BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking
July 11th - My return via Walsall for some shopping took me up through Yewtree, Delves, Highgate and over Church Hill. Rounding the corner on the cycleway, at the foot of the old, disused steps down to The Ditch (that’s the name of a place, honest), a fantastic display of flowers.
What a splendid ride for a Friday at the end of a very, very hard week.

July 11th - My return via Walsall for some shopping took me up through Yewtree, Delves, Highgate and over Church Hill. Rounding the corner on the cycleway, at the foot of the old, disused steps down to The Ditch (that’s the name of a place, honest), a fantastic display of flowers.

What a splendid ride for a Friday at the end of a very, very hard week.

July 6th - Sustrans, the cycling charity who created and ostensibly look after the National Cycle Network are really annoying me locally.

A few weeks ago, I pointed out the baffling signage south of Chasewater on the canal, which appeared to prohibit a good cycling route. Here I noticed similar confusion at the level crossing by Chasewater Heaths station. Face north, and the signage correctly leads you over the crossing, onto the cycleway past the Sportway. Come in the opposite direction, and it shows you’re on Route Five. Or you’re not. 

What the hell?

Get your act together, people; you’re supposed to be promoting cycling, not preventing it.

July 4th - Cycling in the rain presents its own hazards and challenges, but is especially hazardous in the rain following a dry, hot spell.

When roads are dry, the surface, which is gently abrasive, grinds residue from tyres and collects dust and detritus, plant matter and spilled oil, fuel and other gunk from vehicles. This is all mixed and blended by traffic action into a sort of instant-grease mix, just waiting for the atmosphere to add water.

When the rains come, the first surface waters and traffic action mingle with the powder to form a soapy, slippery fluid that actively foams and reduces traction. Cornering in this goop on narrow tires can be like cornering on ice, and wheel spin and braking skids are the signs that one needs to be careful.

Most car drivers would never notice it. But anyone on two wheels dreads the sight of the white froth on a road surface, just waiting to steel your wheels from under you.

Take care folks.

June 22nd - Riding (unusually for me, it’s a long story) up the A460 through Rugeley, I spotted this bit of arsehattery masquerading as cycling infrastructure. This is a ‘mandatory’ cycle lane, as indicated by the solid white line. Mandatory in this context means it doesn’t have to be used by the cyclist, but that traffic shouldn’t occupy it or park in it. 

So far so good.

So they run it close to an oblique parking bay, on the left. What could possibly go wrong? 

What’s wrong with this picture, kids? 

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 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.

May 21st - There’s a crucial bit of biking equipment I couldn’t live without - clipless pedals. Pedalling long distances on flat pedals is horrid, and your feet can slip in traffic. The old fashioned alternative was toe clips and straps, which were OK, but nasty if you had to get free quickly. In the 1980s, as a solution, Shimano developed the SPD clipless system.

I have sevral pairs of SPD compatible shoes, which have screw mountings on the sole under the ball of the foot. There is a metal plate embedded above which floats for adjustment. On to the plate is screwed a ‘cleat’ - a metal key block that engages smoothly with a spring-latched mechanism in the pedal. This provides a positive, hassle-free engagement which is predictable, adjustable and secure, yet twists free instantly when required. They ensure your feet are always in the best, comfiest position, and the pedals are double-sided, so you never have to think about clipping in. You just do it without looking.

Clipless allow you to ‘pull up’ with one foot while pushing down with the other, and even pedal one-legged while scooting through traffic. This small, drop-forged block of steel - about half the size and thickness of a small box of matches - transmits all your pedalling force in an absolutely tiny contact area, yet fits flush in your shoes in such a way that you can walk all day in a pair of SPD shoes and never feel the cleat.

The intense concentration of force in one small component and two 5mm screws is so great that it wears quite quickly. Tonight, my cleats had developed such a sloppy fit, I couldn’t put up with them anymore. After 5,000 miles, it was time for a change.

It’s easy to do; cleats come with pedals, or can be brought separately. You usually have to drill out one or two of the old screws due to the heads being fouled, but once you get them out, the cleat leaves an impression in the shoe that the new one locates in. A blob of grease on the screw threads, and crank them up. 

The fit is so good, it’s like riding a new bike.

My compliments to the inventors - these really are a great invention.

May 19th - Bike rack, Telford station. A child’s bike. Can’t really fault the technique, but it’s an unusual approach. Perhaps they’re antipodean.

May 19th - Bike rack, Telford station. A child’s bike. Can’t really fault the technique, but it’s an unusual approach. Perhaps they’re antipodean.

