BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking
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.

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.

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. 

April 29th - Birmingham New Street - new start? Well, it’s bright, and smells of resin, I suppose. It also smells heavily of engineering compromise, forced retail opportunity and bodge.

My first experience of the much vaunted new station access way was this morning, and after all the hype, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s very much unfinished, and some aspects of the project show quite bad judgement.

This is no longer a station, but is a shopping centre with railway platforms. Everything is quite a bit longer to get to than before, and the access points funnel crowds carefully past the new shop units. The platforms themselves remain as narrow and cramped as ever, but with new escalators and lifts that go direct between concourse and platform, instead of via the subway. Sadly, they’re tiny, unable to accommodate a bike and pushchair at the same time, or my bike lengthways. This is dreadful.

The new concourse is nice, the light is pleasant and it’s quite airy. I’m not keen on the stone flooring, but each to his own. The cafe looks nice, and the information up there was good, unlike the platforms where a mixture of old, incorrect signage and new stuff just confused people.

The ticket barriers are much better, and access with a bike is OK even when crowded. However, the exit in Stephenson Place is bizarre, and doubles the length of the journey to Moor Street, meaning I’ll no longer make tight connections. 

My advice to anyone planning to park a bike in racks there and travel is don’t do it. There are woefully few racks, stuck in a dark corner of the Moor Street access subway, a while away from the station. Although covered by CCTV, the Sheffield stands are only bolted down. An industrious pair of scallies with a spanner and some bottle could clear those stands of bikes in minutes. This is unforgivable.

On the whole it’s nicer, but functionally more awkward in many ways. It’s much more walking to get in and out, and I wouldn’t fancy it with limited mobility. The architecture is nice, and they’ve worked hard to make a space with no natural light more human-freindly. But the pokey lifts, poor access to Moor Street and focus of retail jarr with me a little too much.

It’ll be interesting to see how things develop.

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.

December 6th - It’s time for the winter boots again. A couple of times this week I’ve felt that queasy adrenaline rush as either the front or real wheel slipped a little bit while cornering. Such incidents are rare, but a wakeup call I always heed. Nature is telling me that it’s time to swap out the 28mm Marathon Plus tyres and throw on the 38mm Marathon Winter. These are a fatter, lower pressure road tyre exhibiting a chunky tread made from a soft compound with small tungsten carbide studs inlaid that bite into ice, mud and road debris. They’re noisy, don’t roll too well, but grip, even on black ice, like demons. They’re not cheap, but for any commuter who keeps going through rough conditions, I highly recommend them.

December 6th - It’s time for the winter boots again. A couple of times this week I’ve felt that queasy adrenaline rush as either the front or real wheel slipped a little bit while cornering. Such incidents are rare, but a wakeup call I always heed. Nature is telling me that it’s time to swap out the 28mm Marathon Plus tyres and throw on the 38mm Marathon Winter. These are a fatter, lower pressure road tyre exhibiting a chunky tread made from a soft compound with small tungsten carbide studs inlaid that bite into ice, mud and road debris. They’re noisy, don’t roll too well, but grip, even on black ice, like demons. They’re not cheap, but for any commuter who keeps going through rough conditions, I highly recommend them.

October 23rd - The bleak weather continues. Thoroughly depressing commutes were lightened only by getting a decent train service for the first time in weeks. Despite the mass cancellations, I for once fell lucky and managed to get on 2 trains that were on time and 2 that were only a few minutes late. This may seem unremarkable, but the service has been so bad of late it’s been adding whole hours to my commuting time. As my train home rolled into Shenstone, I felt quite pleased, but noticed the announcement as I alighted that the following train was 15 minutes late. That one was set to be seriously overcrowded. The local rail system really is useless at the moment.
Shenstone Station, however, is still beautiful, even in the half-light of a miserable day.

October 23rd - The bleak weather continues. Thoroughly depressing commutes were lightened only by getting a decent train service for the first time in weeks. Despite the mass cancellations, I for once fell lucky and managed to get on 2 trains that were on time and 2 that were only a few minutes late. This may seem unremarkable, but the service has been so bad of late it’s been adding whole hours to my commuting time. As my train home rolled into Shenstone, I felt quite pleased, but noticed the announcement as I alighted that the following train was 15 minutes late. That one was set to be seriously overcrowded. The local rail system really is useless at the moment.

Shenstone Station, however, is still beautiful, even in the half-light of a miserable day.

July 26th - I’m really liking this summer malarkey. I think it might catch on. Commuting in just a teeshirt and jeans is so liberating. This morning it was dull, but warm. Whilst changing trains at Nuneaton, I leant my bike up against the glass of the waiting room. As I did so, I noticed this little indicator of the advancing seasons: a moth. I’ve no idea what species it is, but the way it was resting caught my eye. With the warm sun and still conditions, there will be a lot of Lepidoptera emerge over the next few days. There’s been a marked shortage this year. 
Hello, little fella. Welcome to summer!

July 26th - I’m really liking this summer malarkey. I think it might catch on. Commuting in just a teeshirt and jeans is so liberating. This morning it was dull, but warm. Whilst changing trains at Nuneaton, I leant my bike up against the glass of the waiting room. As I did so, I noticed this little indicator of the advancing seasons: a moth. I’ve no idea what species it is, but the way it was resting caught my eye. With the warm sun and still conditions, there will be a lot of Lepidoptera emerge over the next few days. There’s been a marked shortage this year. 

Hello, little fella. Welcome to summer!

