To the shops by bike – 30 Days of Biking: Day 17

Working from home today, I realised needed to buy a particular adapter for my laptop’s power cable as I’d left mine at the office.

No matter: hop on the bike, head to the Arndale Centre, buy adapter and head back. Done within minutes with no fuss.

Another routine day of cycling.

 

Dodging flies, fans and trams – 30 Days of Biking: Day 16

Well, I finally did some actual riding today. After work I took the long way home, joining one of my colleagues who cycles part of the same route.

The nice weather helped my inclination to take a long way home, but I’d forgotten what it was like to cycle at early evening down the Fallowfield Loop. It was great to see so many riders out, but unfortunately the combination of shade and wildlife meant there were little flies everywhere.

Now, when cycling, it’s likely that you will come into contact with nature, however desk-bound you might prefer to be. But hitting clouds of flies at regular intervals gets a little tiresome after a while. I’m just glad I wear glasses and I recommend getting a pair of clear biking glasses if they’re particularly sensitive.

I turned off the Manchester Cycleway at Gorton. I guessed that joining up with yet another canal for the final stretch home was just going to bring more flies, but this meant I had to negotiate the Ashton New Road.

This is a particularly notorious stretch of road that includes tram tracks, on-street parking and only advisory bike lanes. Having ridden this route several times before, I was able to negotiate it OK, taking as wide a road position as I could without being too close to the tram tracks. Unfortunately, I hadn’t banked on another hazard: football fans.

Manchester City’s Etihad stadium was hosting a home game this evening and the streets were busy with cars dropping off, taxis, coaches and, of course, somewhat jolly football fans. By this point, the tram tracks diverge and the road is no longer shared so at least I didn’t have to deal with that. Again, the familiarity of the route gave me confidence to negotiate it successfully including using hand signalling to encourage some more challenging drivers to give me space as I overtook taxis unloading wherever and whenever.

I definitely would not recommend cycling here on a busy match day (MCFC don’t seem to).

Ultimately, I was pleased to have exercised good roadcraft and got through what was a more challenging ride than I’d initially set out to do. I really think there’s been a missed opportunity in this part of town though – the legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games is evident in our new sports venues but getting there by bike isn’t as easy, safe or convenient as it should be.

I’ve tried to be pretty positive about cycling in my blog posts so far. But the fact is, there’s still so much to be done for cycling in Manchester.

One of the groups working on making cycling better is the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign (GMCC). Tomorrow evening, they’ve organised a social ride from Manchester City Centre out to a pub in east Manchester, not too far from where I was cycling (though hopefully on a nicer route!). Come along for a very friendly bike ride and meet other social riders. Oh, and you don’t need to be a member to turn up – but if you do sign-up (for free!), you get a 10% discount at a load of bike shops in Manchester.

Bike Art – 30 Days of Biking: Day 15

Riding a bike is a simple, fun thing to do. It’s not surprising that those feelings inspire some beautiful art:

If you want to see the staircase of hanging bikes for yourself, get on down to Ridelow on Church Street in the Northern Quarter. Definitely some of the coolest bikes around, if you’re into low-riders.

This second-hand cycle place in Hebden Bridge uses a bike as part of its signage. Cycle:Recycle is more than just second-hand bike bits though: it’s a volunteer-run, not for profit, sustainable project that aims to get more people out of their cars and onto the saddle. By providing second hand bikes, they reduce the number of old bikes going to landfill and share skills with other cyclists.

This beautiful bike was spotted outside the Bay Horse in the Northern Quarter. I snapped it just when I started using Instagram.

Bikes can be used to create art. The Artcrank exhibition took place last year in Manchester’s 2022NQ, featuring bike-made and bike-inspired art. It’s moved around several cities since then, working with local artists to produce a unique show each time. Check them out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out various artists’ blogs about the Manchester event.

Finally, I’ve actually been used as a subject in a photo project featuring people in Manchester and their bikes. The Northern Comfort Visual project titled “I cycle Mcr 2012” invited anyone to go down with their bike and get snapped. I love this collection of images for the diversity of people and bikes shown, but also the sheer joy that’s evident on everyone’s face. They also did a follow-up exploring the relationship between bikes and fashion.

Do you have any great examples of bike-inspired art? Drop me a line in the comments below.

Manchester to London by bike – 30 Days of Biking: Day 14

Are you ambitious enough to ride from Manchester to London?

If you’re up for the 220-mile challenge, Rapha has the event for you. Raising money for charity, Ambitious About Autism, the Rapha cycle challenge will pit two virtual teams of riders against each other in a fully-supported ride between the two cities.

This is way out there for me – I can manage maybe 60 miles in a day, with generous allowances for food (and beer!) – but if you’re an experienced rider who’s ambitious enough to enter at £150, then this could be the challenge for you.

One day, I’d like to do this – but I think that’s a way off yet.

Learn to ride for free – 30 Days of Biking: Day 13

It was a surprisingly pleasant day in Manchester again.