May 7th - A snatched picture combining two of the worst hazards in cycling. One is common, the other seems unique to a particular part of Darlaston. The loose grit - marbles - I’ve discussed at length here; wheel and traction stealing, highly polished grit, it washes down during rain and snow, and gathers in junction voids and gutters, waiting to snatch your bike from under you.
The unique hazard is metal clippings, swarf and shards, and this is Heath Road in Darlaston at it’s junction with Station Street. Around Darlaston Green, all the way down to the Walsall Road this problem slices tyres and causes punctures. Open tipper wagons and skip lorries corner here to get to the scrap yards up the road, and metal drops through their tailgates, shutterboards and  from unsheeted tops. The metal lies flat in the road, where it’s gradually sharpened by the traffic dragging it against the road. 
Automatic sweepers don’t pick it up because it’s so thin, but hit it with your tyres and you’ll quickly flat. It’s a pain in the arse. Look closely here and there’s sharp spikes, wire and razor-thin plates.
Look out for it; avoid the area if you can. In a place where one has to watch the traffic carefully, it’s another hazard to watch out for.

May 7th - A snatched picture combining two of the worst hazards in cycling. One is common, the other seems unique to a particular part of Darlaston. The loose grit - marbles - I’ve discussed at length here; wheel and traction stealing, highly polished grit, it washes down during rain and snow, and gathers in junction voids and gutters, waiting to snatch your bike from under you.

The unique hazard is metal clippings, swarf and shards, and this is Heath Road in Darlaston at it’s junction with Station Street. Around Darlaston Green, all the way down to the Walsall Road this problem slices tyres and causes punctures. Open tipper wagons and skip lorries corner here to get to the scrap yards up the road, and metal drops through their tailgates, shutterboards and  from unsheeted tops. The metal lies flat in the road, where it’s gradually sharpened by the traffic dragging it against the road. 

Automatic sweepers don’t pick it up because it’s so thin, but hit it with your tyres and you’ll quickly flat. It’s a pain in the arse. Look closely here and there’s sharp spikes, wire and razor-thin plates.

Look out for it; avoid the area if you can. In a place where one has to watch the traffic carefully, it’s another hazard to watch out for.

April 15th - I seem to be going through a mechanical rough patch. It happens, I guess, but it’s frustrating. My bikes are never the cleanest around, but I like to keep them mechanically tip-top. Thus when you have a rash of failures, it can be really disheartening. Following a spate of punctures last week, and the bizarre failure of the crank, yesterday the tension bolt on my saddle snapped, making for an uncomfortable ride home.
I use Brooks saddles - traditional, made in Birmingham, they’re the best thing I’ve found for my bum, and they give years of service. Lauded and hated equally by the cycling community, there are all kinds of myths surrounding Brooks saddles; you need 500 miles to ‘break one in’, they need constant oiling, they’re ruined if you adjust the tension. 
A saddle is a saddle - it either fits your arse or it doesn’t. If a Brooks doesn’t feel nice when you first get on, it’ll never fit you and you’ll hate it forever. But if it does fit, wearing it in will make it fit even better. I oil mine using Proofide once a year. I occasionally nip the tension up a half-turn when it gets a bit hammocky to ride. Again, about once a year.
I have never been as comfy on a bike as I have with a Brooks between me and the miles. I love them. I can ride all day (and often do) and never feel sore on them. But that’s me. 
Always try a saddle before you buy it.
My only criticism of these posterior wonders of comfort is the tension pins are crap. They snap usually at the point where the thread finishes, as this one has. The head fits in a socket at the nose of the saddle, and there’s a nut (not shown) that tightens against a shackle acting against it, and the rails. This takes most of my weight, and fatigues. The threaded part above has been filed to enable me to get the nut off without damaging it’s threads.
Easy enough to replace, this is the second time this pin has broken on this saddle in it’s ten year lifespan. What’s annoying is they’re a cheap £4 replacement, but postage doubles the price. Fortunately, last time this happened, I ordered a spare, too.
I love Brooks saddles. But they ain’t perfect and they’re not for everyone…

April 15th - I seem to be going through a mechanical rough patch. It happens, I guess, but it’s frustrating. My bikes are never the cleanest around, but I like to keep them mechanically tip-top. Thus when you have a rash of failures, it can be really disheartening. Following a spate of punctures last week, and the bizarre failure of the crank, yesterday the tension bolt on my saddle snapped, making for an uncomfortable ride home.

I use Brooks saddles - traditional, made in Birmingham, they’re the best thing I’ve found for my bum, and they give years of service. Lauded and hated equally by the cycling community, there are all kinds of myths surrounding Brooks saddles; you need 500 miles to ‘break one in’, they need constant oiling, they’re ruined if you adjust the tension. 

