It’s been a while since I’ve done a round-up of my cycling year, primarily as I haven’t been blogging quite so conscientiously for the last year or two. However, with the revivification of the blog this year, here goes my annual review of happenings both on and in respect of bikes.
Typically a less active cycling month, January 2018 was notable more for what happened off the bike than on it. Early in the month, my blog post / screenshots posted to Facebook of a young chap who, while cycling to school, was bullied and harassed by no fewer than five drivers in the space of around a mile went viral.
Both the Facebook post and the blog piece were viewed tens of thousands of times across the world. The reach of the piece came as a complete surprise, but it showed me that there is a place for a blog such as this, and encouraged me to pick up the reins again – hence the more frequent musings here since that time.
February was a quiet month on the cycling front, with little activity either for leisure or commuting. On the blog side we saw the remarkable piece penned by my then other half on why more women don’t cycle. It’s definitely worth a read if you haven’t already.
Also, this was the start of Chris Boardman‘s (team’s) tour of the Greater Manchester local authorities to draw up what was to become the Beelines walking and cycling network. I was fortunate to attend the very first of these meetings, with Bury Council, and blogged about it here. Again, the reach of that post has been wider than expected, and it has become something of a reference work for folk interested in the Beelines network planning methodology.
The end of February/beginning of March 2018 was unseasonably cold, with snow and icy weather from eastern Europe affecting much of the UK. With ice (and thick fog) being my hard limit for cycling, the year was getting off to a slow start. However, the temperatures started to creep up as the month progressed, and leisure riding again became viable. One day, for instance, I planned a ride out with three chums that took a 45km long cut from Heaton Park to the Friendship Inn (a ten-minute cycle taking the direct route) to sample their limited edition chocolate stout.
March also saw me attend the network planning meetings between Boardman’s team and Rochdale and Salford councils as the Beelines vision came together. This process also shaped the future of campaigning in our region, which was a topic that came to the fore at the end of the year (so read on…).
April kicked off with what is becoming a rather pleasant little tradition: the cycle-touring group I set up, the Manchester Radlers, Bikepackers, and Pootlers, headed out on our early-season leg-stretcher to Edale in the Peak District. 21 one of us embarked on the trip, which I chronicled here.
At the end of the month I accompanied my other half on a weekend trip to Exeter where she was attending a residential weekend for her Master’s course. Naturally, I relished the opportunity to explore a new place on two wheels.
May was a good month for actual cycling. The first weekend saw me and my pal Dom head out on this year’s Tour de Manc, an annual, deliberately challenging sportive that takes in all ten boroughs of Greater Manchester. It was a hard, hot, but utterly enjoyable day out, which I wrote up here.
Then came what was to be the highlight of the cycling year: my very first overseas cycle tour. Back in October 2017, I was in Copenhagen and saw the following sign, indicating that two of my favourite cities were linked by cycle routes:
After a few months, I was back at that very sign with my best touring buddy Tristan plus a hitherto unknown member of the Facebook touring group (who joined us from Aberdeen and unfortunately became increasingly objectionable as the trip progressed), and we had also agreed to meet my long-time cycling and translator buddy, Frank, once we arrived at Rostock, Germany.
The gruff Scotsman aside, it really was a remarkable, memorable, thoroughly enjoyable trip. We pedalled around 700 kilometres over nine days, never knowing where we’d end up that night, finding campsites and cabins along the way and enjoying local food and beer wherever we pitched up. We stayed in huts that were open to the elements, in converted sheds, in tents during huge thunderstorms, in hotels that were still being built. We travelled on roads, on cycle tracks, over bridges and causeways, on ferries, on gravel paths, through mosquito-infested forests. We pootled through countless towns and villages, in mainly sweltering heat, across two countries. And it was ruddy amazing. Watch the film of the tour below:
On arriving in Berlin on the Saturday, we were intrigued to find out that the very next day was the date of the Sternfahrt (star ride) – an annual pedal-powered protest that this year saw 90,000 (sic) cyclers descend on the German capital to demand clean air and better cycling provision. We joined the route at the Rotes Rathaus in East Berlin and spent the day either cycling very slowly or actually stuck in bikejams, so full were the streets of cycle riders. A veritable highlight here was joining the Stadtautobahn (city motorway) in Neukölln and cycling through the cavernous, cathedral-sized motorway tunnel there: usually filled with the roar of engines and the stench of combusted fuels, on this day the concrete walls resonated with the sound of bike bells and people whooping and cycle soundsystems. To reclaim this otherwise forbidden space was truly magical, and the hairs on my neck stood on end as I rode through.
Finishing the day with an absolutely stunning Thai meal from a small restaurant in Mitte, we packed up our bikes and returned home the following morning. What an amazing trip.
Back in Manchester, the summer of riding continued apace. I again volunteered my services as a marshal at the Manchester World Naked Bike Ride, an event that induces increasing numbers of folk to disrobe to protest the vulnerability of people on cycles and object to oil dependency. This year I actually had to intervene and eject a excessively drunk rider, giving rise to the hilarious innuendo-laden anecdote of me having to pull a rider off at the Naked Bike Ride. Snigger, snigger.
At the end of June Frank joined me in the UK to take part in this year’s Ride to the Sun – an overnight 100-miler from Carlisle to Edinburgh. Based on the Dunwich Dynamo, Ride to the Sun is precisely the kind of grass-roots, no- or low-cost, do-it-cos-you-love-it kind of event I absolutely applaud and cherish within cycling.
