Long ride, short post – 30 Days of Biking: Day 10

I knew that work would be extremely busy today, so I decided to kick-off the day with a good ride. Exercise before work increases productivity, we’re told and I definitely needed it today.

I haven’t been this way for some time. Surprisingly, a lot of it has been resurfaced which is a darn sight better than the mud or gravel that I used to encounter. I’ve taken some photos and will upload them along with narrative soon.

Make cycling sexy – 30 Days of Biking: Day 9

Work is pretty busy at the moment. I really enjoyed yesterday’s Cities@Manchester event, which sought to discuss whether Manchester can be a cycling city. I’m working on a response (and a collection of social media from the event) but, for now, I’ll just leave it at this picture:

Yep, that is Jason Orange of band Take That on his bike out and about in Manchester. And I think this is one of the key takeaways from last night: to become a cycling city, Manchester has to help riding a bike become ordinary (and perhaps even a little sexy).

Tonight, I’m off to another cycling event – this time, it’s the third birthday of Keep Pedalling, my local and brilliant bike shop.

“KP”, run by partners Shona and Rich, is my local bike shop. Over the last three years, they’ve sold me more bikes or parts than anywhere else: both my bikes are bought/built mostly from KP components. It’s brilliant that there’s a place nearby where I can pop in and chat without any pressure to buy or pay. It’s why I consistently recommended it to friends looking for a friendly, reliable bike shop. 

Happy birthday and I’ll see you shortly!

Quick post on the move – 30 Days of Biking: Day 8

I’m shortly heading off to tonight’s event, “can Manchester become a cycling city?” which I mentioned briefly yesterday.

There’s a related blog post here by the two University of Manchester researchers that are involved in the Manchester Cycling Lab project. I don’t want to summarise the detail, but it’s exciting to see data from sources like Strava being used to help find out how many bike riders are in Manchester and where they’re going.

For the first time, it seems there’s real data and analysis going on. The question is whether policy will be changed as a result of the outcomes. We already know that politicians don’t always make policy based on evidence, because that’s not always politically expedient. However, with real, measurable data behind the arguments for cycling, it will be much harder to ignore.

Just today, the All Party Parliamentary Commission on Physical Activity said we need to “move more” and launched a campaign to get young people moving for just one hour a day. According to their research, “today’s kids are the least active in history”. The majority of 12-year-olds do not meet the minimum guidelines of 60 minutes of activity per day – pretty shocking given that physical inactivity on the whole is said to cost the UK £20bn per year and a bigger killer than smoking.

It’s not just kids though – it’s grown-ups too. The great thing about cycling is that it usually gives me 30 minutes of activity per day (the rest of which is spent sitting at a screen).

Still, that’s more than most people and it’s a really easy way to introduce some simple, low-impact activity into an already busy daily routine. Given the news articles I see about ‘congestion’  and physical arguments during the school run, surely we’ve got to realise that “active travel” like cycling is a potential solution and it has to start young.

Let’s hope that the Cycling Lab results are taken seriously if we want to bear out this vision.

Here’s the infographic from the Commission:

PS Talking of Strava, I amazingly shaved 66 seconds off my commute time this morning compared to yesterday:

…though I’m pretty sure a combination of low traffic and catching the “green wave” of traffic lights at times meant I maintained a higher average speed than usual.

Still, it’s nice to show that even a minimal amount of extra exertion can pay benefits. As ever, I rode safe and in “normal” clothing: a shirt, jumper, jeans and a hoody. Definitely no Lycra skinsuit…

Back in the saddle as a lab rat – 30 Days of Biking: Day 7

Well after three days off the bike, I didn’t expect to get back in the saddle and beat my best weekday commute time.

(It shows second place because my ‘first’ place is when I rode right past my work on the same route heading off to Chorlton.)

I use Strava to track most of my riding as it’s the best app I’ve found for Android. Before I switched, I used Cyclemeter, which is iPhone/iPad only. Helpfully, you can export your rides from Cyclemeter to Strava by simply emailing your ride straight from the Cyclemeter app to uploads[at]strava.com, using GPX format.

Strava has had a bit of a bad rep at times, being derided in media for ‘turning streets into race courses’ and encouraging reckless riding. Again, this is an area where common-sense has to be applied. Any road user can make poor decisions, putting themselves and others in danger. And the bigger road users tend to get off without injury.

Nonetheless, there is an enjoyable competitive element and I do like seeing how I’ve improved – or, sometimes gotten worse! – over particular sections of roads. Following my friends on Strava also inspires me to go out and ride, or check out different routes. I don’t consider myself an athlete by any means, but it’s a nice extra dimension to riding, if that’s your sort of thing. Plus I love geeking out over the stats – average speed, stopped time and so on.

If this sounds like fun, why not join the virtual 30 Days of Biking club on Strava?