A saddle is a saddle - it either fits your arse or it doesn’t. If a Brooks doesn’t feel nice when you first get on, it’ll never fit you and you’ll hate it forever. But if it does fit, wearing it in will make it fit even better. I oil mine using Proofide once a year. I occasionally nip the tension up a half-turn when it gets a bit hammocky to ride. Again, about once a year.

I have never been as comfy on a bike as I have with a Brooks between me and the miles. I love them. I can ride all day (and often do) and never feel sore on them. But that’s me. 

Always try a saddle before you buy it.

My only criticism of these posterior wonders of comfort is the tension pins are crap. They snap usually at the point where the thread finishes, as this one has. The head fits in a socket at the nose of the saddle, and there’s a nut (not shown) that tightens against a shackle acting against it, and the rails. This takes most of my weight, and fatigues. The threaded part above has been filed to enable me to get the nut off without damaging it’s threads.

Easy enough to replace, this is the second time this pin has broken on this saddle in it’s ten year lifespan. What’s annoying is they’re a cheap £4 replacement, but postage doubles the price. Fortunately, last time this happened, I ordered a spare, too.

I love Brooks saddles. But they ain’t perfect and they’re not for everyone…

Aprill 11th - Before I do the usual ones today, tonight I had a nightmare journey home after a less than wonderful day. A couple of consecutive punctures (with different causes) were bad enough. But then, not far from home (thankfully), I gained another entry for Bob’s Big Book of Bizarre Bicycling Mechanical Failures™ - my non drive side crank sheared at the pedal thread. Clean off.

I have never seen this before. Not once.

It felt bad for a couple of miles - I figured a pedal bearing was going south. It felt odd, eccentric. This prepared me for disaster, so when it happened it didn’t hurt or cause me to fall off, but it could have been quite bad. 

The crank is by Lasco, and has done 10,000 miles. From the dark patch on the break, I’d say it’s been cracked awhile. I’m no small fella and fatigue has clearly worked it’s magic.

Oh well. Time for a new chainset, then…

April 2nd - The dying art of repairing a puncture. For years, I scarcely bothered, after all I have mercilessly few incidents with the Marathon Plus tyres and road tubes were quite cheap. I just carried a spare or two as I always did. But with a change of tyres, I needed to be more ready to do spot repairs. I’ve tried puncture resistant liners with moderate benefit, and have also gone over to sealant filled tubes. But even those fail, and out on the road this morning, I was slain by a metal clipping that spiked my rubber - the sealant tried bravely, but failed. 

There’s no way I’m chucking an £8 tube in the bin, so I bundled it up in a bag, popped in the spare and repaired it when I got home. They do work, as when I took it out, there were three piercing hawthorn spikes as well as the catastrophic failure. 

The modern self-adhesive patches are OK, but I don’t trust them like a good, old fashioned kit. My favoured one is Rema Tip Top - good quality patches, and a well-sealed tube of cement that doesn’t dry up in the saddlebag. 10 minutes, job done, and back in the tyre.

Metal clippings on the roads in Darlaston are a pain in the arse - watch out if you’re around the Darlaston Green or Heath Road areas. They fall from the scrap wagons that thunder through there, and unlike puncture repairing, sheeting loose loads seems like a dying art…

March 24th - I noticed this Volt Metro folding electric bike parked in the racks outside Darlaston Library as I passed. It looks like a decent design; disc brake front, V-brake rear, motorised rear hub (I think) with derailleur gears - it even has suspension fork and seatpost. Dread to think what it weighs, but it’s an interesting bike. 

March 22nd - There’s been a death locally. The victim will not be mourned, although being viciously cut down by a diamond blade. Cyclists, pushchair wranglers and normal-width people throughout the area who walk this way will know what I’m talking about.

The post that had for years pointlessly stopped even the narrowest bikes and people getting though the gap at the foot of Anglesey Basin without a struggle, has finally been cut down.

It served no purpose - access to motorbikes either side of it was always possible. It just existed as a royal pain in the arse, and I was hugely irritated that the metre high steel post filled with concrete survived the dam works.

Someone, somewhere has finally cut the bloody thing down. I’ve vowed to do so many a time, but never been quite motivated enough.

My thanks to the executioner, you have done the community a great service.

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 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 14th - In Birmingham, Newhall Street junction by the old Remploy headquarters. A great safety warning on the back of a truck. I only have two issues with it:

  • It should be twice as big
  • It should say ‘Do not pass this vehicle’

Regardless of how cycle lanes are marked, don’t come up the lefthand side of traffic folks. It’s not big, not clever, and is what kills most of the adult cyclists involved in road accidents in the UK.