Push Left, Push Right: Liverpool by Bike

One writer celebrates Bike Week by letting herself go in Liverpool’s urban landscape: from brushes with road rage and unlikely characters to unfettered freedom, no route is ever the same

Feature by Natalie Hughes | 17 Jun 2013
  • Biking

Push left, push right, push left, push right, zone out. Tune in to yourself and empty your mind. Focus only on the sight ahead – the one you’re gliding into at 20mph, a fluorescent sunset so intense it makes silhouettes of the old brick warehouses that flank Liverpool’s docks. You contemplate what it must have been like way back when, when the buildings you’re cycling past were packed full of all kinds of necessary produce. Now the area is desolate with a stillness that allows you to imagine a different era. No matter how hard you pedal, you’re slower here.

It’s a different day, but it’s the same route and the wind is up, channeled by the tall buildings like a battering ram into my line of cycle. It forces me to a snail’s pace of 9mph as I battle against an invisible wall and the grit being thrown up into my face: I’m pushing through, but I have to get away; it’s too much of a struggle.

On the Strand, a white van whizzes past, too close and through a set of red lights, prompting me to shout a series of expletives that only seem to occur to me when I’m on my bike. This machine brings out the be(a)st and worst in me. As I finish my tirade of abuse – which receives no attention at all – the wind gives me a proverbial two fingers via an almighty gust that pushes me across two lanes of the road: it’s time to get off and walk, I’ve been beaten. If I believed in gods, I’d imagine them laughing at me for thinking that I could compete – but I don’t, so I zip up my jacket and head further into the city for shelter.

I find myself outside Duke St Espresso: always quiet, it guarantees a great brew, and is one of the few places where my Lycras provoke only a minimal amount of smirks. I hide here until the wind dies down enough for a cycle home. Back on the bike, I pass the Chinese supermarket on Upper Duke street: I spot a man sat cross legged on the pavement, wearing a suit and rubbing his stomach while patting his head: he looks ecstatic. It’s 3.30pm on a Monday.

Now it’s a hot summer’s afternoon: I’ve filled my water bottle, stuck a tenner into the back pocket of my shorts, found my keys (on the floor, covered by a sock, underneath my bed), and turned off my mobile. I’ve decided to cycle to Hale and back, via Woolton, the old airport, Friends kebab shop and Bargain Booze: nothing is going to disturb me. This route, a 25-miler, takes you out of Liverpool’s urban sprawl into the countryside and along winding B-roads marked by green hedgerows and fields of yellow rapeseed crop flowers.

This is cycling, and it’s how I’ve come to know Liverpool: I’ve discovered it on my own terms and under my own steam, which has allowed me to develop a unique and deeply personal relationship with the area. Though you ride your favourite routes over and over again, it’s different every time. You cycle past a building, a fence or a road sign – a marker you use – remembering the last time you passed that place: maybe the wind was up and it was a fight, or perhaps it had been so fast and smooth you’d been able to lose yourself in the rhythm of the pedal and let your mind wander. Each spot is ingrained with past achievements and struggles: these roads are yours in a way they’re no one else’s.

Bike Week, 15-23 Jun, nationwide http://www.bikeweek.org.uk