Blog chums, forgive me for the long silence. Since getting back from the Hebrides a lot has happened, and I’ve chronicled very little of it. It’s been something of a period of introspection, with the rigours of life sapping any spare energy I may otherwise have ploughed into online outpourings: in a word, I’ve been in a rut, both physically and authorially.
The main problem, and this is an occupational hazard of getting involved in campaigning, is that I tend to forget why I ride bikes in the first place. Bikes are fun, they reconnect you with your childhood, when you used to dash about with your pals pretending to be the chaps off CHiPS, when summers seemed long, and life simple. Campaigning often means the opposite: spending vast amounts of energy apparently getting nowhere in the face of an obstinate system stacked against you, those feelings of frustration amplified online in one’s angry cycling bubble, in my case also compounded by recent personal goings on, and of course the more existential dread arising as we watch our once mediocre nation descend into dark farce. It really is enough to spoil one’s mood.
With stage 8 of the Tour of Britain due to roll into Greater Manchester on 14 September, I sought to shake off this stubborn gloom by arranging an adventure on bikes: how about going to watch the race not once, but twice – first at a vantage somewhere in the hills to admire the riders’ climbing prowess, and second back in central Manchester to watch the final sprint?
I canvassed opinion, and there was indeed appetite for such a jaunt. Deferring the routing decisions to someone with an actual sense of direction, it was agreed that we’d pedal up to the Grains Road by Shaw near Oldham to watch a King of the Mountains ascent, and then trundle back into Manchester for the finish.
And thus, at a decidedly reasonable hour on the Saturday morning, five of us pootled out with that delicious sense of joint purpose you only really get on a bike ride, and traversed Middleton, Chadderton and Shaw before ascending the “gradual” side to our summit, topping out at a distinctly ungradual gradient of 12.2%.
Taking up position in a lay-by next to a dry-stone wall, two of my companions – experienced race-watchers well-versed in the inevitable wait for the riders to arrive – proceeded to unpack picnic blankets, sandwiches, nibbles, cans of beer and flasks of coffee, which were generously shared among the more unprepared members of the group.
After a while, the police outriders started to appear. Then the team cars. Then, finally, some people cycling: a small breakaway, surrounded by more cars and motorcycles (bike races have a really rather high carbon footprint), and then – surprisingly fleetingly – the peloton. Cue much cheering and bell-dinging, and especially hearty encouragement for the stragglers, and they’re gone. 90 minutes of waiting for about two minutes’ action. Which is why it’s worth having a second look!
So as soon as the last outrider is clear, we’re back on our bikes and threading our way through the back streets of Oldham until we have no choice but to run the gauntlet of the busy Oldham Road into the centre of town. Thankfully arriving with plenty of time, we now chose the White Lion pub as our base and settled in with a welcome pint, nipping outside to watch the race pass once again. This time we saw the breakaway and two pelotons, the second made up of domestiques who’d done their job for their teams and had little interest in times or standings. At least that’s how it was explained to us.
The stage, and the overall tour, was won by Mathieu van der Poel, and of course the campaigner in me appreciated the irony of a Dutch cyclist coming to Manchester, this city that really struggles to embrace cycling, and showing us how it’s done.
And that was that. A grand day out on bikes. A reconnection with this, my passion. A day sharing that passion with fine people. And an important reminder: I don’t campaign because I love campaigning, I campaign because I love cycling. Whether this post is of any interest to anyone else, I’m not sure, but getting something out there again is useful for me. And next time I’m in that rut, this is one more thing I can use to attempt to haul myself out. An illustration of why bikes are ace.
Thanks to Jon, Hayley, Steve and David for a memorable adventure.