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.
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 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.
December 13th - I got away early today, and raced the rain home. Having come from Birmingham, I took the first train in my general direction available, in light of recent hassles, and ended up alighting at Shenstone. Riding down Footherley Lane, I noticed the mud was quite thick on the ground.
This is to be expected - after all the ploughing, seeding and the like, mud is carried out of fields onto roads that are never cleaned except by the rains, and we haven’t had heavy prolonged rain for a while.
This mud can be evil on road bike tyres, or after a light frost, when it partially freezes and turns into wheel-stealing slush. The best advice is take it slow, steady, don’t brake unless you have to and no sudden movements.
All part of the fun of winter…
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.
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.
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…