Cycling in the West Midlands
Cycling in the West Midlands
Whether Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice or not, as the cliché goes, it certainly has a lot more cycleways. The towpath network – ranging from superb surfaces to bumpy muddy tracks – can take you from the smart redevelopment of Gas Street basin to many parts of the city.
A few on-road routes exist, too – getting to Edgbaston cricket ground from the station is pretty well signed, for instance. It’s part of NCN5, which runs roughly north-south through the city, mostly car-free, on its way from Reading to Holyhead.
Britain’s second city may be something of a sprawl, with a lot of busy roads, but there are lots of short (1-3 mile) family-friendly cycle tracks, easy to get to by train, that you can cycle with even small children. Examples include Bournbrook Route, from Selly Oak to Woodgate Valley; Merritts Brook Greenway, from Ley Hill to Bournville, celebrating the city’s chocolate heritage; the Rea Valley Millennium Route from Cannon Hill Park to Cotteridge; or Perry Hall Fields at Hamstead.
But West Midlands cycling is often about canal towpaths (so narrow-tyred road bikes aren’t always the best choice). For instance, NCN81 branches off that NCN5 north of Birmingham and leads all the way to Wolverhampton on a canal towpath; NCN54, meanwhile, links Stourbridge with Dudley traffic-free and utilising more towpaths. Over in Coventry, a towpath stretch of its canal is the NCN52, while at Dudley’s Netherton Tunnel you can try one of the most psychologically challenging bike rides in Britain: surviving two miles of dark, narrow, spooky towpath in Netherton Tunnel.
Cycling groups and clubs in the West Midlands
Dudley CTC (Dudley)
Varied and vibrant programme of half and full-day rides on two Sundays per month
North Birmingham Cycling UK (Birmingham)
Over a dozen rides each week mainly in the lanes of Warwickshire and beyond
Earlsdon Wheelers (Earlsdon)
Offers rides of 20 to 50 miles in and around Coventry and Warwickshire
Royal Sutton Cycling Club (Sutton Coldfield)
Helps experienced and novice cyclists join in the local cycling scene
Wolverhampton Wheelers CC (Wolverhampton)
Road racing, cyclocross, mountain biking, time trials and monthly lectures
Team Gallagher (West Midlands)
Joyful Bellas and Fellas (Solihull)
Pathfinders CCYW (Solihull)
Npower Bicycle Users Group (Solihull)
Solihull Cycling Club (Solihull)
Diverse club which promotes all aspects of the sport from racing to social activities
Saheli Cycling Club (Birmingham)
Green Bike Project (Birmingham)
Campaigns for better cycling in Birmingham and Solihull and organises social events and rides
Beacon Roads (Birmingham)
Broad-based club active in south Birmingham and north Worcestershire
Hopwood Ladies CC (Birmingham)
Meets three times a week for rides of varying lengths
Longbridge Ladies Cycling Club (Birmingham)
Cycle South Brum (Birmingham)
Stourbug Bicycle User Group (Stourbridge)
Offers rides most days of the year covering different distances and at different speeds
Stourbridge CC (Stourbridge)
Supports competitive and non-competitive, on and off-road cycling
Halesowen Athletics and Cycling Club (Halesowen)
Saltley Community Association (Saltley)
B10 CCC (Birmingham)
Balsall Heath CCC (Balsall Heath)
Cycle Chain Ltd (West Midlands)
Bike West Midlands Network (West Midlands)
TfWM supports and develops walking and cycling as attractive and practical options for getting around the West Midlands
Hoare Lea Cycling Club (West Midlands)
The Sikh Helpline (Birmingham)
Gear Up (Birmingham)
IVC Members (Birmingham)
Bike North Birmingham Community Cycling (Birmingham)
Boldmere Bullets (West Midlands)
A collective celebrating cycling, walking, running and socialising
Pathfinders (West Midlands)
Chapter 2 (West Midlands)
Bike2life Cic (Sutton Coldfield)
Christian community cycling project encouraging use and recycling of bicycles.
Walsall Area Cycling (Walsall)
The Giro (Birmingham)
For young and old, returnees and new riders and recreational and competitive riders
Handsworth Beat The Street CCC (Birmingham)
Builds a fun active cycling club together and to bring a sense of unity
Warwickshire Road Club (Birmingham)
Road races, time trials, leisure and general fitness rides for members
Bike shop: social enterprise run by Queen Alexandra College
Heart of England Cycling Club (West Midlands)
Road cycling club open to over 18s from south Birmingham, Warks and Worcs
CTC Coventry (Coventry)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag or rear rack and panniers are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.
What have we missed? Recommend your favourite routes using the comments box below.
Cycling routes in the West Midlands
Getting around Birmingham and Wolverhampton, and canal routes galore
Cycling events in the West Midlands
Make sure your bike is working
(from our partners, Halfords)
Creaking cranks, wobbly wheels or slipping saddles are the last thing you want, but Halfords' guide to basic bike maintenance will keep you rolling smoothly. Whether you’re a regular commuter, a leisurely weekend rider, or prefer to tear it up on a serious MTB trail, signs of wear and tear might keep you off the saddle from time to time. Whilst we can’t promise to banish those roadside mishaps, we can help keep your bike tip top with our top tips!
You’re heading out on your lovely bike, with a pannier packed with your essentials. A glorious route lies ahead, but then you run into a spot of bother! Most of the time there are handy hacks you can do to tide you over whilst out and about, and we’ve taken a look into the most common bike problems and solutions…
Clicking saddle? Check that the bolts connecting the saddle to the seat post are not loose. Tighten until the saddle is firmly secured using an allen key from your trusty toolbox!
Squealing brakes? This could be down to dirt or oil on the brake pads. Give it a quick wipe down, then when you get home take the brake pads off and readjust.
Squeaky derailleur? A little lube should help. Remove any excess.
Creaky pedals? Dry pedal bearings, loose crank arms or a worn bottom bracket could be the culprit. Once home, remove and lube the pedal bearings, tighten and lube the crank arms, or replace the bottom bracket if it’s still making a fuss.
Some of the problems you find with your bike might need a closer look, and here’s where we can help!
Wobbling disc rotors, spongy brakes and rattling bolts needn’t be as pesky as they sound for long enough to keep you off your bike! Call and see us with your two wheels at your local Halfords, or with any other bike bothers you might have.
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