in position

Here is the framework in position.

Framework in place

And now with the battery clamp in place

Battery holder in place

Battery holder in place 2

Battery holder in place 3

And with the battery clipped in

Battery in place

Battery in place 2

Battery in place 3

Battery in place 4

Sorry for the mud in the pictures – I didn’t have a chance to clean the trike before my photography session. But it shows that the battery is liable to get a bit mucky in this position.

But I am currently riding without a rack on Alfie so using the sidepods which means the battery isn’t particularly visible.

Sidepods 1

Sidepods 3

Trike with sidepods

Overall this battery mount seems to work very well. I can access the battery to remove it once I take the sidepods off (for charging – I don’t bother to remove it when parking the bike somewhere as I don’t leave the bike for long) and the weight distribution is good. I have, however, had a recurrence of the shimmy when riding fast on bumpy surfaces, but not at slow speeds. I don’t know how to prevent this but overall it isn’t a massive issue as I am aware of it, but it is a slight shame. Perhaps I will think of a solution.

Fitting all the gubbins on the trike

As mentioned above, one of the biggest problems with this installation (once I’d got the old pedals off) was fitting everything on the trike.

The kit comes with the following:

Motor with built in controller and cabling (chainring and cranks are attached to this)

Display unit with On/Off and + – switch attached on very short cable

Thumb throttle

Speed sensor (for back wheel) with short cable

Brakes with motor cut-out

The problem for me with a recumbent trike was fitting the very large display to the handlebars. I didn’t feel I actually needed the display to be that visible and would have happily had it one the crosspiece of the frame or something but I did need the thumb switch with the + and – buttons to be reachable and as the cable was so short this meant that I also had to have the display to hand.

So eventually, once I bought some new bar ends that were actually round (although marginally short), I managed something. Initially I had the display on a bar-end at the top of the handlebars with the thumb throttle below it, but I discovered that I almost never use the thumb throttle but the + – buttons are very important so they are now at the top of the handlebar directly in the right place for my thumb.

With this photo you can see the display unit (currently off) with the On/Off and + – buttons to the right at the top of the handlebar. Below is another bar end with the mirror on and also with the thumb throttle next to the mirror.

Cockpit 1

You can see the cable from the Display unit disappears down the end of the handlebar (I have a plug sitting on the top which I need to cut away a bit so it fits better).

Display unit cabling

This is nice as it gets some of the cabling out of the way of my hands – there is nothing to foul them when holding the handlebars. Our first version of this, on the day I initially built up the motor, was much worse with two cables running down the handlebar where my hands were. But things were subsequently refined!

cockpit 2

And here is a close-up of where my left hand is – with easy reach of the + and – buttons which increase the power assistance from 0 (off) to 9 (the maximum).

cockpit 3

And this is what it looks like from the other side – spattered with mud, but it is December!

Cockpit from rear

This is a close-up of the brakes in place.

Brakes

As you can see, I not only have the usual brake cable but also an electronic cable. This is vital, as I will explain below.

The Bafang 8Fun is supplied with the cabling nicely colour-coded and it was easy to use. However, all those cables have got to go somewhere… and there are a lot of them!

The main cabling loom comes from the motor to an area where it splits into four (two brakes, speed sensor, display and on/off switch). On my trike this has to be slightly to the left hand side as the cable to the display is a little bit shorter than ideal for a recumbent trike.

Wiring loom

Wiring loom separates

And of course all these wires need to be attached to the frame. I have done it initially with reusable cable ties quite loosely and will sort everything out a bit neater when I have used the trike a bit more and decide what is best.

Cable ties 1

Cable ties 3

This is the main connector from the motor to the battery but I undo a different section when I take the battery out.

Cable ties 2

So this is the installation complete for the time being and pretty much how it will be long-term. Only time will tell if the battery is firmly enough secured in its current place and if there are any other issues.

How does it ride?

Helen on trike

As I am writing this I have covered 300km in the trike with the electric motor. That is 25km with the battery on the bottle mounts, 35km with the battery in the sidepod and 240km with the battery on the seat.

As with most e-assist options, there are different levels of help that you can choose.

Setting up the motor software

The Bafang 8Fun comes with a display unit which shows speed, level of assistance, time of day, distance covered (total and trip), remaining battery capacity and also has a backlight. There were no instructions with the parcel I received of the motor and gubbins but the internet has the answer to everything and I found a manual on how to program the display unit here.

At the beginning you choose miles or kilometres, set the clock but you also have to set the wheelsize (it offers from 8 to 32 inches). I set this to 20 (my rear wheel is 20 inches) but after a short time of use I noticed that it was overreading my speed compared to the Garmin so I set it to 19 and it is much nearer the real speed. This has a bearing on its use because I have set it to stop offering assistance at 25km/h. This is the law in Germany (in Europe generally, I believe). The unit allows you to set the maximum at which it offers assistance as much as 40km/h.

One thing I have discovered, whilst using the motor, is that although it does indeed cut out at 25km/h, the thumb throttle has no such limit and if you use it without pedalling but using the gears correctly on the flat it will power me to 40km/h. The law says that e-assist such as this (that is not classed as a pedelec, i.e. needs special testing and you must wear a helmet etc) must only work when you are pedalling. So I shouldn’t use the thumb throttle on public roads/cycle paths (and I don’t). It is OK to use it when off-road though.

The unit offers also 3 gradations of assistance. There are three options:

1-3
1-5
1-9

Initially I tried 1-3 (there are only three different stages) but decided I wanted a bit more choice. So then I set it to 1-5. That worked fine on my own but when riding with Klaus I found I couldn’t quite match my speed to him; I was either a bit too slow on level 2 (say), or a bit too fast on level 3. So subsequently I changed it to the 9 options and that works really well. If you are cruising at 18km/h on 4, if you switch up to 5 you get about another 1 km/h. So on level assist 9 it is happy riding at 25km/h (at which point the assistance stops). With nine different levels I can easily just press the + button to give a little more help if I go up a slight incline and if I am running ahead a bit I can press [-] and slow down.

Changing gear

I knew when I bought this that gear changing might be a slight issue. This is because with the Alfine (as with a Rohloff gearbox) you have to briefly come off the power when changing gear. No problem when you are pedalling – you just ease off the power for a millisecond – but with an electric motor that doesn’t know what you are doing you might get a lot of graunchy gear changes.

I assumed that I would have to either stop pedalling (the motor takes about half a second to detect the cadence has stopped and to stop itself) or dab the brake pedal. A bit of experimentation, when riding with Klaus, showed the first option was hopeless as he nearly ran into me a couple of times. Stopping pedalling just takes too long and you lose too much speed.

However, the brake option is instant and doesn’t slow you down when it is just a tiny pull for a fraction of a second. At that point you change gear, and the motor kicks back in again a second later (it takes about a second to respond to the pedals turning). I am doing this with the left hand brake whilst the right hand is involved in gear changing and I have got pretty slick at it. I only mistime it very occasionally (which produces a jammed gear at the back or a nasty noise).

I discovered an error code when setting off one day – but had already read about this previously as it’s a common problem if the speed sensor stops working. Indeed the little magnet on the spoke of the rear wheel had twisted round. I put it back into position and everything was fine.

What’s it like to ride with the motor?

My first experience of the motor is that it is very quiet. It makes sometimes a weird rattling noise at a particular speed but changing speed or changing the assistance level fixes that. Otherwise it’s pretty quiet.

It gives you the feeling of riding with a tailwind when in the lower assistance levels. In the higher levels, when pulling away at traffic lights you can really feel it pulling you along.

My riding with Klaus has also shown some differences. We ride at a similar speed, as previously mentioned, but he said he has had to get used to me being a different speed. Previously he said he always knew where I would be and adjusted his riding to that but now I am unexpectedly faster. It will take a little time to get used to it. I did also initially find my steering seemed a bit less precise but I think this was because of the battery on the boom and that affected steering as that has settled down, but for my first ride with Klaus we had a couple of odd corners where I felt I got a bit close to his trike.

Klaus and I often compare our average heart rates when riding together. Usually mine is about 5bpm more than his but now that has changed – I seem to be ten or so less. I have also found that I definitely seem to sweat less as I don’t have to work as hard on hills.

The big issue with ebikes is battery life and range anxiety. I haven’t run any proper tests of course but I did ride 125km over two days using assistance level 5 mostly but with a fair bit of 9 and it was only at the end that the battery was too low, so that is a good sign. Further experience will show how well that goes, but at least the bike is still usable when the battery is flat although hills would be more challenging with just the large chainring at the front.

And what about Klaus’s electric motor that he has been talking about for so long? Well, he has put it on the back burner so it’s just me who’s electrified at the moment but this was definitely the best way round to do it – if he had gone electro before me I would have had no chance to keep up.

All in all I would say that this is a very good option for an ICE trike. The motor and battery cost £460 plus 150€ customs and tax. I also spent a bit on various tools needed to remove the old pedals and tighten up the lockring, but overall it was a very cost-effective way of giving my trike a new lease of life and allowing me to be a bit more lazy!

Thanks again to Neil at ICE for his advice, as well as Kim and others at YACF including Tigerrr who has electrified a few bikes, and of course Marc and his blog and his helpful advice. And to Klaus and Frank for helping me fit the motor and for not calling me lazy!

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Six Wheels In Germany – Month 12

March 2015

Cycling Statistics This Month

Here is the summary of rides I did this month – as you can see, not very many, only 224km!

Screen shot 2015-03-31 at 22.01.11

And this is where I rode – not very far afield at all!

Screen shot 2015-03-31 at 22.02.08

As mentioned in last month’s blog post I was hit rather badly with the flu in February/March which seriously curtailed my cycling and meant I dropped behind my year target (10,000km again), having been on track for January and the first half of February. But the summer is coming and that will make it much easier to crank out more miles!

Once I started feeling better in mid-March it was time to get riding again, slowly as a three week layoff means you lose some fitness (although I also lost 5kg in weight with the flu which was a bonus!)

I started with a very gentle ride with Klaus, Claudia and Lara. Claudia seems to be enjoying using my old Trice Q. Here are all three recumbents ready for the off.

Trikes ready to ride

I attended the monthly Fahrrad Stammtisch again (my first longer cycle ride since the flu, riding there with Klaus). There had been a bike exhibition in Essen recently and two people had visited the ADFC stand and found out about the Stammtisch so we had some more faces.

Clockwise from top left: Jochen, new chap, Uli, Hartmut, me, Klaus, new lady

Clockwise from top left: Jochen, new chap, Uli, Hartmut, me, Klaus, new lady

I have enjoyed riding Penelope with her cool new lighting – which gets an awful lot of attention. I also seem to ride faster with the LED striplights on!

Anyway, when I arrived at the VHS the other day I noticed a slight issue…

One-eyed Penelope

This means that Penelope was now technically legal in Germany (you’re only supposed to have one light) but clearly something was amiss. I sent the photo to Klaus and he suggested I pop round on the way back from the VHS and he’d have a look (he lives just 2km away on my route home). So I appeared at his door at nine at night and he quickly identified the problem – in the tangle of wiring beyond my feet a plug had come undone. He sorted it within a minute and commented “we’ll need to change this for a better connector”. I had had a bumpy ride to Viersen along a rutted cycle path so perhaps that’s why.

Anyway, the next day I rode to the Süchteln choir and when I arrived…

One-eyed Penelope 2

But this time, as I knew what the problem was, I was able to fix it – although I wouldn’t have minded arms about a foot longer to assist with scrabbling around in Penelope’s nose.

Two-eyed Penelope

My goals for my year in Germany

If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning of the ‘Six Wheels In Germany’ time you may remember I set myself some goals for this year in Germany (which has now extended, of course). But did I achieve them?

Here is the list:

(a) Increase my skill in German from B2 to C1 (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)
(b) Cycle to all the churches in Kreis Viersen
(c) Join a choir
(d) Get involved in some kind of cycling group in the area

With regard to item 1, the VHS did offer for me to go up to the C1 course after my first semester of B2.2 but the course was on a Wednesday evening (when I have my Süchteln choir) so I decided to stay on in B2.2 as I am still learning plenty at that level. So I think (a) has been achieved.
(b) Is still a work in progress but I have only about fifteen churches to go now.
(c) I have joined two.
(d) I joined the ADFC and ride with them, plus the Fahrrad Stammtisch and also lots of rides with Klaus. So I guess I have achieved that too. Hurrah!

And after a year in Germany, what is my general impression about the Germans – are the stereotypes correct?

Well, as you’d expect, the answer is ‘yes and no’. Some stereotypes are correct, such as the significant bureaucracy in Germany compared to the UK (you have to get your chimney swept every year, for example. This is recommended in the UK but not mandatory). I have also found that German people are generally punctual (which is good as I am too), and they eat a lot of pork and pork products.

What has been quite different than I expected is the friendliness of Germans – even those I haven’t known long. The fact I speak some German clearly helps but I have been overwhelmed by how friendly and hospitable people have been. When ill with the flu I realised I had at least eight different people whom I could have phoned to asked to do things for me such as do some shopping, although this was not necessary as my landlady sorted me out, but it was very encouraging to know I had made such good friendships in a relatively short time.

Having read a lot on Toytown (English-speaking expats forum) I had heard a lot about petty nitpicking from neighbours, strict adherence to pointless rules etc, but I have seen none of that here. Everyone seems laid back, helpful, understanding and not too fussed by the rules (such as not mowing lawns on a Sunday, etc, not that I have to do any lawn mowing).

All in all this has been a fantastic experience of living in another country and culture, improving my skills in another language and getting to know a diverse group of people among whom I count some really close friends now. In fact, as I said to my mother the other day (and I had a bit of an epiphany moment whilst saying it), it’s probably been the best year of my life so far.

People I’ve seen/Things I’ve done

Rose Biketown

I’m leading a cycle tour to SPEZI Radmesse over the last two weeks of April. It will be a group of five trikes (me, Klaus, Simon and Joyce from the UK and also Nigel, a very experienced long-distance triker). That will be four ICE Trikes and one Steintrikes.

Anyway, Klaus doesn’t have any proper cycling waterproofs (being German he used to just leave his trike in the garage over winter; I have now trained him better) so he thought for a two week tour he really ought to get some.

We live an hour from Rose Biketown, a huge German cycling shop with masses of stuff (although the clothing seems rather expensive). Anyway, Klaus decided he would go along and see what he could find and I asked to tag along.

This was on one of the days when I was still recovering from the flu so I was rather weak but I managed to help Klaus choose a set of very smart waterproofs (jacket and trousers), some overshoes and some socks, with occasional sit-downs in the shoes department to recover. Me, I managed to buy some socks and a waterproof bag for my tools – 15€ spent by me, Klaus spent rather more!

Here’s a view of Rose’s clothing section.

Rose Biketown

Interestingly, if you want waterproof jackets your colour choice now seems to be black, red, green or high-vis. Klaus went for black as the jacket he liked the best only came in that colour.

A Concert in Wiesbaden

I’m a big fan of Andreas Scholl the German countertenor and have been for seven or eight years. Usually I go to four or five concerts per year, a couple in the UK and the rest in Germany (combining the concert with a short holiday). Anyway, having been in Germany for a year I hadn’t been to any concerts but discovered he was singing in the St John Passion by Bach in Wiesbaden this month. Wiesbaden is about two and a half hours’ drive away so I thought it worth the trip.

I bought two tickets (I was sure I could find someone to go with me). The Alto voice only actually sings two Arias in the St John Passion, one of which I don’t really like, but I knew I enjoyed the whole Passion with the Chorales etc so it was worth the trip for me, even if there is only a very small contribution by Andreas Scholl.

I was all set to drive there but a couple of weeks before, when Claudia found out I had a spare ticket, she suggested Klaus might like to come along (and drive me there). She would have really loved to come as well but was entertaining her brother as it was his birthday and they wanted some brother/sister time together. Klaus, being rather a third wheel, was offered as a taxi service, which I gladly took up (I am not very used to long distance driving now).

So we duly set off southwards with the traditional boring Autobahn view for most of the way…

On the way to Wiesbaden

However the journey was a bit quicker than I was expecting as Klaus is not afraid to put the pedal to the metal.

Slow German drivers

We arrived with plenty of time to have a cuppa (I eschewed the lovely-looking cheesecakes due to Lent) and a quick evening meal before going into the concert.

Our tickets were in the ‘Orgelempore’ which turned out to be a balcony with an excellent view.

Schiersteiner Kantorei

The acoustics were not so great up here at times and the wooden seats a nightmare for the back and backside but the concert was absolutely wonderful. I have heard the Schiersteiner Kantorei before but this time they were even better. All the soloists sang well but I was particularly impressed by the Evangelist, Andreas Weller.

All in all it was an excellent evening although with the uncomfy chairs I was looking forward to the interval… which didn’t come! They played the full two hours straight though.

We had a quick cup of tea before returning back to Viersen – also a chance to use the loo in the café.

It was the first time Klaus had heard Andreas Scholl sing live and was not the best acoustics for it but he said that he was ‘begeistert’ by the whole thing. It is always great to go to a live concert and we were also very amused to see a chap playing a Bassono grosso, a giant bassoon/Fagott that looks like this:


(This photo is actually taken from the Schiersteiner Kantorei website but I’m not sure if it’s the same chap playing it).

And here’s a report from the local Wiesbaden newspaper: http://www.wiesbadener-kurier.de/lokales/kultur/lokale-kultur/schiersteiner-kantorei-solisten-und-barockorchester-la-corona-glaenzen-mit-bachs-johannes-passion-in-der-marktkirche_15106097.htm

Visit to England

Every three months I visit England to see my husband, family, friends and to also have a day in the office in Eastbourne for our Sales Meeting.

