Adventures in Derbyshire


I’ve ridden the Trans Pennine Trail out to Southport a few times but never headed in the other direction. It gets a bit lumpier out to the east and I’m sure I’ll go all the way to the North Sea at some point but nothing’s planned. I’ve had an urge to try rough camping, mostly inspired by the escapades of the awesome Jason Miles and I received a bivvy bag as a birthday present last weekend. There’s not much too it other than a waterproof body-bag shaped piece of material with a drawstring, so on Friday I set off with this and a few other provisions in my back pack towards the hills.

I deliberately didn’t take lights because I didn’t want to bottle out and make up a plan B at any point, though it was probably more fool-hardy to forget a spare inner tube and pump. I remembered this as I approached Stockport but wasn’t going to turn back at that point.

I’d fueled up on burger and cake at the school fair before departing Prestwich just before 7pm. I hoped to be at Stockport before 8pm where I’d pick up the trail for 2 hours of riding before finding somewhere to stop until daybreak. However, I got distracted from even this sketchiest of plans as I was riding through the Northern Quarter. I met the monthly Manchester Critical Mass riding in the opposite direction along Newton St and after a little moment of hesitation thought ah what the heck I’ll cruise around with these guys for a bit so took a 180 and joined the merry throng. I hadn’t ever ridden with the Critical Mass before and with the sun shining and Blue Monday blaring out from a sound-system on a bike trailer I was easily snared by their charm. I had a chat with local cycle enthusiast Nick who was buzzing with the week’s Beelines announcement coupled with Manchester hosting a national cycle convention earlier that day. The party on wheels drifted towards its finish point in Angel Meadows when I came back to my senses and headed across town for the 3rd time to pick up the A6 out to Stockport.

I was 20 minutes behind schedule and finding that high speed on a mountain bike is hard work. Sustaining any speed approaching 20 mph on the flat is tough and I also realised I had 20km of the day’s commuting in my legs as well. The TPT is very well sign posted I only overshot one sign and wasn’t often looking at my rough photocopied version of the map on the TPT website.

Progress was slow through Reddish Vale because of lots of access control points which I’m sure are quite necessary. Once through the vale there were a mixture of trails by the side of the river Tame, farm tracks and short sections of road. As I approached Hattersley I realised I was out of liquids. I’d been pushing on hard when I could in order to make up time but in the warm evening I’d quaffed everything I had. It was past 9:30 and didn’t know how quickly I could ride the rest of the route to take me to the Longdendale trail my target stopping point. I had a quick pitshop at a Tesco Extra to guzzle a bottle of full sugar Coke to give me a kick and I bought another couple of bottles of Lucozade for the rest of the journey.

Fortunately the terrain got smoother although there were some ups and downs which I was now happy to attack with renewed vigour. There was still light in the sky after 10pm which was just as well as I was still riding on the roads. Around 10:20 I was absolutely delighted to finally see the Palatine pub in Hadfield as I knew this was just around the corner from the Longdendale trail which the Tour of Tameside had introduced me to a couple of weeks ago. I stopped for a well earned pint of Guinness in there and people at the bar noticing I was a little hot and bothered encouraged me to have a pint of water too. I downed it in one and then savoured the Guinness whilst updating the rest of my family as to where exactly I was. With hindsight a 2nd Guinness with a whiskey chaser might have been a better plan to help me fall asleep but I’ll know that for next time!

Just over a mile along the Longdendale trail I started to look for somewhere to sleep. I found a tunnel under the former railway line and this offered a lovely view across a reservoirs to see hills on the edge of the Pennines. There were still some pastel like smudges of colour in the sky and against this backdrop you could see the smoke from the burning peat on Saddleworth moor. The tunnel was bone dry and had a slope which I though might be useful to keep my head above my feet.

I could hear voices of youths in the distance, probably a mile away down by the reservoir but other than this it was perfectly quiet. I got the bivvy bag out and used my trainers to rub any stones away from the ground onto which I was to lie it. I used the day’s sweat soaked t shirt to form a pillow in a Tesco bag and stuffed this into the hood of my hoodie which I pulled over my head to keep warm and bug free. The shirt molded itself into the back of my neck and then I rested my head on my backpack which didn’t have much in it to provide extra elevation other than a pack of baby wipes. I watched a couple of bats fluttering around, flitting in and out of the tunnel and then closed my eyes happy that I’d found a lovely sheltered spot with a bit of a view.

I lay there perfect still on my back for 20 minutes convincing myself I was comfortable (well I wasn’t uncomfortable) and warm (well I wasn’t cold) and not bothered by any creepy noises (the wind was picking up though). I shifted onto my side and tried again for another 20 minutes but still couldn’t settle. I either needed a bit of cushioning or more alcohol inside me to send me to sleep.

I think I slept for about 10 minutes up until 3am when I realised I wasn’t going to get a good chunk of sleep. I felt rested and was anxious to move off but knew that I needed some light in the sky particularly for when I would next ride on road.

The plan was to carry on east until I reached Woodhead and then return west along the Woodhead pass and back towards Ashton. I was a bit bored now and passed the time eating my remaining supply of Double Deckers and clock watching until 3:30am finally arrived.