July 24th - The trains were awful this evening. I left New Street at 5:35pm, and my train limped into Blake Street, where it prematurely terminated - an hour later. Hot and bothered, I welcomed the journey through Little Aston and Mill Green. I noticed how fine Little Aston church looked in the sunlight. It’s and interesting building; sometimes I don’t like it, other times it looks wonderful, depending on the light and the season. I do love how it’s still got the air of a rural parish church, even though it’s surrounded by suburban sprawl. The surrounding meadow just makes it that bit more beautiful.

July 24th - The trains were awful this evening. I left New Street at 5:35pm, and my train limped into Blake Street, where it prematurely terminated - an hour later. Hot and bothered, I welcomed the journey through Little Aston and Mill Green. I noticed how fine Little Aston church looked in the sunlight. It’s and interesting building; sometimes I don’t like it, other times it looks wonderful, depending on the light and the season. I do love how it’s still got the air of a rural parish church, even though it’s surrounded by suburban sprawl. The surrounding meadow just makes it that bit more beautiful.

July 23rd - I found myself commuting to Leicester this week. This means an early run to Lichfield Trent Valley, a change at Nuneaton and cycling from South Wigston. This is a journey unique in the British railway system in that it features the two worst stations in the country (apart from possibly Hale and Dovey Junction). However, this year, South Wigston has been a delight. I have no idea who, but someone has been guerilla planting flowers on the scrub on the northbound platform. Earlier in the year it was a riot of grape hyacinths, bluebells and primroses. Now it’s a peculiar but delightful yellow unknown flower, roses, budleia and foxgloves. Beauty in such an unexpected place. It can’t be cultivated, because it’s still just scrub.

July 16th - Another wet day, another late, miserable commute home through the lanes of Stonnall and Lynn. I surely must have done, but I don’t think I’ve ever known a summer like this. Everything is saturated, even my goodwill. The bike is suffering, I’m suffering. Yet we both carry on; floods, muck and wind.

When summer does come it’s going to be bloody wonderful.

July 10th - There’s no end to the rain and grey weather. The light was so poor all day that my photos were all drab, lifeless and depressing. I’m sorry about that, it’s just the conditions. However, it’s July and high summer, and I’m commuting in high viz, full waterproofs and with lights on in daytime. This can’t go on: we must get the sun back eventually. Stuff Chasewater for a week or two, I want to feel the sun on my back and the freedom of cycling in a teeshirt and shorts again.

July 6th - It rained. Possibly not the biblical deluge forecasted, but my, did it rain. I braved the start of the storm in the morning, and it rained steadily all day in Birmingham, where I was working. Leaving at 5pm it was still pouring, the short, soggy dash to the station I considered a foretaste of a grim journey home.

The weather surprised me, though. I got to Walsall and the rain was stopping. After a short hop to Caldmore, the skies cleared, and blue sky was in full effect at Shelfield as I passed through. Stopping at the Arboretum Junction, however, I was shocked at the amount of surface water still present. Is it the surface, or what? Mystifying.

June 7th - Birmingham New Street. This is Birmingham New Street. All regular travellers through Birmingham’s derided main station will recognise that tannoy jingle. I have a love-hate relationship with the place; dark, grubby, overcrowded, a nightmare on a bike or for the elderly or disabled. Yet, unlike so many stations, the layout is logical, compact and easy to grasp. It just carries way too much traffic and we need a new station - possibly on Eastside - to relieve it, then maybe the platforms could be reduced in number and widened, some natural light could be let in. 

There’s history, here, too, but not many realise. The arches at the end of platform 2 and 3 are a remnant of the original Victorian Station, as are many of the retaining cutting walls. The signal box - a remarkable Brutalist style structure designed by Bicknell & Hamilton to resemble an electrical component, is listed and a wonderful thing. As developers tear away at the upper levels, the ‘regeneration’ (how I hate that word) of this much misunderstood transport hub will not solve any of it’s functional problems, but I’m still rather fond of the old dump, if I’m honest.

May 31st - A really bad commute home this evening. The train I was due to catch - the 16:08 from Telford to Brum - was running 30 minutes late. Then cancelled, which meant there wasn’t another train until 16:51. Then it reappeared on the system, and rolled up at about 16:40… to terminate short in Wolverhampton. Resigned to my fate, I changed onto the stopper train from Wolves to Walsall that stops at every anthill and lamp-post. I arrived in Walsall - this train itself late - at about 18:25. I should have been at home with my feet up by then, and I still had to cycle home.

Wolverhampton station is a barren, soulless place. Like the city itself, I’ve tried to love it, but can’t, sadly. Always seems way too harsh and way too neglected to me. It matched my mood perfectly.  

May 31st - At Telford, the Cycle-to-Work scheme has been a great success. This project of the previous administration, like most things, has been severely curtailed, but it’s still a decent deal. I used to be one of only a couple of cyclists here, but now, on this summer morning, there’s barely room for my bike in the shed, and they’re due to erect another. Each one of these bikes represents a car not taking part in Telford’s rush hour, which has to be good. Over various shifts, there must be 50 or so cyclists here now, and some pretty nice bikes of all varieties. I like to see this.

May 31st - At Telford, the Cycle-to-Work scheme has been a great success. This project of the previous administration, like most things, has been severely curtailed, but it’s still a decent deal. I used to be one of only a couple of cyclists here, but now, on this summer morning, there’s barely room for my bike in the shed, and they’re due to erect another. Each one of these bikes represents a car not taking part in Telford’s rush hour, which has to be good. Over various shifts, there must be 50 or so cyclists here now, and some pretty nice bikes of all varieties. I like to see this.