BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

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 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 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.

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.

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.

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…

March 14th - This is for Richard Burnell. Last autumn, he was exploring the canals of Birmingham, and he happened upon these boxes, mounted either side of the canal in Ladywood. He asked what they were, and I told him - to some incredulity - that they were a traffic counter. I vowed that next time I passed, I’d take a picture or two.

In the tall metal box is a mains power supply and a counter. In the long, flat one next to it, two photo electric beam switches (made by specialists Sick), which detect a light beam reflected from a target in the box on the opposite side of the canal. When both beams are broken together, it’s most likely by a boat, so the count increases. By using the two beams, this filters out false signals from curious hands, waterfowl etc.

Measuring boat traffic is important. Similar systems on cycle routes count bikes, and we’ve all seen the temporary ones that count traffic.

March 13th - Today, an old friend entered retirement. I replaced my trusty Panasonic Lumix TZ40 for a brand spanking new, just released TZ60. The little red compact camera has been through an awful lot, and survived, and still takes good pictures, but it is probably on the verge of death; it makes ominous grinding sounds when switching on now, and sometimes, the auto lens cover doesn’t open. 

I have had and used the camera for a little over 12 months. Apart from the odd day when I forgot it, it has travelled with me every day in a little sleeve in my pocket. It has taken about 21,000 photos, and doesn’t owe me a penny. This little metal-bodied gem of a camera - boasting 20x optical zoom and great adjustability in a small size - has been dropped, got wet, covered in mud, sweat, tea, and on one occasion, was bled on. It’s operated in frost, snow, howling rain and hot sun. It has been a faithful friend and tool. Almost all the images posted here in the last twelve months here have been taken with it.

Panasonic cameras are a bit Marmite - loved and hated with equal passion. I’ve used them since 2007 and adore them, despite their foibles. With Leica lenses and tank-like build quality, I couldn’t change now. I tried a Sony for a bit in 2011 and loathed it. You get used to stuff.

Several of my cameras have come to sticky ends. Dropped down steps, bounced while riding, stolen. This one seemed to have had a real survival spirit.

The little red camera shows the marks of life, and wear and tear. Ingrained dirt, dents, buckles and chips. They are, although the camera probably disagrees, the marks of love.

The newcomer is the direct model replacement, the TZ60 (oddly, there was no TZ50) - it boasts a higher resolution, 30x optical zoom and more features to fiddle with than I can shake an SD card at. It’s slightly heavier, and larger, but feels good. Just enough features have moved button or changed to drive me mad for a good few weeks. Incredibly, it cost exactly the same as the TZ40 when I bought it. Progress.

I shall pass the red one on to someone who needs it for free, as I do with most of my old tech, and I shall become as attached to it’s black replacement as I am to the red one.

Yes, I’m a geek. But not for the sake of it. Tech I have has to prove itself and be useful. These cameras have proven themselves over and over again. Long may it be so.

December 25th - Must get the hosepipe out. Reckon the bike would be at least 5lb lighter without the accumulated mud, trail crud and vegetation…

December 25th - Must get the hosepipe out. Reckon the bike would be at least 5lb lighter without the accumulated mud, trail crud and vegetation…

December 17th - In the dark nights and half-light days of winter, decent lights are needed. Searching, bold white in front, and strong red at the back. 

In the darkness of the footbridge at Ogley Junction, I noticed how effective they were. Wouldn’t be without them.

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 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 13th - Heading home from work late again, I hit the canal for a bit of a mental challenge. It’s been a hard couple of days, and night riding in a darker than usual environment is really good for clearing the head. I wait until I get to a dark spot, then kill the lights for a bit. It’s great fun.
This image is taken without flash, and this is how it looks from the bike.
The front light I’m using at the moment - a Hope Technology Vision R4 - is great, and bright enough to stun a badger. Here, it’s on the lowest of three ‘trail’ settings, and it’s more than adequate for tiding in woodland at night.
As soon as the weather clears, going to try it out on the Chase one evening…

November 13th - Heading home from work late again, I hit the canal for a bit of a mental challenge. It’s been a hard couple of days, and night riding in a darker than usual environment is really good for clearing the head. I wait until I get to a dark spot, then kill the lights for a bit. It’s great fun.

This image is taken without flash, and this is how it looks from the bike.

The front light I’m using at the moment - a Hope Technology Vision R4 - is great, and bright enough to stun a badger. Here, it’s on the lowest of three ‘trail’ settings, and it’s more than adequate for tiding in woodland at night.

As soon as the weather clears, going to try it out on the Chase one evening…

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 - This is incredible - bike geeks will love this. A Fahrrad Manufaktur small wheel bike, spotted on a Solihull bound train. The owner - a beardy, leathery old cycle tourer - said it was one of only 3 in the country. I certainly can’t find any details of this model online. It seems to combine all the disadvantages of a folding bike with the disadvantages of a larger one, but look at the way this is loaded. That’s a remarkable loading technique - note the tea-flask and pannier.
I guess this appeals to the Moulton crowd, and it is a unique, fascinating bike - dynamo lights come on automatically in low light, and it’s rocking a 14 speed Rohlhoff hub, with a Brooks saddle. This is no cheap machine.
Sadly, the owner alighted at Small Heath, and I didn’t get long enough to chat to him about it. But it’s a remarkable steed. I hope I meet him again.

September 30th - This is incredible - bike geeks will love this. A Fahrrad Manufaktur small wheel bike, spotted on a Solihull bound train. The owner - a beardy, leathery old cycle tourer - said it was one of only 3 in the country. I certainly can’t find any details of this model online. It seems to combine all the disadvantages of a folding bike with the disadvantages of a larger one, but look at the way this is loaded. That’s a remarkable loading technique - note the tea-flask and pannier.

I guess this appeals to the Moulton crowd, and it is a unique, fascinating bike - dynamo lights come on automatically in low light, and it’s rocking a 14 speed Rohlhoff hub, with a Brooks saddle. This is no cheap machine.

Sadly, the owner alighted at Small Heath, and I didn’t get long enough to chat to him about it. But it’s a remarkable steed. I hope I meet him again.

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.