May 18th - A late evening run to the supermarket, and one of the (very few) downsides of the summer was very, very evident; riding over Chasewater Dam the air was thick with midges and other bugs, which can be seen if you click on the image above. Glasses are essential to prevent them getting in the eyes, and they get everywhere - in you shirt, ears etc. Over the next few months my protein intake will crank up by a fair percentage.
Annoying, but one of the hazards of the season.
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.
April 4th - Time for my usual post-snow warning. The roads are murder at the moment, especially ones where snowploughs have been used. What’s happening is that melting snow that collected grit, marbles and detritus from the road, is concentrating the horrid payload and depositing it on the surface where many cyclists ride.
Hitting the polished gravel - known as marbles to motorcyclists - that gathers over junctions, on cambers and in gutters can be like hitting black ice. Silt and mud can conceal deep potholes and steal your wheels from under you. Debris like sticks, branches and littler can jam your wheels. Until the wind, rain and local authorities have done their cleansing thing, be careful out there.
March 2nd - Erdington Bike Jumble. A regular fixture every year - loads of buried treasure and junk, and the chance to meet old friends and acquaintances and shoot the breeze. Most of the cycling tribes are here - tourers, city cyclists, vintage buffs, fixie kids, even bike polo guys. Busier than ever before, it was nice to see lots of youngsters here for a change, and it’s also nice to check out other folk’s steeds. I was particularly taken with the lovely refurb of the Carlton, parked out front.
February 26th - Today’s tasks in Telford ended early and I returned home at lunchtime. Mindful of the wind after a dreadful commute that morning, I came back to Lichfield for a cup of tea and hopefully a better journey home with a following northeasterly. At Lichfield City Station, I noticed that, despite the cold and poor weather, the cycle racks here are still very well used and clearly popular.
I noted too, that the immense Pashley flying bedstead was still here - a bit less shiny, but still as loved. The guy who rides that must do stunt double for the Jolly Green Giant. That bike is huge.
February 1st - A thing of rare beauty indeed. I shall be ferreting around with this and other mechanical wonders in the coming weeks. There’s nothing like a bit of experimental bike spannering to get you thinking.
January 28th - Marbles. I go on about them repeatedly, with good reason. The roads are absolutely covered right now in debris - bits of wood, bits of vehicle, grit residue and gravel, left behind by the snow and ide. This material gathers in hollows and patches on the roads, and passing traffic grinds and polishes it ind it’s wheels. The result is a loose material with very low friction, that lurks on bends and junctions, ready to snatch your wheels from under you. It’s particularly bad in backlanes, but even busy roads like the Chester Road are affected.
Motorbikers call this debris ‘marbles’ due to the similarity to riding on glass beads. The problem will remain until either the road is swept, or heavy rains wash the worst away.Take extra care, please.
January 18th - Cycling in the snow presents its own unique pitfalls, hazards and skills, and over the years, I’ve learned the best tricks I can. For cyclists out there considering cycling in the snow, there’s some stuff to watch out for. Beware speed humps, potholes and the edges of roads, which hide beneath the snow and take you by surprise. Watch out for the large lumps of compacted snow and ice that litter the busier roads; they drop off vehicles, and look soft and slushy, yet are usually rock hard. Try and ride in the centre of lanes where possible, and note that virgin snow is often easier to cycle through than mobile compacted ice in vehicle tracks. Beware of large chunks of solid ice that sweep from HGVs and vans - vehicles with tarpaulins are a particular hazard for that. Keep changing gear frequently, to prevent your cable from seizing, and use brakes as little as possible. Relax, and go where the bike takes you.
Since urine contains urea, a natural deicer, peeing on a gear mechanism or brake can free it and get you home.
Take it easy. Ice doesn’t forgive speed.
Riding in this weather is fun, but take care, and it’ll be really enjoyable.
January 2nd - I rounded the bend towards Brownhills, and the overflow near the Pier Street Bridge caught my eye. Only a few days ago, this was a raging torrent, flooding the land behind, struggling to cope with the downpours that had constantly filled the canal. Tonight, it was quiet, a relative trickle. The land behind was still saturated, but draining, slowly. There was very little sound. I thought about it for a while. The transitory nature of the water, about beginnings, endings and direction.
You see, today, It was the end of 365daysofbiking. I started this odd mission on April 1st, 2011, after being cajoled into it by fellow cyclist Renee Van Baar, originally only for 30 days. I enjoyed those 30, and resolved to do a whole year, but last new year I was very ill indeed. I missed two days laid up, and returned to the bike on the 2nd of January 2012. So, the mission is now complete, but I have cycled all but two days out of 21 months.
