Manchester Bike Month: Saddle Up
You don't need to book a getaway to take a trip. Travel together, sustainably, and even, erm, naked during Manchester Bike Month
The prospect of navigating confusing cycle lanes, traffic and potholes is often enough to make would-be bikers think twice about venturing on to city roads, despite cycling's widely acknowledged benefits to health and the environment. “Most current measures are designed to get bikes out of the way of cars, not the other way around,” says cyclist Mike Armstrong, who uses his blog Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester (madcyclelanesofmanchester.blogspot.co.uk) to raise awareness of cycling and call for better provision for cyclists in the city. “It's no good shoving bikes on to pavements in some places only to prosecute people for cycling on the pavement in others.”
But with international Bike Week spanning 15-23 June, and grassroots organisations deciding that June is Manchester Bike Month (incorporating mini-festivals like the North West Velo Fest), there's apparently never been a better time to get 'pedal ready' – and things could be changing. In a culture where many motorists currently see cyclists as a nuisance, it seems Greater Manchester transport chiefs have finally recognised the need for a shift in attitude – and though the city still has some way to go before it reaches Amsterdam levels of bike friendliness, things are starting to improve. Plans are afoot to get three times as many Mancunians on to their bikes over the next 12 years as part of the Velocity 2025 bid, which aims to tap into national funding to create a much-needed new network of cycle routes linking homes, jobs and leisure venues, and consultations about transforming Manchester's busiest cycle route, Oxford Road, with segregated cycle lanes are also currently underway. “Cycling is good for you, good for your wallet and good for the world,” comments councillor Andrew Fender, chair of the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee.
The official movement towards providing a better network is encouraging, but only echoes work that community groups have been pushing for a while; and there are a growing number of initiatives in the Northwest to support cyclists into the saddle and raise confidence among those on the roads. Voluntary groups and small enterprises share bike maintenance skills and, last year, having realised there was a need for secure, low-cost bicycle storage in Manchester, social entrepreneur Dipak Patel set up Popup Bikes (popupbikes.co.uk) in a railway arch on Corporation Street. As well as being a safe place to keep bikes, Popup Bikes offers affordable repairs and incorporates a coffee shop hosting events such as bike jumble sales and film screenings, and is fast becoming “the social glue for the cycling community,” says Patel; “a place where people can meet and exchange stories and talk about cycling and non-cycling issues.”
Sociability is an important part of the cycling experience, and organised groups provide safety in numbers for those who might otherwise feel discouraged from taking to two wheels. One such group is TeamGlow (teamglow.net), which was set up in 2011 to provide a supportive network for female cyclists across Manchester and the Northwest, who often lack visibility and find it hard to feel included in the male-dominated cycling community. As well as providing advice on everything from buying a decent bike to cycle maintenance and building up technique and skills, TeamGlow hosts at least one organised ride a weekend, from short rides to long distance tours, and members are encouraged to challenge themselves to venture further. “I went from feeling like an isolated woman on a bike to being part of a group of women,” explains TeamGlow founder Glynis Francis. “I wanted to leave cycling for women in a better place than I found it, and see other women have the pleasure of a social cycle ride and fresh air.”
Manchester Bike Month offers ample opportunities to team up with other likeminded cyclists, whether taking on a long distance challenge such as Manchester to Chester (leaving Platt Fields Park, 23 Jun) or chilling at a film night (Popup Bikes, 15 Jun). Other highlights include a unicycle taster session (The Yard Theatre, 13 Jun) and even a bike naked ride (All Saints Park, 14 Jun). Let's hope it's warmed up by the time of that last one.