Finally, I’m off to an event tomorrow hosted by the University of Manchester’s urban research group on the topic of whether Manchester can become a cycling city:

It’s one of the events linked to the Manchester Cycling Lab, a project to turn Manchester into a real-life lab for the study of cycling. The panel features researchers and figures from local cycling groups, including a local councillor. My prediction is that everyone will agree – but what defines a cycling city and how far we’ll get there remains to be seen.

Slightly predictably, there appears to be no bike parking around the venue on OpenCycleMap (denoted by a blue square usually), but the organising team have researched some possible locations and plotted them on Google Maps. I’ll be writing a bit more about OpenCycleMap and its basis on the editable OpenStreetMap soon.

I’m not sure about being a real-life lab rat rider, but I hope to learn more about the Cycling Lab project tomorrow. Anything that experiments with ways to improve cycling in this city is sure to be a good thing and I look forward to seeing the results.

Multimodal – 30 Days of Biking: Day 6

I’m feeling increasingly a fraud as I’ve not cycled for three days straight now. Sadly there was no opportunity in London to hop on a bike, but I continue to be impressed by how many Londoners now take cycling for granted as a completely normal mode of transport.

I was even more surprised to see vans, HGVs and buses regularly obey the (admittedly limited) bike infrastructure such as bike lanes and advanced stop lines (ASLs). London still needs better infrastructure and separation is in many ways an ideal, in my opinion, but it was refreshing to see compared with what I’ve experienced in central Manchester.

Talking of infrastructure, I took the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) for the first time in many years this afternoon. The DLR is a light railway that connects much of London’s regenerated east and docklands. Uniquely, it’s computer controlled and the member of staff on board is usually only responsible for passenger safety and operating the doors .

DLR B07 rolling stock...

DLR B07 rolling stock…

Apart from the sheer excitement of sitting at the front and watching the train drive itself, I was pleased to see that the DLR now allows full-size bikes aboard during off-peak hours. This instantly increases the choice for customers who may wish to take a “multimodal” journey, particularly leisure travellers and helps provide another way for bikes to cross the river. It’s interesting as an example for Manchester too, as the Metrolink tram system does not allow full-size bikes at any time, despite the similarities: both the DLR rolling stock and Metrolink trams are built by Bombardier and derived from a German design for light rail vehicles with on-street running.

...Metrolink M5000 (by Dan Sellers)

…Metrolink M5000 (by Dan Sellers)

I can understand a ban at peak times, as the crowding is pretty extreme. But during off-peak hours, Manchester’s trams often have a reasonable amount of space. This should get better as double-trams are introduced across all parts of the network at all times: some lines only operate singles.

I hope the lessons of the DLR trial, which resulted in the positive change in policy, are studied closely by TfGM and I know that GMCC have an active campaign. Incidentally, the Tube has allowed bikes  on most sub-surface lines for years during off-peak so I don’t buy the ‘safety’ argument. The DLR scheme does ask cyclists to apply some common-sense rules and in my opinion, that’s all that’s really needed.

And finally, one of the reasons I was in London this weekend was to attend an Angela Lansbury film festival in Poplar, where she has strong family connections. “D’m-angela”, as I’ve taken to calling her, is best known to many as Jessica Fletcher in the popular TV mystery show ‘Murder, She Wrote’ where she famously rides a bike in the opening credits:

…and for an 88-year-old, she’s looking and moving pretty great. I hope that inspires more older people to get out and ride too!

Breakfast – 30 Days of Biking: Day 5

A really short post from me as it's been an action-packed day. This morning, in search of breakfast, we dropped into London's famous bike cafe: Look Mum No Hands!

It's a brilliant place – part bike workshop, part cafe-bar where bike bits hang side-by-side with bags of coffee and boxes of bananas. It was busy of course on a weekend, but served up breakfast til 1 pm – ideal for assuaging a hangover.

It's a place that you pop into, find a table then order at the bar. We were warned our veggie breakfast and orange juice might take some time, and they did. Still, this gave us a chance to absorb the array of bikes hanging from the ceiling and also the Look Mum branded puncture repair kits, which were just some of the memorabilia available. I resisted buying a pack of pants.

The veggie breakfast was okay. Sourdough toast was a nice touch as were the almost endless sea of scrambled eggs. Unfortunately, the onion and black pepper sausages were pretty tough and overdone and I wasn't quite sure what to make of the spinach leaves. The coffee was pretty good though, coming from the Square Mile roasters.

I did love the vibe and atmosphere. Old Street is particularly busy for passing cyclists it seems, despite lack of dedicated infrastructure, so it benefits from a regular stream of drop-ins kitted out in everything from ordinary street clothes to full Lycra bodysuits. The breakfast just felt a bit below average for what we could've got elsewhere.

