Friday, April 29, 2011

A Tour through Lille (France): A Bike within a Bike

A Tour through Lille (France) and some philosophy

On my recent tour through the beautiful city of Lille (France) (see following pictures) I met this friendly rickshaw driver in front of  his bike.  He offers rides through the city for up to two persons.  the charge is 1 Euro per person and one Euro per kilometer.
A complete tour of the city costs 19 Euros.  He is available Monday through Saturday from 11 to 19 hrs.  Reservations can be made. 
I recommend the website cycloville which shows this type of  bike service throughout France. Here is their photo gallery of rickshaws in Lille: (external link) cycloville photo gallery

Asked if he would take me on a tour with my folding bike on board, he smiled and agreed:  "Why not, a bike within a bike!"

As any folding bike fan, I suppose,  I like the idea of running an urban taxi service based on muscle and man power. This kind of public transport is ecological and my friend in the picture and his company even call it "zen" referring to a buddist school. 

Among other things, this school teaches simplicity and meditation. 

True bikers will get an idea because pedalling with a certain ease of mind is a means of  going your way or pursuing your goal in a radically simple and energy efficient way.  It may take years, though, to achieve the serenity and happiness of a true zen cyclist.  

But before I go on with this line of thought - necessary in this post, as you will see later - let me report something more down to earth and to our biking topic.  The friendly rickshaw man pointed out to me that the speed hub of his machine was a "Rohloff", thus referring to a fine German bicycle maker whose website is a must for any fan: Rohloff . (You may klick the English language version.)

And now to the aery part of our visit which led us to the famous Musee des Beaux Arts.  Presently it hosts a remarkable exhibition
dedicated to the idea of visualizing thinking.  From Europe`s golden period in painting, the 17th century, 50  portraits by famous artists like Ribera, Velazques and Giordano and others are exhibited. They show  the images of philosophers beginning with the great thinkers of ancient Greece.

Heraklit is quoted like this:
Heraklit:  "The invisible harmony is worth more than the harmony that can bee seen."
Just like the modern internet man or woman is approaching the world by zooming in with Google`s "Earth", quite a few old thinkers are represented with a globe at their disposal for studying.  Here is a painting showing the young philosopher Democrit and his easy going way - laughing and keeping an eye on the world in front of him, two fingers pointing while a normal thinker like you and me would only use his forefinger. (Mind the beret - not unlike a cap that is never taken off by some students of our time.)
Johannes Mereelse, Démocrite le philosophe rieur, v. 1630, Nantes, musée des Beaux-Art
Old age and thinking can be seen in the following picture. Look
how the old man is leaning on the world without any need to use it, let alone to zoom in on it, probably because  he knows and has studied so much that he is talking and explaining, handing out his information freely but keeping his head supported by his right hand which may underscore his mature  reflexion.
Hendrick Ter Brugghen, Héraclite, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

And now some images from the bike trip across the city:

A lot of free space allows the cyclist to share his way with the pedestrians; and wherever he stops, there are overwhelming sights of  richly decorated historic buildings. -  By the way, the youth hostel is located close to the Musee des Beaux Arts and to the historic center of Lille.  You either walk a few minutes or go by bike using the bicycle lane marked green on the pavement.

By Metro to Roubaix:  Museum "La Piscine", Ethics in a nutshell
We were impressed by Lille`s metro, which we took from the Gare de Flandres to the suburb of Roubaix (station Grand Place).  There is "La Piscine", a former swimming pool (art deco, between WW I and WW II), now an  important  museum of art and industry.

Near the metro station Grand Place, the city of Roubaix honours the liberal industrialist Eugene Motte with a monument that shows an inscription containing his conservative ethics in a nutshell:
(My translation:  "Fill your life with work, love those cooperating with you in your work, be just and generous, give an example of simplicity in your customs, your relationships and in your daily life.  Copy from your elders, continue in their tradition, honor them.")

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Tour in Nancy: From Remicourt to Stanislas Square

Life style: Jumping on stilts or riding a folding bike

On a wonderful Sunday in April we went on a bicycle tour
from the youth hostel of Nancy (France) to the ancient town center and to the famous Stanislas Square where people either sit in street cafes  to relax or walk past impressive 18th century buildings like the opera house and the city hall admiring the square`s fancy golden gates in the baroque style.  Many eyes were on the Brompton bike, and then came the question: "Vous-etes content avec ce velo pliable?"  At the end of this post I`ll try to answer that question.  First a few words about the trip.

Youth Hostel
The youth hostel is located west of Nancy in a suburb  called Villers.
It is located in  a small  18th century  castle with a large park  of  old trees.  In the reception office you get free access to the internet on a computer with a French language keyboard -  not  so much fun for people from the anglo-saxon and Germanic computer world.

