Cycling in Birmingham can feel like a nerve-racking experience. The current cycling infrastructure is limited and it might seem like you’ll have to do a tango with the traffic every time you leave your front door. But with just a little guidance, you can enjoy making your way through the city on two wheels safely. Lisa Jones, cycling projects assistant for Eco Birmingham (opens in new tab), and Cycle Birmingham (opens in new tab) ride leader James Le Grys share their tips on discovering Brum by bike.
Try Before You Buy – Or Go Secondhand
The up-front cost of buying all the gear for cycling can be discouraging, but there are a number of cheaper options to get you started. For one, the West Midlands Cycle Hire (opens in new tab) scheme has recently been launched. “At first it was quite expensive,” says Jones. “But there’s now a reduced price during commuter hours [6am-11am], making it a really viable option to use.” To get started, just download the Beryl cycle hire (opens in new tab) app and find one of the docking stations that are dotted around the city (opens in new tab).
“We’ve also got the Brompton cycle hire (opens in new tab),” Jones adds. “I think people don’t realise that. I’ve used that when my bike hasn’t been working – it’s much cheaper than getting buses and the train.”
When you are ready to invest in your own set of wheels, you don’t have to buy new or settle for something off eBay either. “There’s quite a lot of secondhand bike shops in Birmingham that are co-operatives – you’ve got the Bike Foundry (opens in new tab) and Sprocket Cycles (opens in new tab) in the town centre. There’s also Big Birmingham Bikes (opens in new tab), where a lot of the community cycling clubs have got a bank of bikes you can borrow to go on their rides. It’s good to try it out first and go on these rides, learn the routes, get your confidence up and do some cycling instruction lessons before you actually buy one and start commuting yourself.”
Learn Your Routes
While cycling infrastructure in Birmingham is improving, it’s currently concentrated in certain areas of the city, rather than being distributed evenly. That said, there are loads of blue routes, greenways, canal paths and quiet roads – you just need to know where to look.
“It’s about knowing where you want to go, and then talking to other people to get tips on what would be the best route to go from A to B – your best cycling option may not necessarily be as the crow flies,” says Le Grys. “If you follow people’s advice I think you’ll probably end up having a more enjoyable ride than you would do if you just did the shortest A to B route.”
“All these traffic-free routes are quite hidden,” says Jones. “We’ve launched Brum by Bike (opens in new tab) on the Eco Birmingham website. It’s got all the cycle routes together, and there are links to traffic-free routes. You can see the cycling tuition that we do and find links to cycling clubs and groups.”
Join A Club
Birmingham is a hive of activity and there are cycling groups for all abilities, including novices. “Community cycling clubs are very big in Birmingham,” says Jones. “Both Eco Birmingham and Cycle Birmingham do group rides where you just learn all the routes that you wouldn’t necessarily know about unless you’re cycling with other people. Even if you look on maps, most of the traffic-free options aren’t displayed, so unless someone shows you, you wouldn’t know.”
If joining a cycling club seems a bit daunting, there are alternative schemes in Birmingham that can pair you up with someone who’ll help you find your feet on a one-to-one basis. “There’s a scheme called Cocycle (opens in new tab),” says Jones. “It puts new cyclists in touch with experienced ones who want to help. You fill in a form with where you live and where you work, and then they put people that could buddy up in touch with each other.”
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Give It A Go
Ultimately, it’s almost certainly time to just throw yourself into it. “I think everyone looks at Birmingham and thinks there’s nowhere to cycle – it’s all roads and all busy,” says Jones. “But things are changing and the new transport plan for the town centre is going to make it a lot easier for people to cycle in.”
“There are two facts that Birmingham shouts about: we’ve got more canals than Venice and more parks than Paris,” says Le Grys. “All our canal paths are surfaced and I’ve done Wednesday night bike rides where I bunny hop from park to park to park. You can get out there – yes, you might have to do a little bit of planning, but if you just want to do some short journeys or just go and have some fun, you can do that.”
Charlie Allenby is a journalist with a passion for pedalling. He contributes features and buying advice about cycling, and is participating in RideLondon in 2022 as well as covering it for Coach.
As Charlie is also training for a triathlon, he has become Coach’s chief whey and casein protein powder tester, trying as many brands as possible.
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