I set off with legs and bum not feeling too sore at a steady trundle rather the anxious galloping of the previous evenings. I counted 95 rabbits before reaching Woodhead by which time at 4:10 there was enough light for me to feel safe riding on the road. The first 5 miles on road were gently downhill and my mountain bike tyres purred along the road. It then dawned on me that I had taken the wrong bike, my hybrid would have required 20% less energy to ride, no climbing had required any super low gear and with even just a single pannier on it I would have had more capacity for extra layers of clothing or a blanket to cushion my sleeping.

I headed back through Stalybridge particularly enjoying freewheeling down Mossley Old Road that I had run up a couple of weeks earlier as part of the Tour of Tameside. The smoke from the fires raging on Saddleworth moor was thick in the air of Stalybridge and almost as strong in Ashton. I found a 24 hour McDonald’s which was very welcome just after 5am and then after that there was just over an hour’s ride back to Prestwich and a comfortable bed for a couple of hours before a 2nd breakfast of the day.

I’d try sleeping out in the bivvy bag again but probably not this year. I might try sleeping out in my back garden to work out what cushioning I need in the bag but it’s only ever going to be a mid-summer thing when the nights are super short.

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2018 Commuting experiment part 2


It’s Good Friday now so a short week with just 4 working days. On Monday I took the tram, which has improved in that it’s got quicker over the years. Tuesday was my regular cycle commute which has also improved as a significantly helpful segregated cycle lane has been installed for 1km of my route. The cost of clothing to keep me dry has been spread across 12 years of consistent riding and I’m currently wearing more expensive over-trousers and a light blue Ron Hill running jacket (to be seen but avoiding our current fixation with hi-viz everything) and these items can also be used for my fell running adventures. Seems a bit excessive but I’ve learned that it’s worth investing in good kit once you know you are going to use it regularly and I can ride all year round in absolutely any weather.

So Wednesday was the turn of the ‘Express’ bus. In past years I’ve tried local First buses and they deliberately go around the estates of Prestwich and Salford as they head towards the city. Prestwich is on a straight road from Junction 17 of the M60 to Manchester City centre and is served by the x41 and x43 buses which travel down the M66 from Blackburn, Burnley and other places up the valley. They make limited stops from Prestwich (about 1 in 4) and I love to tuck in behind them on my bike when the traffic is moving freely.

I was a little late leaving the house so traffic was building after 7:30 and the bus was slower than my bike would have been until we reached the MacDonalds at Broughton. A bus lane enabled us to pass over 50 slow moving cars until we reached Strangeways. I spotted a Mobike and jumped off (maybe a stop to early) booked out the hire bike and then caught the bus up at the next set of red lights.

The return bus ticket had cost £5.60 so not much cheaper than tram and with the cost of 2 bike hires at 69p each I would be spending more today. I might have been a bit lazy in asking for a ticket to Manchester which they took as meaning the end of the line, maybe if I’d stipulated Strangeways which would be 2 miles shorter could it have been cheaper?

I prefer travelling by on the top deck of a bus to a tram anyway; peering into peoples gardens and noticing things along the route that I never do when driving or cycling. There were seats too; from 7:15 I’ll usually be standing on a tram and these bus seat were leather with extra arm room (only 3 seats wide rather than 4 upstairs) wi-fi connectivity and USB charging points. I guess some travellers would be spending the best part of 3 hours a day on those buses.

Upon Mobike #16516, progress along Chapel street seemed laboured for a man of my fitness. I noticed that my knees were nearly hitting my chin because the seatpost had gradually sunk downwards. Despite being only 5’7″ (when stood up very straight!) I need the seat at the highest point on a Mobike to feel comfortable. In the space of 1km of riding with the vibration of the road the seat had slid down to its lowest point.

I got off at the junction of Trinity Way and pushed over a short section of pavement to pick up a little side street and then met with my familiar cycle commute route along Ordsall Lane. Bike ride was 4k and 15 minutes so with walk to bus stop and 5 or 6 minute wait for bus the whole journey, despite slow moving traffic on the bus was 50 minutes.

Coming home I tried to be clever and it backfired on me. My ticket for the x41 Red Express was also valid for the x43 Witchway and according to the bus company websites they took different routes out of the centre of Manchester. So to find a stop where I could catch either I took a Mobike to Deansgate. I just missed an x43 but an x41 turned up in another 3 minutes and then we queued for 20 minutes to make our way to Strangeways and Bury New Road where we finally started to progress at more than walking pace. I should have cycled to Strangeways and probably would have caught an earlier bus and saved 20 or 30 minutes. So the return took an hour and 10 minutes despite traffic home (without a bus lane) moving quicker from Strangeways than it had in the morning.

Thursday I ran to work in 55 minutes. I’ve done this a few times and it’s a great way to get in some of my weekly mileage to enable racing or harder running at the weekend. You don’t have to run, many mornings I see a former colleague walking the 8km from Prestwich to Manchester. He’s no super-athlete and likes a drink which is the medium through which I’ve kept in touch with him in the 10 years since he left Sage. For variety I ran down into the valley to avoid the traffic of Bury New Road and picked up the former Bury Bolton Manchester canal through Agecroft taking me to the roundabout at Pendleton. From there 3km more of streets through Langworthy and picked up pace for the final km down Trafford Road.

