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
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)
Ashiana / ACP Cycling Group (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)
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 and Hamstead Pavilion 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
Heart of England Cycling Club (West Midlands)
Road cycling club open to over 18s from south Birmingham, Warks and Worcs
Chuggers Chaingang (Birmingham)
Hawksley Community Centre CC (Birmingham)
Phoenix Riders (Birmingham)
Gorilla Coffee Cycling Collective (Birmingham)
Moseley Missiles (Moseley)
Canon Hill CC (Edgbaston)
Orlaith The Way to London (Shirley)
New Roots / Ladywood (Birmingham)
Hubs Cycle Network (Birmingham)
Urban Cycles (Castle Bromwich)
Leisure Forum - BMHLF (Birmingham)
Hadley Stadium Community Cycle Club (Birmingham)
Trikes and Bikes (Sutton Coldfield)
L2C (Sutton Coldfield)
Rookery Riders (Birmingham)
Start Again (Birmingham)
Solihull Active Families (Solihull)
Solihull Wheels For All (Solihull)
Birmingham Business Park Community Cycling Club (Birmingham)
Recovery Cycle Club (Birmingham)
Share Calthorpe CCC (Calthorpe)
Amanah Bike Club (Birmingham)
Sara Park Community Cycle Club (Birmingham)
CTC Coventry (Coventry)
Coventry Road Club (Coventry)
Birmingham Midland Cycling Club (West Midlands)
Godiva Trailriders (Coventry)
Trek Bicycles Coventry (Coventry)
University of Warwick Bicycle Users Group (West Midlands)
West Midlands Police Unity Tour (West Midlands)
West Mercia Unity Tour (West Midlands)
For more details about clubs and groups in Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Sandwell, please visit our area guide to the Black Country.
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, panniers or bikepacking bags 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.