Sunday, May 28, 2006

A church for cyclists

I don't want to give the impression that all German cyclists are very religious, but in addition to the Pope Benedict cycleway down in Bavaria, the protestant church in Vellmar, a village near Kassel in the north of Hessen, will be open 24 hours a day for the cycling season. The village pastor was interviewed on TV and said that he felt, that in the same way that Autobahn churches (of which there are a number in Germany) are open 24 h a day, cyclists should also have a church available day and night.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Gas or should it be gaz cylinders

We had an eMail yesterday from a cyclist wishing to do a lightweight camping trip through Germany who was worried about gas cartridges. What we found out was that according to the Camping Gaz web site:, the following disposable canisters are on sale in Germany: C208, cv270, cv 470 and cp250. If you look on the web site and put the name of a town and Germany in the form "Where to find cartridges" and then wait a bit, the web site will show a map of the area showing the shops that sell the cartridges. Under this map there is a list of addresses. If you click on the word map next to the address this will give you a detailed street plan of the area around the shop. However I then looked at Viernheim where we live and realised that our local camping shop that does sell Camping Gaz cartridges was not shown. I suspect that most camping shops, camp sites etc. will sell the cartridges.
There is a second type of gas cartridge that can be unscrewed. Typical brands are Coleman and Markill. Markill is a German company. There is a lot of Coleman stuff on sale in Germany. I suspect you will need to go to big camping shops to find the cartridges. Camping Gaz are easier to find. Markill make an adaptor for camping gaz cartridges. According to Coleman: If you contact your local European Office they will tell you where shops are to be found: See It might be an idea to cheat and contact Coleman Germany. Since the German importers have to deal with the States the employees will understand English, if you don't want to write in German.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Special Bike Show again!