This was a recovery run for me after running harder the previous evening, and I enjoyed listening to a compilation of mostly 80s Guilty Pleasures (Kid Creole and the Coconuts anyone?)  and with nobody else around for most of the route I could sing along too. Shower at work changing into the clothes in my backpack then porridge and a big dirty cooked breakfast for lunch. All earned and very necessary re-fueling!

Heading home I took a Mobike to the edge of the hire bike’s zone of operation as they shouldn’t be taken over the Salford border into Bury MBC. I conveniently stopped at the Star Inn community pub which required a short climb up cobbles – a nice little challenge –  and then enjoyed a couple of pints of Guinness and a bit of a natter with some local characters. I succumbed to repeated requests to put a bit of PM Dawn on the jukebox and once I’d got a few credits in there Andrew was demanding a Sonia track too. I’m clearly not the only one with guilty pleasures!

Jukebox charged and myself refuelled I headed home marching at a bit of a pace with a full bladder. 32 minutes for 4km is quite a pace for a walk. So if you cut out the drinking time then my Mobike and march was just 52 minutes. Cheaper than bus or tram even if you include the price of the first pint. I think I’ve found myself the winning commuting option!


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2018 Commuting Experiment – part 1


After a bit of chat at work yesterday about Andy Burnham’s proposal to give priority to cars commuting with multiple occupancy I went looking for a picture I remembered posting on my blog which had the slogan: “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler”. It took a while to find as I’ve blogged quite a bit over the years and I didn’t realise it was over 7 years since my last commuting experiment.

I think it’s time to try it again as there some new options and I’m sure things have improved as long as you aren’t insistent on staying in your car. Whilst cycling to work it’s notable that Bury New Road is now moving slower than me from about 7:20 and similarly on the “Broughton Cycleway” along Great Clowes Street. More of that later.

Yesterday I was taking the tram anyway because an Italian class straight after work made a later than normal bike ride home less appealing and to be honest I could also do my homework on the tram travelling to work: Molto bene! That’s something I couldn’t do by bike although recently I have enjoyed shouting out the numbers on car number plates during commutes (so I’m particularly good at my 50s and 60s). The trams have improved in that they are more regular. The cost has gone up well ahead of inflation (32% in 7 years) and the network is still surprisingly brittle, but when it works it’s quicker than ever. There’s now the ridiculously named “Get me there” Oyster-ish style card for combined mode travel and apps on your smartphone to help avoid dead time waiting for trams. My Monday commute in contained a fortuitous 1 minute change at Piccadilly Gardens and with around 3 minutes wait at Prestwich my door to door time to the office was 43 minutes which improves upon 2010.

Today was back to the bike to give a benchmark to the alternatives.

I’m more relaxed about commuting these days, it definitely helps your attitude not to be rushing and I’m less likely to be tempted into taking chances. I’ve modified my route over the years to make it safer rather than quicker and my improved over-all fitness means I don’t need to shower when I get to work unless the weather is dreadful (not happened yet this year). It took 24 minutes in today and was a bit wet too but nothing my Inov8 overtrousers and Ron Hill jacket couldn’t handle. My quickest time on a roadbike is over 5 minutes quicker but then I’d need to shower and carry clothes in on my back (sometimes key items can be forgotten!) and it brings extra risk to someone who’s not particularly confident with drop handlebars, cleated to pedals and having to weave super slender wheels around potholes. Ah yes potholes – the one thing that unites car and cycle commuters around these part!

So when I’m not reading number plates in Italian or attacking Strava sectors along the commute I sometimes count the number of cars with just a driver in them. This morning, after discounting commercial vehicles and private hire cars, just 11% of cars in my sample had passengers in them and only 1 of those 100 cars contained more than one passenger. Yes I’m sure there are reasons for some why alternatives to driving alone are impossible for some people but surely there’s some room for improvement?

I’ve been cycling this route consistently for 9 years, to be honest the last time I was knocked off was at a mini roundabout along an alternative ‘quieter’ route: National Cycle Route 6. With a bit of extra fitness in me the direct arterial route towards Manchester seems safer and particularly the gradual downhill bits heading to the office where I comfortably ride at 20 mph and either match traffic or slow a little to carefully pass queues whilst keeping my eyes peeled.

Great Clowes St has had its segregated Broughton cycleway for the last 3 years. The state of the cycle path surface is poor though (parts of it degraded in just weeks) and a number of the posts forming the segregation are regularly broken (and promptly replaced). The path is, however, regularly cleared of debris and definitely gives protection as well as a competitive advantage to bikes using it from 7:30am into the rush ‘hour’. I’ve never had any incident around intersecting bus lay-bys or junctions along the 1km stretch that I use. Prior to the cycleway’s creation traffic travelled along that road in 2 narrow lanes (squeezing cyclists at times) though it was no wider than Bury New Road the parallel trunk road through the north side of Manchester’s city centre. In addition, a couple of weeks ago I noticed the facility below that has been put into Albert Park at the north end of the path: a bike repair stand with tools held in place by cables. I’d not seen anything like it before and although I can’t imagine the stand being used a lot it shows that the Salford City Council care about cyclists.