The trip
Once you have left the park of Remicourt, you enter the road and are guided by a large green mark on the pavement for cyclists to follow.A  city map shows a large network of bicycle paths, and I would surmise that riders of  a  Brompton folding bike will possess sufficient orientation power and a good amount of inspiration to find the path`s continuation at any major  crossing.  The bicycle path down into the valley and into the old city center is certainly a good idea, if its realisation were more to the needs of the average cyclist, for example, if the trail was marked with a number and with one particular colour, you  would be able to appreciate the sights along the road much more.

How easily does it fold?
On the Stanislas square, right next to the opera house and in front of a restaurant`s crowded street cafe, we were approached by a French couple who were also pushing their folding bikes wondering how I was faring with the Brompton and what my experiences were and how easily it would fold.

There is the plastic hook which broke off

French girl dancing her freedom in front of her girl friends one week before getting married

Not a Street Artist
My answer was a quick demonstration on the spot. There was a good crowd of spectators in the street cafe, and I was already in the limelight anyway. Are we not all in the back of our minds street artists or performers when  we may sport our favourite vehicle?  So I went to work. My bike folded quickly, as it should, but after I had hooked the front wheel to the frame bar, it  came off, swivelled back - no way, I could  not get it into place.  Some onlookers seemed to smile generously, others did not  notice my sweat and shame.  The reason for my failure was the plastic hook on the front wheel`s left side wire holding the fender.  Its tip had broken off, probably during the transport in the trunk of my car.  Another case of warranty, I hope.  Obviously not the strongest material.  Do you  remember the comment of a fellow Brompton rider which I reported in one of my recent postings?  "Forget the appliances!"

Embarrassed, but still a fan
And yet, as a true Brompton fan still, I finish this by saying, we had a wonderful ride through the city of Nancy and the folding performance was enjoyable.

Gargoyle - called water spewer in German - at one of the golden gates of Stanislas Square

Sunday, April 10, 2011

For Gentlemen, a Brompton Trip along the Agger and to Schloss Auel

Schloss Auel  in Wahlscheid 
From Bonn by car to Lohmar near Siegburg, and right on to a nice cycling lane along the small river Agger.
The trail  takes you to Schloss Auel in Wahlscheid, a beautiful barroque castle with hotel, restaurant and bistro.  This resort is at the same time the entrance to a large golf course.

The castle and the restaurant are really worth a visit, the historical interieur may give you the impression you are entering the world of noblemen and knights.  The children loved the armour of a knight standing to your right behind the  entrance door. 

If you are on a budget, beware of the prices in this fine restaurant.  You also have the bistro as an option.  Service and food are excellent. -  The village of Wahlscheid, which is only a five minutes ride away, has also some nice places to rest, a country restaurant, a cafe and a beer garden.

Is the Brompton rider a true gentleman only if he frequents places like the castle restaurant?  Of course not, because as everybody knows the gentleman among the Brompton riders carries his values within, in his character and cultivation, not in his purse.

To sum up, today`s outing was enjoyable for the beautiful spring weather, a wonderful landscape with a memorable historical landmark and because the folding bike had made it so easy to go for are short ride after a good meal. 

How did the Brompton perform today, alongside my little son on his kid`s bike?  Well, we pedalled at the same speed, my gears gave me a clear advantage, though.

Finally, I must not forget mentioning the plastic protector of the front gear wheel which came off at one spot.  A bump with the foot was enough to bring it back into place.  This reminded me of the harsh comment of a fellow Brompton rider whom I met last week at the river Rhine in Bonn and whose words I don`t want to subscribe yet:  "Just the frame is first class, forget the appliances." 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bicycle Tour Bonn: Crossing the Rheinsteig (2 hours)

View from the Rheinsteig trail over the vinyards of Oberdollendorf down to the river Rhine

Starting at Gielgen-Bonn (bus stop) we take the road to Oberholtorf where archaeologists excavated the founding stones of what was once a large Romanesque church.  At the site, conservationists have set up a bee hive with solitary bees.

Then we ride into the forest where we turn left on the hiking trail "Rheinhöhenweg", past the highest elevation point of the city territory of Bonn and to a car park with a show case where the hikin trails in the Siebengebirge are indicated.

Next we turn right twice, after a short ride one very small and bumpy trail we leave the fores and stop right on the famous "Rheinsteig" trail.  Here we turn left and find a bench to rest a little and to overlook the Rhine valley above Oberdollendorf.

Our view goes over the vinyards and roofs of Oberdollendorf down to the river Rhine where we will arrive at the Niederdollendorf ferry boat after an easy downhill ride through the vineyards and then past timbered houses, the oldest of which date from the 17th century.

