Getting around in the West Midlands

Because the name of my book and documentary is to be Cycling the Canals of Britain, a bike will be my primary means of transportation. There will be a train ride from the airport to Moor Street Station, and from there I will have to walk with my fanny pack (bum bag), carry on bag and duffel bag to On Your Bike, where I can hire a bike for the trip. It’s less than half a mile from the station to the bike store, but because I won’t have any wheeled luggage, it might be a challenge. The staff at On Your Bike (stores in Birmingham and London), have been very accommodating with me, and I’m picking up the bike the day of my arrival, May 4th.

Trek Bikes, which seem to be popular with UK hire companies, is a Wisconsin company.
Insanely impressive German engineering. I like how pulling up the handle releases the clamps that engage the bike rack.
I know little about this brand and just hope the bag will endure long enough for this one trip. I chose it over a camera bag because it has one large open compartment, but unfortunately no padding.
I will maintain the stereotype of Americans and their fanny packs, but really there is no better bag for a tourist. The waist belt tucks away and there’s a generous shoulder strap included. I will buy the strapettes an the rain cover.

I’m told I will be renting a 2013 Trek 7.1 FX, hopefully something like the picture to the left. It will come with fenders and a bike rack and it looks like the sort of bike I ride at home, a hybrid bike without shocks. I hope it will be up to the muddy towpaths I’m likely to expect.


I will be attaching panniers (which Emma says should be pronounced PAN-neers or PAN-yurs) to the rear bike rack and I’ve chosen the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic. I have panniers for my bike at home for grocery shopping, but the Ortlieb panniers are quite a step up. They are essentially dry bags and supposedly can be completely submerged, but as I don’t plan to fall into any of the canals, I hope that will remain untested. A pair holds 1.4 cu ft or 40L, a little less than an international flight carry on bag. I haven’t ordered them yet (they’re $180 at REI), but when I do, I’ll post a video.

The panniers have a shoulder strap but as I will already be wearing a carry on backpack and a fanny bag, I’ve decided to put the two panniers in a duffel bag and schlep all this to the bike hire. Almost all my camera gear will be in the fanny pack and carry on backpack and I hope most of my clothing will fit in a single pannier, leaving the other one free. I plan to transfer camera equipment from the carry on backpack to the empty pannier, leaving only the tripods in the carry on.

Carry on

My main tripod won’t fit in the panniers and so it will either remain in the backpack, which will be lashed to the bike rack. The backpack I have my eye on, the CabinMax Metz Cabin Backpack, isn’t waterproof, although I intend to buy a waterproof cover for it. I’ve chosen it to hold my camera equipment because unlike most camera backpacks, it’s exactly the same size as the Icelandair carry on dimensions and should be long enough to hold the tripod.

Fanny pack

The fanny pack I have is the Mountainsmith Lumbar Day Pack. I have a slightly older pack than the picture and link, but it’s essentially the same pack. It holds .46 cu ft or 13L and easily fits under a plane seat. I only wish the padded tablet sleeve were a little deeper to accommodate my iPad Air 2, but that is no fault of the bag. I have a number of Mountainsmith bags and they’re a Colorado company.

Brompton Bike

Unfortunately On Your Bike is closed Sunday and Monday and so I must return my rental on Saturday May 13th, leaving me two days in Birmingham without a rental bike. Fortunately I can use the Brompton Bike Hire scheme to rent a bike for the day. If you’ve never seen one of these origami wonders, I include a clip from the BBC comedy series W1A at the bottom of this article.

The hire scheme in Birmingham is similar to the Boris bikes in London (more officially known previously as Barclays Cycle Hire or now as Santander Cycles) or Denver’s own BCycle. You pick up a bike at a dock station and pay for the day. You can return the bike to any bike dock. You have to transfer £10 to your Brompton account upon registering, which should be more than I’ll need for the two days I use it. Unlock and return codes to open the lockers are sent as text messages.

The challenge for me, however, is that Brompton Bikes (a London company) have very small wheels and fold into a small package. The bikes are stored in lockers, so I’ll have to unfold one when picking it up and fold it when returning. Thankfully there are videos explaining the process, but I expect to look Hugh Bonneville silly my first time. The other difficulty is if the nearest dock has no bikes, requiring me to find another dock.

I’ll probably use a Brompton bike when I visit the Soho House Museum.

NOTE: I thought I should mention I am not being compensated for using any products or services. I’m writing these articles to let you know what equipment I’m using and also to satisfy my friend Lee, who I think takes a vicarious pleasure in my planning. My god that woman likes to plan.

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