Another commuting pastime through Broughton and Ordsall is counting Mobikes. Today there were 17 and although I admit that none of them were being used each day they seem to be moving around suggesting that they’re used at least once daily. They seem to congregate around student accommodation blocks and since the joining price has dropped and area increased to cover parts of Salford again their numbers on these streets have increased. More on that in the next blog entry.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking an ‘express’ ‘bus with its leather seats and wi-fi coupled with a Smartphone activated Mobike hire-bike: 21st century commuting! Then Thursday back to basics as I’ll be running in with maybe a Mobike and walk home.

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Mobike – The official roadtest


If you’ve had the pleasure of hiring a Mobike you’ll know that the beauty of it is not the quality of the bike but the system around it. Nevertheless, I feel the need to report on the performance of the vehicle and in particular how it functions at the extremes of its remit.

Yeah it’s great for pottering around the twin city centres of Manchester and Salford but how might it handle the cycle section of the Salford Triathlon course? I’m sure you’re all very eager to know…..

I’ll blog again about the Mobike system as I’ve had one or two issues in the last 10 days that I don’t want to talk about just yet; I’d like to allow them at least a month to settle down and address the teething issues which it’s only right for them to expect. So a 10 minute walk to find an available bike but I think it was the best of the 6 I’ve ridden so far. A big squeak around the brakes (that were very effective) but I only found that out at the end of 35 minutes of joyful riding. Other than that it was a faultless ride.

There’s definitely a whistle that develops as you ride at over 12 mph into a headwind. It reminds me of the sound emitted from a late 1970’s Volvo (possibly the 343 model) but that isn’t a bad thing as it transports me back 35 years to a world of Grifters, Choppers and carefree cycle adventures.

So, once warmed up, I set off in earnest from Media City plaza which was the site of the swim to cycle transition zone in my 2013 Salford Triathlon. I headed out towards Eccles and, as 4 years ago, was met with a headwind as I escaped the shelter of the high rise buildings around the Quays. I dutifully stopped at a set of lights before bearing left onto the road that followed the northern shore of the ship canal. As it became more exposed the headwind kicked in and it was most noticeable when climbing over a railway bridge causing the muscles to burn as I tried to maintain a respectable speed.

The bikes are heavy and although that gives them a reassuring feel you do notice the weight on any slight climb. I dropped off the main carriageway onto a parallel cycle path which is definitely the natural habitat for a Mobike. I’d covered the first km in 3 minutes – not shabby. I turned left and crossed the ship canal noting the broken glass not swept away from the cycle path but crunching fearlessly through it all with my solid tubeless tyres. I dipped a bit for the 2nd km down to 3mins 22 but that was the climbing and the headwind I’m sure.

The descent into Trafford Park was welcome as my thighs were burning, I consistently held 17 mph or so with a few bursts of leg speed like some kind of spin class maniac. Strava, if it is to be trusted, claims I hit 31.3 km/h at some point. Sounds about right, the 3rd km was back to 3 mins and then the 4th in just 2:30 which makes for a 24 km/h average over a mile. Downhill yes, but still but a decent performance – has anyone clocked a quicker Mobike km I wondered? I crossed trouble free over the old train lines running across a road in Trafford Park which I remembered bothering me and causing me to move off my aero bars to the main handlebars on each of the 5 laps upon my road bike after surviving the first lap of the Salford Triathlon.

Along the side of the ship canal there was an out and back to Sam Platts which is currently being raized to the ground – a sad sight, even for a City fan. A slight diversion around the Imperial War Museum took me off the original Triathlon course but I don’t think I gained anything. 2:43 for the 5th km and 3:13 after the turn and heading back into the wind. I crossed back over the Media City bridge and returned to Upsy Daisy who marked my start and finish line.

Good fun, a great workout, not comfortable but proving to myself that the bike is best suited to 30 mins and 2 or 3 miles rather than trying to do double that distance with silly speed.

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Mobike – First Impressions


Manchester and Salford have seen the launch of the Chinese bike hire scheme Mobike this week and it’s got our office talking bikes. This is their 130th city scheme so presumably they know what they’re doing but it’s the first one in this country.

Its beauty is its simplicity: Download the Mobike App, enter phone and credit card details to cover a returnable deposit, add some credit for your first ride then away you go. I’ve ridden the Paris, London and Brussels schemes over the last 10 years and unlike those others this one benefits from GPS on all the bikes and is smart-phone controlled removing the need for and restriction of docking-stations.

The bikes are secured by a locking ring through the back wheel which is released on booking out the bike. 50p per 30 minutes seems very reasonable. As an introductory offer for this month only the deposit is £29 rather than £49 and it is returnable on leaving the scheme (as long as you returned the bike you used).