I should’ve been out riding in fact: it was the Chorlton Wanderers‘ monthly ride, out to a pub near Bollington, but unfortunately I didn’t make it.

If you also thought that today was a good day to get riding, but maybe didn’t have the confidence to do so, then Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) can help. To help get more people get around on bikes, they’re offering free cycle training to everyone who lives and works in Greater Manchester.

There are two levels of training – Learn to Ride and On the Road:

Learn to Ride is designed for people who have never ridden a bike, or maybe not since they were a child. Held in a number of convenient venues, they cover: basic bike safety; how to ride a bicycle and an introduction to using the road. Attendees will be trained in groups of similar ability, so it should be a safe and friendly environment. They even provide bikes and helmets, though you can bring your own.

On the Road is for those who already cycle, maybe socially, but want a bit more experience. The course is designed around you – they’ll deliver it wherever and whenever is convenient for you and provide one-to-one instruction. I’ve actually taken a version of this training, though I arranged for it to be delivered at my workplace, so a small group of us took part.

Although when I did ‘on the road’ training, I’d been cycling for several months (in London to boot!), it was a really useful chance to chat with an experienced cycle instructor. She was more than willing to talk through any specific guidance about cycling ‘in the real world’. She also demonstrated one of the most challenging junctions in the northern quarter – the uphill right turn from Shudehill onto Thomas Street, which is extremely busy and requires you to negotiate tram tracks. That definitely helped build my confidence when using that junction and helped me to avoid making some unobvious mistakes.

There are also two further courses run by TfGM, which I’ve just signed up to: a bike maintenance course, (basic and advanced) and ride leader training. Although I’ve been doing bike maintenance for a few years now (and even converted my fixie) there are still some things I find a pain or just too daunting: gears, for example. The ride leader training will hopefully be useful in the cycling groups that I participate in, who are often looking for more experienced cyclists to lead social rides.

So if you’ve been looking out the window or thinking that this is a good time to get riding, don’t let your lack of confidence stop you. Sign-up to a course now – places are already filling up.

See the full list of courses and book your place.

Fixed – 30 Days of Biking: Day 12

It’s 12 months since I converted one of my bikes to fixed-gear:

A fixed-gear bike is one that has a drivetrain with no freewheel. Most modern bicycles have a freewheel as part of the rear sprocket (cog) so that you don’t need to constantly keep pedalling while the bike is in motion: that is, you can coast without pedalling.

A fixed-gear bike, or “fixie” has the rear cog bolted directly to the hub of the rear wheel so you can’t stop pedalling: when the rear wheel turns, the pedals turn in the same direction. Conversely this also means you can “brake” using your legs and body, by resisting the rotation of the cranks. (Adapted from Wikipedia)

The bike is a beautiful ride. It’s an old steel-framed Raleigh racing bike dating from the 1980s that I found on Gumtree in 2011. It’s since had new wheels and new drivetrain (both twice now in fact!), as well as new brakes, pedals, tyres and a complementary second-hand saddle. I’ve also added a classic looking bike light and a loud shiny bell that I picked up in Amsterdam.

I have to admit, I never expected that I would enjoy riding fixed. But it’s true that there is an added dimension of control and enjoyment that you get only from being directly connected to your bike’s motion: the bike becomes a part of you, and you become part of the bike.

I did use to think it was dangerous – what if you forgot, and stopped pedalling, or went down a hill really fast? And then there was the issue of brakes. The law says you need two brakes and, whilst a fixed-gear counts as one, a front brake makes sense to me. I like the control of a brake caliper and I’m just not into skidding to burn off speed – and rubber.

I think I finally decided to convert the bike for two reasons: one was that Jonnie had built a fixed-gear bike and become an advocate through the obvious joy he got from riding it. Many of my questions about how to ride a fixed-gear bike were answered too. Once you’ve had a bit of practice, it becomes second-nature. And those odd moments when you try to freewheel become much less frequent after you’ve been jolted almost out of your seat a few times!

The second reason to convert it was being inspired by a documentary. Böikzmöind follows the fixed gear riding community in Bristol and answers the question: why would you ride a bike with no gears in a city of hills?

This is definitely worth a watch and it’s now free on Vimeo:

Do you ride fixed? Why do you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below:

Cycling in Manchester needs you! – 30 Days of Biking: Day 11

As I’ve mentioned previously, the Manchester Cycling Lab is a new initiative to turn Manchester into a real-life laboratory for the study of cycling.

One of the things that might be holding cycling back in Manchester is a lack of data about how many people cycle regularly, popular routes and destinations, as well as safety hotspots. The council doesn’t even know how many bike parking spaces there are in the city centre (though someone did count once) and there’s no regular counting of bike numbers, to my knowledge.

The Cycling Lab seeks to address that, by working with the council, TfGM and local businesses to identify those gaps in knowledge and hopefully fill them through university level research.

As part of this, the team behind the cycling lab are asking people that cycle in Manchester to fill out a short survey, that will help understand needs and collect ideas. There’s also 3 x £20 vouchers for local bike shops up for grabs, so why not have a go?

Take the survey now.

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