Where can I park my bike? – 30 Days of Biking: Day 28

One of the things that can put people off cycling to a destination is the question: “where do I park my bike?”.

I once recall having to attend a meeting at the Manchester Marriott hotel. I decided to ring ahead and ask if they had any bike parking nearby. They didn’t, but they were very happy to arrange for the concierge to look after it. It was slightly odd to experience him taking my bike and gently placing it in the luggage room, before handing me a ticket – somewhat like valet parking, I guess! But still less convenient than if they just had some bike racks outside.

So where are all the bike racks? It turns out that Manchester City Council don’t actually know. Thankfully, people power comes to the rescue. I use the OpenCycleMap to check routes to my destination and also work out whether there’s any sensible bike parking in the vicinity, as opposed to a piece of street furniture.

Check out this example of the area around Manchester Piccadilly train station:

View Larger Map

There’s bike parking marked with a blue C and the number of spaces. These are all around the station, but there’s also a couple of bike parking locations for which there’s less detail: these appear a small blue square. You can also see the full key.

But what if there’s bike parking in your area, but it’s not marked on the map? Well, put it on the map!

You see, the OpenCycleMap is based on the OpenStreetMap (OSM), a user-editable, free and open map of the world. It’s an incredible project, that works like Wikipedia. It allows anyone to edit and (hopefully) improve the content available, in return for giving that knowledge away for free, forever.

In fact, OpenStreetMap is so detailed that it’s now used by default in popular apps like Foursquare and Apple iPhoto, making it a brilliant alternative to Google Maps.There are also several bike-specific apps that use OpenStreetMap to generate bike routes – notably CycleStreets which is the original and still the best.

But the upshot is that if you know of bike parking in your area, it’s up to you to let everyone else know – just add it to OpenStreetMap! It’s as simple as getting an account, finding where the bike parking is and hitting the edit button. Using the default editor is much simpler than it used to be, if you’ve previously tried OSM. Bike parking is often denoted as a “Point”, which you then identify as “bicycle parking” in the left hand search column. That’s as much as you need to add a point on the map – any more detail makes it easier for map users to choose where they might park though. Make sure you save after you’ve made your change and tell people what you’ve changed in the save description. OpenStreetMap will update in minutes and the OpenCycleMap layer will update in a few days.

Sounds simple, right? For more information, there’s a handy beginners’ tutorial to editing OSM.

So what are you waiting for? Join me in improving the OpenStreetMap and make sure everyone knows about that bike stand at the end of your street.

Bike cleaning day! – 30 Days of Biking: Day 27

It was a pretty nice day, so I decided to do something I’d been putting off for a while – cleaning my bike!

You might think that, as an outdoor vehicle, a bike doesn’t need much cleaning. The fact is that a clean bike will perform better – and no-one wants to ride something so caked in mud that you can’t pedal without hearing the chain grinding!

It ended up taking ages. I usually follow the approach suggested by London Cyclist, though living in apartment, space is at a premium. In the past, I’ve had to resort to desperate measures…

These days, I’m lucky to have a reasonably-sized balcony on which I can wash my bike, whilst taking in the city centre view.

Anyway, after a couple of hours degreasing, cleaning, drying and buffing, I finally have a bike I can show off to the world!

My main commuter bike!

I’m pretty sure it’s never been that clean – some of the components were salvaged from an old bike (the red one pictured above) so had probably been mucky since then.

The cleaning also meant I could activate Tron bike mode!

Commuter bike in Tron mode!

The puncture-resistant Marathon Plus tyres I use come in a ‘Black Reflex’ option that includes a reflecting strip all the way around the rim, making them great for commuting in the dark. As long as you wipe them down once in a while…

Missed Mass – 30 Days of Biking: Day 25

Due to work commitments, I missed out on a big monthly bike event this evening. Critical Mass is a global (un-)organised gathering of bike riders that takes place every last Friday of the month.

The intention is to share the joy of cycling with everyone else in your city. The group acts as if it was one vehicle, swooping through the city in a direction set by whomever is at the front of the ride.

The Manchester Critical Mass tends to start from outside the iconic Central Library on a Friday evening at 6. Half an hour later, the gathered riders of up to a hundred or so set off on a route around the city centre (and often Salford/South Manchester) for the next hour. Thereafter, the participants decamp to a bike-friendly pub for beer and chat.

It’s quite a sight when the ride is in motion, especially when there’s lots of people out – usually when the weather’s nice. In the winter, riders often light up their bikes with all kinds of pretty arrangements. One of my first Instagram photos features a rider at Critical Mass in December 2010.

Critical Mass is intended to be a fun, safe and family-friendly activity. I’ve often seen families out on the ride with children on bike seats, trailers, tag-alongs or their own bikes. The established cycling fraternity are also out in force, including couriers, fixie skidders and activists from groups like GMCC and GM Love Your Bike. It’s a great place to meet other people into cycling and have fun taking in the city as one big group.