The area covered is ‘Manchester and Salford’. You can ride anywhere but the bikes must be returned and parked in either of these 2 cities. If we are going off council boundaries I have already picked up one bike in Trafford (returning it to Salford) but unlike many of the other cities in China the app doesn’t show our ‘defined operating area’. People in the office are weighing up commutes and I think it’s better suited to simplifying public transport so you don’t need the cost of tram as well as train or 2 buses. I wouldn’t have the patience to ride 5 or 6 miles home on one. It’s perfect for a 2 mile journey into the city centre for a bit of shopping or turning two 15 minute walks across the Quays and back into a 10 minute round trip with more time for lunch (or beer) in between. I can see plenty of use cases!

It’s single speed and geared low which is just as well as it’s quite heavy (making it feel very stable) and on the slightest incline you notice the extra work you need to do. Fortunately there aren’t any significant hills around our 2 cities.

There are a number of hubs where the bikes congregate, one of them is 2 minutes walk from the office which is very handy. I expect they will be reallocated as patterns of demand will dictate.


As well as looking quite funky, they’re great fun to ride and the whole scheme feels rather playful. The twisty bell is loud and joyous, finding my first bike on Tuesday was like Geo-caching or playing Pokemon Go, and the points based reward system for good behaviour and safe returning of bikes feels like a parental wallchart type thing.

Having read the rules I have already broken 3 of them in the first couple of days: Firstly on finishing my ride today the locking mechanism was broken and couldn’t be manually applied. The phone app covered this eventuality and enabled me to notify that I had finished my journey and also report back (with a photo) the problem with the lock. Had I not done this I could have had points removed from my credit rating (currently 104). Second issue was that I locked the bike up outside a popular fast food restaurant with my own lock which is a no-no and if someone had spotted and reported this then I could have had points deducted (bloody snitch!). The final infringement was parking the bike on private property (outside my office door) rather than on a public pavement where it is easier for the bikes to be found and punters don’t have to worry about trespassing. I realised I’d done this on Tuesday and moved the bike yesterday without unlocking it. With the rear wheel secured and I had to lift it and roll it on its front wheel, after a few seconds the bike detected it was being moved without being unlocked and started beeping in distress (stop thief!). I dumped it by the gatehouse entrance to our Quay and scarpered before anyone could see.


So it’s easy to use and good fun, once I know the rules I’ll play the game and see if high credit leads to some free trips. It’s notable that unlike the London scheme which has cost over £60m to implement (money well spent imho) the Mobike scheme hasn’t cost us local tax payers a penny. Hopefully this will take off and coverage grows and maybe even becomes the norm for our towns and cities.

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Bike for sale, 2 careful owners

Wiggo's Postbox

Wiggo’s Postbox

I’ve recently bought a Trek 7.4 hybrid through the work’s Cyclescheme to replace my default get-to-work-cycling-hack known as The Mighty Saracen. The Saracen isn’t broken but is due its winter service and although I don’t begrudge the amount of money I have spent to keep it roadworthy over the years, these costs have probably come close to 10 times what I paid for it.  I didn’t pay much for it though.

The initial pimping of the steed to suit my style: kickstand, honky horn and SPD pedals instantly doubled its value.  Then over the years its wheels and tyres have been upgraded, the groupset, crank, crankarms and a gear shifter have all been replaced as well as chains and usual consumables. Oh yes and the saddle had to be replaced too.  Not exactly Trigger’s Broom but it feels like the majority of the bike is no longer as was purchased in Doncaster and it has gradually evolved into a more Lancastrian bike 😉

JP, A former colleague at Sage had sold his 5 year old bike on to me for just £40. I’d had my previous regular commuting Trek 7.3 stolen and after swapping to my mountain bike I’d picked up a puncture within a couple of weeks. The primitive crud catchers were not keeping enough of the Greater Mancunian rain and oil off my clothes so I was faced with spending £45 on a pair of Schwalbe Marathon tyres plus the cost of upgrading the mudguarding system.  JPs attractive offer bought me some time to save up for a new bike, this seems to have taken me 4 years.

I have tried not to become attached to the bike as I had been hurt by emotional attachment to a previous bike before she was snatched away from me (and never found on that occassion). Up until that point my bikes had been female but I have determinedly referred to the Saracen as an ‘it’ even after adding the image of the very male former Gladiator to its frame. It’s been more than just a commuting bike and we’ve conquered Cragg Vale together as well as going on a couple of epic 100 mile rides to the seaside and back. These were a couple of the Ian Hoggarth memorial rides that I’d completed with colleagues from work. As we were riding to Southport along the Trans Peninne Trail I couldn’t take the roadbike so the Saracen was the best solution my fleet could offer me.

Though both JP and I have had a few thrills and spills in our cycling times I don’t think either of us has been knocked off whilst riding the Saracen so you could regard it as a lucky bike. The bike owes me nothing so I’m open to any offers; I’ll match the price and donate the money to Cardiac Risk in the Young in Ian’s memory so here’s the sales pitch:

10 year old Saracen Venturer 2 to suit 5’5 – 5’9 gent

Schwalbe Marathon tyres, pannier rack and kick-stand for the man about town

Front suspension and 24 speed Shimano Altus

2 careful owners, serviced regularly, a bit scuffed but in good working order.

