On where we’re up to on the Prestwich High Street plans

Banging on about bikes

It’s hard to say really. The whole thing seems to be a bit of a mess right now. I originally wrote about this scheme here: https://bangingonaboutbikes.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/on-why-its-crucial-to-get-cycling-right-in-prestwich/ and those thoughts are still very much valid, albeit now tinged by an unhelpful dose of realism.

Last night (Monday 21 December) I attended another public meeting, which had been primarily convened for residents on the western side of Prestwich to voice their concerns about the proposed closure of Warwick Street and the one-way plan for Clifton Road. The opposition from some residents on that side of the village is fierce, so much so that it looks like derailing the entire scheme.

In this regeneration we are being given a choice between Prestwich simply being a thoroughfare for people travelling to other places on the A56 and slowly dying on its arse as a local focal point, which is where we are now, or…

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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!

Saracen

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Villo!

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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.

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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.

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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.

BrusselsStrava

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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

http://www.justgiving.com/holmesinho2

 

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Vous pouvez même visiter Rochdale!

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If you were a child of the 80s who lived in Greater Manchester and listened to lots and lots of local commercial radio (particularly when you should have been focusing a bit harder on your homework) then you would have been aware of how hard Andy Kershaw worked to sell the benefits of GM Transport’s weekly bus passes to 16 -18 year olds, coupled with the possibility of them then going on to visit his beloved home-town.

I don’t go to Rochdale very often although I once memorably bought an olive green double breasted suit there around the time of my 21st birthday (no it wasn’t fashionable then either). In recent years bike rides have taken me around the outskirts of the town and I particularly enjoy the descent from Owd Betts through Norden though I turn right to ride past Spotland before hitting the town centre.

Yesterday as we approached Rochdale in the car from the M627 I was amazed to see that the Tour De France would be passing through on July 6th. I don’t follow the tour that closely, I’ll pick up bits of the highlights but mostly because people presume I will know what’s going on and I don’t want to appear completely clueless. It must be one of the greatest endurance events there is on the planet and what those guys do is astonishing. It would be rude not to pop along to at least catch a fleeting glance of it this summer as it passes within 10 miles of my house.

I can just imagine our Andy getting excited by a cover of this German synth pop classic performed on an a West African Kora.

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