2015 was deliberately a year of cycling. In 2014 I was less focused on bikes and ended up missing a lot of key events. My aim this year was to rectify that and get as much out of cycling as possible. And I think I achieved that. Here are a few highlights.
The cycling year started exceedingly well with a Tweed Ride at Heaton Park on 4 January. Having taken full advantage of the publicity oportunities of social media, we managed to boost attendance from the usual 15 or so to well over double that, also reaching out to the vintage lifestylers in addition to the usual slow cycling crowd. We also attracted the attention of not only some amateur photographers, but also the esteemed Prestwich and Whitefield Guide. Oh yeah, and a chap from The Guardian turned up too: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/gallery/2015/jan/05/january-tweed-ride-cyclists-manchester-heaton-park-in-pictures
January also saw the arrival of the first new bike of the year: a rather handsome teal Bobbin Noodle. It was bought with the last chunk of my late father’s inheritance, so it has a very special significance, and means I think fondly of my dad every time I ride it. And it’s a ruddy brilliant bike as well: sleek looks and goes like shit off a shovel. Thanks Dad!
February saw me, somewhat reluctantly at first, take on the mantle of Press Officer for Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign (GMCC). As I saw it much of the great work of the Campaign was going unnoticed, there was very little noise being made in the public domain about the lack of decent bike infrastructure in Manchester. And, as is the way of these things, having drawn attention to this deficit, I was invited to address it. And that is how I became the Campaign’s Press Officer.
Indeed, it was a busy first week in the role. Tragically, on 13 January 2015, a man by the name of Artur Piotr Ruszel was hit by a car whilst cycling along Upper Brook Street and died of his injuries later that day. The response from the Manchester cyling community was heart-warming: a ghost bike was arranged by cyclist Cris Chesha and GMCC organised a vigil to mark the installation of the ghost bike a month to the day after Artur’s death, 13 February 2015. This involved several interviews with the press and TV as well as widespread publicity of the vigil. In the end some 50 people on bikes turned out to pay their respects to a man that none of them knew but with whom we all felt kinship. It was a moving and emotional ceremony, demonstrating the sense of community and shared experience among people who ride bikes in Manchester, though an experience I’d rather not have to have again. Full report here: http://www.gmcc.org.uk/2015/02/artur-piotr-ruszel-ghost-bike-and-vigil-report/
March opened with the customary trip to Amsterdam, the cycling capital of the world, for Kiri’s birthday. Cue three days of pottering about on heavy, single-speed, single-braked utility bikes interspersed with spots of fine food, culture and of course good beer.
March also saw the MAMIL cycling ramp up a gear, with the first long run of the year, almost 60 miles with Manchester Social Cycling (MSC) taking in the celebrated climb Cragg Vale. These weekend rides are not only great opportunities to socialise with other people who like bikes, they are essential for maintaining stamina for longer, multi-day tours, which were on the horizon at this stage.
At the end of the month I joined a few MSC chaps on a ride from Llandudno to Manchester, a glorious ride boosted by a tailwind for most of the 90 miles or so. Ride leader Adam filmed events as they unfolded:
April was a busy month on two wheels. It kicked off with the quarterly Tweed Ride, which I did on my newly acquired 1950s racing tricycle.
This time we increased attendance yet again, attracting some 50 stylish trundlers, with glorious weather, and people visiting from outside Manchester for a most agreeable afternoon on bikes. We even garnered coverage in the Dutch press courtesy of a rather bemused Dutch journalist who happened to be drinking in the beer garden we assembled at. By this time I’d been gifted a Garmin Virb bike camera for my birthday and so started documenting interesting rides on film, with the April Tweed Ride one of my first attempts:
One of my very favourite forms of cycling is unsupported cycle touring: loading the bike up with panniers and setting off on an adventure. Having done a few solo tours in the past, this year I experimented with setting up little touring groups and introducing others to the joys of the multi-day tour. So on the second weekend in April I set off with Aless, Martin, Lee and Luke to tackle the Whitby to Walney route over four days. And it was a most pleasant experience, the difficulties posed by the terrain and weather more than counteracted by the pleasant company and sense of joint enterprise. And by the end of it we had four new converts to self-supported cycle touring, which was great to see.