I have got into a routine for this now – I get a list of English things my German friends want (cider, various moisturisers, teabags, Horlicks Light, Kettle Chips etc) before I leave and when I am in Eastbourne for work I go to the Morrisons Supermarket next door to the office and get everything.

I also make my once-per-quarter visit to the Griesson de Beukelaer chocolate factory (any more frequent is dangerous for my waistline) and get supplies to share with friends at church, work and others. I did well this time!

Chocolate supplies

As usual I had booked the overnight ferry so spent the day with friends and headed off from the Niederrhein to Hoek van Holland at 17:30. My car decided to give me some disco party lights (low oil warning light, then low brake pad warning light) but I pressed on, wanting to get to the ferry.

The Dutch are still redoing the roads around HvH so we had the diversion that takes the lorry route but I know where to go and it was fine. I arrived with an hour and a quarter before I planned to board the ferry (I like to leave it late so that Poppy has a chance for a final loo stop as late as possible) so I went to the Torpedoloos (Torpedo Lounge) again for a cuppa. And then decided on a waffle as I was a bit peckish!

After a relaxing hour Poppy and I boarded. Here she is in the car boot.

And here is my cabin – small but comfortable for the night’s crossing.

I arrived back at my house in the UK at 7am. Poppy was delighted to see James of course. I had to go through all my post (three months’ worth) and this included my new YACF jersey that I bought second hand… which will undoubtedly be appearing in photos in this blog on the SPEZI tour which starts in 25 days.

Just two hours after my return it was time to head off to church. We drove to Colchester and parked just down the road from the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory.

We arrived very early as I needed to attend the choir practice. This is the interior of our church – it’s just 25 years old, built over some shops in Lion Walk Shopping Precinct.

Although I am quite clearly in England in Colchester there are a few reminders of Germany – such as this Bockwurst stand in the precinct.

When we got back from church (where I had distributed lots of Griesson de Beukelaer chocolates) we discovered Poppy had found the sunniest spot in the house.

I take lots of photos of the beautiful skies around Niederrhein each month but Great Bromley also has some impressive sunsets – I was treated to this one on my first day back.

On Sunday evening we had some friends round for a Chinese take-away. I have not yet found a decent Chinese restaurant in Germany (and have really given up looking) so it was a definite must for this short visit back to England!

And of course, to finish we also had a cuppa. And just to prove that I am a proper Brit at times, I made it in a teapot.

It was good for Poppy to have a chance to revisit some of her favourite walks. I took her for a walk along the Stour River in Manningtree on what turned out to be a rather nice morning.

We then walked into Manningtree to visit the card shop for some birthday cards for friends. I’ve included this clock in this blog before – can you spot the mistake?

I liked this advertising board outside a pub in Manningtree.

As usual I had to visit Eastbourne for work as part of my UK trip so on Monday afternoon I headed off on the two and a half hour drive to the south coast and, with the reps and the boss and his wife, went out for another evening Curry at the Ganges Restaurant in Sovereign Harbour (where we used to keep our boats).

And of course the following morning it was a Full English Breakfast at the Camelot Lodge Hotel again!

The Sales Meeting at work went well and then it was time to head back to Colchester, stopping off in Tonbridge on the way back to see my in-laws and also my friend Charlotte whose birthday had been the day before. We went to Pizza Express which was nice but very pricey compared to German prices for Italian meals.

It is interesting how quickly Poppy settles down when back in England and gets into her routines – here she is resting her weary head after a day of sleeping on the bed.

I went for lunch with my parents, sister and niece at the Wheelhouse in Woolverstone Marina, Suffolk, overlooking the river Orwell. You can see the impressive Orwell Bridge in the background.

There was a very good selection of food for lunch, which included as starters calamari…

Goat’s cheese with chutney

And main courses chicken with a mushroom sauce

And Anna’s very healthy lentil and squash meal

Desserts included Sticky Toffee Pudding with custard

And a three-chocolate option

Here we all are after our meal. This photo was taken by my niece Gwenllian and is my sister Anna with me and our parents

And here are Anna and Gwenllian

It was great to see everyone and as a bonus my Mum and Dad have given me their old Dyson hoover (which they no longer use) as I can’t get on with the vacuum I have in my Wohnung.

My last day in England was a day for routine appointments – yes, I had the excitement (and expense) of a trip to the dentist, the optician and the vets (for Poppy’s rabies booster). Which involved visits to Brightlingsea, Manningtree and Colchester too!

Poppy of course realised that I was packing that morning when I put a few things in my bag and started to get a bit perturbed.

Poppy halfway down the stair

I went off to the dentist in the morning and parted with £75 for the pleasure. In the afternoon James came along to walk Poppy at Manningtree whilst I had my short (and only £26) visit to the optician.

Manningtree

Manningtree 2

When I got back from Manningtree I had an hour for a cuppa before it was time to go to my third appointment of the day – this time to the vet.

This was to update Poppy’s rabies booster. The reason being that several weeks ago I had noticed on her passport the original rabies stamp had “Authorised Veterinarian” as the title for the column

Rabies vaccination

Whereas for the worming treatment it just says ‘Veterinarian’.
Bandwurmbehandlung

I suddenly wondered if that meant that a normal vet can’t do the Rabies booster. So I emailed the government website to asked them and hadn’t had a response for several weeks until two days before I was due to return home and I got this message:

Yes a vet in Germany can administer the rabies booster provided that they are approved by the authorities in Germany. In GB we class them as Official vets in other EU countries they are referred to Authorised vets. You do not have to return to GB to have this booster.

Any vet who is licensed in the country of treatment can administer and record the tapeworm treatment in the pet passport.

A bit of googling showed this did not help much as I didn’t know what an ‘Authorised Vet’ would be in German and I couldn’t get anywhere with searching. So I quickly rang up my UK vet and fortunately they were able to book Poppy in for her booster, so she had it three months early but at least it was done by an ‘Authorised Veterinarian’.

After that it was time to cook dinner for my husband (toad in the hole, as we were in England) and then I packed up the car ready to head off for the ferry at 9pm.

Car packed

When I booked this crossing months ago I hadn’t realised it would be the first evening of the Easter Holidays and consequently there were long queues for the ferry check-in

Queue at Harwich

And the ferry itself was full. I just went to bed as usual.

The next morning I woke up early so went to the lounge area (wifi wasn’t working in the cabins as they are redoing it) and decided to have some breakfast. I purchased what has got to have been the driest roll in the Netherlands…

Breakfast on the ferry

Then it was the two-and-a-quarter hour drive home and I arrived back in Kempen at 11am. Poppy gave everyone in my house a rapturous welcome and I was delighted to confirm that indeed the central heating and hot water were now working, hurrah!

Poppy immediately returned to her usual German lifestyle of having a snooze during the day to recover from a tiring night’s sleeping…

Poppy asleep on chair

If a pillow is unavailable use a toy donkey.

Poppy with donkey pillow

The German Healthcare System

As mentioned, I’ve had the flu.

Normally I wouldn’t go to the doctor’s for flu but interestingly the German websites about flu all said “go to your doctor as soon as possible” (whereas the NHS sites say “stay at home”). So I did the NHS option but after two weeks when I was still very weak several (German) friends recommended I visited the doctor. So in the end I caved in.

Thus I was introduced to the German healthcare system.

As a Brit I am used to the NHS “free at the point of need”. What this means (for those not familiar with it) is that you don’t pay any money to see the doctor, have no insurance or anything. You just register with a GP (Hausarzt) and go and see them if you have a problem. They may refer you on to a hospital if you have something more serious but your first contact is always with the GP (unless it’s an emergency and you go straight to the local hospital Accident & Emergency department). You don’t pay any money for ambulances, hospital treatment, doctor’s visits. You may pay a charge for a prescription (medicine) but this is capped at £9 per item and most people don’t have to pay (if you have particular long-term health conditions you don’t pay, if you’re over a certain age or out of work, etc etc).

This is a fantastic safety net as you just don’t have to worry about healthcare costs. The money for the NHS comes from general taxation.

There have been lots of media stories about long waiting lists and things like that, which can be true in some cases (if you have a non-urgent situation such as a need for a knee replacement, for example) but my experiences of the NHS have been almost universally positive, as have those of my husband and parents. We love the NHS.

It is possible in the UK to have private health insurance as well but this is not something that most people seem to go for.

Anyway, the German system is somewhat different. By law you MUST have health insurance, either private or public. I would have qualified for the public insurance (as I have come from the EU and have ‘paid in’ to the NHS for years) but unfortunately the way they work out my contribution, as a freelancer, made it rather pricey – 350€ per month. That’s a lot.

However it is also possible to get an Expat International Travel Insurance policy which fulfils the German insurance rules requirements, and this is what I did (at £111 per month). It’s an AXA-PPP policy and is based in Tunbridge Wells in the UK (near where I used to live, in fact). I had been paying my £111 per month since I arrived in Germany.

So now it was time to see if this policy would work – although I have a £300 excess per year so it seemed unlikely that I would actually end up claiming.

So anyway I was ill. St Hubert has three doctors, which should I visit?

I asked the Roddays and my friend Anja and had mixed advice. Lara said not to go to the lady doctor as she always gives out the same tablets that don’t work; Anja thought she would suit me well. I looked at her website and she was clearly into homeopathy (the pointless pills) so I discounted her immediately.

The next two options, two male GPs, were in the same road so I decided to go to whichever one of those I could find. Lara came with me the first time to help out with translations if necessary.

I arrived first at Bernhard Heithoff’s practice which looked new and clean. I went in and handed over my insurance card and they had a look at it and told me to go and sit in the waiting room. There were another nine people already there – in Germany you don’t have appointments, it’s just turn up and pot luck when you get seen (although you are seen in order). As there was a huge flu plague sweeping Germany I wasn’t surprised the waiting room was full of people. And, typical for Germany, everyone says “Guten Morgen” and then when you leave they say “Auf Wiedersehen” or “Tschüß”, none of this unfriendly ignoring British behaviour.

After an hour and a half I was seen. The doctor was very nice and spoke absolutely brilliant English, which was great. I explained about having the flu and said that I felt my heart rate was rather high. He tested my blood pressure (very low – not a surprise as I had fainted in the shower a few days before and woken up lying on the floor very inelegantly) and my pulse rate was 150 which was very high as I was sitting down. So he said they would do an ECG (EKG) on me straight away – and lo and behold I was taken into the next room and the lady I thought was a receptionist (although she turned out to actually be a nurse, but in normal clothes) did the ECG. She took my blood pressure and said it was high but the ECG was borderline a bit high at 130, so better than five minutes before.

I saw the doctor again and he suggested I came back the next day for blood tests and for another ECG.

So the next day I went back (on my own) and had blood drawn. I declined the ECG as I’d been wearing my cycling heart rate monitor the previous afternoon and my readings were generally OK. I suffer from White Coat Syndrome (getting very nervous at the doctors) so readings taken there aren’t really very accurate. Also I had been informed by a German friend that EKGs cost about 80 Euros a pop – and I would be paying for this!!

They took the blood, did not seem to mind about the ECG and told me to come back the next day.

So the next day I arrived again, this time at 11am (when they said the results would be back) and saw the doctor after a wait of just half an hour. He looked a bit serious as he said a couple of values in my blood test, relating to liver function, were clearly very off. One reading (I didn’t get what it was) should be a maximum of 47 and mine was 1,620. He said he would do an ultrasound of my liver and lo and behold had a little room with an ultrasound machine and did it instantly. This was very reassuring as he said there was nothing obviously wrong with my liver, no gall stones or anything or liver tumour, but my spleen was a bit enlarged (not too surprising).

He suggested doing some more involved blood tests the following week to find out if I had some kind of hepatitis, and not to drink alcohol in the meantime (I am a lifelong teetotaller so that was not a hardship).

This was a Wednesday and the following Monday I went in to have the extra blood tests. In the meantime some of my symptoms for liver problems (related to what you might see in the toilet bowl!) had clearly improved a great deal and it looked like my liver was working pretty well again, plus I now felt much, much better. But the blood was taken and I then had the frustration of waiting for the results which took way, way longer than I expected (nearly two weeks – I thought they would be there the next day). In the end the receptionist rang up the laboratory and asked for them to send whatever results they had as I was going on holiday so they faxed through most of the results (which were all OK, according to the doctor).

In the meantime I had no idea how much this was all costing but had contacted my insurance company who sent me a form for the doctor to fill in and also gave me a ‘claim number’ so this illness was officially registered on their system. So far so good. Because I have only had the policy 11 months they had to ensure this was not a pre-existing condition (pre-existing conditions aren’t covered until you’ve had the policy for two years) but it isn’t so that was OK.

The bill for the first (simple) blood test came and it was 55€ so I paid that before my trip to England. On my return from England I had the bill for the Hepatitis blood tests – get a load of this!!

Impressive blood test bill

I’ll have two more at 55€ to come, as well as the bill from the doctor, so the total is looking around 800€. It’s interesting to see how much healthcare costs – God Bless the NHS!

Cakes this month

Somewhat bizarrely, the flu made me go off cakes. And once I was better I realised I’d had three weeks of the six week period of lent (Fastzeit) without cake so perhaps I could try to go for the full Lenten experience. Well, technically I did have cakes (two of ’em at the Tortenschlemmen) on Ash Wednesday but I decided to let that one slide.

So anyway, March was a cake-free month for me. Wow.

However, my friends still had cakes – and one was rather interesting. It was called a ‘Herman Cake‘ and was made with some kind of special sourdough which you pass along to two other friends in a kind of chain letter thing. It takes a week to make and seemed unnecessarily complicated. Claudia made one and offered me part of the mixture but we realised I would be in England for some of the time things needed to be done so that wouldn’t work, but Gudula had a go. Here it is partway through the procedure…

Herman cake

Anyway, this was the resulting cake that Claudia made – I didn’t try it (Lent) but it looked rather dry to me!

Herman cake

And here is Gudula’s finished cake…

At work in England we had lunch all together and a colleague had made a chocolate fudge cake but, due to Lent, I didn’t have a piece. A miracle!!

As Sunday is Easter Day and normal cake-eating service will be resumed you can expect to see some more photos of the great German cakes in my next ‘Six Wheels In Germany’ post, but I’ll be writing daily blog posts during my SPEZI tour (from 20 April till 1 May) so there should be more to read in my blog before then.

I’m writing this at ten in the evening on the 31st March – exactly a year ago I was boarding the ferry heading off for the start of this adventure. Long may it continue!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 11

My original plan was to spend a year in Germany – what I good thing I decided to extend that a long time ago as a year would have been nowhere near long enough!

February has been a bit of an odd month as will be explained below. But the first hint can be gathered by my cycling statistics for this month.

Cycling Statistics for February 2015

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 14.44.50

As you can see, I didn’t ride very far at all this month – and my last ride was on the 19th of February. And here’s where I went.

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 14.45.10

The reason I did so few miles is that I came down with the flu rather badly and it completely wiped me out for two weeks (and it’s now the third week and I’m still recovering and not back to full bike riding). It also did something odd to my liver so I’ve been seeing the doctor about that although things look like they are improving (more about the German healthcare system in the report for next month).

Doubly-unfortunately the flu came in the two weeks I had set aside (with few engagements) to get a good lot of work done. Needless to say I spent the time instead in bed reading, listening to podcasts and getting very bored. I was slightly saved by the chance to listen to the ‘Germany: Memories Of A Nation’ podcasts from Neil McGregor of the British Museum. These were on Radio 4 in the UK some months ago and several people had recommended that I listen so I downloaded the podcasts and waited for the right time (which came this month). I had also requested the book for Christmas so was able to read extracts of that as well (and see the pictures that he is describing as well).

I did manage some good rides earlier in the month though, including some more church-bagging (I’ve got very behind with writing those visits up, I’ve done about another twenty now). It seems that my regular cycling companion Klaus doesn’t find visiting churches quite as interesting as I do.

Lazy Klaus

We also had a trike maintenance day. I needed to replace the brake cables on Alfie (spot the smart new red ones!) and also checked my brake pads, which ended up with a rather unexpected complete disassembly of a BB7 brake. It took Klaus and I about an hour and a half to put it back together again so we won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

Bike maintenance day

We had to do a fair bit of brake adjustment on both trikes after a lot of winter riding. Disc brakes do seem to need a lot more attention than the drums that I have on the Trice Q but I do like how positive the discs are.

Klaus added some inner tube to the rack on his trike to make his smart new Vaude panniers fit a bit better. I also changed the tyres on the Trice Q that Claudia is borrowing to some old Marathons (they had Marathon Plus on) but had trouble getting the tyres to sit properly, which involved another attempt a couple of weeks later. Perhaps when the tyres get old they become cantankerous.

I also ordered online a few more bike tools as I was getting fed up with having to swap my one bike toolkit between the two bikes – and the risk is that I would forget the kit (which I have done twice before). A puncture then would be a disaster!

The pump that I use (for one-handed people) is rather expensive at 40 Euros so I decided instead to try a CO2 pump. That was pretty good value (assuming it works) although the cartridges are 2,50€ if you buy them individually (bulk is way cheaper but I don’t know how often I will use them).

New bike toolkit

New bike toolkit 2

The plan is to have the real pump in Penelope and the CO2 pump in Alfie (because if it doesn’t work for some reason I have many more options for rescue with a bike that fits easily in a car). I am also often riding in company with Alfie and that company is likely to have a pump too. But it’s nice to not have to remember to get the toolkit out of the other bike each time I swap – and it was a good chance also to rationalise the things I am carrying around with me. The toolkits seem to rather grow in content!

Karneval

Karneval is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the winter – there’s always another event to visit if you have the fortitude. There are also various unusual sights available… such as this man walking in a pink bunny onesie in Escheln at midday on a Wednesday.

