Saturday 16 April 2011

Bike Town and A Ride to Erkrath

It was a beautiful Spring day today and my colleague Henri picked me up at 9:30 for the one hour's drive to Bocholt and the biggest bike store around. Henri is interested in starting to cycle more seriously and I offered to loan him one of my classic steel bikes to see how he like riding a lightweight bicycle but I suggested that he get a set of clipless pedals and shoes, as well as the usual useful things (particularly a helmet).

Bocholt, located on the Aa River (seriously) is about 100 kms north of Düsseldorf, very close to the Dutch border. Rose Versand, Germany's largest retailer of bicycle equipment, was founded in the town in 1907 and now has 250 employees and a massive mail-order operation. The gigantic 2011 catalogue is 936 pages in size and is printed in German and in English.

As we walked to the store entrance, we passed a vending machine selling Continental inner tubes, which is a great idea if you need a tube and the store is closed. We passed a display of the impressive trailer hitch bike racks, complete with full-sized auto turn signals, that the Germans like so much, and found ourselves entering the nirvana that is Bike Town.

Bike Town is the retail store next to the main office and is three storeys of bikes and accessories, covering 6,000 m² and offering 20,000 items. It has a bike repair shop and a cafe so you could spend a great deal of time there, although Henri and I chose not to ride through the place like this cyclist:

After getting Shimano SPD pedals and matching shoes and cleats, a helmet, gloves, a repair kit and minipump and several other things, Henri was set. I bought an extra SpeedLever (the finest tool ever conceived) and one more storage rack so that I could rearrange the bicycles in my garage. We both took away catalogues and BDR guides to organized rides in 2011 in Germany.

After a nice lunch in Bocholt that involved chanterelle mushrooms, we returned to Düsseldorf and I replaced the Campagnolo pedals, with their toeclips and straps, with the SPD pedals on the Chesini. I added the pump to the frame, as well as the new tool kit and inflated the tires. Henri in the meantime went home for his shorts and jersey and soon joined me. A few minutes of adjusting brought the seat to the right height and now he was set to ride a Real Bicycle.

First lesson was to send him up and down the street learning to click in and out of the clipless pedals. After some initial difficulty getting the hang of this, he quickly found the correct position and was soon getting in and out like a pro. I showed him that we don't ride in the drops very often but he would find it more comfortable to ride the tops of the handlebars or the brake hoods. For a new rider this is a bit nerve-wracking as he felt he was too far from the brakes. He is used to a commuting bike where the brake levers are at hand. As he got used to the bike, and the rapid steering and light handling, he was less apprehensive. Then it was an explanation of gearing and shifting. The Chesini uses Campagnolo friction shifters on the frame and while the shifters work well, these also take some getting used to as you need to reach down for the shift. But everything was coming together well enough that I was confident we could do a ride now.

The route I picked was most of the way to Neandertal, but would bring us up a steep hill before circling back. The weather was ideal, fair and 15ºC and no wind to speak of. Riding the bike path out of town was easy and did not require riding in traffic. Leaving Düsseldorf, we had to deal with cars and buses but it was not so bad. I told Henri to keep a sharp eye out on the road, and also to shift gears before he needed to do so. We rode through Erkrath and then made the turn to the left off the L357 road that took us up the big hill on Metzkausener Strasse.

A ride with one serious climb!

The Chesini has lower gearing than the Basso I was riding but Henri probably had no need of it as he easily kept up to me. The first part of the road is not so bad and I started off confidently but about two-thirds of the way up there is a nasty curve and pitch-up. I was really feeling the 8 extra kilograms I have packed on in Germany since my arrival and was huffing and puffing to get to the top. Heading northwest took us to the intersection with Landstrasse 7, where we turned around and retraced our route. We saw several other cyclists coming up the hill, so it is obviously a local Test of Strength, but we continued along the crest of the hill on Gans Strasse and then turned downhill back to Erkrath. The road is actually a bit potholed so you cannot get the kind of speed you have earned with the big climb.

We retraced the rest of the route back to Düsseldorf and my place. We were on the road for 1:08, covering 23.55 kms and climbing 165 m. It was a good introduction to road cycling for Henri, and a test of his new equipment, and I look forward to doing more riding with him. There are many nice areas to visit here and we might be able to use his car as well to get to some jump-off points, avoiding city traffic.

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