November 25th - Ladies and gentlemen, I can make an announcement. This coming winter will be warm, without much snow or ice.
I have guaranteed this by purchasing new snow tyres for this season. Therefore, fate dictates that I won’t need them. Which will probably be a shame, as they look like they mean serious business.
This has been a public service announcement to 365daysofbiking readers.
November 5th - In Shenstone, a timely reminder of the season. The roads were thick with leaf pulp, caused by the action of traffic on fallen leaves. It looks muddy, but it’s also soapy and greasy. Hitting this goop on road tyres can be a sobering experience as it’s apt to steal your wheels from under you; the balsam and sap mix to form a lubricant that remains, even after the debris is removed, so take care anywhere where there are overhanging trees - from up on the Chase, to residential suburbia.
November 4th - Only one set of photos today, as my others went badly wrong, such was the theme of the day. A day of missed connections, late arrivals, things not working and bad chances. I got a puncture on the way to work, and cursed. I had a mechanical issue on the way home.
Still, it was a pleasant enough day weather-wise, and on my way I took the cycle path from Pelsall to Goscote. Pelsall looked great from the Mill Lane Bridge, as it always does this time of year, and the Goscote Valley was equally pastoral. I can think of far worse journeys to cycle.
Here’s a thing, though, if a shard of glass embeds itself in your tyre and pierces your innertube, why is it always coloured glass and not plain clear? Is coloured glass harder or something?
October 27th - I’m not one for religiously washing bikes, preferring the patina of grime that shows a bike is well used, and also makes it less attractive to thieves. However, the mud gathered on my bike over the past couple of days is loaded with pine needles and grit. These, over time, will get into moving parts and for a sticky, resinous paste that will accelerate wear and attack paint and metal. As soon as the weather clears it’ll be out with the Muc Off spray and a hosepipe.
October 21st - Time for a techy bit. Disc brakes are my favourite kind of bicycle brake - resilient, reliable and good in the wet, they need care if they’re to maintain performance. The brakes on the current commuting bike are hydraulic, and very powerful; they eat brake pads, especially in wet weather. In the wet, the grit from roadwash and grindings from the pads and disc combine to make an abrasive paste that makes the brakes noisy in use and causes wear to all braking surfaces. After a wet ride, wherever possible, I flush the discs in clean water to clear any residue off. If this is ignored, larger particles become embedded in the pads and score the disc surface, impeding performance and causing high-pitched noise.
I’ve also noticed with these appreciable wear on the discs. These were changed 3,000 miles ago and I can feel now feel quite a step between the surface and unworn part of the disc.
If your bike has disc brakes, look after them, and they’ll be there when you need them. It’s especially important in weather like this.
September 30th - I was travelling between Birmingham and Darlaston. I got off the Walsall train at Bescot.
Bescot station is not bicycle friendly. It’s hateful.
Septemebr 24th - I came home after a late finish at work full of cold. Still struck low with the weekend’s bug, the going was hard. The dusk fell during the commute, and I became painfully aware that we’re now in the few weeks where drivers seem to be re-learning to drive in the dark. I don’t understand the psychology at all, but up until about the end of November, driving standards at dusk will be very poor. Left hooks, getting pulled out on, overtaking into oncoming traffic. All tonight. I had bright lights and a generally decent road position. There must be a reason for this, I see it every autumn.
Be careful out there, folks. You never know what’s lurking at a bad junction or beyond the oncoming headlights.
September 1st - Seasonal warning. Yes, it’s the hedge cutting season again, when our farming brethren flail the hawthorn hedges, in turn leaving the roads stewn with thorns made of some material that just glides into tyres. If you’re not rocking puncture proofs, avoid Gravelly Lane in Stonnall right now. It’s also quite grim up in Footherley too.
I don’t know why they don’t make weapons out of the same stuff hawthorn spines are made of. They’d never go blunt and pierce absolutely anything.
Like the Murphy’s, I’m not bitter…
August 21st - Other people’s bikes. In Lichfield for an early meeting, I took lunch and cycled home after a mooch around town. The town - despite the arrival of Debenhams - still seems to have a lot of empty retail space, and many of the shops I used to pass time in have now gone - the bookshop, Jessops, the Sony Centre. It’s quite sad.
Different from Brum, there’s more of a utility cycling vibe in Lichfield than the big city. I see a lot of older folk on Pashleys or cheaper imitations, and there are many odd hybrids of multiple flavours. I noted this great trike - is that a saddle or a sofa? I took an interest in the Dawes Streetwise - an odd mongrel design of a bike. Partially lugged, part welded frame, roller hub brake on the rear, V-brake on the front. Nexus hub gears. They are heavy, basic city commuter bikes - but this one is clearly loved and very well used.
Most of the bike space around the retail areas was full. This is impressive.
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.