To be fair, the friendly staff did warn us that it was busy and I'm sure I will go back on a future occasion. I'll also be reviewing Manchester's own answer to bike cafés: Popup Bikes.

Takk Manchester review – 30 Days of Biking: Day 4

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m off in London for a couple of days so posting new content and riding is a bit more difficult. Still, I’ll try and do my best. No riding today, but here’s something I wrote earlier as part of a series featuring bike-friendly businesses in Manchester.

Earlier this week, I met a colleague at Takk, one of the (relatively) new cafes on Tariff Street at the edge of the northern quarter.

Takk is an Icelandic themed cafe occupying a space in what I think was formerly a fashion warehouse or outlet. It prides itself on the fantastic selection of coffee on offer, including: espresso-based drinks; good filter coffee and also Aeropress. They also offer cakes, some pastries (which are gone by 10 am) and freshly-made sandwiches at lunchtime, made on bread baked down the road at Barbakan.

I’ve been into Takk a few different times during the day. It’s a great place to grab a cup of coffee and do a bit of work, or just meet people who might be stopping by: think of a common room, particularly for creative and digital types, which explains the number of Mac users. Takk happily caters for them: there’s decent wifi, ample power sockets located around the room and the mix of individual and communal tables is ideal for having some quiet thinking time or getting a group together to flesh out some ideas.

They also do a stunning Brie, apple and jelly sandwich.

Takk is notably bike-friendly: whenever I’ve been in, there have been a few bikes stacked up nearly beside the coffee counter. It’s a warm welcome to riders, if ever there was one. It helps that many of the staff cycle into work too. Unfortunately, there’s no official bike parking outside and a neighbouring local grinch business wasn’t too happy with cyclists locking up against their railings opposite. Takk gracefully responded by inviting anyone who cycled there to bring their bike indoors.

This isn’t a problem unique to Takk: Tariff Street is one of these new bits of Manchester that has yet to benefit from bike parking. Hopefully, we’ll see bike racks appear nearby very soon. It’s something that I raised at the nascent NQ Forum.

I’m looking forward to returning to Takk soon. I still think about that sandwich. But if you can’t be a regular, they do offer roasted coffee ready to take away so you can try and recreate it at home. Just make sure you have an array of Mac laptops to complete the experience.

Takk Manchester, @takkmcr, 6 Tariff St M1 2FF

9-6 every day (I think!)

Dancing on bikes – 30 Days of Biking: Day 3

I had a really positive response to yesterday’s blog post, particularly the link to the London Cyclist blog. Yep, I know I’m in Manchester but many of the learnings collected there can be equally applied wherever you are.

There are, of course, plenty of great bike blogs in Manchester and I hope to bring you highlights from some of those over the coming days. One of my favourites is Manchester Cycle Chic, which shows off cycle style in Manchester. It’s a great way to show that you don’t always need to be kitted out in Lycra or body armour to get around on the bike.

It’s been quite a “bikey” day. I had to edit down this blog post after I published it to give it some focus :)

This afternoon saw a huge celebration as UMBUG (University of Manchester Bike User Group) hit 1,000 members. With almost 40,000 students and 3,900 academics, it’s not surprising that a significant number are bike users and have signed up to the BUG, making it the biggest in the UK.

UMBUG celebrated this milestone with a mass photograph of members and, most excitingly, the debut performance of the Spokes bicycle dance troupe!

The Spokes at UMBUG 1000

The Spokes are the UK’s first – and only! – bicycle dance troupe, sharing the joy of cycling through the medium of dance. It was described as their debut performance as all the members, except Kat, had joined only a few months ago. Even more amazingly, they’d only started to rehearse eight weeks earlier! So it was a pretty big moment to go out in front of the gathered UMBUG crowd.

Sadly the photos do little justice to the energy and enthusiasm put in by the Spokes, even in the face of the sound system not quite working. That didn’t dull the excitement as the crowd joined in by humming – first the Blue Danube waltz by Strauss which then broke into Beyoncé’s Single Ladies. Let’s hope the video goes up soon.

The UMBUG event was pretty good, with TfGM also in attendance freely handing out badges, puncture repair kits and optional hi-vis jackets. Tea and coffee was also available and Dave from mobile bike repair service Revolve MCR was doing on-site maintenance. It was good to see him out despite recent reports of a break in.

The day was rounded off with a quiet drink and catch-up with my former colleague and bike buddy Gabrielle. We reflected on the sad news this morning that a fellow rider lost their life in London. Something I don’t really want to dwell on, but the truth is, cycling and heavy goods vehicles really don’t mix. If you want something more in-depth about cycling and relatively safety, this is a good blog post about how it compares.