Man in bunny suit

As I had clearly developed a reputation as a hardy Karneval-goer I was invited to a double-event by Claudia at which Lara was performing. Two “Auftritt” (performances) with a bit of a gap in the middle (I was offered the inducement of cake). So of course I thought it would be nice to go. This was all in the run up to the last Karneval weekend (the whole thing finishes the day before Ash Wednesday).

Claudia said something about the first event being in Deutsche Bank in Viersen. I assumed she meant outside but once again my powers of imagination were lacking as it was indeed inside the bank. I went and got some money out surrounded by people in uniforms with swords.

Karneval DB 1

When Lara processed in for the start of her dance we followed her into the main banking are and it was full of people dressed as cowboys and indians with copious amounts of beer flowing. There were a surprising number of drunk people in a bank at 2 in the afternoon.

Karneval DB 2

Karneval DB 3

Lara’s dance was rudely curtailed by dust on the CD which meant it kept skipping but the cowboys and indians didn’t really seem to notice. She was rather disappointed though.

Karneval DB 4

Lara went off with the other dancers after this and Claudia and I went for our cake. I had something called a ‘Windbeuteltorte’ although it didn’t taste very Windbeutely.

windbeuteltorte

We ended up with about an hour and a half before the next event, which was Lara’s other performance (singing a duet dressed as a gipsy). This would be outside the Rathaus (town hall) so a walk of about 20 metres from the café. A real hardship.

There were lots of different performances (several of which I have now already seen) but this time in the open air with the Mayor of Viersen on the balcony being included in the event. There were lots of football jokes which rather passed me by.

Unfortunately the MC completely forgot about Lara’s Gipsy dance and so announced the ‘final item’ (which was a group of chaps dressed in French military uniforms from the 18th century doing some dances). Lara and her co-dancer went over to the MC and so they had their moment of glory at the very end – except they weren’t given microphones.

Gipsy dance 2

Fortunately the crowd realised and started shouting “they’re singing!” so the music was stopped and the MC (who only had the one microphone) turned himself into a microphone stand and they did their routine, this time singing audibly.

Gipsy dance

I was very impressed at how they coped with the several hiccups during today’s performances. Well done!

However the final Karneval event that I attended was perhaps, for my hosts, a slight disappointment in that their regular attempts to discombobulate the Brit failed. As we have this kind of thing in the UK (processions through the streets with people on various different floats). So this felt more ‘normal’ than all the rest of it, although the throwing of food to spectators isn’t something you get in the UK. This was a Karneval Umzug and all the roads were closed for several hours.

Claudia had decided where we would be and we met up with some more of their friends as we walked to our spot. I had hoped to be able to take the trike (to have somewhere to sit – the event was apparently going to be three hours long) but was told there would not be room. In the end there would have been room, but we were only there for an hour and a half anyway so my back survived standing up that long!

The Umzug is lots of floats from various Karneval organisations around (including one Dutch one), mostly pulled by tractors. In fact the variety of tractors was really rather interesting to see!

Here is a small selection of the floats.

Float 1

Float 2

Float 3

Spot the weird local dialect on this float!

Float 4

Float 5

These marionettes were very cool if slightly perturbing.

Float 6

And here was the float of the Roahser Jonges Prinzenpaar – the group that Lara was involved with. She was on the wagon throwing out goodies (but the other side from where I was standing).

Float 7

Float 8

The final float was the Viersen Prince and Princess, preceded by their Guard on horseback.

Float 9

At this point all the spectators disappeared off. We had an hour to wait for Lara (as she had another thing afterwards) and so headed to Claudia’s favourite café for cake, only to discover that it was closed. Disaster!!!!

We decided in the end to go back to their house and that Claudia would come back to collect Lara later.

On our walk along the route the ever-efficient Germans were already out cleaning the streets from all the mess following the procession.

Street sweeping 1

Street sweeping 2

Friends and events

Once again it was great to meet up with Gabi and Rolf (other velomobile riders) in Schwalmtal.

Here is Gabi’s Quest (with new race cap) and Penelope.

Penelope and Quest 1

Penelope and Quest 2

As always it was lovely to sit and chat with them both – and to hear Rolf’s plans of buying himself a Quest velomobile instead of his Mango. Exciting stuff!

Gabi had once again cycled up from Bonn (and she brought a wonderful home-made lemon cheesecake, with lemon from her own lemon trees!) and although it was a very cold day (about -1 degrees) we both enjoyed our rides in the velomobiles, staying very warm. I needed a hat and buff to keep my face warm (no racecap) but Gabi was always toasty warm.

Helen in Penelope

I was also pleased to see friend Babs again on Ash Wednesday when we went for the Tortenschlemmen (all you can eat cake) at my local cafe. Once again I only managed two cakes. But they were tasty!

Tortenschlemmen 1

Tortenschlemmen 2

And the next morning (which happened to be the day I came down with the flu) I felt a bit rough but struggled out on Penelope to meet with Hartmut and Jochen (of the ADFC) for a photo shoot about the new Knotenpunkte that have appeared in Kreis Viersen this year. A photographer from the Westdeutsche Zeitung was coming along to take a picture of us next to one of the special points (with a numbering system you can use to navigate easily).

I rode over there in Penelope feeling pretty rough, and when I got to the agreed point Hartmut was already there. Jochen soon arrived and had his first sit in Penelope.

Jochen in Penelope

After about ten minutes the photographer turned up – by bike!!! He took a picture (I stupidly forgot to put Penelope’s bling lights on) and it appeared in the paper a week later.

WZ Article 1

WZ Article 2

By this point I was really in the grip of the flu, bedridden and bored out of my mind. Poppy and I did have occasional light relief though – watching Top Gear for example.

Poppy watches Top Gear

Randomness

One Sunday morning as I headed out to my car I spotted this!

Under my car wheel 1

Under my car wheel 2

It paid for a nice selection of bread and cakes to take to my friends’ house that morning for Brunch.

Pancake day (Shrove Tuesday) arrived and I was concerned that I didn’t have any eggs. I went round to visit a neighbour (who works as a translator into English and indeed her English is incredibly good) and fortunately she has hens and gave me a half dozen eggs. So I had a few pancakes myself and also made one for Poppy.

Pancake day

Poppy pancake

Poppy and I were out for a walk and we saw what seemed to be a rather over-engineered way of pollarding some trees. I wasn’t sure why they didn’t just do it from the other side of the ditch…

Tree pollarding

It seemed to be the month for tree removal as our next door neighbour decided to remove the large tree at the front of his house. Frank and Lara helped, and it was obviously quite an involved procedure!

Next door's tree removal 1

Next door's tree removal 2

There was an awful lot of tree on the ground at the end – Frank spent a couple of days chainsawing it up and it will be running the woodburner next year I suppose!

Next door's tree removal 3

Poppy the dog loves her life here in Germany – particularly as there are lots of other people to hang out with if I am out of the house. Lara who lives upstairs has a huge beanbag that Poppy finds most comfortable.

Popster keeping an eye on things

Popster tired

However she is less impressed with my haircutting skills – when doing it on my own it’s quite tricky so I hit upon the idea of standing her on the wheelie bin. She was not impressed but it stopped her running away!

Dog haircut

My mission to spot ridiculously-long German words in the wild continues and I had some success with the German Velomobile forum. How about this for a word (made up, of course)!
FullSizeRender

It’s worth noting that in my time here in Germany I’ve found several words commonly used which I didn’t learn at school and hadn’t really seen written down either (they seem to be mainly spoken rather than used in the written language). They are:
kriegen – to get (pronounced krichen)
gucken – to look
heftig – difficult

Equally, I have been asked by several different Germans what is the English for Brötchen (rolls). They also tend not to have heard of a duvet and also have little understanding of the difference between a town and city. Germans have said to me (in English) “the city of Kempen” (and it is most certainly too small to be a city).

I’ve missed two sessions of the VHS because of my flu but am looking forward to continuing my German studies. My interactions with Klaus’s family, almost entirely in German, seem to be the most helpful thing in improving my language skills though. I hope that they, too, are learning some English from me.

I took a look at some of the info on this blog about referrals (how people arrive here) and discovered I have been mentioned in a few new places. Here’s a small selection (the black page is friend Oliver the Mango velomobile rider).

Blog reference 1

Blog reference 2

Blog reference 3

And, a final bizarre bit of randomness… Before my flu hit Claudia decided we ought to do something more interesting one Saturday evening (as Lara would be away). Perhaps visit the theatre or cinema. Unfortunately the eight local cinemas were all only showing ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ which none of us wanted to see. There was nothing on at the theatre. So I resorted to googling… and got this option:

What to do in Viersen on a Saturday night

We decided regenerative cryotherapy wasn’t really our thing either, and in the end I was stuck in bed with the flu. But it just goes to show there is always something new to experience in Germany, even in the sleepy Niederrhein!

Scenery

The wonderful Niederrhein scenery continues to take my breath away at times.

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

Sun on fields

Sunshine over St Hubert Escheln

Sunset over Escheln

Misty morning

Cakes this month

Karneval Berliner

cheesecake from Gudula

Cheesecake 2

Choc cake 1

Gabi's lemon cake

cream doughnut

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Six Wheels In Germany – Month 10

January 2015

Cycling statistics for this month

January was fairly snowy in Germany with lots of strong winds as well. Despite the weather, being on three wheels meant I was still able to ride 844.29km which was pretty good. Here is the list of my rides.

Screen shot 2015-02-01 at 10.16.11

And this is a map of all the rides combined – as you will see, the short ride at the bottom to Tagebau Garzweiler was car-assisted.

Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 11.16.15

My average speeds are pretty low for this month which is partly due to the weather (rides in snow are hard work!), with the knock-on effect of lots of clothing layers which makes it harder to ride fast for me, but also as I did some group rides with friends at a very leisurely pace.

I have continued riding regularly with Klaus – it’s such fun riding with another trike – although his route planning seems to have been letting him down a bit recently as we have been doing more than our fair share of mud and off-road (which I generally prefer to avoid). Routes such as this… spot the dot on the horizon who was trying to avoid my verbal wrath by cycling away quickly…

Muddy trike ride

My target for last year was 10,000km which I managed. This year I have chosen the same target as it makes for a nice daily amount. I’ll hope to do half-and-half velomobile and trike over the year.

But something rather exciting in the bicycling world started this month. Steven Abraham (aka Teethgrinder), a cyclist I have ridden with a few times, is attempting the Highest Annual Mileage record, currently held by Brit Tommy Godwin from 1939 (75,065 miles or 120,805km). At the same time (although starting ten days later) an American named Kurt Searvogel is also attempting this challenge, although he currently has rather more favourable weather in Florida (although worse traffic, it seems).

Anyway, you can read all about Steve’s challenge here: www.oneyeartimetrial.org.uk. Steve’s ride is being validated by the UCMA (an American distance cycling organisation). By the 1st February Steve was just a few miles short of 6,000 miles, an incredible distance in snow and wind and rain. Go Steve! Lots of people are providing donations to help Steve through the year (he has had to give up his job to do this, of course), more information on the oneyeartimetrial website if you’re interested. And if you want to ride with Steve (or follow in his wake) you can check his location here: http://audaxclubhackney.co.uk/tg.html

Bike things

Penelope repairs

I mentioned in a previous blog post that a friend who was trying Penelope had a slight accident which involved her rolling onto her left side and the paintwork being scratched. Well, another friend borrowed her just before Christmas and had a similar mishap, this time rolling her onto the other side. This meant that she was more symmetrical but really needed some remedial work. A respray was far too expensive so my husband and I came up with a plan to try a vinyl wrap – which has the advantage of being cheap as chips.

The repair was very successful and I will be writing a blog post about it all in due course (as well as explaining the new lighting that has been installed).

I also took Penelope to Ligfietsshop Tempelman in Dronten, the Netherlands, and had Penelope serviced (including her Rohloff hub). This went very well and it was excellent to chat to Gerrit Tempelman who knows all about Versatiles. I’ll include some photographs in the post I do about Penelope’s repairs when it is completed.

People and Events

James’s visit

As mentioned last month, my husband James (and his family) visited at Christmas. He returned (with my car) in mid-January for two weeks. We didn’t do as much riding as we might have done due to the snow (he had borrowed a two-wheeled bike from Klaus) but we were able to do a nice ride with Klaus and his family one day.

3 trikes two bikes

You may be able to see in this photo (sorry for the bad lighting!) that there are in fact three recumbent trikes. This is because my old Trice Q made the journey from the UK to Niederrhein with James in the car and has now been lent to Klaus’s wife Claudia. We had to adjust the boom to a lot shorter (she is not as tall as me) and shorten the chain but she is finding it very comfortable which is great. She is also discovering that normal clothing doesn’t work so well on a trike so is on the look-out for the next Aldi or Lidl cycling gear event.

Poppy also came along on this trip.

Poppy in basket

She often comes along with me to the Edeka supermarket 2km away on the trike – she runs, I cycle (very lazy of me).

Poppy on trike

As mentioned above, James and I also decided to do a cycle ride to Tagebau Garzweiler near Grevenbroich (south of Mönchengladbach). I had visited this giant hole in the ground previously (it’s an open-cast coal mine) and found it very interesting and I thought James would enjoy seeing it. Here’s my report from my visit in December 2012.

Jüchen/Garzweiler was a bit too far for us to ride, particularly as it was a very cold day, so we decided to drive to Wickrath which is just south of Mönchengladbach and ride from there.

Here’s the track that we took – you can see the giant area of nothingness that is the mine on the map.

Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 11.38.16

On the way we found ourselves riding through a strangely quiet town.

Ghost town

The town was called Borschemich and when we got home we looked it up and discovered that the people are being resettled in a new town as Borschemich will in due course be dug up as part of the mine.

The Wikipedia article on it (in German) is here and makes for very interesting reading. The population was 518 in 2007 at the start of the resettlement but in 2013 had reduced to 88. I have no idea what the figures are today but the only other person we saw was a chap with a decent camera doing some photography, although a bus went through the town whilst we were there.

Anyway, our detour via Borschemich was to give us an additional view of the mine from further away but unfortunately the day was very misty so we couldn’t see it at all! James did get a chance for a close-up look at some interesting pipework though.

Interesting pump pipework

Apparently water has to be continually pumped away to prevent changes to the water table and problems with drinking water in the surrounding villages. Also the source of the Niers river has now disappeared and so comes from water being collected elsewhere (the Niers flows fairly near where I live).

It was a chilly day for cycling but in due course we arrived at the viewpoint and had a look at the hole in the ground.

Hole in the ground 1

Hole in the ground 2

At this Viewpoint area there was also one of the digger buckets, a huge lump of metal that must have weighed tonnes. It made rather a good trike shed though!

A shed for Alfie 1

More views of the hole in the ground.

Hole in the ground 3

Hole in the ground 4

The motorway that runs along the north side of Garzweiler is being rerouted because of the extension of the mine so they were working on this, which meant that my planned route was not possible (the road was closed). We tried a few alternative diversions but always ended up in a dead end so in the end decided we had seen enough in the misty day and rode back to the car.

It was once again an interesting visit – it’s an amazing place (although I would like to see it on a non-foggy day one day!) but I would hate to live in one of the surrounding villages.

James really enjoys visiting this sort of place so Klaus suggested that one day we all ride to LaPaDu (Landschaftspark Duisburg) which is an old factory which has been turned into a park. We arranged to go on a Sunday afternoon so that we would be able to see it all lit up, but the plans kept changing because of the weather and because more people wanted to come. In the end Klaus and I decided to cycle there and a group of six others (including James) would come by car because the snow made riding a two-wheeler unwise.

Riding a three-wheeler had its moments on the way there:

Snow on the way to LaPaDu

Snowy trike rear wheel

We rode a large proportion of the way on roads (rather than the cycle paths) because of the snow but there were some sections where we had to work our way along snowy tracks and this can be VERY hard work with recumbent trikes. Needless to say we earned a cake when we arrived – especially as the others were stuck in a traffic jam and didn’t get there till half an hour after us.

Trikes at LaPaDu

LaPaDu is a really interesting place to visit – the old factory area has been turned into a multi-activity place with climbing walls, children’s slides, a sub-aqua centre, restaurant and lots of things to look at.

Klaus has previously done a lot of photography here – here is the link to his LaPaDu photos on Flickr. Well worth a look!

Because of time constraints we only had about an hour to look around (which was probably not a bad thing as it was really cold!) and then it was time for our meal. Here is James enjoying his traditional German beer.

James beer at LaPaDu

Willich Choir

Following our successful concert in November (Beethoven’s Mass in C) the choir had a bit of a break but rehearsals for the next concert (Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Elias/Elijah) started in January.

Willich choir Elias

There were loads of new women auditioning – I think at least thirty – so the ranks of altos had swelled significantly when it was time to start. Great fun though, and although I don’t know this work at all the first two practices showed that it’s going to be very enjoyable. The concert is in November so there’s a lot of work to do before then…

Kempen Fahrrad Stammtisch

In Germany there are lots of things called ‘Stammtisch’ which are meetings in a restaurant or bar to chat about something. Hartmut had organised a Stammtisch for the Kempen area of the Kreis Viersen and Krefeld ADFC which meets on the second Thursday of every month. I’d been unable to make the first two but was around for number 3 and brought Klaus along too (although we very lazily went in the car because it was raining. Very poor showing!)

I wasn’t entirely sure what a Stammtisch was about but had my suspicions which turned out to be correct – it’s just a chance to drink beer and have a chinwag and make occasional references to bicycles.

Fahrrad Stammtisch

Karneval

I wrote a fair bit last month about my trip to the Karneval Proklamation. Well, I was offered a visit to another Karneval event as a spare ticket became available so of course I said yes! I had to check that the first experience wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.

No it wasn’t, it turns out. It was just as bonkers the second time (but I was more prepared!)

Part of my additional preparation was bringing along a flask of hot water, some teabags, milk and a mug.

