BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

On a bike, riding somewhere. Every day, rain or shine.

Posts tagged ‘commuting’

#365daysofbiking A contact sport

Friday January 22nd 2021 – Normally in winter I ride studded tyres. I do so because they’re bombproof and hold me upright even on black, sheet ice. They are noisy and hard to ride, but always my winter weapon of choice.

This year I read about other, studless winter tyres: Continental Top Contact 2 Winter.

Now I’ve not had a great experience of Continental tyres before now – Gatorskins were dire, although Continental’s inner tubes are up there with the best. So I tried this complex-treaded soft rubber commuting tyre with some trepidation.

I needn’t have worried: They are stunning. Not as good on black ice, but they are extraordinarily grippy. They have dealt with snow, ice, slippery mud and good old fashioned wet leaves. The grip is incredible.I am seriously impressed.

What’s more they’re pretty fast and silent too.

I could get used to these. Well done, Continental. Well done.

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November 1st – It’s coming on winter. That was cold, and a shock to the system, for sure.

Now commuting in both directions mostly in darkness, the cold and the nights are drawing in. Already seeing evidence of the communal madness that commences with the darkness every year, this run up to Christmas is my least favourite time to be on the road on a bike.

Stay safe everyone, and wrap up warm – it’s getting chilly out there.

October 7th – An odd bike spotted in a rack near work. It was so odd, I had to take a closer look.

It’s a Kettler city bike. Kettler are, I believe, a German brand with an office in Redditch selling into the UK. It’s a large bike, and looks very heavy indeed. Dynamo lights powered by a bottle, rather than hub generator and rim brakes – the rear an unusual crossover cantilever design mounter under the chainstays – mark this bike out as being a cheap model. More expensive steeds of this type would have hub brakes.

The bike clearly needs some love – the chain was as dry as old bones and red rusty, as were many of the components. I’m tempted to pop back just to lube the chain. It must squeak like hell in use.

An unusual thing, for sure…

August 14th – The day was mad. Starting with a great deal of nervous anticipation, the wheels of the day ground slowly at first, then became frenzied. I found myself via a convoluted route in Brum at rush hour, looking for food and a cup of tea. Crossing the Cathedral Square – Pigeon Park to locals – I spotted this bike rack. Using it were the spectrum of bike users; a modern roadie’s bike, an achingly hip single speed (set to freewheel side, not fixed as per usual), and finally, a wee folder. 

Nice to see so many bikes in Birmingham these days – and such a variety too.

September 27th – Returning to Birmingham from the somewhat disappointing Cycle Show at the NEC, I was reminded whilst walking a relatively short distance through the city centre that there really is a cycling boom going on; you’d never have seen cycles in such numbers around the place as you do now. And these are real machines, as opposed to the pristine new stuff that I’d seen that morning. Bikes of all ages, types and sizes, from BMX to fixies, all carrying the patina of their owners – the stickers, modifications, adjustments and dirt that go to making a bike your very own.

It’s good to see. 

April 29th – Birmingham New Street – new start? Well, it’s bright, and smells of resin, I suppose. It also smells heavily of engineering compromise, forced retail opportunity and bodge.

My first experience of the much vaunted new station access way was this morning, and after all the hype, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s very much unfinished, and some aspects of the project show quite bad judgement.

This is no longer a station, but is a shopping centre with railway platforms. Everything is quite a bit longer to get to than before, and the access points funnel crowds carefully past the new shop units. The platforms themselves remain as narrow and cramped as ever, but with new escalators and lifts that go direct between concourse and platform, instead of via the subway. Sadly, they’re tiny, unable to accommodate a bike and pushchair at the same time, or my bike lengthways. This is dreadful.

The new concourse is nice, the light is pleasant and it’s quite airy. I’m not keen on the stone flooring, but each to his own. The cafe looks nice, and the information up there was good, unlike the platforms where a mixture of old, incorrect signage and new stuff just confused people.

The ticket barriers are much better, and access with a bike is OK even when crowded. However, the exit in Stephenson Place is bizarre, and doubles the length of the journey to Moor Street, meaning I’ll no longer make tight connections. 

My advice to anyone planning to park a bike in racks there and travel is don’t do it. There are woefully few racks, stuck in a dark corner of the Moor Street access subway, a while away from the station. Although covered by CCTV, the Sheffield stands are only bolted down. An industrious pair of scallies with a spanner and some bottle could clear those stands of bikes in minutes. This is unforgivable.

On the whole it’s nicer, but functionally more awkward in many ways. It’s much more walking to get in and out, and I wouldn’t fancy it with limited mobility. The architecture is nice, and they’ve worked hard to make a space with no natural light more human-freindly. But the pokey lifts, poor access to Moor Street and focus of retail jarr with me a little too much.

It’ll be interesting to see how things develop.

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.

December 6th – It’s time for the winter boots again. A couple of times this week I’ve felt that queasy adrenaline rush as either the front or real wheel slipped a little bit while cornering. Such incidents are rare, but a wakeup call I always heed. Nature is telling me that it’s time to swap out the 28mm Marathon Plus tyres and throw on the 38mm Marathon Winter. These are a fatter, lower pressure road tyre exhibiting a chunky tread made from a soft compound with small tungsten carbide studs inlaid that bite into ice, mud and road debris. They’re noisy, don’t roll too well, but grip, even on black ice, like demons. They’re not cheap, but for any commuter who keeps going through rough conditions, I highly recommend them.

October 23rd – The bleak weather continues. Thoroughly depressing commutes were lightened only by getting a decent train service for the first time in weeks. Despite the mass cancellations, I for once fell lucky and managed to get on 2 trains that were on time and 2 that were only a few minutes late. This may seem unremarkable, but the service has been so bad of late it’s been adding whole hours to my commuting time. As my train home rolled into Shenstone, I felt quite pleased, but noticed the announcement as I alighted that the following train was 15 minutes late. That one was set to be seriously overcrowded. The local rail system really is useless at the moment.

Shenstone Station, however, is still beautiful, even in the half-light of a miserable day.

July 26th – I’m really liking this summer malarkey. I think it might catch on. Commuting in just a teeshirt and jeans is so liberating. This morning it was dull, but warm. Whilst changing trains at Nuneaton, I leant my bike up against the glass of the waiting room. As I did so, I noticed this little indicator of the advancing seasons: a moth. I’ve no idea what species it is, but the way it was resting caught my eye. With the warm sun and still conditions, there will be a lot of Lepidoptera emerge over the next few days. There’s been a marked shortage this year. 

Hello, little fella. Welcome to summer!