Manchester fancies itself as a bit of a cycling Mecca. The city fathers rarely miss an opportunity to remind anybody who will listen that the velodrome in east Manchester should in fact be referred to as ‘the medal factory’. And they are right to be proud. It was only a few years ago that the city’s local authority stumped up over £100,000 to pay the electricity bill at the velodrome for the now defunct British Cycling Federation to save the whole thing from going under. Built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the velodrome once sat in splendid isolation. Look around now at the newly minted National Cycling Centre complete with mountain bike trials and a superb indoor BMX arena and you can tell that Manchester has ridden the crest of a wave as sponsorship money has come into the sport and managed to keep its crown jewels – British Cycling – in the city.
Outside of the confines of the pro and semi-serious riding, there have been some good and some bad attempts to get people to ditch their cars in favour of cycling. Looking around the city centre during rush hour, it’s clear that the city has a long, long way to go before the bike becomes more than the choice of the dedicated few. Sure, more people are riding around the city these days compared to when I first moved here in 1999, but like many places, the sub-standard infrastructure, intimidating roads and near permanent rain are enough to deter even the hardiest soul.
Championing everyday riding in the region is the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign which lobbies for better infrastructure, better facilities and better riding. The city recently bagged £20m off the government to implement its Velocity 2025 programme which aims to ‘deliver a major new network’ of cycling paths. That’s a new network of paths rather than a network of new paths it should be said.
Any cash investment in improving our lot as cyclists should be welcomed though in my view.
With all this happening in the city, it’s no surprise that club riding is also having a buoyant time of it. Manchester Wheelers is probably still the region’s largest club with Seamons CC of Altrincham and the Clarions of Saddleworth, Stockport and, in particular, North Cheshire all doing well. A newer breed of clubs have also surfaced over the last few years including my buddies at Chorlton Velo – South Manchester’s premier cycling club – and clubs like Glossop Kinder Velo who are often spotted attacking the climbs around the Peak District on Sunday mornings.
The Sunday run remains the key part of cycling life in the city and we are genuinely spoilt for choice in terms of destinations. Club rides will usually do one of two things: fast and flat out onto the Cheshire plain or hilly out into the Peak District. Hope Valley is a favourite spot for all sorts of outdoor pursuits and if you get there – you can even get the train from Manchester Piccadilly – you can have a go at Winnats Pass or the less well known but equally testing Mam Nic. A little further south and to the Staffordshire border, Mow Cop is within striking distance and is a tough one. Or heading out toward Saddleworth you can try the famous Holme Moss climb which will feature in next year’s Tour de France as the route briefly enters Derbyshire en route to Sheffiled.
If you take a flat route, and you fancy a brew and some cake, I’d recommend the tea shop at Jodrell Bank complete with its close up view of the giant Lovell radio telescope. Or if you wanted something more bike themed, the Policini Café in Romiley or Pop Up Bikes in the city centre will have the kettle on for you.
So, there you have it, my entirely biased and myopic guide to riding in the rainy city. All told it’s probably a six out of ten and then a nine out of ten once you get outside of the M60 orbital motorway – as long as you know where you’re heading that is!
Steve is the author of http://outstandingnaturalcycling.blogspot.co.uk/