Once at the Rhine ferry at Niederdollendorf, we turn into the direction Bonn-Cologne, right on another trail with many spectacular sights.  The trip takes us to Oberkassel, past the restaurant "Rohmühle" and the grand hotel Kameh from where we find our way to the subway and bus  station Ramersdorf.  From here the bus takes us either to Gielgen where we started, or we take the subway, if we want to go to the centre of Bonn. -  Here are some photos of the trip.

The sign reads:  "Historic site, please do not use as playground; please keep dogs on a leash."
The scarce information available of a former church of which no documents are known.

Based on the mural remains,  the exact outline of the former church has been marked with new masonary work.. The slate in the church`s choir covers a children`s tomb.
Conservations have set up this home for wild bees.
On the trail "Rheinhöhenweg" this stone mark`s the highest elevation of  Bonn.
Stone and map along the trail for the biker`s  orientation
This is the small trail connecting with the Rheinsteig.
The trail symbol of the Rheinsteig
Upon entering the Rheinsteig, turn to your left and find this nice place to rest.
Signs at the vinyards.
Entrance gate to the popular wine restaurant Sülz.
In front of the church at Oberdollendorf
A sight in the historic part of the village

Complimentary service:  Use the air pump in front of this shop.
Sight in the old part of Niederdollendorf, shortly before reaching the river Rhine.
Ferry for cars and persons at Niederdollendorf
It reads:  "Get out to the Rhine!  You are now on the adventure trail Rhineway between Bonn and Duisburg.  The trail offers you two times 160 kilometeres of  cycling enjoyment up and down the river. You may start your tour at any point on the trail and define it individually thanks to information boards and trail markers.
One of the many barges on the international waterway Rhine

All photos copyright by g. miklitz 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Caster wheels and what Brompton users have found

Minor Inconveniences on a Fine Day in Spring
Finally nice spring weather has come, just right for a ride on my Brompton down into the valley to Bonn-Beuel where I wanted to pick up some photos at a camera shop. Before getting started, the bike had to be unfolded, as usual.  Normally, this is done in less than  half a minute.  

Pedal Caught by Chain
But today I must have been totally left handed.  I simply could not get the front wheel off the frame in a whiff.  So it happened that when I lifted the bike slightly in order to let the back wheel go, the pedal got caught  by the chain and everything was stuck. Granted, it got released in a second but the chain came off the gear.  Quickly I put it back on, but my hands were left a bit dirty with chain grease.

Nevertheless, a Smooth, Fast and Enjoyable Ride
Reading these details, you might get the impression that the folding mechanism of this bike is not so easy to handle.  However, in fact, it really is easy, you have just got to know that you are doing. 
As I said in two other postings, one has got to follow the instructions and practise a bit.  After this unfavourable beginning of today`s tour, my ride turned out to be fast, smooth and quite enjoyable.

Caster Wheels Snagging Trousers
But before I start praising the Brompton and call it "My Brommie" as some users do when writing about it in fora on folding bikes, I must tell you the truth about another minor inconvenience I have found.  From one of my previous postings you may remember my comment on the little castor wheels at the back rack.  
In one forum a user wrote: "My heels hit those darn casters! "
Another one wrote: "My problem with the castor wheels is that they snag the turn-ups on my good trousers. I've ripped one pair."Last time when I was wearing trousers too, precisely this was my problem, except ripping them.  Even today, with my blue jeans on,    I have experienced  some lack of comfort because they also got caught once in a while by the little trolley rollers.
Nonetheless, I still think that this is a trifle and with more riding experience I will know how to avoid getting caught.

What other  users have found
Reading in some fora on folding bikes it was somewhat comforting to learn that I am not the only Brompton user who thinks the coasters are an issue.  Even more comforting may be a mechanical remedy  that is being offered on a website. It is suggested to exchange the original coasters for a set of bigger ones  that promise to make the pushing or pulling of the bike over pavement easier and that  will leave your trousers alone at the same time. 

Parts for Modifying the Brompton
Although I am not yet ready myself for having my bike upgraded with an exchange of parts, here is the link:  Parts for modification of Brompton folding bike .
Now, I wonder if there are any readers out there who have installed these bigger coasters and who are willing to share their experiences.

A Word on Gears
One more word here on the gears, and that will finish this posting, adding to the overall fascination of riding the Brompton.
As I was going up the mountain on my way back, it turned out to be a pedalling effort of little stress. The Brompton M6 has six gears which enable you to speed down  hill just like any touring bike.  And climbing the mountain was all right except for the very steep part of several 100 meters.  Actually, I walked my bike because I was in no hurry.  Maybe some other day I will catch the bus instead and let the "Brommie" excel and let it be admired for folding to the smallest bicycle parcel you have ever seen.