It’s been around three weeks since a spate of run-ins with motorised morons caused me to take a break from cycle-commuting for the sake of my physical safety and mental health in equal measure. Since then I’ve been sampling the delights of commuting by public transport and life as a pedestrian, but of course there’s always been that niggling voice of whether they’ve actually defeated me, whether I’ve been driven off the road for good? Well, surely that can’t be. I had to get back on the horse at some point, and that point was today.
With the Manchester-Blackpool night ride approaching at the weekend, which I would usually prepare for simply by commuting 10 miles a day and the odd weekend ride, and my finances feeling the strain of spending the equivalent of a pint of decent craft ale (#notahipster) a day on bus fares, I slung my leg over my faithful old commuter Stan and off we went.
Still edgy about cycling on busy roads in traffic (how does one go about regaining one’s fearlessness about that?), I decided to take the advice that various people gave me on the “On whether cycling is worth it at all” post, and opted for the most traffic-free route I know. Normally I wouldn’t go this way in the morning as it’s longer and more disjointed than the direct route, but now accustomed to travelling for the best part of an hour either way by bus, it seemed like the best option for now.
Now, we’ve all heard the following tiresome canard, haven’t we: “Bloody cyclists, get millions spent on bike lanes and don’t use the sodding things”. As if we all have an immaculately surfaced Dutch-style cycle path outside our front doors and then cycle in traffic to piss drivers off for sport. Of course, the reality is much different. I live around a mile from Route 6 of the National Cycle Network (NCN), which has some, albeit limited, utility as a commuter route. This is what it looks like on a soggy October morning.
First, to get to Route 6, I have to travel through permanently car-clogged Prestwich. Fairfax Road in particular is a locus of permanent gridlock. The only time I’ve seen it clear was during recent resurfacing works, when I dodged the coned cordon to enjoy probably the only chance I’ll ever get to ride the road in a simultaneously smoothly tarmacked and carless condition.
Then I take the quiet roads beyond Bury New Road down to the site of the old tip. Of course, quiet doesn’t mean deserted, or indeed safe:
From here I can access a short, traffic-free, gravel-surfaced, unlit section of Route 6, which, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, is fine as a leisure route on fine summer days, but is less suited to year-round commuting (and before you write in, yes I know some of you do commute on it in all conditions. Point is: most don’t, or wouldn’t).
The NCN is infamous for its barriers to cycling, which exist ostensibly to keep off-road motorcyles at bay, but often both fail in that aim and also make life harder for anyone cycling the route. This stretch is no different.
Having navigated the barrier, you then find yourself spat on to a busy roundabout on the road between Prestwich and Pendlebury.
The option here is to battle the traffic along Littleton Road with its myriad speed humps, build-outs and parking bays, or brave the even more roughly surfaced path along the banks of the Irwell. Today muddy tyres trumped bad drivers, so I traversed yet another (rather ornate) barrier and slowly made my way along what is little more than a sheep track.
At the other end of this section of the Irwell we cross the river via a bridge with not one, but two, barriers on it, with yet a further barrier not long after. We are then ejected into the traffic at this end of Littleton Road.
The roundabout with Cromwell Road is simply horrid. It’s busy, there is no specific provision for bikes and I’ve had multiple run-ins with shoddy drivers here. It’s the bit of this route I like the least, and the one I don’t know any way of avoiding.
Anyhow, from here there’s a short on-road stretch through to the David Lewis Recreational Ground, across which we can take a traffic-free long-cut.
From there we just need to cross a couple of bridges with identical barriers, wend our way through some quiet streets of Salford, cross the ring road, pedal past the King’s Arms and Salford Central and I’m just about there.
So there we have it. That’s the quiet route to work. At least seven barriers, rough and muddy surfaces, circuitous, and still with some busy, dangerous on-road sections. All this backs up the assertion that there are no good ways of travelling around Greater Manchester, and certainly no good ways of travelling around by bike. You’re either at the mercy of the Manchester motorist, or you can engage in some light cyclocross on the way to the office.
We can do better than this, can’t we?