October 7th - An odd bike spotted in a rack near work. It was so odd, I had to take a closer look.
It’s a Kettler city bike. Kettler are, I believe, a German brand with an office in Redditch selling into the UK. It’s a large bike, and looks very heavy indeed. Dynamo lights powered by a bottle, rather than hub generator and rim brakes - the rear an unusual crossover cantilever design mounter under the chainstays - mark this bike out as being a cheap model. More expensive steeds of this type would have hub brakes.
The bike clearly needs some love - the chain was as dry as old bones and red rusty, as were many of the components. I’m tempted to pop back just to lube the chain. It must squeak like hell in use.
An unusual thing, for sure…
October 1st - Spotted this bike on the train today. It’s a Cannondale, a brand I’m not keen on, mainly for their curious approach to design and resolute defiance of industry standards.
I snatched these images on the phone, as the owner was clearly happy with his new steed. The bike has an interesting feature - ‘Headshok’ suspension. Rather than conventional front systems, where both fork legs travel together and work in tandem, this system is at the fork crown, and much of the mechanism - dampers etc. - is in the head-tube and between crown and fork.
Initially appealing, it means all the load in work is on one member, rather than two; the system is utterly proprietary, and requires frequent, expensive, short milage interval services. Finally, you only have to look at them funny and they stop working.
There are avid Cannondale fans out there, and many love Headshok. My experience was that it was a whole bag of hurt.
I wish my fellow cyclist all the best of luck with his new bike. I think he’ll need it.
August 14th - The day was mad. Starting with a great deal of nervous anticipation, the wheels of the day ground slowly at first, then became frenzied. I found myself via a convoluted route in Brum at rush hour, looking for food and a cup of tea. Crossing the Cathedral Square - Pigeon Park to locals - I spotted this bike rack. Using it were the spectrum of bike users; a modern roadie’s bike, an achingly hip single speed (set to freewheel side, not fixed as per usual), and finally, a wee folder.
Nice to see so many bikes in Birmingham these days - and such a variety too.
June 16th - I had to go a long way, early in the day. I still wasn’t well, and felt dreadful, but the weather was reasonable, and the ride to Lichfield Trent Valley made a nice change. Whilst on the train, I noticed I was sharing the bike space with a state of the art, Wiler road bike - carbon fibre frame, forks wheels and bars, and high-end Ultegra gears. That’s about £3,000-worth of seemingly well-used bike. Not an ideal commuting steed, I’d wager, and the owner nowhere to be seen.
Not my thing - I’m not ready to trust a plastic bike yet - but a remarkable thing to be sure.
June 14th - The rest of the ride was periodically odd and awe-inspiring. My energy levels were poor and I was suffering badly from hayfever, but throwing the bike down that incredible woodland downhills was a terrific as ever. On the other side of the canal south of Tamhorn, a fallen tree blocked the way in the most beautiful, vine-draped manner.
It’s clearly been a good season to for foxgloves, which are currently showing wonderfully in the hedges and canal banks.
Returning along the A51 and heading for Waitrose, I spotted two practicing unicyclists - these lads were great, and made for a very unusual sight. I could have watched them for ages; they were confident and good riders. I could never attain the balance required to master one.
Later, I emerged from the supermarket to see the adjacent bike stand taken by two clearly well-loved road bikes; a very popular Apollo TDF, and a B-Twin; both looked ridden well. These are low end, but very popular road bikes representing good value for money. The interesting thing about them is that they were both small steeds, and had been very creatively locked using a D lock and cable.
The threading of the cable lock could have been better, but it was clearly thought about. I don’t know who the riders were, but I wish them well.
Hopefully in the next couple of days my hayfever will subside…
May 30th - Later on, in Birmingham city centre, I noticed this curious ladies bike. Nice colour, virtually brand new, three speed. It’s Pinnacle, a brand I think may be unique to Evans Cycles, who have a branch nearby - this is a bike aimed at a specific market, and probably price point, too. I think it’s Shimano three speed, and the saddle, grips and comfort features like the adjustable stem are nice, but the brakes - callipers on a bike likely to be heavily loaded - are a bit crap, to be honest. The choice of a white chain and chain set are interesting, too. I’m also intrigued by the frame design; not quite a Mixte frame, it seems a bit pointlessly complex for what it actually is.
I also note the rear light on the seatpost that can’t actually be seen from the rear due to the carrier. Bit worrying that, and why I don’t like seatpost lights, which are often inadvertently obscured by overhanging jackets, too.
It’s a lovely thing, though, really. I’m interested in the way city bikes like this are evolving - they’re coming on a bit from the costly and huge Pashley hulks of a few years ago.
March 19th - A hurried, poor snap as I was passing - but what a curious bike. Parked up in Station Street, Walsall, a wee Apollo folder, with a nice rack box, bulb reed horn, lights … and a tea flask. Interesting approach to locking, and what’s the luggage elastic for?
