Cycling in Birmingham can feel like a nerve-wracking experience. The current cycling infrastructure is limited and it may seem that you will have to tango with the traffic every time you leave your door. But with a little guidance, you can enjoy making your way through town safely on two wheels. Lisa Jones, Eco Birmingham’s Cycling Projects Associate, and James Le Grace, Cycle Birmingham’s leader, share their tips for spotting Brum by bike.
Try before you buy – or use second-hand
The initial cost of purchasing all of your cycling gear can be frustrating, but there are a number of cheaper options to get started. For one, the West Midlands Cycle Hire scheme was recently launched. “At first it was very expensive,” Jones says. “But there is now a discounted price during business hours [6am-11am], making it a really viable option to use.” To get started, simply download the Beryl Cycle Rental app and find one of the docking stations dotted around the city.
“We also have Brompton bike rentals,” Jones adds. “I think people don’t realize it. I used it when my bike wasn’t working – it’s a lot cheaper than getting on the bus and train.”
When you’re ready to invest in your set of wheels, you don’t have to buy new or settle for something from eBay either. “There are quite a lot of used bike shops in Birmingham that are co-ops – you have Bike Foundry and Sprocket Cycles downtown. There is also Big Birmingham Bikes, where a lot of community cycling clubs have a range of bikes that you can borrow to go on their rides. It’s good to try it out first and go on these rides, learn the routes, gain your confidence and do some cycling lessons before you actually buy one and start navigating on your own.”
Know your paths
As Birmingham’s cycling infrastructure improves, it is currently concentrated in certain areas of the city, rather than evenly distributed. However, there are plenty of blue roads, green roads, canal paths and quiet roads – you just need to know where to look.
“It’s about figuring out where you want to go, and then talking to other people for tips on the best route to get from A to B—the best cycling option may not necessarily be as a crow flies,” says Le Grys. “If you follow people’s advice, I think you are likely to end up with a more pleasant journey than you would if you just took the shortest route from A to B.”
“All of these traffic-free roads are completely hidden,” Jones says. “We launched Brum by Bike on the Eco Birmingham website. It brings all bike routes together, and there are links for traffic-free routes. You can see the cycling lessons we do and find links to cycling clubs and groups.”
Join the club
Birmingham is a hive of activity and there are cycling groups for all abilities, including beginners. “Community cycling clubs are very big in Birmingham,” Jones says. “Both Eco Birmingham and Cycle Birmingham do group tours where you just learn all the ways you wouldn’t necessarily know unless you were riding a bike with other people. Even if you look at maps, most traffic-free options aren’t shown, so unless someone shows you What, you will not know.
If joining a cycling club seems a bit daunting, there are alternative schemes in Birmingham that can connect you with someone who will help you find your feet on an individual basis. “There’s a scheme called Cocycle,” Jones says. “It puts new cyclists in touch with experienced ones who want to help. You fill out a form with where you live and where you work, and then they put people who can connect with each other.”
In the end, it’s almost certainly time to throw yourself into it. “I think everyone looks at Birmingham and thinks there’s no room for a bike – all the roads and it’s all crowded,” Jones says. “But things are changing and the new transportation plan for downtown will make it very easy for people to cycle in it.”
“There are two truths Birmingham screams about: We have more canals than Venice and more parks than Paris,” says Le Grace. “All our canal trails showed up and I did bike rides on Wednesday nights where I bunny-hoped from park to park to park. You get out there—yes, you might have to do some planning, but if you just want to do some short rides or just Go and have some fun, you can do it.”