Finally, over the next few days, I’ll be on holiday in London so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to post much. Nonetheless, I’ll try and keep up the tweeting and, at least, use those to form the basis of some new content. I’m also really interested to hear what you think I should write about. Feel free to drop me a comment below.

Just a normal day hauling hard drives in the middle of the road – 30 Days of Biking: Day 2

After yesterday’s sunshine, the weather in Manchester was back on form – looming grey clouds and an unhelpful wind that buffeted me unexpectedly when I rode out to work. Again, I’d failed to leave early for the fabled ‘long ride in the morning’, but I will get around to that very soon.

One of the things I noticed on my ride to work this morning is that there’s a road safety campaign in full swing. I’ve seen it on the back of buses, reminding drivers to check for cyclists and junctions. And on Sackville Street there’s a prominent poster suggesting cyclists ride central on narrow streets (“…like this one”, I thought in my head as I went past).

Riding in “the primary position“, or “taking the lane” is something I’d first learned about from this brilliant blog post from London Cyclist: 7 mistakes you’re making with your cycling and how to correct them. I actually first started commuting properly by bike in London back in 2010 when I was seconded to another department, shortly after I bought my first bike as an adult. Andreas’s post was a great way to avoid some basic mistales that I might’ve made, starting out commuting on London’s busy roads. I recommend even experienced cyclists take a look and check they’re not making any obvious errors out of habit.

But equally importantly in this campaign is educating drivers about why cyclists might not be riding in the gutter or using the marked bike lane. As anyone who rides regularly will tell you, there are a few drivers who still refuse to accept that anyone with fewer than four wheels is allowed to use the road. Hopefully, this government-backed intitiative will remind everyone to look out for one another and explain some sensible cycling techniques.

This evening, I cycled home more laden than when I arrived. I had to take home some components for a new PC that I’m building, including two hard drives and a motherboard.

You might think that delicate components like hard drives should probably be transported by courier or, at least, Royal Mail. I decided to wrap the two full-size drives in bubblewrap and shove them in a small parcel box I had spare from an eBay delivery. I’m happy to report they made it home fine, snugly fitting in my pannier alongside the motherboard box and my laptop. I suspect, to be honest, that they probably got the same amount of bouncing around as they would do in the back of a Royal Mail van, but they are designed to be transported and cycling is a perfectly acceptable way of doing so.

Of course, I haven’t yet needed to move an entire server by bike but I’m sure some bungee cords would be fine…

Taking a longer road home – 30 Days of Biking: Day 1

After what seemed like weeks of grey and wet, Manchester’s weather today ended up being perfect to kick off 30 Days of Biking:

My original plan for today to get up early and take a long route cycling into work. Unfortunately, I’m still not enjoying the switch to British Summer Time and when I looked out of the window this morning, the raindrops clinging to the balcony glass didn’t inspire me. It also meant that the route I’d had in my head involving part of a canal path might be slightly muddy.

Usually, my two mile commute from my flat in Ancoats to the office in Hulme takes less than 15 minutes – barely enough to break a sweat, now that I do it every day. That’s the most direct way: if I was more disciplined and woke up an hour earlier, I could easily make it a 10 mile daily morning ride, using mostly traffic-free routes.

So after a day spent mostly inside, tapping away at my computer while the sun blazed through the windows, I was pretty set on riding home on a longer route. And suddenly, it’s hurrah for BST: 6pm and it’s still plenty light.

Leaving the office, I headed south to along one of Manchester’s major bike routes – National Cycle Network (NCN) 6, which in Manchester is a pleasant mix of traffic free and residential streets. It seemed the good weather had brought out a lot of riders on a wide range of bikes, rather than just the hardcore who do it everyday. Kids on mountain bikes, a few Dutch style city bikes and, of course, the odd racer joined me on the ride through Alexandra Park down to the Manchester Cycleway.

The Manchester Cycleway is one of Manchester’s ‘hidden’ cycling gems. For most of its route, it’s made up of the glorious Fallowfield Loop, a disused railway that’s been reborn as off-road pedestrian and cycle route that stretches from Chorlton all the way to Gorton in east Manchester. It’s a joy to ride and I’ll definitely be covering it in a future blog post.

This evening, I only cycled a couple of miles along the ‘Floop’ if that, turning off after Sainsbury’s Fallowfield to take the quiet bike routes through Owens Park campus then up along Oxford Road’s cycle lanes and bus lanes to get back into town. The faster road made for a pleasant contrast as I took advantage of the full width of the bus lane to pick up speed (and happened to pick up a personal record doing so).

So, in all, a relaxed start to 30 Days of Biking but a positive one nonetheless. If I can hit 10 miles a day at least, then I’ll be finishing the month way up on my average, though I’m off to London this weekend and I don’t think I’ll be riding then.

For anyone interested, I’ve included the route below and you can check out my other rides from my Strava page.

Happy riding!