A clearly well used, but unusual workhorse. An odd thing for Walsall.
March 9th - I passed through Lichfield on a bright, warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, and the place was bustling. People were queueing for ice creams, browsing in the shops and just taking the air. It was an absolute joy to be there.
Interestingly, there were a huge number of bikes around the city - people really seem to be increasingly turning to bicycles these days for leisure trips at least.
A fine thing to see that lifted my spirits.
February 3rd - I was in Leicester for an important meeting, but the travel gods were not favouring me. I left with good time to spare, but a bastard of a headwind made me just miss my train; a frantic Clockwise-esque fiasco ensued. I got to Leicester, and had to head to the outskirts of the city. I took a wrong turning. I found myself battling the headwind again. I arrived with just minutes to spare.
The person I was due to meet was running an hour late, so at least I had time to freshen up. Thankfully, the journey home was less eventful, and with an assisting wind.
At Leicester railway station, apropos of nothing, an apparently abandoned table tennis table. No, I haven’t a clue, either.
Nice to see Notwork Fail have actually recognised the shortage of bike parking here and stopped getting shirty with people chaining their steed to the railings. So good to see so many bikes.
22nd January - In Birmingham, I was intrigued by this venerable old Claud Butler well locked up outside Moor Street station. When this was new it would have been a very expensive bike indeed - the brand was considered the Rolls Royce of bikes back when I was a lad, but not so much now. This seems fairly true to the original, too; down tube shifters, tight angled quill stem, lugged steel 501 frame and cotterless cranks.
This is clearly a favourite ride for someone, and looks like a well loved and well ridden steed. It’s also a remnant of a great cycling tradition.
December 1st - I swung past St. James Church in Brownhills to check a couple of things out, and taking the path between Great Charles Street and the Church, I noticed how much litter and leaf detritus was gathering there. I’m not sure who’s responsible for this path - whether it’s Walsall Council or the Church - but it’s pretty grim.
I also noticed that in the fantastic covered bike shed in the adjacent schoolyard, two children’s bikes had been left. It struck me as being a bit odd, and slightly sad: who’d go to school on a bike, and not come home on it? Surely the wee ones are missing their wheels?
Few things sadder than an abandoned bicycle.
November 26th - I spotted this curious bike as I passed the bike stands at New Street Station. It’s an unusual thing, to be sure. I’d say it’s a late 70s or early 80s knockoff Chopper; all the ingredients are there; small front wheel, three speed with central car-style stick shift, ape hanger bars and big banana saddle. This is clearly not a real Chopper, and has a single front hub brake, and a curious fork with decorative springs to mimic suspension, possibly aping the Cinzia Cricket, another odd, chopper-like bike of the period. This thing must weigh heavily, and the gears are broken, but it’s clearly someone’s loved getabout. It’s the kind of thing one might be lucky to find at a boot sale or house clearance, and is obviously original.
I’d love to know more about it if any bike wonks are reading this?
September 27th - Returning to Birmingham from the somewhat disappointing Cycle Show at the NEC, I was reminded whilst walking a relatively short distance through the city centre that there really is a cycling boom going on; you’d never have seen cycles in such numbers around the place as you do now. And these are real machines, as opposed to the pristine new stuff that I’d seen that morning. Bikes of all ages, types and sizes, from BMX to fixies, all carrying the patina of their owners - the stickers, modifications, adjustments and dirt that go to making a bike your very own.
It’s good to see.
May 7th - Ach, the sadness of things. This elderly bike - a GT - isn’t a bad steed, but is in poor condition. I noticed it this morning leaning forlornly against the bike racks at Blake Street station. The rear mechanism hanger had sheared, and something looks like it has smashed in the derailleur. The bike had clearly been abandoned for the train. Sad.
That ruined someone’s day, I bet.
April 24th - It never ceases to amaze me, the state of bikes some people ride. But this is also an argument about rubbish components.
This is a Real ladies step through (Real is a brand unique to Halfords) - a cheap, functional, popular utility bike. It’s mostly OK quality, like the majority of Halfords cycles, but the brakes are rubbish. V-brakes like this crept in on cheap bikes about 10 years ago, and replaced superior cantilever versions. They replaced them not because they offer mechanical or user benefits, but because they’re much easier to fit in production. They are a benefit not to the customer, but to the manufacturer. To put it bluntly, unless you’ve got a really good, high end set, they’re shit.
Their ease of assembly tends to make them likely to disassemble, as the arms and cable pop apart easily when snagged - for instance when getting on and off a train.
The chap(!) riding this bike - spotted on a morning train into Birmingham - is riding with no front brake, and has been for a while. I’ve seen him a few times, and doesn’t seem bothered about it.
I wouldn’t dream of riding a bike without a decent braking system… mystifying.