A few weeks ago I did some low level griping about the high-ish potential for death and serious injury that could be found on my new ride to work.
Since then I have dealt with used cunning and lateral thinking to circumvent the issue. In short, I have been driving to work.
And the drive is pretty good: there is a big motorway passing not far from the fragrant gardens and handsome wrought iron gates of Chateau Langsett, from where it sweeps over the Ship Canal and up the hill past Worsley - creating the formidable barrier which made me grouchy when I tried the ride by bike - through an excitingly curvy junction with another motorway before firing the Polo at surprising velocity into a new NCP multistorey car park next to a handsome Georgian church.
Furthermore, the immense gravitational pull of Manchester city centre sucks virtually all vehicular traffic towards in in the morning, while its gag reflex spits it all back out in the evening. So my side of the motorway is a kind of empty, Robert Moses designed fantasy world of empty tarmac a hundred feet wide, while the other side is crammed full of stationary vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
At times, it feels like I might be building up a considerable store of commuting bad luck which will come crashing down on me at some point in the future.
It has also been making my legs feel weird. Instead of pushing me and my bike to work and back, the right one depresses the accelerator slowly all the way to the floor as I go up the ramp onto the motorway, then presses the brake pedal slowly all the way to the floor when I arrive at the multistorey car park. My left foot taps nervously on bits of interior trim. I am not, in short, getting the same use out of them as I was when I was riding to work, and the result is me jogging up and down stairs at work to get cups of tea and stationary that I don't really need.
I need to sort out a better ride to work, I thought. If only there was some kind of route planning website - oh! That was easy!
Feeling a bit shamefaced for being so grumpy about cycling provision in Manchester, I realised that by stringing together the rubbish, painted on cycle lanes around the massive shopping centre, the Bridgewater Canal towpath and National Cycle Route 55, I could do almost all of the ride off road. Well, ok, the last bit into Bolton looked a bit flaky. But what would Fred do?
He would probably knock out the bricks on one side, hold it up with pit props and then get Mrs Dibnah to set fire to it, creating one of the most awesome spectacles known to man
The biking equivalent of which is trying it out right away. Out came the mighty British Eagle.
Over the miracle motorway...
...and then the Bridgewater Canal takes you to Monton, where you can nip up through this little gate onto NCN Route 55. This stretch of Route 55 runs along an old railway line, first on top of an embankment and then, as the ground rises, through a cutting. It's great: there were fields with cows having an evening snack over to one side, and then the quiet tree lined tunnel of the cutting with families taking an evening walk. There was even...
...a choice of routes. Tyldesley and Leigh are off to the left (I think). Bolton is to the right. The route is all uphill, but it's a nice, constant gradient and easy to steam up at a good speed.
There's a lot going on in this bit of Greater Manchester at the moment, as far as cycling is concerned. Part of the route into Leigh that you can see branching off to the left above is being turned into a guided busway with a traffic free cycle and footpath alongside. Also, Salford City Council have just secured funding to put in a further 1.5 km of traffic free cycle path to provide access to Port Salford, Peel Holdings' enormous distribution estate next to the Ship Canal.
It's not perfect: there are signs telling you where NCN 55 goes all over the show while you're in Salford, but none at all when you cross into Bolton. The other thing that happens in Bolton is that the route suddenly ends in a big clump of buddleia with someone's back garden to one side and a field to the other side. Somewhere close by the was the constant exhale noise of the motorway. A couple of miles zig zagging though random streets was needed at this point, but eventually:
In Bolton, it was very much all going off. Bradshawgate is deathly quiet in the day time, but now it was decorated with the blue flashing lights of a police car. Some ladies were sitting in the highway having a word with the officer while cheery revellers watched from the bars lining the street.
Feeling pretty chuffed with myself, I headed for home, back though the "challenging" bit of the route:
And then back onto the old railway line. It was properly dark now, and it turned out that my little Cateye front light was more for decoration than for actually lighting up the path. A lad in a dark hooded sweater loomed up out of the darkness a yard or two off the starboard bow and then just as quickly vanished behind. Some pale lumps in the path turned out to be another pair of Boltonians, both of whom had had quite a lot of Vimto, sitting on the ground discussing where to go next. Ten more minutes of being utterly terrified that I was going to ride off the side of the embankment, and I popped out of the little gate again back in Monton.
In other bike news, the cycling revolution is pretty much complete. Proof of this came from my brother Matt, a gentleman who routinely spends his Saturdays boiling his back tyres on drag strips up and down the UK.
"I noticed I was turning into a bit of a porker," said Matt, "so I bought a bike."
And this is what he bought:
The realisation that I needed a BMX of my own so that I could pick up from where I left off - that is, jumping off ramps made from an old bit of wood propped up at one end with a brick - came more or less instantly. My own BMX arrived as a Christmas present when I was about 8. It was a chrome Kuwahara Laserlite. Of course I didn't know that at the time. I just knew it wasn't the Raleigh Burner that I secretly coveted. I nearly had a bit of a cry when I realised how much it would cost to go on that nostalgia trip