Once oil gets even more expensive one of the ways we are going to get about, if we are lucky, is on a bicycle. Whether it will be the conventional two wheeled diamond frame “cumbersome” bicycle or one of the slightly different but exciting or amusing bikes shown at Spezi the Special Bike Show in Germersheim, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany on 29-30 April is not easy to say. Since many children are growing up without learning to ride a two wheeled vehicle, either there is going to have to be a massive adult teaching programme in years to come or trikes are going to be a lot popular.
Spezi started 11 years ago. The organisers, Haasies Radschlag, a bicycle shop in Germersheim, started by not only inviting well known manufacturers of bicycles, tricycles and accessories, but also new small one man companies starting up by brazing frames, the specialist builders of bikes, trikes and tandems for the disabled, the local cycling clubs and the human powered vehicle freaks. It has grown over the years without losing its friendly family atmosphere to become a major event with 80 exhibitors in three halls.
We understand that Bernds do not sell well in the UK which is a pity, although their tandems are offered by Cyclecentric in Cambridge ( Bernds ( still build a fairly conventional folding bike, but also now offer a low step through folder, if one has trouble getting one’s leg over. The same goes for the tandem which now offered as a step through version. Interesting that one can now write about a conventional folding bicycle.
We ogled the new titanium Bromptons and if we came up on the lottery, we would sell off our our heavier steel Bromptons and order the finest of the fine, but unfortunately to win the lottery we need to buy a ticket and common sense says we will win less, but more consistently if we don’t buy a ticket. Ah well!
We said hello to our friends at Altena Bike ( who we first met at the York Rally last year. Altena builds recumbent bicycles and tandems that are built more for comfort than than speed. They have a new conventional tandem that looks very nice which is unfortunately not mentioned on their web site. As our one attempt to use a tandem was not a great success, I suspect buying one has a low priority at “Schloss Forsyth”.
Beyond Altena we looked at the Ice stand and were much taken with the concept of the folding trike ( Obviously the main advantage of the trike recumbent is that until one is quite skilled a recumbent bicycle at low speeds is a so-and-so to ride. You don’t have to balance a trike. However my own feeling is that the very nearness to the ground brings visibility problems for motorists, but on the other hand one’s bum is a lot more comfortable in an armchair than on a saddle.
We were also quite impressed with the Hase bikes and trikes ( If we were going to buy a tandem, the Hase Pino would be high on the list. Hase is well represented at this show. The firm organises a very popular trike race during Spezi and has a large stand at the entrance to Hall 1. Hase is going to organise a show similar to Spezi on June 17 in Waltrop in the Ruhr called Fez am Flöz (Fun on the Coal Seam). There is a good chance you will see us there. There is more information on the company’s web site, but only in German.
When we get rid of the car, we will have to use our bicycle trailer more (or take more taxis), so we have been practising recently. We have also been playing with the idea of taking the trailer packed with camping gear to somewhere far away and cycling back to Viernheim. We are thus interested in trailers and these were well represented at the show. Used, the European agents for the Scottish Carry Freedom had examples of the Y-Frame platform, the bARK/POD dog carrier and the City trailer ( on show. The latter is a hard shell bike trailer, suitcase or courier bag, probably of great use if you are a commuter in the concrete jungle, but less so for the tourist. The Y-Frame trailer however seems to be a useful all round touring, shopping trailer. Fitted with a dog box it turns into the bARK/POD. I suspect if we had a dog, I would be more interested in the dog pulling me rather than me pulling the dog. Our American friends have stolen a march on the rest of the world, yet again, with the dog scooter: see and for more thoughts along these lines. Roland and Weber trailers shared a stand. The two companies appear to be cooperating. The single wheeled Weber Monoporter and the two wheeled Roland Carrie both use the same base. Something new that I have not seen anywhere else is a railing that can be fitted to either trailer to act as fastening point when carrying odd loads. (,
Dahon were represented by a local cycle shop and had a goodly number of bikes on show. I must admit I can never quite work out the difference between the various Dahon models, although the web site ( does offer a method to find out which bike is best for you. We were most impressed by the new El Bolso bag. This is a nylon trapezoidal bag which is carried on the shoulder. El Bolso is easy to use. The folded bike is put on the ground; the bike placed in the middle of the bag; the bag picked up, and slung over the shoulder. It has a slip over cover so you can hide your bike, if necessary, from the officious eyes of Southern TOC guards, in case bikes are banned, yet again. Dahon state that the bag can be used for 16”, 20” and 26” folding bikes. I think a Brompton would rattle like a pea in a drum, but there would be adequate amounts of room for other less compact folders.
One of the vehicles that would appeal to the generation that has never learned to ride a bike is the Short Bike which is actually a trike. It is a hinged separable trike with a wide saddle and a backrest, a solid well-built baggage platform (which could be fitted with a child seat), Schwalbe Big Apple tyres, a drum brake, and 7 gear Shimano (hub?) gear. The makers claim the baggage platform can take up to 60 kg. See photograph above. One’s initial impressions on riding the thing are somewhat odd, as the rear wheels stay on the ground when turning but the front wheel/handlebars seem to tip over. I suspect with a bit of practice the trike would be very nippy and make a superb utility vehicle. The turning circle is small. It is not as sexy as a tadpole recumbent trike, but one is more visible especially as the trike is offered with a red or blue or yellow plastic fairing and the rider sits higher up making it possible to look motorists in the eye. It costs about £850 in Germany (

Monday, May 01, 2006

Peak oil again, a rant!