I’m quite proud of that, but more later. Is this where the story ends?
November 17th - Winter, cycling in darkness. I really can’t stress this enough, but lights, folks, lights. Lights are about being seen - creating a moving point of highlight in a dark world. In an urban environment, that’s all you need: to this end cheap LED blinkies and such are perfectly adequate. In rural environments, and for moving at speed off road in the dark, good forward illumination is essential. The better the light, the sooner you see hazards, the faster you can potentially go. I use an LED light by Hope, of Barnoldswick in the UK; it’s their flagship R4 model, and is very bright indeed. This is a non-assisted photo and shows the light spread on a medium setting. I have a very bright rear light from the same company. I love Hope’s stuff. They keep me safe at night.
August 3rd - I was heading out to Telford. The trains, what with the industrial fortnight and everything, have been quite quiet this week. Hauling the bike aboard on a pleasant morning at Shenstone, I was intrigued to be sharing space with a lady cyclist clearly off on a tour. No backpacks or panniers for her, but this smart, well thought out trailer. It seems to collapse down, and is available from these people. Cleverly, it attaches via a modified quick release axle or wheelnuts. I do like this, and wish I’d had chance to ask the lady about it. She left the train at Aston - I don’t know where she was going, but I hope she had a great ride.
June 28th - Time for a bit of cycling knowledge. After heavy rains - like we had today - the roads are way more hazardous than usual. If it’s the first rain after a dry spell, the surface water becomes greasy and slippery, due to tyre rubber detritus and diesel being washed into the sludge. This makes white lines, ironworks and junctions really nasty. After heavy rain, silt washes of fields and gardens, bring with it loose gravel. This gathers in bands, hollows and dips, often just where cyclists cross junctions. The silt when wet is slippery, but when dry, will steal your wheels from beneath you. The gravel - known as ‘marbles’ to motorcyclists - gets progressively polished by vehicle wheels, and is like cycling on ball bearings. Take care - the hazard continues in the dry, too, and can last for weeks after a storm.
Councils don’t really understand the menace of this stuff to folk on two wheels. I wish they did.
April 8th - Heres a cycling one for the tech heads. Sorry, but it may save some folk hassle.
Disc brake pads. Don’t skimp on them, it’s just not worth it.Two of my bikes have Avid BB7 units fitted. One bike has original factory-fitted Avid brand pads, and the other, which is older, after the originals wore out had some Kool Stop ones, which were good at first but glazed over, reducing the stopping performance. I replaced those with some cheap ones from Decathlon as I was passing at the time and it was easy. They were awful. I was noticing that the Avid pads on the newer bike were far better than the others. Eventually, after cleaning and roughening discs, adjustments and degreasing, I gave up, and ordered some original Avid sintered metal pads. Performance restored.
The moral of all this is that your brakes are your life. Don’t waste time with cheap shit.
6th April - New camera day. I’ve been using Panasonic cameras for a while now - built like brick shithouses, they offer a good feature set, remarkable zoom range and good picture quality, all in a package small enough to pop into a pocket and always carry with you. I’d been eyeing up the TZ30 for a while - I’d had a TZ20, and liked it, but there were a few extra features in the new model - 20x optical zoom, sweep panorama, better low-light performance and so on - that I quite fancied. Able to hand down the old one, I found a camera store in Birmingham had stock and a decent offer, so I cycled into town and picked one up.
I always love a ride round Brum, and took advantage of the opportunity. Near Edgbaston Street, I realised how far Birmingham had come as a cycling city: the bike racks were full. This is in spite of, rather than because of anything the council have done. Birmingham City Council’s support for cyclists is legendarily awful, yet Brum is developing an engaging, active cycling community.
March 7th - Have Centrocard, will travel. The art of cycle commuting by train is to consider the wind. I can cycle back home to Brownhills from a number of stations which all take about the same time. Bloxwich, Walsall, Lichfield, Blake Street, Shenstone. That covers pretty much all wind-direction bases. Today, there was a northwesterly that was quite strong, so I got off the train at Bloxwich Station, and cycled back up through Pelsall. I don’t do that very often, but this week seems quite weary and I hadn’t the will to battle sidewinds on the A461.
Passing the memorial garden in Bloxwich, I took my first good look at the notorious fountain. Removed, restored and painted an alarming shade of green, the lack of water is the bane of Stuart ‘The Edditer’ Williams life. Whilst the fountain itself is clearly a historical period piece and part of the heritage of the town, it’s a shame they can’t keep it flowing. And why that colour? Distinctly unimpressed.