Starting out from Carlisle as a group of four, there was some negotiation between us over pace as we stopped for fish and chips at Moffat, and Frank and I decided to cover the remaining 60-odd miles at a speed that best suited us, even if it meant us not quite seeing the sunrise at the destination, Cramond Beach. Even so, it was Frank’s first night ride and first imperial century, and accompanying someone on those achievements is always a special honour. Chapeau Frank!
As in previous years, my enthusiasm for regular leisure rides waned after the excitement of the continental tour and the RttS, so July was largely a month of mere commuting.
A weekend in Hamburg at the end of the month provided some welcome distraction, with an opportunity to sample the cycling landscape in this mighty Hanseatic city. And it was indeed not at all bad: good availability of hire bikes, decent bike-lane provision, low traffic levels and – most important of all – fine weather.
It was also in July that, after three and a half years, I parted company with Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign following policy differences with the sitting chair. However, I remained active as an independent blogger and local advocate for the time being.
Still in the cycling doldrums, I decided to try my hand (knees?) at running again. I had been using a nine-week couch-to-5k app after I injured my arm during said Copenhagen trip in October 2017 and was unable to cycle for a few months. By August of 2018 (9 months later) I was up to week five. So I decided to sign up to a couple of paid runs to give me the impetus to actually train. I opted for a 5k fun run in August – giving me two weeks to get up to speed – and a 10k in November. And thus, temporarily, I became a runner over a cycler.
The month of September was a real mixed bag. It started with the Manchester 100, a flat, fast century loop from/to Wythenshawe Park, which I rode on my fancy new titanium road bike.
It closed with another brief bike tour, this time of Anglesey and North Wales. We started in Bangor on the Saturday morning, stayed in Holyhead on the Saturday night, pedalled to Llandudno on the Sunday and from there back to Manchester on the Monday.
These two agreeable outings bookended a period where the daily exposure to the manifest vehicular violence on Manchester’s roads simply became intolerable, so I felt compelled to stop cycle-commuting for the sake of my mental health. Such is the dilemma of cycling in this country: despite it being one of the most enjoyable, low-impact, convenient ways of getting about, the hostile cultural and physical environment we have created here in the UK (and apparently across much of the English-speaking world) exposes riders to unacceptable levels of psychological and physical risk, such that you genuinely ask yourself whether it’s worth it at all. Read my huge whinge on the matter here.
And that, of course, is why we campaign to make things better. And even though I was on a hiatus from cycling, and even though I wasn’t affiliated with any official campaigning group at the time, I co-organised a meeting in my native Prestwich to present and discuss the Beelines concepts to the folk round here. In the end around 30 people came out on a drab Thursday evening to talk about what is essentially local transport policy, demonstrating yet again – as we keep seeing – that people really do care about this stuff when they are given the opportunity to be involved.
In September I also fulfilled a longstanding media-related ambition and appeared on the BBC World Service, talking about the demise of Mobike cycle-share scheme in Salford and Manchester.
Still off commuting, I started October with another annual fixture in the calendar: the Manchester-Blackpool night ride – a 52-mile ride through the dark, cold hours to the Blackpool front, with the added twist that my chums and I ride back as well, adding up to a 170km (105 mile) round trip for me.
There was also lots of running training during this period, and tentative steps at making friends with commuting again.
On the advocacy front, I was honoured to be invited down to London to speak at the National Funeral for the Unknown Cyclist – a moving and hard-hitting protest to demand action on fossil-fuel use and that 10% of the transport budget be spent on cycling provision.
November is, of course, Movember – and was time for my 10k. I’d had a few setbacks during my training: it appeared that I was susceptible to IT band problems in my right leg (manifested as a weak but not painful knee). So I got round the course with a bit of strapping, raised £385 for the Movember Foundation, and appear to have promptly hung up my running shoes again.
At the end of November we travelled to Oslo to see a John Grant gig and tick one more Scandinavian country off the list (with just Finland remaining now). Norway takes environmentalism exceedingly seriously, with moves to ban vehicles from central Oslo, and low traffic levels and concomitant low pollution levels were noticeable as compared to Greater Manchester and the foul, petrochemical-infused air we’re forced to breathe here. However, Norway’s wealth, and thus ability to invest in a green future, is predicated upon oil production, showing again the complexity of the interactions making up large-scale environmental viability under current global economic conditions.
As mentioned above, the end of the year saw a key development in cycle (and walking) campaigning, with the inception of a new campaigning group named (by public vote) WalkRide Greater Manchester. The group was launched on 4 December and will become increasingly active over the course of the next weeks and months. Watch this space.
On the riding side, I was pleased to note at the start of December that I was just a couple of hundred kilometres shy of a nice round number. I hadn’t set myself a target this year, but the 11-month total gave me the impetus to push the mileage over 6,000 kilometres, which I managed on a post-Xmas ride with aforementioned riding buddy Dom and his keen bike-touring wife, Ariane.
And thus ended my 2018 in the saddle. Many thanks to everyone I’ve cycled with, talked bikes with, and especially to everyone who’s read this blog and encouraged me to keep going. All the best for the New Year, and may 2019 bring fair weather, patient drivers, and clear cycleways. See you out on two wheels, or indeed back here in the blogosphere.