Karneval supplies

This is because they didn’t serve any drinks I liked last time – not even still water. It was not allowed to bring your own drinks (obviously they want you to buy drinks from them) but we explained and were let off. So I had a couple of cups of tea during the three hour event which made it much more relaxing!

I detailed last time the throwing of food and other goodies when the Prince and Princess process in. Well the same happened this time but unfortunately our table was right to one side of the hall and their throwing arms were a little weak so this was my very meagre haul.

Poor haul of goodies

However the event is not about free food but watching the various dances. Little Lara, Klaus & Claudia’s daughter, was doing two events – one was a singing duet with another young girl dressed as a gypsy.

Karneval Gipsy scene

The other was another dance again.

Karneval dance

The event was broadly similar to last time except the MC job was shared between two young men who did a reasonable job but less slick than the adult chap who did it last time.

Claudia kindly bought me a waffle to keep me going.

Waffle

I enjoyed the event again but still find it rather mind-boggling that people do this, and the considerable costs which are borne by the Prince and Princess. But once again I was glad to be invited.

Randomness

Here’s a pic of Poppy enjoying the snow on our walk to St Hubert

Snowy St Hubert

But when you have a velomobile or trike you can still ride in the snow and ice – here’s how much fun it is on Alfie!

New haircut

I spotted some excellently-long German words in the wild on this ice-cream tub:
Ice Cream Long Words

And this rather amusing mistranslation:
Sensible for pushes

I bought James a 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle for Christmas and he decided to start it here. He made reasonable progress before heading back to England so I have been continuing as a break from work.

Puzzle 1

Puzzle 2

Views I’ve enjoyed

The wonderful thing about living in Niederrhein is the constantly-changing views, particularly the wonderful sunsets. Here are just a few I have seen this month.

Scenery 1

Scenery 2

View south towards Düsseldorf from the eastern side of the Rhein
Duesseldorf in the distance 1

Duesseldorf in the distance 2

Landscape Sunset 1

Heron flying across sky

Cakes I’ve eaten

An amazing walnut cream cake from the fab bakery/cake shop in Uerdingen. Well worth a visit, even though it’s a 20km ride including faffing around the outskirts of Krefeld.
Uerdingen Walnuss Sahne cake

Claudia supplied this wonderful mixture of chocolate mousse, creme brulee and chocolate ice cream.
Mouse creme brulee and ice cream

Rosinen Schnecke 1

At the Hariksee there is a café that specialises in Windbeutel (sort-of profiteroles). I had this one which was very healthy of course as it had a banana with it.
Banana Windbeutel

Cake 6

Cake 5

Cake 4

Cake 3

Cake 2

Cake 1

Cake 14

Cake 13

Cake 12

Cake 11

Cake 10

Cake 9

cake 8

Cake 7

Cake 20

Cake 19

Cake 18

Cake 17

Cake 16

Cake 15

Choc cake thingie

A reminder that I have not eaten all of these cakes – some were eaten by my companions!

Anyway, January was a good month but I had lots of work to do so less time to write the blog. My workload continues in February but I look forward to more cycle rides, more cakes and more socialising!

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Six Wheels In Germany – Month 8

November 2014

Cycling Statistics for this month

This month I passed two reasonable milestones – the first was 9000km for the year (target is 10,000 so I was ahead) and the second was 80,000km since I took up recumbent tricyling six years ago. And, as you can see from the information below, I’m only 261km off my yearly target by the end of November. So that ought to be easily achievable!

Screen shot 2014-12-01 at 14.51.50

Here are all the rides I have done this month.

Screen shot 2014-12-01 at 14.52.13

I tend to regularly ride to Süchteln and Viersen (for Choir and VHS) so have not been travelling so far afield regularly. However I have a plan to cycle to Köln for the Christmas Market in a week or so’s time and either get the train back or cycle back, which should be fun.

People I’ve seen this month

Occasionally I spot recumbent tricyclists while I am out and about in the car or with the dog, and at the beginning of November I saw a chap on an orange Scorpion whilst Poppy and I were walking to St Hubert – so I stopped him for a chat. He realised who I was (he had seen me in Penelope before) and we had a nice chat about some of the cycling routes around here. He introduced himself as Mr Schneider.

Schneider

I was also invited by a couple at church for tea and cake with them one afternoon which was very pleasant. We had a good chat and they made me feel very welcome – with cake of course.

I’ve also been doing a fair bit of riding with Klaus’s family as well, taking Lara and Claudia out for longer rides (to bakeries or cafés, of course) as well as encouraging them to try riding in the dark. I tried to get some photos one day in my mirror – it partially worked. Here are all three of them in Alfie’s mirror.

im Spiegel 1

Sankt Martin celebrations

The month of November has been surprisingly busy in terms of festival/celebration events.

I was surprised to discover that I rather missed having Guy Fawkes’ Night with the bonfires, fireworks and sparklers. However Niederrhein presented a very similar event a week later, part of the festival of St Martin.

Here’s a bit of info from Wiki about St Martin:

November 11 is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying from the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me.”

(From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Martin%27s_Day)

In all the local towns and villages schoolchildren take part in a St Martin’s Parade where they make lanterns and walk in a big procession through the towns singing songs. Apparently Kempen’s Parade is the best-known in the region so of course I had to go along.

The Wikipedia article says this about St Martin’s Day in Germany:

A widespread custom in Germany is bonfires on St. Martin’s eve, called “Martinsfeuer.” In recent years, the processions that accompany those fires have been spread over almost a fortnight before Martinmas. At one time, the Rhine River valley would be lined with fires on the eve of Martinmas. In the Rhineland region, Martin’s day is celebrated traditionally with a get-together during which a roasted suckling pig is shared with the neighbours.

The nights before and on the night of Nov. 11, children walk in processions carrying lanterns, which they made in school, and sing Martin songs. Usually, the walk starts at a church and goes to a public square. A man on horseback dressed like St. Martin accompanies the children. When they reach the square, Martin’s bonfire is lit and Martin’s pretzels are distributed.

In some regions of Germany (e.g. Rhineland or Bergisches Land) in a separate procession the children also go from house to house with their lanterns, sing songs and get candy in return.

The origin of the procession of lanterns is unclear. To some, it is a substitute for the St. Martin bonfire, which is still lit in a few cities and villages throughout Europe. It formerly symbolized the light that holiness brings to the darkness, just as St. Martin brought hope to the poor through his good deeds. Even though the tradition of the large, crackling fire is gradually being lost, the procession of lanterns is still practised.

In some regions of Germany, the traditional sweet of Martinmas is “Martinshörnchen”, a pastry shaped in the form of a croissant, which recalls both the hooves of St. Martin’s horse and, by being the half of a pretzel, the parting of his mantle. In parts of western Germany these pastries are shaped like gingerbread men (Stutenkerl).

What seemed to be in the local shops wasn’t the Croissant or Stutenkerl but something called a Weckmännchen – of course I had to buy one to try it. They also come with currants (which I am not too keen on).

Weckmaennchen

Anyway, Carole and her daughter Coralie (who I provide English tuition for) offered for me to come to the St Martin’s Parade in Kempen with them, so I was pleased to agree. I also brought Gudula and Lara with me from home.

Heading off to Sankt Martin Parade

We went by bike of course – here we all are heading through St Hubert towards Kempen.

Heading off to Sankt Martin Parade 2

We parked our bikes behind the Post Office in Kempen town centre and took up our positions opposite the castle (where the fireworks are set). We arrived about 5pm so would have a fairly long wait until it all started but we had an excellent vantage point.

Sankt Martin Parade ideal spot

The Fire Brigade were just along the road from us – with a telescopic platform on the end of which was a cameraman from WDR (the German television station) who would broadcast the procession live.

WDR Up A Ladder

The darkness came and the castle’s windows were illuminated with red light… as the procession started to come through.

Sankt Martin Parade 1

These lanterns are all made at school with different themes and they were all wonderful!

Sankt Martin Parade 2

Sankt Martin Parade 3

Sankt Martin Parade 4

This section of the procession had a large boat at the front!

Sankt Martin Parade 5

Sankt Martin Parade 6

Sankt Martin Parade 7

And then the procession stopped, and the musicians (there were lots of brass bands) also stopped. Because… now it was time for fireworks!!

Sankt Martin Fireworks 1

Sankt Martin Fireworks 4

Sankt Martin Fireworks 5

It was a fantastic sight from where we were standing and lasted about twenty minutes.

After the fireworks were over the procession continued, with banners telling you which school the students were from. It was lovely and colourful and friendly and there were huge crowds watching it. Apparently lots of Dutch people drive over to visit, for example.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed it, despite finding it a bit chilly to stand out in the open so long (I had originally thought I might sit in Penelope somewhere but there wouldn’t have been space with all the crowds).

We cycled home, moving with the mass of other visitors on foot, with just a few cars trying to pass. That’s what I like about this bit of Germany – people use feet or bikes as transport methods.

I had also seen another smaller parade in Viersen when out on a cycle ride the week before – these parades seem to span a couple of weeks. They are great fun though.

St Martin Parade Viersen

Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance Sunday in the UK is the Sunday before 11 November and this is a church service that I always like to attend. It felt strange to miss it this year – but I listened on the radio to the broadcast from the Cenotaph. My parents had sent me a poppy through the post as I hadn’t remembered to bring one, so that was good.

I explained to several friends here about poppies and Remembrance Sunday and the two minutes’ silence which they didn’t know about. I also showed several people photos of the amazing poppies installation at the Tower of London.

Karneval Proklamation

Every so often, when you think you are getting familiar with a country, something happens that makes you realise you are still able to be utterly bemused. And the Karneval Proklamation was one of these things!

Klaus and Claudia invited me along to the ‘Proklamation’ as their daughter Lara was doing a dance in it. I was pleased to say yes as it would be interesting I thought – and boy was I right!!!!

I didn’t know what to expect – I suppose I thought we would be walking along the street (like the St Martin’s Parade) or something. I made some comment about how long it would take and was told that the event was three hours. Three hours!!! And that it was indoors.

Anyway, in due course I drove to Klaus and Claudia’s house to meet them. Lara was all ready for the event – dressed in a special outfit with white skirt, red waistcoat and red cape. The red and white theme was to be regularly seen in the event, as I discovered.

We walked up the road to the big community hall in Rahser (the northern part of Viersen) and it was decorated with lots of red hangings, flags and banners. And, rather surprisingly, there were lots of grown men and children in different uniforms. Very unusual!

We sat down at long tables with various goodies on (as well as a price list for beer – no tea was available unfortunately) as people started to arrive. Lara disappeared with her friends and I took the time to look around – lots of new sights and sounds to these British eyes.

And then the event started.

Klaus explained some of what was going on. It was the investiture for the new Prince and Princess (of the Karneval) but first we had the ceremony for the outgoing Prince and Princess.

At the beginning all the kids were up on stage.

Kids on stage 1

And then we had the ceremony for the outgoing Prince and Princess, Anton I and Jana I. But first they processed up the centre of the room to the stage. And Klaus said to me “watch out!” and I couldn’t work out what he was talking about – until small chocolate bars started raining down on me. The Prince and Princess (and their helpers) throw armfuls of goodies (mostly chocolates but also bags of crisps) to the audience. These land on tables with drinks and other stuff so it was quite an interesting thing in terms of health and safety.

This was my collection by the time the Prince and Princess had made it to the stage.

Pile of goodies 1

The prince and princess had a troupe of guards with them (young lads) who sat at tables at the back and seemed to just eat sweeties the whole time rather than keeping an eye on their charges!

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

The stage was full of people wearing read as the hand-over ceremony started.

Outgoing Prince and Princess

The Prince had to wear these rather unusual red shoes!

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

The prince had to give back his mace and special hat (with feathers on). Apparently this can be a very emotional time for the prince and princesses (although these two kept reasonably stiff upper lips).

Outgoing Prince and Princess 2

They had been Prince and Princess for a year and had been involved in lots of community occasions, apparently. They also had to get sponsorship for the cost of the year – as they are always having to throw these goodies around wherever they go, plus they have to buy the (expensive) clothing. Apparently if you want to be the Prince or Princess in Köln your budget is between half a million and a million Euros. Crazy!!

Throughout all this there was a chap being a kind of Master of Ceremonies and occasionally he would say words and the audience (except me!) would shout back. Claudia had told me something about this on the way there but I couldn’t work out what she was talking about at the time. Anyway, the chap shouts “ram” and we shout “di bam” back, three times, waving our arms in the air whilst a keyboard player played some crashing chords. Also he would shout “Viersen” and we had to reply “Helau” (three times), with fist waving too. There were some other calls and responses too. It was very peculiar.

We were also told to do something to do with a rocket (Rakete), I didn’t quite catch it, which was drumming our hands on the table three times (with a gap in the middle) as a prelude to the next set of people processing down to the stage. Apparently we are pretending to be a three-stage rocket or something – but I only found this out afterwards.

We also had some singing – the song in the video below was partly in the local dialect which Klaus said he couldn’t really understand.

And then the former Prince and Princess processed off the stage and there was a short hiatus (a chance to eat some of the goodies) before the next instruction to stand and cheer the next procession.

Which was the procession of the incoming Prince and Princess (Max I and Selina I) and they, too, threw lots of goodies.

This time my haul was some wine gums, a blue rubber duck, three roses and various more chocolates and cereal bars.

Pile of goodies 2

The mini chocolates (small kitkat-type things) provided a great opportunity to play Jenga – with a rubber duck on the top.

Pile of goodies 3

The new Prince and Princess were then officially welcomed/consecrated/investituted (no idea what the verb should be). The Prince was given his feathered hat and his mace by the local Catholic Priest.

Photo from http://roahser-jonges.de

The Princess was a really sweet-looking girl who was always smiling and twinkly-eyed.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

She is the third in her family to do this, apparently (one brother was a Prince and her older sister a Princess) so the family clearly know what they have to do.

They then recited some speeches, did a glove-puppet mini-sketch and the Prince also played his drums a bit.

New Prince And Princess

Then there was a long series of ceremonial bits where other Princes and Princesses (young and also grown-ups) from other areas came to give gifts to the new Prince and Princess. They were always given a Karnevalsorden, a kind of medal on a ribbon (and gave one in return), so by the end of these ceremonies (probably about 8 different areas’ Princes and Princesses) they must have been really weighed down by all the enamel medals hanging round their necks. Apparently these are no plastic but properly made. Here they are with the adult Princess of Viersen.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

The Prince and Princess had to kiss the cheeks three times of all the various people that they were honouring. I felt a bit sorry for this lovely sweet Princess who had to kiss 40-or-so middle aged men dressed in weird uniforms. But she was very good at her job – I was impressed by her! The Prince looked a little more ill-at-ease but still did a creditable job.

The local Bürgermeister (Mayor) and two of the local Catholic Priests also were involved in part of the ceremony, it’s obviously something quite integrated within the local community.

The chaps around them were dressed rather like French soldiers to my mind. Anyway, they processed out and I took a little film of it.

After all these ceremonial bits the Prince and Princess got to sit on their thrones.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

We had some entertainment which was a series of dance groups which were great fun. These girls were very good at high kicks!

Dancing Girls 1

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

And this is the group of dancers which Lara was part of.

Lara's Dancing Group

There was also a little sketch done by a young child (he can’t have been much more than five years old. And he was utterly, utterly brilliant. I reckon he has a promising career on the stage.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

And some more dancing girls, this time from Lobberich.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

At the end all the children came back up onto the stage.

All the children on stage at the end

These were really sweet!

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

This whole Carnival group started in 1936 (not such an auspicious year really!) so it’s a long-time thing in the area. I wasn’t able to work out if the people took it seriously or saw it as a bit of lighthearted fun but they certainly got into the spirit of it.

Photo from www.roahser-jonges.de

I cannot think of anything similar that happens in the UK except for Morris Dancing… and that doesn’t last three hours!

But I really enjoyed being at this evening – it was great fun, always good-natured, noisy and colourful. And there’s another thing on the 18th of January that the children are involved in too… so the Karneval continues (until Ash Wednesday, in fact, so nearly four months).

Here’s the official report of the event: http://roahser-jonges.de/dnn/Proklamation_2014/tabid/298/Default.aspx In German of course.

Weihnachtsmarkt at Schloss Dyck

Claudia and Klaus invited me to come with them to visit the Weihnachtsmarkt at Schloss Dyck on the first Sunday in Advent, 30th November. So we duly all headed off in my car to Jüchen (my car as Klaus wanted some Glühwein and German drink-driving laws are extremely strict – and I am teetotal), discovering along the way that my Satnav was having a bad afternoon and we had to use Google’s satnav instead. But we found it – I had cycled there a month or so ago but the car route is very different.

Anyway, we arrived, paid the rather high entrance fee (12 Euros) and started to have a look around.

It’s a wonderful backdrop for the market, as you can see from these photos.

Schloss Dyck 1

Schloss Dyck 2

Schloss Dyck 3

We had a good wander round, enjoying the ambience and a few edible items, as well as buying a few little Christmas bits and bobs. We also stumbled across the British Fudge Shop stand (this is a shop in Mönchengladbach) so I bought some fudge. The people selling it to me had great London-area accents so it was fun to exchange just a few words with them. Lara looked most bemused by my sudden descent into super-fast English.

This month’s music

Beethoven Messe in C

The 31st October was the Bach concert at the Auferstehungskirche in Willich, which was a dry run for the concert in Willich Sankt Katharina church, the Beethoven Messe in C. Practices for this started in January but I joined in April (when I arrived in Germany). It’s been a challenge – partly because the music is pitched very high for an alto but also because it’s a big group of people of varying skills.

Here we are during our full-day practice the Saturday before.

Choir practising

But finally it was time for the concert – after some very long practices!

The evening before the concert we had a practice in St Katharina.