Mike of Mad Cycle Lanes usually attends too, bearing a sound system. Check out his photos below.

Maybe I’ll see you all there next month?

Bike festivals coming up – 30 Days of Biking: Day 24

The Manchester Evening News today announced that there had been an 83% increase in people cycling in Manchester over the last 10 years, according to the census.

Now, the MEN is not the most bike-friendly newspaper, but the headline is welcome as a way to get even more people out on the roads. Digging deeper, the statistics are a little flawed and actually, the proportion of people who get to work by bike is still barely 2%. There is a long way to go.

Therefore, it’s great to see that there are some exciting events coming up that I hope will inspire even more people to get out on their bike and catch the cycling bug whilst the weather gets milder.

First up, it’s the Chorlton Big Green Happening this Saturday 26 April. Amongst an array of green-themed stalls and shows, this rather odd contraption will be turning up:

There will also be a number of cycle-specific stalls including TfGM who will be giving out local maps, information and freebies and Dovetail Bikes who are showing off their bikes made out of bamboo. Based on the Bambike frame, bamboo bikes are light yet sturdy. I’m a fan of steel personally, but I’m very keen to have a go.

The event will also see a special performance by The Spokes, the inclusive bicycle dance troupe who I’ve mentioned before.

Be sure to catch them at 4pm at St Clements Church, Edge Lane.

Talking of The Spokes, they’re running an event of their own! The North West Velo Fest  kicks off on Friday 16 May and runs for 10 days to Monday 26 May 2014.

Described as a grassroots cycling festival, the Velo Fest is in its third year and set to be the best yet. Some of the fun and friendly activities lined up already include the Ministry of Silly Pedals (think a school sports day – but on bicycles), a pedal-powered party and an evening ride out (probably) to a pub.

There’s more, of course and like previous years, The Spokes are bringing together other cycling groups under the Velo Fest banner to encourage as wide a spread of things to do as possible.

Events are just starting to be announced, so keep an eye on their Facebook page and invite all your friends.

What do you wear in the rain? 30 Days of Biking: Day 23

Today started out slightly damp and finished with a light drizzle. Yes, Manchester has an unfair reputation for being a rainy city (it’s just “grey, not rainy“), but when the weather forecast says chance of rain, I tend to expect it.

This affects my riding too. My commute to work is barely two miles and usually takes 15 minutes. Now, a 15 minute walk in the rain isn’t pleasant at best of times so a 15 minute ride at an average speed of 11 mph doesn’t sound like a particularly enjoyable thing to do without being covered in waterproof clothing.

However, I don’t like having to wear bulky waterproofs: they’re not comfortable and I need to find somewhere to put them in the office to dry out a bit. And 15 minutes in a bit of rain isn’t usually that bad, especially if your bike has mudguards (otherwise you really are asking for a wet back).

So it was lucky that I went along to Bike Fabulous – a cycling fashion and style event organised by the GM Love Your Bike campaign at Manchester’s Arndale Centre.

At the event, I was interested to learn that Levi’s were launching a new Commuter range of clothing. Tapping into the growth of cycling and the demand for a more casual style, Levi’s Commuter is part of a new range of clothing that aims fulfil that need. By combining “ordinary”clothing with particular materials, manufacturing techniques and accessories, Levi’s are making a range of stylish clothing that are ideal for cycling.

Now our friends on the continent (and indeed, our grandparents) have been using bikes for getting around for years before any of this all came along, so I was naturally a little sceptical. But I needed some new jeans anyway, so picked up a pair of Levi’s 511 commuter jeans – slim fit and reasonably dark.

They were pricey, don’t get me wrong, but I have to admit I’m now a convert. The jeans fit really comfortably – like normal jeans but with added stretch in the waistband and a softer but more tightly-woven denim. Most importantly though, they’re pre-treated with a hydrophobic coating, so in the rain, the drops appear to slide right off!

This doesn’t last forever – in a persistent shower, your jeans do begin to get wetter, but the material seems to dry a lot quicker. And the effect does fade too, but can be easily reapplied by using something like Nikwax wash-in waterproofer every few months – less often in the summer. I find that for my short daily commute to and from work, it’s perfectly fine for most of the Manchester drizzle.

As you’d expect, Levi’s also offer a wide range of sizes and styles to meet varying taste, including some that are less slim and some that are exceptionally skinny. Most of them include a handy lock loop to shove a small lock in the back and reflective turn-ups that help improve visibility at night. Check out the full range on Amazon now.

That’s the bottom half sorted then, but what about a top?

My dress code at work is pretty relaxed so I usually pair the Levi’s with my trusty Surface Snugflex hoody.

It’s basically like a normal hoody, but made with a soft, showerproof fabric that’s ideal for unexpected downpours during a commute. It’s also cut with a lower back to hide any embarrassing ride-ups when you’re cycling and also various other technical features like vents and so on.

I’ve had a Snugflex for about four years now and I’m itching to get a new one when the stock comes in. The great thing about it is that’s so versatile – I wear it in the summer and winter and it doesn’t look out of place in the pub. Which is why I’ll often wear it off the bike too. I’ve also used Nikwax to enhance the showerproof properties.