The month closed with another visit to another outstanding cycling city: having been to Amsterdam several times, I felt compelled to visit that other cycling Mecca, Copenhagen. So off we went for my birthday; hired a couple of bikes and explored the Danish capital on two wheels. And as expected, it was brilliant. The undoubted highlight being the Bike Snake, a cycle-only bridge over Copenhagen harbour, representing a level of commitment to and investment in cycling we can only dream of in the UK. Of course, a film was made:
May was comparatively quiet: apart from general commuting I just managed a couple of longer rides, including a trip from York to Manchester into a fierce headwind with Martin and Adam. The closest I’ve ever come to “bonking” (the cycling term for the runner’s “hitting the wall”). Plus my first run out with the excellent Allez Prestwich CC, the finest cycling club I’ve ever been part of. Though with temperatures well below what should have been normal for that time of year, all eyes were on June to get the cycling season properly underway.
June saw the North West Velo Fest, an annual event over a week or so celebrating the bicycle in all its forms. This kicked off with an event I referred to as “bike swinging”: participants put their bike lock keys into a bowl, select a key at random and try the corresponding cycle for size. I took Cyril the trike along, cue much cursing about “how do you steer this bloody thing” and close calls with the edge of Platt Fields lake. As well as a couple of more standard bikes I got to ride a Bullitt cargo bike, the Errand Trike delivery tricycle and a bizarre tiny yellow bike. Much fun was had.
As part of NW Velo Fest I also appeared on the prestigious That’s Manchester TV station banging on about bikes with Max and Gisele, as well as an enjoyable 30-miler out towards the airport with a new crowd of non-roadies. We also held an impromptu Tweed Ride as part of the celebrations:
Later in the month I also took part in Bury Clarion’s annual hill climb challenge, a mini-time trial over 1km up a hill by the Hare and Hounds pub by Ramsbottom, and finally got to meet Nigel aka MCRbikecommuter in person at long last. With the prospect of a challenging ride through the Peak District on the horizon with the looming L’Eroica Britannia, I took the trike along and, whilst of course nowhere near the top of the field, I gave a reasonable account of myself on the 60-year-old three-wheeler, coming in ahead of several people on regular cycles.
June closed with the Great Manchester Cycle, a mass-participation event on closed roads around a 13-mile lap between the Man City and Man United stadiums. I originally signed up for the 52-mile event, then kept Kiri company on the 26-miler, clocking up almost 90 miles over the total of six laps and the trip there and back. Whilst cycling on closed roads is nice, the laps did get ever so slightly tedious with time and it’s a pale comparison to the Ride London event I was to do later in the season.
The highlight of July was to ride an event I’d had my eye on for a while and finally got round to this year: the Dunwich Dynamo. This is a semi-organised overnight ride from East London to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast – 112 miles with Aless through the countryside on a clear, moonlit night, with a stunning sunrise and arriving literally minutes before the heavens opened. An amazing experience and definitely a firm fixture for future years.
In August I was back down in the Big Smoke for the Ride London event – an Imperial century (100 miles) on completely closed roads through London and Surrey. I was very fortunate to be selected from a ballot of around 86,000 entrants, and rode in a field of 25,000 on a glorious sunny day in (for me) a pretty respectable time.