Inside St Katharina Willich

The orchestra were there and it was completely different playing with them, particularly in the strange acoustic.

Orchestra 1

Orchestra 2

The practice didn’t go all that well. It’s hard to get used to a completely new acoustic and there were lots of mistakes. Plus we were sitting in very different positions to normal – I was in the front row! I really hoped the actual concert would be better.

Fortunately the next night for the official concert we did a better job. Here we all are in the vestry waiting to go in.

Waiting to go on stage 1

Waiting to go on stage 2

It was an enjoyable experience singing in such a beautiful church and the audience seemed to enjoy it – we did an encore of Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes from Die Schöpfung (the Creation) by Haydn. And, as you can see, we were all very relieved when it was over – the expression on the faces of two of my friends from this choir says it all!

Martina and

Overall I think it was a reasonably successful event and the good acoustics in the church covered up some of our hesitancy I hope!

The only review I was able to find online was certainly very positive: http://www.wz-newsline.de/lokales/kreis-viersen/willich/viel-applaus-fuer-tolle-beethoven-messe-1.1795127

Totensonntag

Anja and I have been playing flute and piano together for several months, practising for a number of events, the first of which was us playing together in the church service for Totensonntag, which is the Sunday before the first Sunday in Advent and is when people in the church who have died that year are remembered.

We played three pieces – two Handel pieces and also a piece by Santo Lapis. We played at the beginning of the service, at the end and after the names of the dead had been read out and people were thinking quietly. It went well which was a relief and we had several comments about how much people had enjoyed it.

Ready to play flute

Anja at the organ

Kempen Music Evening

A long time ago Anja had invited me also to play at a music evening that takes place under the auspices of the Evangelical church in Kempen, the Thomaskirche. This event was to be on 28 November and we had practiced various bits of music, deciding eventually on a piece by Santo Lapis.

When I arrived at the church I was amazed to see how many people were there. There were 24 different performances listed in the programme and there was a heavy bias towards flutes (probably half of the things included a least one flute) but it was a very enjoyable evening with a range of different ages and levels of expertise. There was a lady playing the flute who was 85 years old, apparently.

It was good to attend this and to see the skill with which some of the young people were able to play their instruments. I also saw, for the first time, a bass recorder – an amazing-looking thing that was taller than me!

Niederrhein scenery

This part of the world is providing the most wonderful views as I cycle off to my evening events. Each day is a different sunset with incredible colours in the sky. The iPhone does not do it justice but hopefully this gives you an idea of some of the beauty around here.

St Hubert Windmill

New windmills under construction

Sunset towards Anrath

Amazing pink sky

Sunset behind St Hubert Windmill

Autumnal trees

Sunset 3

Sunset 2

Flaming sky 1

Sunset 1

Sunset 5

Flaming sky 2

Penelope sunset

Sunset 6

The view from my window one afternoon.
View From My Window 1

I made a special trip to the Krickenbecker See at sunset to take this photo as it is such a wonderful spot. There is a handy bench where you can sit and watch the sun go down – from where I took this photograph. Magical!

Krickenbecker See Sunset 29 Nov

Cakes this month

Here are some of the cakes that I or my companions have enjoyed!

Lara's Kaesekuchen

Straelen Apfel Kuchen

Rice cake

Cheesecake by Gudula

Cake in Waldniel

Coralie's birthday cake

Bienenstich und Apfelstrudel in Rahser

Rice cake in Born

Cherry victoria sponge

Stinges cakes

Black Forest Gateau

Lotsa cakes

A lady and her husband from the St Hubert church invited me for cake one afternoon and provided me with this nice plum cake

Fachner cake 1

And also some Stollen.

Fachner cake 2

My banoffee pie

Banoffee Pie

Most Brits have probably tried Banoffee Pie – it’s a fantastic dessert, sweet and caramely, with the added bonus that you can cause an explosion in making it that requires you to redecorate your entire kitchen. I hadn’t made it for years (partly because we had an expensive new kitchen in our previous house and I didn’t want to spend days removing exploded condensed milk from the ceiling and cupboards).

Anyway, Klaus and Claudia had invited me several times for dinner and I felt that I was well overdue to provide something to eat for them on my next visit. So I decided to make a Banoffee Pie.

Here’s an English recipe (which assumes your condensed milk is already boiled into dulce de leche) http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/banoffeepie_89031

For Germans who don’t know about this, there is a good recipe here (in German): http://www.chefkoch.de/rezepte/125001053614007/Banoffee-Pie.html

I hadn’t seen this recipe (in German) before making my pie. But that was OK as I could get all the ingredients in Germany.

Or so I thought.

Banoffee Pie is fairly simple. A biscuit base (mixed with butter), a layer of dulce de leche (condensed milk which is boiled in the tin for 2-3 hours until it becomes brown caramel – or explodes), a layer of bananas and then a layer of whipped cream. Simple.

The first issue I had is that I didn’t have the right dish for it. Never mind, my pyrex lasagne dish would do at a pinch (I had tried and failed to find disposable foil pie dishes – they don’t seem to be available in Germany. But then neither are pies!)

The second issue is that the normal base of digestive biscuits would be tricky as there don’t seem to be any digestive biscuits in Germany. Never mind, I bought some normal Butterkeks and crushed them up, mixed them with the melted butter and pressed them into the lasagne dish. It all then went into the fridge to harden.

The Dulce de leche is the big issue with Banoffee Pie. Fortunately one thing the Germans do have is condensed milk – and the tin looked about the same size as the normal tin I used in the UK. They even had smaller tins. So I bought a mixture (four altogether) so I could boil everything up in one go – it can be stored in the tin after boiling no problems.

I have a pressure cooker in my Wohnung so decided to use that. It has the advantage that if the tin explodes it is contained, and the second advantage that it apparently cooks it much quicker – in just an hour rather than 2-3. So I put the tins in the cooker and set them off to boil.

After an hour (with no explosions) I turned the heat off and let it all cool.

I was going out in a couple of hours so after everything had cooled I thought I’d check the tin. I lifted it out of the water, shook it – and heard stuff sloshing around inside. It clearly hadn’t set so couldn’t have turned into dulce de leche. Maybe the pressure cooker wasn’t working properly (it had been slightly leaking water from the lid join). So just to be sure I boiled everything again for another hour and a quarter. I turned the heat off and went out for my evening engagement, hoping that when I got home it would be OK.

So when I got home several hours later to four cooled tins, I fished them out of the water and shook them – still liquid. Argh!!!

Plan B was called for, which is the option you use if you don’t want to risk explosions by boiling the tins whole. You take the milk out and add it to butter and sugar and heat it up until it thickens. So I attempted this… and it didn’t thicken. For half an hour I was stirring this to no avail. Right, this was a disaster. I left it to cool, feeling very irritated that it wasn’t working.

I happened to go back into the kitchen half an hour later and saw that it had slightly set now it was was cooling so I decided rather than waste all the work I would pour the mix onto the biscuit base and see what it was like when chilled in the fridge.

The next morning the banoffee mix was slightly tacky so I decided it would do, and sliced the bananas on top. Then it was time to whip up the cream.

I didn’t have an electric whisk so I did this job by hand. And boy did it take a long time. The cream eventually started to stiffen but it was more liquid than I wanted and then… suddenly… it went flat and started turning into butter. Argh!!!!

So I covered the pie with foil (it had sliced bananas on it) and on my way to my dinner engagement I stopped off at Aldi, bought some more cream and used Claudia’s electric whisk to whip it up. I lost my nerve a bit soon so it was rather more runny than it should have been – as you can see from the photo above. There was very little of the banoffee caramel taste but my friends seemed happy enough to eat it. I have promised them a PROPER banoffee pie after I return from England next month and have a chance to get the correct ingredients.

A bit of research afterwards showed me that normal German condensed milk has a lot lower sugar content than English, it is more like evaporated milk. The German banoffee recipe above calls for ‘sweetened condensed milk’ rather than the normal. So I imagine that explains the not-turning-into-toffee issue. We live and learn.

Christmas is Coming

Yesterday, 30 November, was the first Sunday in Advent. Today as I finalise this blog post it is 1 December and Christmas is just around the corner.

I am having three friends visiting from England tomorrow for four days, I’ll be back in England for the third week of December and then will be returning here for Christmas with my husband and his parents, James’s brother and his wife and their three children. So it will be a really interesting and different Christmas, attending church in Germany, experiencing some of the different customs and hopefully having a relaxing and peaceful time.

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 7

October 2014

Cycling this month

This month I missed my target of 1000km by less than 1km. This was because I had two days off the bike feeling slightly under the weather and didn’t have a chance to make up the rides as it was at the end of the month because I thought the target gap was too big – but actually I had failed to record a ride earlier in the month (which I realised just now) which was 27.27km… so I was so near but not quite enough!

Anyway, I still managed a good distance and I am really enjoying cycling in the fantastically beautiful autumn scenery around this part of Niederrhein.

Screen shot 2014-11-02 at 17.16.22

Anyway, here are the ride statistics for this month.

Screen shot 2014-11-02 at 17.20.09

People I’ve seen this month

Morten from Hamburg

Long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with Morten, the surprisingly-tall (2.04 metres) recumbent bicyclist who I met on the LEL Audax, visited in Hamburg last December and saw again on the HBK Audax.

Anyway, Morten decided to come and visit me for the bank holiday weekend of Tag der deutschen Einheit which was great news! Especially as there was a Tour des Monats cycle ride planned for the Friday when he would arrive, a nice chance to show him around some of the breweries in Kreis Viersen (apparently).

I collected Morten from the station and we rode back to my house for him to drop his bags off before heading almost straight away to St Tönis for the Tour des Monats, led again this month by cycling chum Hartmut.

There was a good group of cyclists collected in St Tönis. As I was in Penelope the Velomobile it seemed best to ride at the back (this always works better in a group) so I pootled along behind everyone, chatting to Morten and continually being amazed at how he could continue riding a recumbent bicycle at extremely slow speeds. Those things are difficult to balance!

We had another visit to the un-asphalted Bahnradweg from Tönisvorst which is no fun on a three-wheeler and even less fun in a velomobile.

TdM with Morten

As usual for routes planned by Hartmut it was a good mixture of sights and pretty much all on quiet roads or cycle paths. Hartmut gave occasional bits of information relating to the brewery theme but it was really just a chance to cycle to particular places, we didn’t see any beer!

We stopped in Anrath for lunch at which point Morten and I shared a veggie breakfast.

Breakfast in Anrath

I misheard Hartmut’s comment about what time we were leaving so ordered a cup of tea just as people were heading off. As I had the track I said I’d catch them up (I had to pay for this tea so I was going to drink it, although it was too hot initially). Morten waited with me and we set off about five minutes after the rest of them had disappeared.

As we raced to catch them up I felt a bit odd – the tea was swishing around rather unpleasantly in my stomach – and by the time we did catch up with everyone I felt a bit sick. We decided not to ride with them all the way back to St Tönis but instead left the group at Kehn and did the short cut back to St Hubert.

When we got back I put Penelope away, walked into my flat and felt appalling – I went straight to bed. Poor Morten found himself on his own for the rest of the day – he had a bit of a snooze (he’d had a very early train from Hamburg) but ended up having to cook his own dinner as I didn’t feel like food at all and couldn’t stand up for more than a minute or two. It was some mystery lurgy but came at a rather unfortunate time. Morten was a very gracious guest, though, considering his host was so rubbish!

The next morning I felt a bit more human and we decided to take a trip to Kempen. In the car (I didn’t think I could cycle 5km), which meant I had to learn where the car parks are (not something I really know). But we found a space and set off on a very slow walk around the town walls with lots of stops on benches for me to gather my energy again.

Kempen is a beautiful town and the walk around the walls is always worthwhile – and only about 2km.

Kempen tower

We stopped for some cake – Morten chose two different things.

Morten's cake

I had a nut/muesli option.

My cake

In the evening we had the opportunity to meet friend Gabriele and her husband Achim who were riding their velomobiles back from Dronten in the Netherlands to Bonn (a heck of a long way). Gabi rang us to say we could meet in Oedt at 7:15pm so we headed off (again by car) and found them outside a take-away pizzeria (the Italian restaurant we had planned to meet at was now closed).

Quest and Strada

We had an enjoyable meal chatting with them as always and then it was time for them to continue their journey on to Bonn. Good thing they are both very fast cyclists as that’s a long, long way in one day.

Velomobiles in the dark

The next morning I was feeling human enough to get back on a bike – which was a good thing as I had no breakfast food for Morten as I had planned for us to eat breakfast at Hofcafé Alt Bruch (fortunately Lara had delivered some rolls for breakfast for Saturday morning as I was too poorly). Klaus was going to meet us on the way to the Hofcafé and I also asked Lara along. Five minutes before we set off her friend Gereon appeared at the front door so he came along too.

This is the little group of random people heading 20km for breakfast…

Heading for breakfast

We met Klaus at the start of the Bahnradweg in Grefrath where we also stopped to do a small amount of maintenance on Morten’s Alfine-11 hub gear (in his front wheel – he has a front wheel drive recumbent). Once the cable was slightly adjusted (he was suffering from the neutral gears issue you get when the cable length is wrong) we headed off along the fast Bahnradweg to the Hofcafé.

I hadn’t booked a place for us, assuming this was unnecessary, but it turned out that the café was full! There were no spare tables but there was a large table with just two ladies on it so we asked to join them and they said that was fine. They may have regretted it later when the fragrance of cyclist wafted across to them.

These ladies turned out to be British so we had a bit of a chat with them and they took a photo of us halfway through our breakfast.

Breakfast at Hofcafe Alt Bruch

It’s an ‘eat as much as you like’ buffet breakfast and we were there for a couple of hours so managed to eat a fair bit. Klaus and I were asking Morten about longer distance cycling – he is an audaxer after all – and what recommendations he could give for longer rides.

In due course the café started emptying and it was time for us to head back. We waved goodbye to Klaus in Grefrath and continued on back to Kempen.

Here’s Morten underway.

Morten riding

Being chased down by Gereon and Lara.

Gereon Lara Morten

And Lara took this picture of me trying to catch up with everyone after doing my photography.

Helen cycling

When we got back we had the next task – repairing Morten’s bike wiring. He’d had to separate his bike into two pieces on the train which involves disconnecting the electrics. He has the same connectors as Penelope has and had discovered the same problem with them – they aren’t really designed for this kind of thing and the connector had pulled out of the plastic housing slightly. It needed a bit of TLC – he would need his lights when he got back to Hamburg to cycle home.

Frank and Gudula were out which was unfortunate as Frank seems to have all the tools one might need – but I didn’t know where.

First of all Morten had to ease the little metal connectors (that have metal backward-pointing hooks to keep them in place) out of the plastic connector mounting. A selection of screwdrivers and allen keys were offered from my toolkit and he found something suitable.

Morten repair 1

Clearly it needed to be soldered in place – but I didn’t have a soldering iron and didn’t know where Frank kept his. Fortunately Lara came back home at this point and she let us into the treasure trove of Frank’s tool room (which I didn’t know existed!) and we played hunt-the-soldering-iron.

Looking for a soldering iron

We couldn’t find one although I had previously seen Frank with one, plus we found some reels of solder, so one must exist somewhere. But we did find a giant similar version and Morten thought it would probably do.

The world's biggest soldering iron 2

So he set to work and did manage to solder the connector to the wire.

The world's biggest soldering iron

Success!

job done

He tested the lights and they were working – hurrah! I have plans to change these connectors on Penelope as I have also had trouble with them; Morten says he is interested to know what I choose instead as he may also change the connectors on his bike. But it’s probably a winter job.

Morten then tried out Penelope – he really isn’t the right size for a Versatile.

Morten tries out Penelope

Although the lid almost closed (not quite) he was entirely unable to turn the pedals as his knees touched the top.

Morten tries out Penelope 2

And Alfie wasn’t any better.

Morten tries out Alfie

We changed the tyres on Alfie (I thought I might as well make use of having a chap about) and as a reward we had some scones with the last of the clotted cream I had brought back from England.

scones

And then it was another quick ride to Kempen railway station to wave Morten off on his train. Our bikes created quite a stir.

Morten at Kempen station

It was great to have a visit from another cycling chum. A lady I have met here said “You seem to know more people in Germany than I do” and she maybe has a point – I have got to know lots of people all over Germany in the last ten years and it’s great to have these links and to visit the people and have them visit me.

Gabi, Achim and Rolf again

We seem to have got a regular routine of meeting at Rolf’s house for cake – me cycling from Kempen (30km), Gabi and Achim cycling from Bonn (somewhat further). Rolf extended another invitation so again we all met – this time for homemade soup by Rolf (which was wonderful) and this time I came by car as I had another engagement straight afterwards.

Once again it was good to see everyone and to have a chance to chat about all things Velomobile.

Hartmut’s birthday meal

I’ve mentioned Hartmut a few times in this blog – he’s one of the movers and shakers in the local ADFC (German cycling group) and leads a lot of cycle tours, including some very long charity ones. He is also incredibly knowledgeable about a lot of the history of this area and always has great information when you’re out riding with him.

It was his birthday this month and he invited a group of his cycling friends to a Portuguese restaurant in Krefeld – and I was included!

The thing we all have in common (apart from the cycling) is that we all have bikes with Rohloff hubs. So I decided I would ride Penelope to Krefeld although I am usually less keen on riding her there because of the terror of the tram tracks.

Anyway I set off in plenty of time and had a leisurely ride, taking a new route which is longer but much less within the city. It turned out to be a huge improvement – I was on fast Radwege beside Landstraßen right up to three kilometres before my destination (I usually cycle all the way through Hüls which is about 8km of town riding).

I pulled up outside the restaurant and could see through the window Hartmut and the other sitting around the table with several beer bottles in front of them. But I was ten minutes early!

