BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking
July 23rd - Riding back home this evening, something shiny in the road caught my eye - lying on the edge of Green Lane in Shelfield, the debris from something that really shouldn’t happen. It’s a shattered bicycle sprocket.
This would have been part of the cassette, or rear group of cogs an the back wheel  of a cheap bike. It’s been used, as the teeth are worn, and the chrome coating ground through. Decent sprockets are made from high-grade alloys or steel, with some flexibility. Generally, they’re pressed or forged. 
This one is low grade steel, and has been made from cast material, making it inflexible and weak. It’s a fair assumption that under load, it’s cracked, and at some point catastrophic failure has occurred, and other debris in the road suggested as much.
Cheap supermarket or discount store bikes are often fitted with this kind of cheap componentry and fail in this kind of manner. Deprending on when it failed, this kind of breakdown could be very serious, and cause the rider to be injured - imagine if this had happened when cycling up a steep hill, like Black Cock Bridge, further on?
If you need a decent bike, and haven’t got much cash, a better option is to look out for a decent secondhand steed. You’d be surprised what you can get from Gumtree or the small ads for the same money.
A very, very cheap bike really isn’t worth the risk or hassle. They’re cheap because they’re made out of cheese, bus tickets and spit…

July 23rd - Riding back home this evening, something shiny in the road caught my eye - lying on the edge of Green Lane in Shelfield, the debris from something that really shouldn’t happen. It’s a shattered bicycle sprocket.

This would have been part of the cassette, or rear group of cogs an the back wheel  of a cheap bike. It’s been used, as the teeth are worn, and the chrome coating ground through. Decent sprockets are made from high-grade alloys or steel, with some flexibility. Generally, they’re pressed or forged. 

This one is low grade steel, and has been made from cast material, making it inflexible and weak. It’s a fair assumption that under load, it’s cracked, and at some point catastrophic failure has occurred, and other debris in the road suggested as much.

Cheap supermarket or discount store bikes are often fitted with this kind of cheap componentry and fail in this kind of manner. Deprending on when it failed, this kind of breakdown could be very serious, and cause the rider to be injured - imagine if this had happened when cycling up a steep hill, like Black Cock Bridge, further on?

If you need a decent bike, and haven’t got much cash, a better option is to look out for a decent secondhand steed. You’d be surprised what you can get from Gumtree or the small ads for the same money.

A very, very cheap bike really isn’t worth the risk or hassle. They’re cheap because they’re made out of cheese, bus tickets and spit…

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.

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 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 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.

February 15th - A rough day. Weather was bad, with a high wind and periodic, squally rain. I needed to get some shopping in, and popped to Morrisons in Burntwood. I found myself on The Sportway, the drive to the Rugby Club that runs alongside the Chasetown bypass. 

This is a good tip - I know this route well. Just where the grass is on the foreground corner of the cycleway, there is a huge, wheel-swallowing pothole unseen under the water. Because I know it’s there, I give it a wide berth. Someone coming this way for the first time, wouldn’t know.

My point is this: in this weather, be careful riding through puddles. They can hide a variety of nasties - from tire-shredding debris, to holes, to uncovered drains.

Take it easy and be wary.

January 29th - Micro asphalt is a pain in the arse. There are several installations of it in Walsall that I know to. The system is simple; a thin layer of resin-based coating is applied to a poor road surface, levelling the dips and sealing cracks. Unlike conventional tarmac, this is a chemical adhesive process. It’s way cheaper than resurfacing fully, and purportedly much more effective than tar and chipping.

Sadly within Walsall, in places it doesn’t seen to have gone too well.

Manufacturers claim a life of 20 years for an application, but this stretch in Green Lane, Shelfield is only a couple of years old, and is already forming potholes and ruts like a ploughed field. 

It’s actually easier to see the effect on a wet night, as the water pools in the ridges and dips. Riding over this is afoul and makes steering unpredictable.

This road is now worse to ride than before the new surface was applied. Nice work, Walsall. Nice work…

January 26th - Beware, canal towpath walkers and cyclists. As pointed out by Warren Parry on Facebook a week or so ago, the brickwork on the embankment edge of the Wyrley and Essington Canal between Catshill Junction and the Silver Street Bridge in Brownhills is falling away.

A considerable cavity is opening between the towpath and the edging brickwork, large and deep enough to take a bike wheel or foot. I guess it’s caused by a combination of the weather and general erosion.

