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Bicycle shop in Birmingham | by Sibad
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Bicycle shop in Birmingham

This place in the centre of Birmingham UK has a rich stock of bicycles including urban street cycles with baskets, bells (legal requirement now), mudguards and chain guards and a selection of folding cycles. It also provides comprehensive repair services - 'cycle surgery' - and spares.

When I took to cycling in my home town in Birmingham, around 1996, urban cycling was rare. I recall the exhiliration of taking part in 'critical mass' rides through the city centre with a rare minority of fellow cyclists. It was tricky to get specialist cycle repairs - especially when i switched to riding Brompton folding bicycles to cope with many difficulties created by the train operating companies between me and my wish to combine cycle travel with the area's blighted public transport system, especially when travelling beyond the West Midlands on intercity and cross-country rail. In 2008 change is in the air. We have a network of Sustrans linked cyclepaths, including many miles of canal towpath, some reasonable cycle lanes, a small light rail system (compared to say the Netherlands but one on which I can take a folded bicycle. There are more cycle racks around though very few at our rail stations - another reason for relying on a folder. The city government has people within it who are genuinely keen to expand cycling in Birmingham. There is a cycling map of the city and the council has a 'cycling strategy':

Although sensible ideas like excluding cars from the city centre and reducing the speed limit of all motorised traffic across the city to 20mph are still pipe dreams (but in 2014 see: there are concerted efforts to encourage settlement patterns which reduce expensive suburban sprawl and attract people to return to or stay living closer to or in the city centre, with efforts via partneships with planners, police and environmental health to enhance the liveability of Birmingham's inner suburbs, spreading traffic calming measures more widely and taking stronger measures to deal with noise and even light pollution as well as having more sophisticated parks, green space and trees policies and tougher planning guidelines to reduce car parking spaces for new housing. More changes may come about as a result of the increasing cost of oil (if these are not scuppered by the reverberating effects on the economy of peak-oil), concerns about vehicle emissions, new cleaner technologies, a desire to travel more healthily - especially getting to and from school and commuting to and from workplaces - and a revival of cycle retail and repair services. It has been a long road and there are still many people for whom the bicycle was the demeaning form of travel that people were forced to adopt, along with buses, before they could afford the luxury of an automobile. Birmingham's central station - New Street - has that one great advantage - that it is plonk in the centre of town. It is also one of the ugliest stations in Europe giving arriving and departing passengers a feel of being inside a diesel fumed concrete bunker assailed by the noisiest passenger announcement system you could imagine and representing the biggest rail bottleneck in the UK rail system. Plans are in hand to raise the cash for a massive make-over and refurbishment but the key problem is the area's two track infrastructure - the West Coast mainline being the worst example - that causes massive tensions between area rail services and intercity services. Birmingham has long been the UK's most autodependent city. The automobile is one of its icons, obscuring the fact that long ago Birmingham was once the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the country or indeed Europe. Yet at the same time it was Birmingham that only four years ago took the bold political decision to demolish (what a pleasure to watch!) a section of one of its encircling dual carriageways to regenerate the economy of its 'Eastside' development, and break out of 'the corset' that adaptation to the car in the 1960s had tightened around the city centre, forcing anyone on foot to brave grim subways or climb pedestrian bridges to negotiate the city centre, while it was a joke that visiting motorists could indeed speed around and through the city centre but could find themselves weeping with frustration at not being able to exit the right ramp for their perfectly visible but innaccessible destination. Birmingham is a hilly city. Some find that makes for hard cycling, but I love the place and have taken the greatest pleasure from travelling around and through it by bicycle. 6 months ago I finally divorced my car. I blogged about it at the time:

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Taken on July 19, 2008