No I wasn’t, I was almost an hour late. I had misread the time, like a numpty, thinking we were meeting at 7pm when actually it was 6pm. Very embarrassing!

Anyway, they were all very polite about it.

Hartmut's Birthday 3

Here am I looking a bit embarrassed after my late arrival!

Hartmut's Birthday 1

Hartmut had ordered a selection of starters which were all very tasty (his wife is Portuguese so he visits there often and is very familiar with all the food). The different main courses that people ordered arrived and were great.

Hartmuts birthday 2

I was extremely impressed at the amount of beer and wine my companions were putting away and remaining apparently sober. We enjoyed some good discussions and it was great to see Hartmut, Jochen, Uli and Herbert again, and to meet for the first time Andreas and Michael.

A group of (I think) Portuguese people came into the restaurant a bit later and they had a birthday cake and sang happy birthday to one of the group. We mentioned that it was Hartmut’s birthday too and they incredibly kindly shared the birthday cake with our group! So friendly.

Hartmut's birthday chocolate cake

It was a great evening and I also discovered that in Germany if someone invites you for a meal like this then they pay, which was incredibly generous.

Michael and the Düsseldorf ADFC

Through the magic of the internet (well, actually Google Plus, it turns out someone DOES use it!) a man named Michael contacted Klaus to say that he had a recumbent trike and was in the Düsseldorf area and perhaps they would bump into each other one day. He then added that the Düsseldorf ADFC were doing a ride on Saturday from Düsseldorf to Kempen and would Klaus like to join as it wasn’t far from where he lived. Klaus had no spare time but he forwarded the message to me and I decided to ride their route backwards (they had supplied a GPS track of the route) and meet them halfwayish, then ride back with them to Kempen (where they were having lunch at Gut Heimendahl).

It was a very windy day although fairly warm so I dithered about which bike to take (Alfie good for heat, Penelope good for wind) and in the end decided on Penelope because it’s after all such a cool-looking machine.

So I set off following the track from Kempen towards Düsseldorf, finding myself on a few roads that were previously unknown to me.

I hadn’t intercepted the group by the time I reached Höxhöfe and was beginning to worry that they might have been following the GPS track the other way round (so I would never intercept them) but then I decided that the strong wind might be slowing them down (even thought it was a tailwind) so I decided to press on.

And then finally I saw a group of cyclists in the distance – including a recumbent trike. So that was probably them – and indeed it was!

ADFC ride from Duesseldorf

We stopped and had a bit of a chat – and Michael had a go in Penelope.

This is his trike, an Azub folding trike which was also reasonably lightweight (once he had removed his bags).

Azub trike

Azub trike and Penelope

It has a veltop fairing which looked interesting (not that I need a trike fairing as I have a velomobile, but I think it can make quite a difference in winter if you suffer from cold feet).

Azub trike with Veltop

There was a group of about 15 of us pootling along the country lanes – very enjoyable!

ADFC ride from Duesseldorf 2

The 20km journey back to Gut Heimendahl passed fairly quickly as I was chatting with Michael and then we arrived at our destination and stopped for lunch (except I had cake). I had a good chat with Michael and it was good to get to know him. Here he is on his trike.

Michael on his trike 1

He asked a passer-by to take a photo of us both.

Helen and Michael at Gut Heimendahl

I left the rest of them at Gut Heimendahl and headed straight home as Poppy the dog had been left for quite a while, but it was great to meet Michael and I am sure we will ride together again soon in the near future.

Babs

Friend Babs has been mentioned on this blog many times as she has been brilliant – giving me helpful advice and friendship! When I was back in England last month I got a few supplies for her and we fixed a convenient time for me to drop them off to her and see her new flat in Krefeld.

The idea was for me to come in Alfie (as we didn’t think Penelope would fit in her apartment lobby) but the weather was definitely velomobile weather so I decided to take Penelope and just park her outside if necessary. So I cycled to Krefeld and when I arrived at Babs’s apartment we thought we’d see if we could get her into the lobby.

The answer was yes – sort-of.

Penelope in Krefeld

We stuck a notice on her nose in case anyone came in and needed to get into the room behind where she was parked (which Babs said was extremely unlikely).

Penelope in Babs's Flat

It was great to see Babs again and to have a good old chinwag. And it’s really handy that she now lives a lot nearer to me – just a 40 minute cycle ride!

Life in Germany

Food again

When I returned from England last month I brought back one of the Tefal Multi-cookers that does excellent rice. This is to go with all the curries I make so I’ve been enjoying them.

One of the things that I had been unable to find in Germany except for in the huge Real supermarket (in a tin) was hummus. The fresh stuff that is ubiquitous in British supermarkets was just not available.

Imagine my surprise this week when I found this in Aldi:

Hummus 1

And then three days later in the REWE in Kempen:

Hummus 2

It’s a miracle! Obviously a winter-only food in Germany.

Real has also extended its range of Wilkins & Sons Jam from Tiptree.

Real jams

The Edeka in St Hubert also had some wag who did an amusing sign for the bananas.

Single bananas

Breakfast with Anja

Anja, with whom I do various musical things, invited me for a light brunch after one of our practices. Which was most kind of her – and another example of the excellent German attitude towards breakfast (you eat a lot and take a long time over it, rather than a quick bowl of cereal).

Breakfast with Anja

I also noticed this rather excellent tin of tea in her kitchen – there are lots of fake British brands in Germany and I think this is another of them!

Sir Winston tea

Seen on cycle rides

You really know you’re in Germany where there is a field with piles of red and white cabbage leaves.

Cabbage Leaves on fields

Poppy the dog

Unfortunately this month Poppy the dog caught kennel cough. This is Zwingerhusten in German and is apparently rife around here – whether or not your dog stays in kennels. Anyway, she duly got it and started coughing so a quick trip to the vets and some antibiotics was called for.

She got over it pretty quickly (about a week) but the visit to the vet showed that she has actually put on weight – from 7.5kg to 8.25kg which is quite an increase! So Poppy now has a bit of a reduced food/increased exercise fitness regime which has included several rides with Frank (he cycles, she runs) and also today’s run to the supermarket with me, a 4km round trip for Poppy.

Poppy running by bike

Other wildlife

I’ve been doing loads of cycling at dusk, going to my various choir practices and the VHS in the evenings. I’ve seen bats and owls and all sorts of running mousy-type things. One morning we woke up and saw that Mr Mole had been very busy around the patio area.

Mr Mole very neat

Cycle rides this month

Because of my remarkably busy schedule, with things on three to four evenings per week, I’ve been doing loads of cycling in the dusk/dark where you can’t see as much. But I’ve also continued riding about once per week with Klaus and we tend to set off a bit earlier so it’s been a chance to make the most of the fantastic scenery here at this time of year.

Here’s a flavour of some of the sights we’ve seen as we trike around Kreis Viersen.

Sunset over Hinsbeck

Autumn Leaves

Hinsbecker Bruch

Gorgeous sunset on bike

I also visited a couple of interesting places with Klaus, one of which is less than 10km from my house here but I had not previously found it (it required a short detour up a grassy track and I tend to avoid these). It is a rather special crossing of the river Niers.

Self-service ferry

As usual for Germany there is a helpful information board about this self-service ferry.

Aiwa info

And of course another information board with the rules for using it!

German rules for ferry

Basically it’s a floating pontoon with a wheel which pulls you along a chain. There’s also a wheel at either riverbank to haul the ferry to you.

Ferry wheel

There was just about room for two trikes and two people.

Self-service ferry with trikes

This was great fun!

And then 200 metres or so further we reached the confluence point of the Niers and the Nette rivers – both pretty small really, but significant enough that they put a special little plaque on the ground.

Nette trifft Niers

And here are the rivers meeting.

Confluence of Niers and Nette

Of the 75,000ish kilometres I’ve ridden over the last six years, probably 85-90% of these have been on my own. Although cycling on your own is still fun, it can be much more enjoyable riding with someone else – and there can also be other benefits. As discovered on a trip Klaus and I did to bag three castles in the Mönchengladbach area.

We were riding along a radweg beside a main road when there was a huge BANG from my tyre and it instantly deflated. It was not exactly a challenge to identify the problem.

Sliced kojak

For the last 75,000km I have carried a tyre boot in my bag of tools (a boot is a cut-off piece of old tyre that you can use to patch large holes like this). So for the first time ever I actually used it!!!

And this is where the cycling companion comes in useful. You can pretend that you are too weak and feeble to pump up a tyre.

Helpful cycling companion

Here’s the repaired Kojak.

Reasonably tyre repair

It managed another 100km before I got round to changing it so the repair was reasonable. But I didn’t want to risk it any further – plus with the seasons changing my usual tyre choice of Marathons is more sensible.

Here’s one of the three castles we visited – which is now a Golf course (Schloss Myllendonk).

Golf castle

And later on we found ourselves heading for an amusingly-named town.

On the way to Damnation

More music

The longer I am in Germany, the more time I seem to spend making music. Which is great – it makes all the money my parents spent on flute lessons for me more worthwhile!!!

Anyway, as mentioned above, Anja and I play together – I play the flute and she accompanies me on the piano or organ. We’ll be playing together in the church service on Totensonntag which is at the end of November, as well as on Christmas Eve at the morning church service and Christmas Day at a social musical evening in Kempen.

I mentioned last month that I had also joined another choir – this one is in Süchteln and it’s a gospel choir. I’m really enjoying singing with this choir and it has the advantage that it’s a 45km round trip as well so a great excuse to cycle! Lara who lives here came with me to one of the practices which was the last before the choir would sing in a church service to welcome the new minister to Süchteln Evangelische Kirche.

So on Sunday 26 October we headed in the car (dressed smartly!) to the Johanniskirche in Süchteln (which is a Catholic church but which the Evangelische Kirche borrow when they need a lot of space as their church is quite small) for the service. The service went well, the singing was good but the acoustics in the choir area were a disaster for me (and I had forgotten to bring my hearing aid) so I couldn’t follow any of the rest of it really.

After the service we were invited back to the Gemeindezentrum (church hall) for cake. Well this seemed like a great plan and my car passengers (Lara and also her parents who had come along) agreed so we followed a friendly lady who knew where there was some parking and then went into the centre (which is where we practice our singing). It looked really different with various partition walls opened and tables groaning with food and cakes. Lots of cakes!

Suechteln Choir Meal

It was interesting being at such an event – there were lots of speeches and some music and we sat with Claudia and Lara (Klaus’s wife and daughter) and enjoyed the cakes and drinks. German people seem very good at generously bringing lots of food for social events and I seem to regularly benefit from this!!

Cakes this month

Here are some of the cakes that I or my companions have enjoyed this month in Germany.

Donauwelle at Gut Heimendahl

Apfelstreusel 2

Gudula's cherry cake

Posh Apfelstrudel

Scones with Morten

Dougnhut

Donauwelle in Wachtendonk

Apfel Streusel in Wachtendonk

Doughnut in Neersen

Gudula's chocolate cake

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Alfie rides the Sauerlandradring

A month ago I cycled the Vennbahnradweg from Aachen towards Luxembourg with Klaus, fellow recumbent triking chum here in Germany. We enjoyed our 162.5km on a disused railway line so much that Klaus did some more investigating as to other suitable Bahnradwege near here that we could try. And he discovered the Sauerlandradring.

This is an 85km route which consists of some Bahnradwege (former railway tracks converted to cycle paths) as well as some linking routes. He knew of some recumbent trike riders who had cycled this a while ago and said it was good, so we decided to give it a go and picked a weekend mid-October, hoping the weather would be good. We would need to borrow my landlord’s VW Bus again (to fit both trikes in) and it was available on Sunday 12 October so the date was fixed.

We had two options for this ride – doing just the Sauerlandradring (85km):
Screen shot 2014-10-13 at 10.54.01
or also adding the Nordschleife section (another 45km) which takes the route up to the River Ruhr. There was a note on the website for the Nordschleife that part of it was closed so we would have to cycle the same route up to Meschede (on the Ruhr) and back (it’s normally another circular route).
Screen shot 2014-10-13 at 10.54.29

I haven’t actually visited the Ruhr so fancied the extra section but we weren’t sure, this late in the year, whether that would be too much (it might be dark by the time we finished). So we gave ourselves the option by starting the ride from Eslohe (where the Nordschleife section heads off) so we would know, when we got back towards our starting point, whether we would feel like another 45km of cycling. The official route starts in Finnentrop. We would also ride it anti-clockwise rather than clockwise (the normal direction). After all, recumbent riders like to do things differently!

The description of the Sauerlandradring is as follows:

Radeln im Zeichen der Fledermaus: Ein Raderlebnis abseits der Straße, aber trotzdem auf bestens asphaltierten Wegen: Das bietet der SauerlandRadring. Mit seinen 84 Kilometern Länge spricht er vor allem Tourenradfahrer und sportliche Familien an. Auf der Hälfte der Strecke bewegt man sich außerdem auf ehemaligen Bahntrassen.

So it suggests it’s not on the road but on well-asphalted paths and it suitable for touring cyclist and sporty families. And half the route is on former railway routes.

So this all sounded very good, the 120km extra option was possible, and amazingly the weather forecast was pretty much perfect for our ride – dry, sunshine, 12-15 degrees (so not too hot).

I hadn’t originally realised how far away the Sauerland is, and how fiddly the road would be to Eslohe. I would have to collect Klaus from Viersen and the total driving time would be two and a half hours each way. So I said I would collect him at 7am which meant an early start for me. Frank readied the VW Bus with its flat load area for me the night before and I put Alfie in, along with my tools and spares. I had changed the chain the day before (it had done 12,000km, they often snap at about 5000km for me so this was a miracle) and in the process had managed to break my chain tool so I hoped it would be OK. It was, but I need to shorten the chain a bit when I find myself another chain tool as in the big ring the jockey wheel was hanging straight down so very low to the ground.

Anyway, at 7am I duly arrived in Viersen and Klaus appeared with his trike. It was the work of a moment to put the trike in the VW Bus with Alfie and then we headed off, using my iPhone’s SatNav app to direct us to Eslohe.

Now my App speaks English (which is easiest for me) and the chap has a lovely clear voice, but he doesn’t pronounce German place names very well. The two hour journey from Viersen to Eslohe appeared to afford Klaus considerable amusement with all these new pronunciations of place names – his favourite was Wuppertal which, in Co-Pilot Live Satnav Speak, is pronounced “woo purtle” (should be “vuhp err tarl”). I was delighted to see that we passed an Autobahn exit for Wickede on the way too.

It was quite a fiddly journey including three or four different Autobahnen and then a reasonably long stretch on an A-road which wound its way through some towns and villages. My app has a speed limit warning which is actually very useful as I’m not quite clued in to how the speed limits work in Germany. Klaus gave lots of very handy information, especially when I wanted to put the fog lamps on as it was a bit foggy. Apparently in Germany you can only use them if visibility is less than 50 metres (there are posts every 100 metres beside the road so you can gauge it) and you have to slow down to 50 km/h if you put then on. Rather different than the UK where people have them on if it’s a bit misty. Also if you pass a road sign announcing a village name then that’s automatically a 50 km/h speed limit (unless signs say otherwise) – not something I previously knew either.

Anyway, with the help of Co-Pilot Live and my co-pilot we arrived safely in Eslohe and found the public car park easily enough. We got the trikes out of the VW Bus and I noticed again what I had seen from the car – it seemed to be rather mountainous around here. Hmmm…

IMG_0607

It was pretty chilly – the bus temperature gauge had said 7-8 degrees – so we had quite a lot of layers on to start. It was just 100 metres or so from the car park to join the track and I felt full of energy so zoomed ahead, before realising I was leaving my cycling companion behind. This is the result of having a proper English breakfast of Weetabix before you set off, rather than eating nothing.

The route turned out to be very well signposted almost the entire way (there were a couple of occasions where the track on my Garmin was useful).

beschilderung-sauerlandradring

And this is the actual track that we rode – as you can see we didn’t add the Nordschleife section to Meschede in the end.

Screen shot 2014-10-13 at 11.17.39

And here is the elevation profile of the GPS track.

Screen shot 2014-10-13 at 11.17.55

What this doesn’t show is how up-and-down the route was the whole time. Although it was partly old railway track routes there were an awful lot of sections which can’t have been part of the railway as they were very steep – 8% or 10% or more. Maybe only for 100 metres but that’s still pretty knackering on a trike. More anon.

So from Eslohe we headed west on a good-quality path, slowly uphill and getting our cycling bearings after sitting in the car for a long time.

We were rewarded very quickly for our hill-climbing efforts with some fantastic views.

IMG_0612

The first major event doing the route in this way is the so-called Fledermaustunnel (bat tunnel), although its actual name is the Kückelheimer Tunnel.

IMG_0620

There was a sign beforehand which explained that the tunnel is a home to bats.

IMG_0615

And that we were lucky we weren’t a few weeks later as it would be closed (as winter roost for the bats!).

IMG_0616

This sign tells you that the tunnel is 689 metres long and cool and damp – with water dropping from the roof and walls and thus it has a wet floor.

And indeed it was quite wet in there so I didn’t stop to take photos – so sorry these are fuzzy!

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And here am I… spot the winter hat having its first outing in Germany.

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The tunnel was great fun – wonderful to have it just for cyclists and pedestrians.

There were other reminders that we were on a former railway track for this section – such as this train rusting away gently on some tracks.

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And a bit further along there was an old, rusting carriage by the side of the path – which had clearly had a very interesting life!

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More mystery railway memorabilia.

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The route continued, leaving the old railway as we approached the town of Fretter.

At this point I was rather keen on finding somewhere for a spot of cake and also for a toilet. We had a quick look in Fretter but couldn’t find any open bakery or café – then spotted a chap in his front garden and asked him. No, he said, nothing open here – or anywhere around really.