I shall contact the Canal & River Trust tomorrow to report the problem. In the meantime, watch where you’re going!

January 19th - Sometimes, a solution to a problem is so simple that you wonder why it’s not in common use. At the bike jumble the day before, I got two of these water bottles (known as ‘bidons’ to pretentious roadie arses everywhere) which have a dome cap that loosely clips over the nozzle and remains attached by a band around the collar of the bottle.
The purpose is simple; it stops mud thrown up by the front wheel from contaminating the bit you drink from. This is a common problem with mountain and cross bikes as you can see, and I’m not convinced drinking from a mud-contaminated bottle didn’t give me the dreadful bout of campylobacter I suffered over new year 2011/2.
In conditions like we’re enduring at the moment, this is a godsend, and ensures I’m not throwing away half bottles of drink due to the fear of the dirty nozzle.
These bottles are marketed by cycle accessory brand BBB and I got two for a pocket-pleasing fiver. 
Bargain!

January 19th - Sometimes, a solution to a problem is so simple that you wonder why it’s not in common use. At the bike jumble the day before, I got two of these water bottles (known as ‘bidons’ to pretentious roadie arses everywhere) which have a dome cap that loosely clips over the nozzle and remains attached by a band around the collar of the bottle.

The purpose is simple; it stops mud thrown up by the front wheel from contaminating the bit you drink from. This is a common problem with mountain and cross bikes as you can see, and I’m not convinced drinking from a mud-contaminated bottle didn’t give me the dreadful bout of campylobacter I suffered over new year 2011/2.

In conditions like we’re enduring at the moment, this is a godsend, and ensures I’m not throwing away half bottles of drink due to the fear of the dirty nozzle.

These bottles are marketed by cycle accessory brand BBB and I got two for a pocket-pleasing fiver. 

Bargain!

January 10th - Time for another cycling tip. This is one I repeat often, and is very important, so it bears repeating. Following the rain we’ve had, the roads are currently filthy. This isn’t just country lanes, but major roads, too; the Chester Road up to Shire Oak from Stonnall northbound has a band of wet silt stretching nearly a metre from the kerb for several hundred metres, and it’ as slippery as hell. In the country lanes, the wash down has deposited grit, marbles and hedge-flailings containing sharp thorns into the road, right where we cyclists normally ride..
Watch where you’re going. Beware of puddles that could hide deep potholes. Corner carefully, and maintain your space on the road, so you have somewhere to move to if an unseen hazard appears. Carry spare tubes or a means of repair.
Take it steady out there, folks.

January 10th - Time for another cycling tip. This is one I repeat often, and is very important, so it bears repeating. Following the rain we’ve had, the roads are currently filthy. This isn’t just country lanes, but major roads, too; the Chester Road up to Shire Oak from Stonnall northbound has a band of wet silt stretching nearly a metre from the kerb for several hundred metres, and it’ as slippery as hell. In the country lanes, the wash down has deposited grit, marbles and hedge-flailings containing sharp thorns into the road, right where we cyclists normally ride..

Watch where you’re going. Beware of puddles that could hide deep potholes. Corner carefully, and maintain your space on the road, so you have somewhere to move to if an unseen hazard appears. Carry spare tubes or a means of repair.

Take it steady out there, folks.

January 8th - This is a bit of cycle geekery. I have accumulated over the years some new cyclocross tyres. They’re cross country tyres for road-style bikes. They’re ideal for winter conditions, but tend to puncture easily; being designed for competition, they have great tread but are designed for lightness. Since my beloved Schwalbe Marathon Plus are wearing thin, I thought I’d try out the spares. Instead of putting up with the pictures, I’m going to try this Panaracer ‘Flat Away’ tyre liner, and see if it makes them a bit more of an attractive option.

The tape is soft fabric on a kevlar skin, which is lightly self-adhesive. You just stick it around the inside of the tyre before fitting, and it is purported to stop thorns and other nasties cutting through to the tube. 

I’ll admit, I’m sceptical, but it’s hedge flailing season, and I’ll give it a go and see - after all, this stuff is a third of the price of a new tyre and will help me use up some of the perfectly serviceable spares I’ve got hanging around.

Flat Away comes in 26, 700c and 29 versions. Because cross tyres are fatter than 700c, I’ve gone for that for maximum width of coverage. 

I shall report back on the experiment. I may live to regret this…

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…