Make me an offer!


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01Breakfast (34)

I tried out a Velib hire bike in Paris a few years back and a Barclays/Boris bike in London a couple of years ago so as I was in Brussels for a fantastically beer filled stag party I thought I’d compare their Villo hire bike with the other two.

Wherever I am, and no matter what state I’m in, I tend to wake early. It’s when I prefer to exercise as it’s quieter and that time is my own. I’ve run one of my quickest 5kms with 5 pints of Peroni still clouding me and although there’s nothing big and clever about drinking I wonder if my body has evolved to efficiently take these excess carbs and put them to good use?

I woke Sunday morning feeling better than I really should (thanks Alka Seltzer XS) to find it raining after 2 days of glorious sunshine. Brussels had banned cars from the city centre for the day and there was free public transport. Though not a typical day it would be a good time to try out a hire bike on quieter streets.

I’d found the national stadium at Heysel whilst running the previous morning. Maybe I could find Anderlecht today? It’s good to have a purpose to your pootling about although inevitably I wasn’t pootling.

01Breakfast (12)

Similar to the other 2 bikes but blessed with 7 rather than just the 3 gears in London and Paris this was definitely an advantage. The brakes didn’t do much and really I should have swapped the bike for another one but the centre isn’t too hilly and there should be less reasons to stop suddenly on the quieter streets. Navigating the cobbles around the narrow lanes close to the Grand Place was a bit tricky and heavy rain had made them extra slippy.

01Breakfast (38)

I enjoyed an hour’s pottering around, joining up the dots between the bars we’d done in the previous 48 hours, admiring street art and searching for the Manneken Pis. My confidence was growing with bike’s gears and brakes and my Strava trace shows I made it up a short category 4 climb and hit a top speed of just under 30 mph coming down it. Most of it looks like the work of one of those drug fueled spiders but I promise you I wasn’t lost or confused, I was just taking in the early morning atmosphere.


The rain had eased off and I’d got my bearings, Google Maps was suggesting I was on the right side of town to find RSC Anderlecht.  This was gradually uphill and whilst the cobbles had gone there were tram tracks to watch out for. I struggled with some of the wide junctions where there was sometimes separation of buses and didn’t know where my bike should be. There seemed to be a lack of road signs at junctions.  Sometimes there were bike lanes painted and there were lots of one way streets where you could go the other way by bike. I was glad it was quiet because I must have made a few mistakes and this wasn’t due to beer anymore.

01Breakfast (51)

I found the stadium in a leafier part of the city and it was worth the effort of finding. I turned to head back into the centre and this is when I started to struggle. I had a couple of hours before checking out of my hotel but didn’t want to be on the last minute so picked up the pace to find I had a noticeable headwind and then the rain returned heavier than before. The big canal would lead me back towards my hotel and after 22km of riding I was happy to park the bike up. Just before doing so I was invited to breakfast with some cyclists and campaigners from Ayay! who were canvassing ideas to make cyclists more visible. Their idea of a teddy bear or a Seasame Street Muppet on a child seat is sweet. I told them how hi viz and helmets are the norm in Britain for commuter/utility cyclists when they didn’t seem to be over there but that gear makes cycling look inherently dangerous when it isn’t *always* so. I feel that Brussels is ahead of us though it’s hard to compare as I didn’t see a working day/rush hour. The proportion of women cyclists around Brussels is much higher as was true in Paris 6 years ago and although they’d heard of our capital’s Cycle Superhighways I pointed out that there had been fatalities on these routes and wasn’t sure they were always the answer. We need more than paint.

Among the cyclists was a guy called Stijn Wens with a mighty impressive Larry Vs Harry Bullitt cargo bike. He’d bought it in Copenhagen and cycled it 1000 km back home to Antwerp. I saw another later in the day adapted to carry a couple of children.

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So on reflection the Villo bike was good, better than the other two but maybe the environment was more challenging. As before I took the bike way past what it was designed to do and my back was aching with the effort I’d put into my 2 hours of riding. The hire terminal was easy to use and availability was better than Paris I only really struggled with the maps on the terminal but again I was travelling further than I should have been. It cost €7:50 but would have been cheaper if I’d returned it before I’d chatted over a coffee and croissant.

The best beers and good bikes, Brussels is a place I love.

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A happy ending


So I got my bike back! I didn’t think it would happen but it did. I’ll start with a quick time line:

Sat 6th April 20:45 Parked my bike outside Ostrich pub on Bury Old Road

Sun 7th 00:30 (ish) noticed drain pipe and my bike had been removed from the Ostrich pub

Sun 7th 01:00 (ish) reported bike stolen on the 101 line (answered quicker than expected!) given incident number from very understanding lady who dealt admirably with an emotional and silly drunk

Sun 7th 6:45 posted photograph of bike along with details of £50 reward to the remains of the drainpipe

Mon 8th 10:15 Phone call from GMP: crime number issued and advised to keep checking Gumtree (which I did along with eBay).

Tues 9th – Sat 13th managed not to buy one of the many unicycles for sale around Manchester for about £40 (well done me!)