My toilet need was not yet at the critical stage but I was regretting my decision not to use the loo in the hotel next to the car park at the beginning of the ride. So we pedalled on, with a very uphill-downhill section which saw speed variations from 10km/h to 40km/h within a few metres.

Some of the hills were VERY hilly – here’s a short video I took of Klaus attempting to get up a 10% hill. He’d been cycling on the spot for about 30 seconds before I took the video (note that I had managed to overtake him – I have a 20″ rear wheel and he has a 26″ wheel which I think makes it slightly harder for him traction-wise on these hills).

And then I experienced a rather brown-trousers moment, entirely my own fault.

I was in the lead and we’d just crawled up a long hill and I was looking forward to the downhill that would surely come – which it did, as you can see here (the downhill was probably 200 metres in total).

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So I whizzed down the hill, approaching the wooden bridge that you can see in shot.

And this was what was on the other side of the wooden bridge (not very visible from the trike’s seat as I whizzed down the hill) – a ninety degree bend in the cycle path.

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I realised as I started crossing the bridge that I was going too fast to take this unexpected bend, but of course had no traction on the wet wooden bridge for braking so had to slam the brakes on when I got off the bridge and onto the paving.

This was the result…

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An impressive set of skid marks with my brand new Schwalbe Marathon tyres. I was speeding towards the fence with a bit of a drop the other side and thought I was going to hit it pretty hard. I uttered a rude English word (something I almost never do) and prepared for impact. Fortunately the tyres gripped just enough that I was able to stop with just a light tap on the fence with my front chainring guard (one of the best £25 I have spent in ages – it took out a car bumper a few weeks ago and seems to entirely protect the trike and his headlamp from damage!). I did a huge stoppie though, in other words my rear wheel raised right in the air and the pedals hit the ground. It all seemed to happen in slow motion but there I was, finally stationary with the front of the trike jammed under the fence panel. And then I realised there was another trike bearing down on me… Klaus was able to stop but also with a stoppie (lifting his rear wheel) but had seen what was happening (or had not been going so fast) so didn’t end up in a giant skid like I did.

So I extricated Alfie from under the fence and stood around for five minutes feeling a bit shaky. Unfortunately we were standing next to a stream whose relaxing water trickling sounds made my need for the loo a bit more critical so I pulled myself together and we headed off again, in desperate hope that we would find a cafe with cake and toilet before too long.

We crossed the L737 Landstraße at which point there was a sign for a Café at the local mill. Down a long hill but worth it for food/loo, so Klaus headed off down the hill as I crossed the road (I was a little behind at this point). And I took a good look at the sign for the café and it said “open Sundays and public holidays 14:00-18:30”. The time was 11am so no luck. So I waited at the top of the hill and sure enough Klaus reappeared, saying it was shut. I had saved myself a hill climb so that was a bargain. I see from Google Maps that the café is owned by someone called Klaus Brill so rather a shame it was closed!

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We knew that Finnentrop was only 7km away so pedalled onward, sure that we would find somewhere there. We arrived in Finnentrop – everything was shut. We found a lady walking a dog and asked if there was anywhere to get food and she gave a few suggestions but they weren’t particularly local. A look at my Garmin showed that the route continued after Finnentrop directly to a ribbon development named Bamenohl and that seemed to have several food places so we decided to carry on on the Sauerlandradring rather than trying to locate the places (a petrol station) the dog walker had recommended.

We did a short detour to a restaurant but all was dark and closed so carried on. 30km ridden and no open food establishments located – this seemed very strange!

As we rode down the main street of Bamenohl it was clear that the lady had mentioned places here (a bakery opposite the Sparkasse) but we found a nice looking restaurant with seats outside – and it was open! Hurrah!

I availed myself of the facilities and then we ordered lunch – proper food as who knew if we would get another chance on this ride! We were both hungry after all the hills too.

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They also bought me Teewasser with milk at the first attempt which is unusual (usually cafés and restaurants in Germany forget the milk).

A lunch stop is not only a chance to feed the cyclists but also their navigation devices/cameras etc

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We had a good hour’s break which was needed and decided at this point not to attempt the Nordschleife section – 85km on this hilly route would be enough for us both.

The route now continued along the B286 road which wasn’t very pleasant cycling. We were to discover this further on in our riding – although this is billed as a family-friendly cycle route there are several sections of 2-3km that are on main roads, and I mean on them – no cycle path. We were cycling on narrow-ish fast roads with cars occasionally hooting at us (“Use the cycle path!”) but this was the correct route, signposted as Sauerlandradring, with no alternative cycle path. I would not like to take inexperienced cyclists or children along some of these sections.

At Borghausen the route took us off the main road (phew!) and back into the up-and-down of the cycle route. There were some really steep hills around here, several of which weren’t asphalted. Recumbent trikes really struggle with traction on loose surfaces uphill and there was one very awkward section where we were both pedalling but nothing was happening except our trikes were kicking up sand behind them on each pedal stroke. The slightly damp ground and leaf litter cover didn’t help. It’s amusing for a short while but gets a bit annoying at times.

Klaus’s phone tracking app has registered a 21% incline at some point on the ride – which I think was actually a very fast downhill section as we approached Grevenbrück (if I remember correctly). Due to my earlier near miss I was using the brakes on some of the faster downhills but I still reached 50 km/h on this one.

We rode through Theten which was a nice, open area next to the river Lenne. As you can see, my cycling companion was enjoying the break from uphills (as was I).

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We then found ourselves riding through the town of Altenhundem which seemed to have a collection of odd people out for walks. This section of the Sauerland has rather different inhabitants than Kreis Viersen. We kept pedalling, unfortunately once again beside a busy road.

Helen on the Sauerlandradring

The next section on a pavement cycle path beside the main road seemed to go on and on, through several villages. It wasn’t at all scenic, a real contrast from the earlier riding with fantastic views of the valleys and hills and the leaves turning on the trees.

After what felt like ages the route headed off the main road and back up some more hills, and more unmade surfaces (leafy sandy mud). More hard work! It was clearly time for cake so I suggested we diverted into the village of Saalhausen as my Garmin suggested that had several food places. Klaus agreed (he has now learned the importance of cakes on rides) and so we soon found ourselves at a very nice café sitting outside in the sunshine.

Rather than choosing a cake I had a waffle – I felt I needed the carbohydrates. But asked for ice cream and cream with it for the full unhealthy effect.

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Klaus had a cheesecake.

Klaus's cheesecake

We had just 30km to go which felt about right – the hilliness of the route meant that would be plenty.

This route is variable – some horrible on-road sections, but then you are rewarded with some lovely views of the hills and valleys.

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And of course the trees turning into their winter colours was a bonus.

We joined another Bahnradweg after a very unpleasant on-road section and whizzed along on the gentle downhill slope for about 8km.

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We had a bit of a discussion if we’d want to do this route again in the future and the answer appeared to be no. Although it was lovely in places there were too many sections which were beside or on busy main roads and there weren’t enough food establishments on the route to keep me happy! The Vennbahnradweg, which we rode a month or so again, is something we would both like to do again.

The final section to Eslohe was up a really nasty long, slow hill beside a road. My legs were feeling very tired now (I am not well trained for hills) so was relieved when we got back to the car. We just had to sort the trikes out again to go in the bus and then we headed off back again to Viersen and Kempen.

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Total distance for today was 84.83km at an average speed of 15.9 km/h (those hills, you know). I burned 2,438 calories so that was a bonus.

All in all it was a very enjoyable day and we were incredibly lucky with the weather for mid-October. My trike ran well (despite the new chain being a bit long) and the route was fairly well signposted so we didn’t ever get lost (although the Garmin helped on a couple of occasions when we weren’t sure). Thanks to Klaus for his company, and particularly navigating the driving along scary German Autobahnen in the dark, and to Gudula and Frank and Lara for lending me the bus and looking after Poppy!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in Germany, Six Wheels In Germany

Churches in Kreis Viersen 61-70

This is the seventh batch of church visits that I’ve blogged about. You can read about 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50 and 51-60 as well.

Churches visited this time

Churches in Kreis Viersen 61-70

61. Neuapostolische Kirche, Willich
62. Auferstehungskirche, Willich
63. St Michael, Waldniel
64. Kapelle St Maria an der Heiden, Overhetfeld
65. St Martin, Oberkrüchten
66. St Sebastian, Nettetal-Lobberich
67. Evangelische Kirche, Elmpt
68. Georg Kapelle, Brempt
69. St Anton, Schwalmtal
70. St Bartholomaus, Niederkrüchten

61. Neuapostolische Kirche, Willich

Franz-Liszt-Straße 9, 47877 Willich
http://www.nak-krefeld.de/site/startseite/gemeinden/willich/

This is the fourth of the Neuapostoliche Kirchen that I have visited here in Kreis Viersen and it looks just like the others (they seem to have very similar designs) and, like the other three, it is located in a residential side street and quite easy to overlook.

Willich NAK 1

Willich NAK 2

Auferstehungskirche, Willich

Krusestraße 20, 47877 Willich
http://www.emmaus-willich.de/auferstehungskirche

This church is already very familiar to me as it’s where the choir that I attend practices some of the time.

Auferstehungskirche Willich

Their website explains that the Auferstehungskirche (Resurrection Church) was built in 1931 as a small wooden chapel opposite the Evangelical school in Willich. The build was possible because of the help of the steelwork company Becker, many of whose workers came from the east of Germany. Many of these were protestants.

In 1962 a new church was needed due to the growth of the Willich congregation and it was constructed in its present form.

Auferstehungskirche Willich 2

You can see the tower on the left, the main church in the middle and the building on the right is part of the extensive church halls/music practice rooms etc.

This is a photo of the stained glass window which makes up the left hand side of the main church.

63. St Michael, Waldniel

Niederstraße 31, 41366 Schwalmtal
http://www.sankt-michael-waldniel.de/

This church is the central point of the pretty town of Waldniel which is in the Schwalmtal area.

Waldniel Church

I visited it partway through a long ride (101km) led by the ADFC. You can read more about that here.

64. Kapelle St Maria an der Heiden, Overhetfeld

An der Kapelle, 41372 Niederkrüchten-Overhetfeld
http://www.sankt-laurentius-elmpt.de/

Visiting this chapel was an almost 70km round trip and I did it on a day which started out in bright sunshine, had a colossal downpour and lightning storm in the middle and finished with warm sunshine again. Penelope was the right choice of vehicle for those conditions although I was a bit hot at times!

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I photographed this chapel whilst sheltering under an umbrella during a torrential downpour. It was still very pretty though!

Overhetfeld Kapelle St Maria an der Heiden

The chapel was built in 1703 and as a pilgrimage church was extended in 1734.

Here’s a picture of it from the church’s website in somewhat better weather conditions!

65. St Martin, Oberkrüchten

Kirchstr., 41372 Niederkrüchten
http://www.katholische-kirche-niederkruechten.de/

This church visit isn’t actually in the correct order as I originally spotted what I thought was another church in Breyell and photographed that. It was only later that I discovered I had actually photographed the Pastor’s house and not an actual church. From the photograph below you can see why I made this mistake!

Breyell St Lambertus

Anyway, I did visit St Martin, Oberkrüchten, on the Tour des Monats im Kreis Viersen (during which ride I also visited church number 70).

Here is the church – with a lot of other cyclists outside.

St Martin Oberkruechten

This was another one of the few churches that are actually open outside of services. I understand the reasons for this, of course, as there are valuables in these churches, but it’s a shame you can’t go in most of them. This one had solved that problem by the glass wall method – you can see but not touch!

St Martin Oberkruechten interior

The church has a website with lots of information but not organised in an easy way for someone like me to find out anything much about this church apart from when the services are. But it looks like it’s quite a busy community.

66. St Sebastian, Lobberich

An St. Sebastian 33, 41334 Nettetal
http://www.lobberich.de/stsebastian/

I spent ten days in Lobberich in August 2012 and somehow didn’t ever cycle past this impressively-large church.

St Sebastian Lobberich

The church was originally built in 1818 but as that century neared its close it was too small so in October 1893 the church was enlarged.

It was closed between 1987 and 1990 because of problems with the building (things were falling from the roof!) while repairs were effected.

Their website shows that there is also an almost-identical church, St Aloysius Iserlohn.

67. Evangelische Kirche, Elmpt

Schillerstr. 1, 41372 Niederkrüchten
http://www.kirche-brueggen-elmpt.de/Kirche-Brueggen-Elmpt

This was the church visited on my 126km cycle ride, whose route was as follows:
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Stopping to photograph this church almost led to me being flattened by a woman pulling out of a side driveway (as mentioned here). But I survived!

Evangelische Kirche Elmpt 1

Evangelische Kirche Elmpt 2

From the website it looks like they’ve got quite a lot going on.

68. Georg Kapelle, Brempt

https://www.niederkruechten.de/C12574B8002AED90/html/64BA69CCF8017F1AC12576CB00468175?OpenDocument

I went past this church two days running – and seeing as it’s a heck of a long way from Kempen that is quite impressive!

As is the chapel itself.

Georg Kapelle Brempt

Georg Kapelle Brempt 2

The website describes the following:

Zum wertvollsten kulturellen Erbe Niederkrüchtens gehört die St. Georgs-Kapelle von Brempt, die wahrscheinlich von den Herren der Burg Brempt aus gegründet wurde. Der einschiffige Ziegelbau mit dreiseitigem Chorverschluss wurde in spätgotischem Stil etwa um 1500, wahrscheinlich als Burgkapelle erbaut.

The chapel was founded by the lords of Brempt and was built from 1500.

69. St Anton, Schwalmtal

http://www.sankt-anton-schwalmtal.de/

This church was also visited on my 126km ride. It was impossible to get the whole church in shot, unfortunately! But here are Alfie and his friend the Wild One outside the door.

St Anton Schwalmtal 1

Parts of the current church date from 1490, including this inscription:


which, translated into German, is

Anno Domini 1490 und eins legte Wilhelm in der Linde und Lisbeth den ersten Stein, da war es also gestellt, dass ein Malter Roggen 7 ½ Gulden galt.

70. St Bartholomaus, Niederkrüchten

Dr.-Lindemann-Str. 3, 41372 Niederkrüchten
http://www.katholische-kirche-niederkruechten.de/

I visited this church whilst on the Tour des Monats im Kreis Viersen.

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The route went three sides of a square around the church but I did a small detour to go and visit it.

St Bartholomaus Niederkruechten

It was a large church with a more English-look to it than most around here.

So that’s church number 70 visited – here is the complete map of all the churches I have visited so far:

Churches in Kreis Viersen 1-70

I bought a new Garmin recently and have had issues getting the remaining church waypoints onto it (well, I managed, but then accidentally deleted them and can’t remember how I did it) so I may have to be a bit more organised about visiting the remaining 30 or so…

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Filed under Churches in Kreis Viersen, Cycling in Germany, Six Wheels In Germany

Alfie rides the Vennbahnradweg

Sunday 14 September 2014

Today was a ride with a difference – 100 miles (162km) along a former railway track that linked Aachen with Luxembourg and travelled over the Hohes Venn in Belgium, also part of the Eifel region.

I hadn’t heard about this route before but cycling chum Klaus mentioned it several weeks ago, that it was something he had wanted to ride for a long time, and it seemed to fit rather well with my wish to do a longer distance again. I’d ridden 100 miles three times in 2009 but hadn’t cycled that far since – the Vennbahnradweg seemed like a good opportunity to explore somewhere new and have a good long-distance ride.

There’s a full website about the route available (in English) here: http://www.vennbahn.eu/en/

This was always going to be a long ride as it would start in Aachen (an hour and a half from where I live) so a couple of weeks ago we booked a date that we would make the attempt (assuming the weather wasn’t abysmal). Fortunately the forecast was fairly good for today – sunny and twenty degrees with possibly a few spots of rain now and again.

The first issue with starting a trike ride somewhere other than you live is transporting the thing. Alfie folds very easily and will fit in a fairly small car but Klaus’s trike (now named Killer after he almost ran over a giant Nutria on a ride in the dark) does not fold and is also slightly wider and higher at the back due to its 26 inch rear wheel. At one point we considered taking two cars to Aachen (one trike in each car) but that seemed a bit wasteful of fuel and I checked with my landlord and landlady whether I might be able to borrow their VW Bus. They were very happy for me to do so.

I realised the easiest way to transport trikes is on a flat surface and the VW Bus rear bench seat folds flat so Frank showed me how to do that and I readied the bus on Saturday evening, putting a cloth down onto the seats in case the bikes dropped dirt. I had arranged to collect Klaus at 7am which involved me leaving St Hubert at 6:30am. Yikes!

So Sunday dawned and while it was still dark I headed off in the VW Bus to Viersen, Alfie in the back. Mindful of the weather forecast I had chosen shorts (rather than long cycling trousers) and my sandals which are most comfortable for a long ride. However it was fairly chilly first thing so as a last minute decision I added a pair of socks. Despite the appalling fashion disaster of wearing socks with sandals I am (a) over forty, and (b) living in Germany where that kind of thing doesn’t seem to be so much frowned over.

I arrived in Viersen and Klaus was ready with his trike. It took us a minute or two to work out the best way to tesselate two large three-wheeled machines into the bus but it all worked really well.

Trikes in VW Bus 1

We headed off to Aachen, Klaus giving directions (he had worked out a good place to park). There was very little traffic so early on a Sunday morning so it was an easy drive.

The chosen parking spot was in an Industrial Estate five miles from the centre of Aachen – the Vennbahnradweg was just 20 metres or so from where the bus was parked. We extracted the trikes and got everything ready, feeling a bit chilly in the 11 degrees – me especially (Klaus had chosen to wear long cycling trousers, a waterproof jacket and autumnal shoes).