August also saw a flurry of campaigning activity as a sinkhole appeared on the Mancunian Way, causing huge congestion issues across Manchester’s road network, with many people complaining, with no irony, about the excessive time it was taking them to drive miniscule distances. Keen to exploit the opportunity for some positive cycling press, I appeared in the Manchester Evening News explaining how cycling can ease congestion and speed up people’s journeys:
And I spent an interesting morning “racing” a BBC Radio Manchester reporter from home in Prestwich into Manchester city centre. I cycled the 4-mile jouney in 20 minutes, it took him an hour and 20, which, if you break it down, equates to an average of a leisurely walking speed of 3mph. The best part of the “commuter challenge” was riding down the bottom part of Bury New Road past an almost stationary line of cars, knowing that some of the drivers would be listening to the programme and hoping I was planting some seeds for people to make better travel choices in future.
At the end of August I set off on my second group tour of the year, this time with tour stalwart Aless, audaxer extraordinaire Lewis and tour newbie Tristan. This time we chose the Reivers Route, a lovely alternative to the traditional Coast-to-Coast between Whitehaven and Newcastle and spent three pleasant days trundling through gorgeous countryside, including a jaunt across the Scottish border, in most excellent company.
September was a comparatively quiet month, consisting largely of commuting and the odd lycra run-out at the weekend.
By far the highlight of October’s riding was the St. Crispin’s Day Night ride, which for the third time this year saw me boarding a train with a bike and heading down to the capital. Having ridden the event last year alone (but making the acquaintance of a most pleasant young Canadian named Josh in the process), this year I took Tristan along. Not only does his robust stature belie his speed on two wheels, he is also a night worker, so his body clock was totally attuned to being awake at all manner of ungodly hours through the night. So cue a night of wheelsucking and trying to get the bugger to slow down, with a hot meal half way round, a complimentary bottle of wine and a bacon butty at the end to make the experience somewhat more tolerable.
October also saw the arrival of another new steed. Deciding I wanted to learn more about how bikes fit together, I had been studying and assembling components for a few months, and in October it was time to put them all together, under the watchful eye of Tristan, bike-builder extraordinaire. And by mid-October, Svartálfr (Icelandic for “The Black Elf”) was ready to hit the road:
By November the big events had pretty much passed. I kept up the weekend rides by getting more involved with Allez Prestwich Cycling Club, an excellent group of riders based close to home who head out every two weeks or so. And indeed, on a wet and blustery Sunday morning, Craig, Rob, Mark and David managed to coax me out of a snuggly warm bed and join them on a ride to ensure I met my annual mileage target of 4,000 miles, which I duly did, with a month of the year to spare.
November also saw an impromptu visit to Berlin on the sad occasion of a friend’s funeral. I decided to take the edge off by hiring a bashed-up old bike (but cheapest bike hire in the city) and pottering around a little, noting once again the huge differences in infrastructure and driver behaviour that can make such a huge impact on the enjoyment of cycling around a city.
On the campaigning front, in November I took part in probably the highest-profile media piece yet: a segment on the Adrian Chiles show about a new initiative to offer errant cyclists a training course instead of a fine. With Chiles mutating into a cross between Clarkson and the most idiotic of commentators on certain tabloid comments sections, it took everything to remain calm and get across a coherent argument about why some cyclists make the choices they do and why larger factors need to be considered. By the end I felt like I’d done twelve rounds in a boxing ring, but listening back I think I held it all together reasonably well. As with all of these things, if it gets a few people to think differently about things, then it has value.
Having already reached my annual miles and the weather turning exceedingly dank, not much cycling went on in December. I did join the Santa Ride, co-organised by GMCC, Sustrans and Love Your Bike, demanding a spend of £25 per head on cycling infrastructure in Manchester and beyond, which saw me, a veritable hater of all things Christmas, don a Santa suit and adorn the bike in seasonal tat to get the message across:
And the last ride of the year turned out to be Critical Mass on Xmas Day, a lovely little jaunt out for a couple of hours to share some festive cheer with cycling chums.
So that was 2015. A pretty full year, 4,109.6 miles ridden in four countries (five if you count Scotland), 143,724 ft climbed and 333 hours in the saddle, with lots of brilliant memories and some awesome friendships along the way. Here’s to 2016 being just as good. Happy New Year!