Surface do a bunch of other jackets and accessories too. The wool jacket is rather nice looking, but demands you can tolerate a skinnier fit which I can’t really pull off.

So those are my preferred options that I can vouch for through direct experience. It’s great that existing and new firms have responded to the demand for stylish and functional cycling wear. To be honest, you don’t need anything special to get on a bike, but personally, I’ve found the Levi’s jeans and the Surface hoody to be invaluable – I basically live in them!

What do you wear when out riding on your bike in inclement weather? Do you have any suggestions for women on bikes? Drop me a comment below and share your suggestion with other readers.

Bike Art – 30 Days of Biking: Day 15

Riding a bike is a simple, fun thing to do. It’s not surprising that those feelings inspire some beautiful art:

If you want to see the staircase of hanging bikes for yourself, get on down to Ridelow on Church Street in the Northern Quarter. Definitely some of the coolest bikes around, if you’re into low-riders.

This second-hand cycle place in Hebden Bridge uses a bike as part of its signage. Cycle:Recycle is more than just second-hand bike bits though: it’s a volunteer-run, not for profit, sustainable project that aims to get more people out of their cars and onto the saddle. By providing second hand bikes, they reduce the number of old bikes going to landfill and share skills with other cyclists.

This beautiful bike was spotted outside the Bay Horse in the Northern Quarter. I snapped it just when I started using Instagram.

Bikes can be used to create art. The Artcrank exhibition took place last year in Manchester’s 2022NQ, featuring bike-made and bike-inspired art. It’s moved around several cities since then, working with local artists to produce a unique show each time. Check them out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out various artists’ blogs about the Manchester event.

Finally, I’ve actually been used as a subject in a photo project featuring people in Manchester and their bikes. The Northern Comfort Visual project titled “I cycle Mcr 2012” invited anyone to go down with their bike and get snapped. I love this collection of images for the diversity of people and bikes shown, but also the sheer joy that’s evident on everyone’s face. They also did a follow-up exploring the relationship between bikes and fashion.

Do you have any great examples of bike-inspired art? Drop me a line in the comments below.

Manchester to London by bike – 30 Days of Biking: Day 14

Are you ambitious enough to ride from Manchester to London?

If you’re up for the 220-mile challenge, Rapha has the event for you. Raising money for charity, Ambitious About Autism, the Rapha cycle challenge will pit two virtual teams of riders against each other in a fully-supported ride between the two cities.

This is way out there for me – I can manage maybe 60 miles in a day, with generous allowances for food (and beer!) – but if you’re an experienced rider who’s ambitious enough to enter at £150, then this could be the challenge for you.

One day, I’d like to do this – but I think that’s a way off yet.

Learn to ride for free – 30 Days of Biking: Day 13

It was a surprisingly pleasant day in Manchester again.

I should’ve been out riding in fact: it was the Chorlton Wanderers‘ monthly ride, out to a pub near Bollington, but unfortunately I didn’t make it.

If you also thought that today was a good day to get riding, but maybe didn’t have the confidence to do so, then Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) can help. To help get more people get around on bikes, they’re offering free cycle training to everyone who lives and works in Greater Manchester.

There are two levels of training – Learn to Ride and On the Road:

Learn to Ride is designed for people who have never ridden a bike, or maybe not since they were a child. Held in a number of convenient venues, they cover: basic bike safety; how to ride a bicycle and an introduction to using the road. Attendees will be trained in groups of similar ability, so it should be a safe and friendly environment. They even provide bikes and helmets, though you can bring your own.

On the Road is for those who already cycle, maybe socially, but want a bit more experience. The course is designed around you – they’ll deliver it wherever and whenever is convenient for you and provide one-to-one instruction. I’ve actually taken a version of this training, though I arranged for it to be delivered at my workplace, so a small group of us took part.

Although when I did ‘on the road’ training, I’d been cycling for several months (in London to boot!), it was a really useful chance to chat with an experienced cycle instructor. She was more than willing to talk through any specific guidance about cycling ‘in the real world’. She also demonstrated one of the most challenging junctions in the northern quarter – the uphill right turn from Shudehill onto Thomas Street, which is extremely busy and requires you to negotiate tram tracks. That definitely helped build my confidence when using that junction and helped me to avoid making some unobvious mistakes.

There are also two further courses run by TfGM, which I’ve just signed up to: a bike maintenance course, (basic and advanced) and ride leader training. Although I’ve been doing bike maintenance for a few years now (and even converted my fixie) there are still some things I find a pain or just too daunting: gears, for example. The ride leader training will hopefully be useful in the cycling groups that I participate in, who are often looking for more experienced cyclists to lead social rides.

So if you’ve been looking out the window or thinking that this is a good time to get riding, don’t let your lack of confidence stop you. Sign-up to a course now – places are already filling up.

See the full list of courses and book your place.

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…