Trikes in Aachen

My cunning plan about cycling 100 miles was, we knew, probably a bit too much of an ask for us. This was because I hadn’t reckoned with the fact that the route goes over a mountain range so the first 50 miles (if we did the 100) would be largely uphill. Not a particularly steep gradient but uphill is uphill, especially on trikes. Klaus had been unwell the previous week with a cold and still hadn’t entirely shaken it off and didn’t feel entirely fit when taking his trike for a quick spin two days before so we headed out with the assumption that we would ride as far as he thought sensible and then turn round and come back again (mostly downhill on the way back, fortunately).

Here is what ended up as our track for the day.

Vennbahnradweg Track

And here is the elevation profile – including heart rate data (orange) and speed (green).

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There was no-one about as we set off on our ride at 8:30am and we had the lovely wide, smooth asphalt to ourselves. This meant we could ride side-by-side which always makes conversation easier (with my hearing problems), although the initial section felt quite uphill so was hard work. I was keeping an eye on my heart rate to make sure it wasn’t too much too soon as that’s an easy way to exhaust yourself when riding a long way, so periodically I suggested we slowed down a bit.

Working a bit hard up the hills would in some ways have been a benefit to me as I was definitely a bit chilly. I put a buff on my head which helped a bit but I rather wished I had chosen long trousers. I consoled myself with the thought that when the forecasted sun broke through around lunchtime and it reached 20 degrees I would feel much more comfortable.

The route was very well signposted (except for one short section fairly early on) and there were also loads of information boards as we voyaged forth.

Regular signage

This one had a rather nice bit of English about slumbering cyclists – that wasn’t in the German version at all!

Vennbahn Info

The blurb talked about the beautiful scenery and it was nice, in a rather misty kind of way. There was a lot of fog about which meant we couldn’t see too much but the sun filtering through the mist and the trees looked great.

Low sun and mist

After the first few miles we had escaped the outskirts of Aachen and climbed a fair way, now reaching pine forests with no sign of habitation or other people. The track crossed very few roads after the first few miles so it was a long, easy cycle (apart from the slight upward gradient) without having to pay attention to routefinding or other traffic. We just pedalled along, chatting and enjoying the scenery.

The route was on an old railway line but there were still traces of the railway in places – there are clearly sections that still have trains running on them as there were crossings from time to time.

Misty Railway Crossing

The fog hung around a fair bit, I suppose as we were getting higher up, but as we weren’t dodging traffic it wasn’t a problem.

Trike in morning mist

By eleven o’clock the mist was clearing and the sun made more of an appearance although it was still not that warm. It had warmed up enough for me to take off the buff on my head and use my baseball cap instead but that was about it. I was glad to have my socks!

Mist clearing

There were now a lot more cyclists too – we were regularly having to single out as people were coming the other way. This can be harder than you’d think on a trike as you may be pedalling along side-by-side at 25km/h and you see someone coming the other way. The person on the left stops pedalling and waits to tuck in behind the person on the right but the aerodynamics of the trike mean you don’t actually slow down that much so it takes a while before you can tuck in (using the brakes feels like a waste of energy). The person on the right tends to also speed up a bit to help things along but we were occasionally shouted at by random Belgians. There was always plenty of room as it was a wide path – and we were shouted at one time by two Germans cycling side-by-side. Still, when the Belgians shouted at us we couldn’t understand what they were saying so that was OK.

As with other Bahnradwege, there are quite a lot of train-related things left along this route. The station nameplates are a good example.

Regular station nameplates

Klaus has a tendency, when riding, not to stop for food/cake but he’s ridden enough miles with me to know that I like to stop and have a break (and cake) regularly. We didn’t pass very many food places at all (unlike lots of German cycle routes I have been on before where you are knee-deep in Biergärten the whole way). We stopped for an apple/banana after an hour or so but by 10:30 I was beginning to think about having a longer stop (with a loo opportunity). Klaus suggested, as we were fairly close to Monschau, that we stopped there – he knew of a restaurant that did the most fantastic Schnitzel mit Senf, apparently. 11:30am seemed quite early for Schnitzel to me but he looked keen so I thought, why not!

So after another hour’s cycling we arrived at Monschau.

Monschau info board

Like lots of the towns and villages we had passed, they had a little seating area.

Monschau Seating area

However, it became clear that we were actually 3km from Monschau centre. Klaus was still keen to visit the restaurant but warned me it was a long downhill that would require an uphill afterwards to get back to the Bahnradweg. This was not a problem, I didn’t mind a bit more climbing, so we headed off down the main road to Monschau. Which was a lovely fast road where the trikes got up to 50km/h easily.

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We whizzed down the hill (which was clearly going to be hard work going back up again!) and then turned off the road into the main part of Monschau which is pedestrianised and cobbled. There was a fairly long cobbled section and it was so bumpy for me on the trike that my vision started to go a bit wobbly. It was a very peculiar sensation!

We arrived at the restaurant Klaus so liked – and it was closed! Oh no! Still, there were plenty of other opportunities for food so we took ourselves to a bakery for some cake.

Cake in Monschau

The bakery was in a building right next to the river Rur. This is not the Ruhr (where lots of German industry is) but a different, similarly-spelled river also in Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Bridge over the Rur in Monschau 1

There were lots of beautiful Fachhäuser to look at – although I gather owning one of these is even more nightmarish than a Grade 1 Listed house in the UK!

Bridge over the Rur in Monschau

After our cake and tea it was time to head back – over the cobbles.

Monschau cobbles

Klaus said that his ride over the cobbles hadn’t been too bad. Mine had been really rough (not helped by having Kojak tyres at quite a high pressure, I suppose) so he suggested swapping trikes for a bit to see if we could notice a difference.

Boy, was it different! On Klaus’s fully-suspended Wild One the cobbles barely noticed. He’d said this to me before and I assumed it was hyperbole, but indeed it was a very smooth ride, very comfortable (apart from the seat which doesn’t work for my shape). Klaus was behind me on Alfie undoubtedly discovering why I am rather slower across cobbles and probably hoping none of his teeth fell out.

I very meanly carried on riding the Wild One till we were back on proper asphalt and then we swapped back to our own trikes. This definitely gave me food for thought though – I tended to think previously that the complicated suspension on the Wild One was a bit unnecessary for normal riding but it clearly has its benefits if you live somewhere with cobbles!

As we had been whizzing down the hill from Monschau Bahnhof to the town I had noticed what looked like a shortcut back so we decided to take this. It would undoubtedly be steep but hopefully without many cars so it doesn’t matter if you ride slowly.

Sure enough we took the turning on the way back and started slowly working our way up the hill in some of our lowest gears.

As we rounded a corner, having covered about a third of the distance back to the Bahnradweg, the asphalt disappeared and we were faced with gravel/stones/Schotter. Klaus went first – and lost traction after about three metres. I sat on the asphalt considering the predicament. It would be a long haul uphill on the busy road if we returned the route we had come – we had probably less than a kilometre to ride on this gravelly path.

In the end we decided to carry on the only way possible at this point.

Uphill out of Monschau

Fortunately the track fairly soon flattened out enough so that we were able to ride again, albeit with occasional traction issues. This is a perennial problem with recumbent trikes – the rider’s weight isn’t really over the traction wheel so as soon as you get to loose surfaces or mud it can be hard to make progress.

We made it eventually – a very steep walk and ride up a hill – and had to have a bit of a breather at the top before carrying on. The wrong way, as it happens – I hadn’t noticed that the Bahnradweg was higher, we were just on an access road to a farm. We realised soon enough and turned round, went right back to the Bahnhof Monschau rest area that we had been at a good hour before, and got back on the right track.

Early on in the ride we’d briefly been into Belgium (which of course prompts a whole batch of “Willkommen in Belgien” text messages to all our phones) but had mostly been in Germany. After we headed south from Monschau we went into Belgium proper… again, not really noticeable (no text messages this time) except for slight differences in signage. This one was a bit of a giveaway though!

Belgian Schotter

As you can see, we were also at this point riding on Schotter rather than asphalt. This is annoying for me of course, but we knew it would be a short bit of riding. This was because despite not feeling entirely fit Klaus had decided to carry on after Monschau and as the path had been smooth and relatively flat we had covered a good distance. The original plan was to cycle either 161km (100 miles) or 166km (further than I had ever cycled in one day before). I’d shelved this plan at the beginning but it was coming back as a possibility when the Garmin read 75km and we were still heading towards Luxembourg.

The detour into Monschau centre had added about 5km to our track so we knew we needed to ride more than 80.5km before turning round if we were to get back at 161km but the Schotter was annoying so in the end we decided to turn round a little bit early and have the option of riding a bit further at the other end (we had parked 5km from Aachen so could always ride a bit further towards Aachen and then turn back again).

So… we reached a small crossroads in the Radweg and stopped to turn round.

Emergency Chocolate

Notice on the seat of my trike a Union Jack item? This is my Emergency Chocolate ration (“British Chocolate”) given to me by my friend Kirstie when I was in England in June. I had kept it in my flat for emergencies and had, as yet, not been so desperate that I needed it (despite the fact I haven’t allowed myself to buy any chocolates or biscuits from the Griesson de Beukelaer factory for the last three months). Anyway, as I am returning to England next weekend I thought I ought to bring this chocolate on the trip for an energy boost. So we shared the bar of milk chocolate (kind of like an aero but a bit melted) in Belgium looking across at the hills we had cycled up.

View from on high

And here are the statistics on the Garmin at the turning point.

Turning Point

As you can also see, the new Garmin Oregon, although an excellent bit of kit, is a bit thirsty with the batteries – I changed the batteries shortly after this and the replacement only just made it to the end. Fortunately it takes AA rechargeables but the old Oregon (which I also had along as a backup) lasted almost the entire ride on one set of batteries and they weren’t newly charged when I started it up.

So now we turned round and started heading back towards Germany, once again on the Schotter (for just 2km). This should be a generally downhill route now but it didn’t always feel like that. The route was also very busy with cyclists and families out walking so there were lots of ‘hellos’ to people, although we were rarely passed by other cyclists (only those on racing bikes as we are quicker than general cyclists).

There were some interesting place names underway.

Sourbrodt

And I found this an interesting sign as well – this was either end of a 5km-long stretch of perfect, smooth asphalt. Clearly someone local didn’t like the expense!

Umleitung-Idiotie

This whole section is just fantastic though – smooth, fast, flat, with some great views.

Downhill in dusk

On our outward journey we’d passed a café built into an old train which also had a lot of strange open carriages in front of it. On our return journey we passed about 20 of these actually on the tracks – obviously some kind of amusing pedal-power train car. I quite fancied having a go but we didn’t really have time!

Train bike

We were both feeling hungry now and as it was approaching 4pm that felt like time for lunch. Cycling friend Hartmut had recommended a place to me in Küschelscheid and I had made a waypoint on my Garmin for it. I saw this approaching so suggested to Klaus that we stopped there. It was a bit off-route (about 1.5km) and Hartmut had said it was up a hill but we thought we’d give it a go.

So we turned off the route at the relevant section and headed towards the café. Which was up a COLOSSAL hill, a real killer. We turned the pedals in our lowest gear and eventually made it, feeling rather worn out. It was an interesting café with lots of people outside and in. We sat outside but realised fairly quickly that there was only one woman serving, there were lots of other people still waiting for food, and the food choice wasn’t really what we wanted. After ten minutes of sitting there with no sign that the lady would come to take our order we decided to go somewhere else.

So we headed back down the awful hill and reached a top speed of 53km/h. At the bottom of the hill I saw a café and grabbed at my brakes to stop; there was a nice smelly brake pad odour but Klaus carried on saying we’d try somewhere else. The thought was to eat something in the train carriage on the tracks (where the weird pedalling things were), we’d passed it on the way to the café.

So we arrived at the train carriage, sat down on a table outside and noticed that they were only serving waffles. As nice as waffles are, we both felt like we needed more in the way of carbohydrates. “Let’s go to the Imbiss” said Klaus and I agreed – that would have chips! (although not a toilet).

So another 20 metres by trike and we arrived at Anja’s Imbiss which had a smallish queue. There were chips and currywurst and burgers and other options.

Anja's Imbiss

However, it didn’t take more than a minute to notice that Anja had not really got the hang of time-and-motion. She seemed to be cooking to order (including chips), doing one order at a time, and not finding out if anyone in the queue wanted something that was already available (currywurst). Klaus really wanted a can of coke, which she had in the fridge, but she didn’t ask ahead.

So we stood and waited, stood and waited. She served five people in front of us but we were both bemused to notice that when she finished the cooked chips, she didn’t put any more on to cook, although there were four more people in the queue. So when we placed our order she then stuck our chips in to fry. At least the currywurst were ready (which was why I had chosen that – otherwise I would have had a burger). What was also annoying was a man (who clearly also worked for the Imbiss) had arrived and asked if she needed help and she said no – Klaus and I both thought she definitely did!

It was a strange experience of Belgian food provision in one village – three different options, all of which seemed a bit hopeless. Do they not want our money?

Finally the currywurst arrived and we sat in one of the ubiquitous shelters to eat it.

Belgian Currywurst with Frites

The short food stop had taken well over an hour which seemed crazy but we were ready to carry on fairly quickly although I find after eating greasy chips (which were tasty) my stomach complains a bit if I cycle too fast. So we pootled on, still waiting for the wonderful downhill section we knew must be coming (as we had ridden a long way uphill at the start).

The route has regular signposts in the Belgian section with the countdown to Aachen. We had started 5km from Aachen so had to knock 5 off all of these for our distance back but it became clear because of the Monschau detour we would get back to the car before the 100 miles. We agreed to decide what to do then – I thought I could always head off for few miles to bag the 100. Klaus, being metric, was possibly less bothered by hitting this magic number!

Regular signage

I had forgotten there was another section of Schotter on this part of the route. On our outward journey we had swapped trikes briefly to see if the reason I ride slowly on it is to do with Alfie only having rear suspension; it was an inconclusive test but I still find it hard work. However this photo shows the common sight when I am riding on Schotter – my riding partner, whoever they are, pulling a long way ahead because I am so slow.

More Schotter

We had now ridden further than Klaus had ever been in one day and he started to have issues with his feet (quite common with recumbents because your legs/toes are so high up). He explained this to me in one of his excellent little English phrases which are rather influenced by German: “my feets are sleeping away”. So it seemed like a good idea to stop and walk around for a bit to get the blood flowing back into the toes – plus I wanted a drink. So at the next little stopping point we had a wander, read the signage about the area where we are, ate some more of the emergency chocolate and had a five minute argument about whether dishwashers are more useful than husbands.

Bahnhof Lammersdorf

The sun was heading to the horizon now but we had finally got to the excellent downhill section. This was really fast – we were averaging 32 km/h for long stretches, probably for 10km or more, so the distance to go was counting down rapidly.

Getting dark

Klaus has 81 gears on his trike and so his top gear is much higher than mine and I was having to pedal quite fast to keep up with him. But it’s such brilliant fun riding this fast on a path with no traffic – and the other cyclists had mostly gone home now so we generally had uninterrupted progress. I reckon in the velomobile I could have enjoyed this part of the ride at 50km/h.

The distance was counting down, we had switched on our lights, and soon we were in the busier section of the suburbs of Aachen with lots of road crossings. Klaus phoned his wife to say we just had three more kilometres to do but when we arrived back at the area where we had left the car we were on 97.5 miles. Except were we? My Garmin was giving a different reading to Klaus’s Runtastic software on his iPhone (which uses a sensor on the wheel to measure distance). He tried to explain to me that as the Garmin isn’t taking into account elevation with its distance (it assumes you’re on the flat), it is under-reading. His phone believed we had cycled 1km further than my Garmin. I argued that he couldn’t be sure he’d measured his wheel circumference perfectly and if it was a couple of millimetres out then his distance measurement would also be out. After a day of cycling with someone it’s quite easy to find things to argue about!!!

Anyway, he agreed we really ought to get to the Imperial Century as we were so close so we continued on the Radweg towards Aachen, still downhill. And I insisted on using my Garmin’s measurement as that’s what I’ve always used for my distance measurements. At 98.75 miles it was time to turn round and head back again – unfortunately uphill!

The last mile and a quarter was hard work (not least because my Garmin was using Imperial units and I’m used to kilometres going past rather more quickly than miles). But lo and behold the Garmin clicked to 100.0 miles just before we reached the car – hurrah!!!

I realised I hadn’t got a photo of the Vennbahnradweg signs that we had seen all day – it was rather dark but I made an attempt at the sign where we had parked the car. As you can see, it was not a success!!

Back at the start

Here is the proof from my Garmin in Imperial.

Trip Computer Imperial

And in metric.

Trip computer Metric

It took five minutes to get the trikes back in the car and then we were off back to Viersen and Kempen.

All in all it was a great ride – a real achievement for us both, but especially for Klaus who was still recovering from the lurgy. He made the better clothing choice (the promised sunny, warm day never arrived so I was sometimes a bit cold) and he also won on the number-of-stops thing as I usually like to stop every 25km or so and we only stopped twice in 162.

100 miles in a day is a fairly major milestone, the next being 200km in a day but I think that might be too far at my speed. Certainly the Vennbahnradweg was an excellent choice for a distance ride as there were so few road crossings but if it’d been flatter that would have made the first fifty miles a bit easier!

After downloading the track to my computer I got my more accurate figures. Klaus’s figures (after downloading to his computer) are in red. He didn’t have a HRM today.

Total statistics for this ride:

Distance = 162.45 km / 100.3 miles; 163.47 km
Ride time = 9 hours 09 minutes
Average speed = 17.6 km/h;  16.85 km/h
Average heart rate = 140
Maximum heart rate = 186
Maximum speed = 53.2 km/h; 53.13 km/h
Climb = 904 metres;  1163 metres
Calories burned = 4,604

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in Germany, Six Wheels In Germany