One of the best ways to ensure sleepless nights is to turn on your computer, log into the internet, punch in the term “peak oil” into a search engine and read the sites you find. “Peak Oil” is the term used to describe the problems when the day comes when demand for crude oil exceeds supply. Some say it is very close, others give it 30 or more years. On the other hand, consumption has exceeded discovery every year since 1981. (BTW This information is taken from the web site of the Society for Chemical Industry, London, an organisation that is not normally considered a bunch of tree huggers.) Basically what you find is that the concept of peak oil does not mean that oil will run out shortly, but that the era of cheap oil is probably coming to an end. What’s cheap oil? Our feeling is it is still cheap, at least seeing the number of cars on local roads. Our neighbours to our left have two cars and those on the right an estate car, a Smart car and a motor bike. Yes we have one too, but we use it less and less. According to Will Hutton writing in today’s “Observer” petrol costs about £1 a litre at some filling stations. Taking inflation into account this is about twice as expensive as it was in the late 60’s.
However a barrel of crude oil costs about $70 at the moment, but the increases in the price of crude oil are amplified by small reductions in supply, even if it is only 1% , because each purchaser thinks that the loss of 1% of the supply i.e. 850000 barrels are his 850000 barrels. The present price of $70 is considered high but it is likely to rise as the Chinese and the Indians buy more and more. Since 2004, China ’s incremental demand for oil has been outstripping that of the rest of the entire world (Society of Chemical Industry, London). We are all dependent on oil. Without it we would starve to death in the dark at the moment. Britain needs to cut back on oil and natural gas usage, on fossil fuel usage in general, not only because the stuff is going to get more and more expensive, but also because it might save security problems in future. It does not seem impossible to us that a lot of guys making and plotting trouble in the Middle East have financial backing from others who make their money from oil. The guys selling oil receive obscene amounts of loot. The less oil we buy from the Middle East, the less money the nasties will get. This makes it more difficult for them to make trouble.
Obviously it would behove the British government to slow down the extraction of oil from the North Sea; try to improve energy efficiency by improving house construction (passive heating and insulation) and public transport, by encouraging cycling and walking, by cutting back on road building programmes and by starting to build an economy that is not based on oil and natural gas. Interestingly enough at the start of the exploitation of North Sea oil Robb Wilmot, the former chairman of ICL, suggested that it would be better to leave the stuff in the ground as it would be worth more in future! There were some moves to use other feedstocks for the chemical industry and other fuels (typically wood, straw, vegetable oils and other forms of biomass) in the mid 1970s and there are a series of American and European efforts today (, About 10% of the feedstocks for the German chemical industry and 2% for the American are from renewable sources. These moves are important because the chemical industry not only supplies the frills that make shopping such an adventure - the packaging we have to puncture to get at the cool cotton shirt, but also the fertilisers and pesticides so that the cotton plants can flourish. Not all of these moves are going to be popular. As a good example: Aviation fuel is not taxed to encourage aviation, quite why I don’t know, but if it were taxed this would go someway towards leveling the playing field for other forms of public transport, such as the railways. However this would also begin to make those weekend trips to get dysfunctional in Dublin, legless in Lithuania or plastered in Prague or even to enjoy 4 days of Christmas shopping in New York expensive enough to think twice about doing it. This might not be a bad wheeze, but it would be unpopular with the airlines, the airports, the big and little civil engineering companies extending runways and a lot of punters, so do not expect HM Government to do anything to take steps to be able pull us out of the mess we will be in.
What does it mean for you in the medium term and what can you do? Without taking the drastic step of selling one of the cars, most of us can reduce our car mileage by 10% and our energy use by about 10% by doing a bit of planning. Just as an example or two: If you wish to show your green credentials by recycling the wine bottles, don’t make a special trip. If you need to do a school run by car then try to set up a car pool. Do you have to eat fresh strawberries in the depths of winter? Try buying locally grown food that is in season. Food tastes better then. Grow some of your own food. Start a compost heap. Your friendly council may well give you a composter and a booklet of handy hints to get it turning out first class compost, but then use it to improve the soil quality.
If your first thought when it is suggested that you sell one of the cars is “I can’t get rid of the car/s, because...”, then consider moving house to somewhere nearer work, the shops, school.... If you live way out in the sticks think seriously about selling up and moving nearer to a small town unless you have a functioning branch line at the bottom of the garden. If you already live near to the shops etc. try cycling or walking rather than driving. It has the advantage that you will buy less and still survive. It is worthwhile bringing energy usage (transport, insulation) into the house buying equation along with the quality of the local schools, for example. Think about putting solar water heating panels on the roof and improving the insulation. This can only increase the value of your house.

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