Sun 14th 06:45 Attended Bowlee car boot sale (wanted to go for an early morning run anyway). Saw about a dozen bike but most looked like they had been rescued from skips. Clearly not the appropriate class of car boot sale.

Wed 23rd spotted my bike for sale on Gumtree for £150 in Crumpsall/Cheetham Hill and reported it to the police

Fri 25th After giving the Police 48hrs to act I found that the officer assigned would be off duty from 16:00 and so wasn’t presumptuous as to assume my bike would merit overtime payments across the weekend. Time to embark upon plan B

Fri 25th 16:30 – 17:30 spent looking around Cheetham Hill for a house numbering 14 (probably) with a nice white uPVC door and a distinctive handle (to support an elderly relative?). As the search continued the presence of flowers in a front garden, a black wooden post and modern brickwork became more significant. Not a fruitful search

Gumtree gives a location via Google Maps but it would appear that this is approximate rather than absolute.

Fri 25th 17:58 Give up and phone vendor. He was having his hair cut at the time so conversation didn’t go the way I’d hoped but he said he was going to text me an address for a rendezvous

Friday 25th 19:22 I made another call and then a text, not too desperate in style but along the lines of give me your address you bastard

Friday  25th 19:51 Reply from another mobile number putting the pressure on me (cheeky get!) had potential buyer coming around about 9pm (I was thinking about Saturday pm). I’d been drinking so needed a driver and said I’d probably see him on Saturday. I now had an address.

Put out a message for a driver and (muscle?) assistance on Facebook

In’t social media brilliant folks? Apart from all the wrecked marriages/relationships and threats of death to women celebrities obviously. But around here it really rocks. I know some of these people as actual people so it’s great to see what a difference they can make even if it’s just to a virtual feeling about everyone’s neighbourhood. I’ve shopped locally, cleaned my local streets, danced with people I barely know, had some of the most hilarious nights of my life, learned to love low grade wrestling but most importantly got to know some fab and groovy people who live around the corner from me.

I had actually quit Twitter but it clearly hadn’t quit me! My 9yo daughter spotted I was addicted and she’s quite astute, so I quit. But despite this, a photo of my bike was re-tweeted around with beautiful things written that made me cry. My local MP even re-tweeted the photo and I didn’t even vote for him last time around. Blimey!

So in response to my appeal a friend volunteered the assistance of her husband @InsidePrestwich who is at least 10 times as awesome in the flesh as his virtual identity and then John stepped up who I had met on Twitter and thus been able to speak to last Saturday (as a real human being) just before running the Heaton Parkrun 5k backwards. I’d heard John on GM Radio yesterday proving he was as good with the mouth as he was with the wheels as your ultimate cab driver around Manchester.  I wanted wordsmiths rather than muscle men in my posse although we noted that all of us were wearing black hoodies whilst each being in the 2nd trimester of our (awesome) lives.

We headed into Crumpsall to a fake address (it transpires). I knocked hopefully on what would seem to be the door of a good Jewish household (on the Sabbath) and despite lights on the was no reply. I called the perp and he muttered something about flats opposite so I muttered something back that was appropriately cool though slightly more intelligible (I may have used the word ‘sweet’). The next half hour was spent standing in the rain or sheltering in John’s wheels trying to not look suspicious whilst on the look out for someone suspicious. This was tedious though probably more so for my companions, I called and texted a few more times and eventually he turned up.

The rest is a bit of a blur.

He brought my gorgeous bike out of a block of flats, I held her again, wheeled her away confidently, and thought about mounting her. In my mind I had played out this scene in daylight with the ruse of testing out the single speed’s ratio before disappearing into the distance. But alas it was dark, wet and I’d lost the bottle to be so brazen. I told the vendor that the bike was mine and therefore I would be taking her with me. This confused him and I got as far as trying to load it into the back of John’s wheels (people carrier actually) when he stood in the way getting more and more upset. I showed him my reward poster he started going on about serial number so I tried to blank him and go about my rightful business and he said something like ‘I can’t let this happen’ which made me think twice but I continued. There were other threats but I didn’t hear then and they were so ‘street’ that I wouldn’t have understood them anyway. He said he was going to phone the bloke who sold the bike to him so I was forced to phone 999 to follow up my only threat of getting the Police in to resolve the dispute. He walked away with a mate (who I forgot was also dropped there by taxi) and we went home. With my bike. Feeling very pleased with ourselves.

I like to think that most bike thieves are opportunist scum rather than street robbers who threaten people for their possessions, though I guess that there are some that would cross that line to physically harm someone. I took a chance, but a calculated one. If the Police had been able to act quicker I wouldn’t have done this. I didn’t enjoy it. I’m a coward deep down which I think it’s much better to be than someone more brazen.  I went in there just wanting my bike back (even without lights, mudguards and pannier rack).

No retribution or nonsense.

I’m dead happy and so grateful for Adam and John being with me and the support of a virtual community behind us.

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Feeling the love


Pride comes before a fall and here’s me looking particularly proud of myself on the Fuji single speed bike I owned for about a month. This photo was a bit of a joke between myself and my old cycling buddy JP who was the previous owner of the Saracen hybrid that the Fuji was to replace. JP accused me of becoming a cycling ‘Hipster’ and having some kind of midlife crisis so I played up a bit to the camera.

So last night the Fuji was stolen from a pub about a mile from my house. In my eagerness to meet up with a former neighbour that I hadn’t seen for 30 years I rode there with the intention of walking/staggering home (maybe with a kebab for extra ballast). It was great catching up with John and his wife as well as Phil and Claire in The Ostrich next to Heaton Park- a fabulous pub which I wish was a bit closer to me.  I’ve cycled there before notably to go drinking with the Bishop of Bolton and to listen to the Stone Roses soundcheck from the beer garden. I always secure my bike to the drainpipe on the front of the pub which is on Bury Old Road, one of the main routes into Manchester.


We didn’t leave the pub until after midnight and on doing so we found that the drainpipe had been pulled away from the wall, a section of pipe removed and my bike together with the thick cable lock had been stolen. Everyone else was more upset and angry than I was about the situation. It had happened to me before (twice previously in the last 9 years), nobody was hurt and it’s only a bike (albeit a rather pretty one). I had got attached to it quite quickly and although I wasn’t going to name it, a friend suggested ‘Mambo’ because it was my bike number 5. I was growing stronger on the uphill rides home and we had claimed our first Strava King of the Mountains together for an urban stretch in Lower Broughton called the ‘obstacle course’.  I had spent an hour of the afternoon fitting new mudguards to her and had just about got over the new bike squeaks and niggles.


I quickly created a poster with a picture and a £50 reward fine which seems to have almost gone viral around Prestwich. In losing her a maelstrom of generosity and love has been whipped up around me today including the following:

  • Claire giving me a hug as soon as I realised what had happened
  • John and Alex taking me in, getting me a brew, letting me report the theft to the police (whilst quite drunk) and lending me a coat for a miserable walk home in the pouring rain.
  • Phil in particular but many other friends liking and sharing my lost bike message on Facebook. The banter has helped me too.
  • Jonathan, Emma and Adam and all former Twitter friends (I quit last summer) grabbing the image and sharing it and in particular Ed who forwarded it to my MP Ivan Lewis who also re-tweeted it. The Prestwich Twitterati would have been mostly seeing orange on their feeds this morning!
  • The Prestwich Spotted Facebook community page for posting the picture (don’t know who runs it)
  • Erin taking copies of the poster to circulate to her Church and friends this morning.
  • Harry the Spider having a word with a Salford based policeman who cycles out from Prestwich on his regular Monday MTB meet.
  • Rick finding a nearly new orange single speed for sale in Radcliffe though it had sneakily been classified as new. Not mine though.
  • Jackie who offered me the use of her husband’s bike before I pointed out that I had 4 others (I’ll be driving tomorrow anyway)
  • Pete who spotted a bit of broken mudguard whilst on a training run this evening for next weekend’s London Marathon. The bike appears to be taken away towards Manchester.
  • Our new Vicar Chris who happened to be delivering a sermon on Sadness so used me as an case study and therefore announced details of the crime to the busiest family service I can remember for quite a while.

Chris was telling us not to be sad in his sermon and I think I’ve kept the correct perspective upon a non-violent loss of property crime with the value of goods being less than £500. The only time I have been in tears today is when I’ve noticed some wonderful comments between people on Facebook and Twitter. So many people have taken time out to try to help me. I’m quite overwhelmed by it all.

I’ve definitely been feeling the love today, especially locally and even if the bike isn’t ever found I will have gained a lot in return. Image


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I’m going to run the Great Manchester 10k Run backwards


April Fool’s Day would seem as good a day as any other to reveal to you my massive readership (have you put on a bit of weight recently?) that I’m going to be running the Great Manchester 10k backwards next month.

I’ve asked for permission off the organisers and everything. On signing up to the event there were all manner of limitations within the Terms and Conditions one of them being no wheelbarrows allowed. As finishers in the annual Studley wheelbarrow race (taking in about 4k and 8 pubs) we can vouch for the hazards of wheelbarrow racing. However, there was no mention of running backwards in the small print but I’m not daft (?!) a mass start among 30 – 40,000 people will not be straight-forward so I contacted the race organisers declaring my intentions and specifically seek their permission. In my favour I have been training hard and I’m well on my way to completing the full distance prior to the event, I could also tell them hand on heart that I have never fallen over yet. Having run the London Marathon and Great North Run I know what to expect at the start of such a big race but crucially I have a guide runner to at least help me through the first few busy kilometres.

It was Catriona’s idea for the family to take part in the event although initially I think she was just looking to enter the kids in the junior runs. She’d been jogging a couple of times this year but hadn’t run 10k since a Race for life event over 4 years ago. So I entered all 4 of us in our respective races: Alex is doing the under 8’s 2k mini run around Heaton Park and Maria is running 2 miles in the 9-15 years junior run. Catriona and I will run the main event at a similar pace: her Race For Life 10k was about 65 minutes and I think with a bit of speed training I can hit that figure too.

We’re running to raise month for Cancer Research UK and have set up the following Just Giving page if you’d like to sponsor us.


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