Manchester to Macclesfield: Traffic Free

I have been looking for a way to make my regular journey from Macclesfield back to Manchester without having to ride on the excessively fast road route, the speed and volume of traffic prevent the road route from being enjoyable and the speed of the traffic effectively means I have to ride faster too, which is tiring and prevents me from being able to ride this route with most other people.
The Middlewood way offers a traffic-free route from the centre of Macclesfield to Marple near Stockport. The only problem with this is that the most direct road from Marple to Manchester is particularly hilly, has a high volume of fast traffic, parked cars and HGVs thanks to the nearby situation of Offerton Sand and Gravel LTD. However, a canal does head North from Marple, eventually meeting the Ashton canal near Ashton town centre. This then leads back to Manchester city centre, ending near Manchester Piccadilly railway station.

The route is mostly very nice, except for a few less appealing sections, particularly near the Ashton end of the Ashton-Marple section of canal. When studying the map, there are a few sections where the canal cannot be seen on this map, heading from Ashton to Marple, the first of these is a long tunnel where a towpath is provided. The second is a tunnel which requires a detour, which is roughly drawn on the map. The route ends at Macclesfield Tesco, the railway station is not far from there and could be walked if preferred. Just across the road from Macclesfield Station is The Waters Green Tavern which I would recommend due to its decent selection of cask ales and Belgian beers. If any of you do try the route I have provided, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.


Towpath Closure Mystery Solved

I managed to get a decent amount of time out of the bike yesterday. Before leaving the city centre, I bumped into LC and Northwest Is Best who were taking pictures for their new joint project. I cycled into the city with LC who was on her Pashley, Vita. We cycled through the newly re-designed junction on Booth Street East, which seems to have been re-designed with the aim of decreasing cyclist safety and discouraging cycling.

When the weather is nice, I usually travel to Rochdale by riding to Failsworth and then continuing along the canal. As the weather was so nice, and the traffic so bad, I decided to get onto the Rochdale canal in the city centre and use it all the way. This goes through some of the less bike-friendly parts of the route and some of the more dilapidated parts of Manchester, but was still fairly pleasant.

I had previously spotted that a section of the Rochdale canal towpath was closed, at the time it seemed to be for no apparent reason.

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The beginning of the closed section. Yes I am riding the towpath on a Brompton

The crushed gravel surface is new. This section of the canal had previously been nothing more than a narrow rut in the earth, forming one of the two sections of the route which were essentially impassable after rainfall.

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The work has not yet finished, the crushed gravel path ends abruptly and the old path can be seen continuing on.

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Further on some of the groundwork had been completed but the crushed gravel surface has not yet been put down.

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The crushed gravel path returns a bit further along, suggesting that this whole section of canal will have a lovely new path.

The fun wasn’t over yet though, as I reached Sandbrook Park, I noticed my steering was off and looked down to see a front wheel puncture, the first front wheel puncture I’ve had in my entire life. Luckily I had a spare tube, unluckily my mini-pump is Presta only, and Brompton-sized tubes are generally Schraeder. I later managed to borrow a pump and get the bike into good shape for my ride home later that evening (On-road, via Oldham to avoid the ups and downs).

Vehicular cycling can be nice when there are no other vehicles on the road.

Saturday Out

I found myself at a bit of a loose end today, it was cold outside but cold inside my flat too, so I decided to go out on the bike to get warm. Heading towards town I decided to get onto the Ashton canal.

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I was intending to turn off the canal and head to the Debdale end of the Fallowfield Loop but when I got to the turn I remembered the pick and mix stall in Ashton and decided to continue. The below zero temperature meant the towpath was frozen solid and quite rideable.

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A section of canal had been drained for maintenance, and there were several anti-cyclist, anti-wheelchair barriers, but otherwise the ride was easygoing and pleasant.

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This route would have been impassable on the Yuba Mundo, which is a shame.

I took the same route home and decided to turn off onto the Fallowfield Loop seeing as I was enjoying my ride. As LC recently posted, the Loop is looking very nice in the frosty weather:

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I also saw some interesting political graffiti near Sainsbury’s in Fallowfield:

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I covered a good 40 km and managed not to break a sweat or generate a thirst due to the cold. This kind of weather is great for just getting out there and having an explore by bike.

Finally, I saw this saddle. It seems that some cyclists have had issues with “Fake gel.” The manufacturers of this saddle apparently wanted to alleviate customers’ concerns:

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The Quiet Route

After my recent post about cycling to Rochdale during rush hour I found myself needing to return to Rochdale once again.  This time it was a Sunday however, and the weather had been dry for about a week.  As many of you will know, leaving the Manchester in most directions is at least slightly uphill.  Oldham Road is no exception, forming a long but gentle climb until you reach Oldham.  On this day however, the slight incline was also supplemented by a strong head-wind and by the time I reached Failsworth I decided to take refuge on the Rochdale canal.  Things began to look up immediately after that.

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The ride was very pleasant after this point, with the trees and hedges along the canal providing escape from the wind.  Due to the dry weather, I was able to get to Rochdale in a time comparable to my previous road trip.  I made the return trip via the same route later.  The ride back is even better because all of the locks are heading downhill.  When I re-joined the road at Failsworth, amazingly the wind was now in my favour.  This combined with the slight slope and a bit of luck with the traffic lights allowed me to maintain a solid 45-50 km.h-1 (30 mph) for around 4 minutes without even feeling put-out by it.  It was the first time I have managed to spin out on the Tourist, an extra gear would have allowed me to go even faster.  I got some curious looks from motorists as I comfortably cruised along at the same speed as them.

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I took this shot of my shadow as I was nearing home in the late afternoon sun.  I was reminded of it by a recent post on A Grim North.  When the weather permits, this is the best way to cycle to Rochdale.

Sky Ride Sunday 1st August

I went to Sky Ride in Manchester last year.  You may think it is an overly sanitised corporate affair, and it is.  It was also actually quite fun to see much of the city centre closed to motor traffic (as it probably should be anyway) and see plenty of people on bikes who probably haven’t been on a bike in years.  If you can cope with some occasionally gruellingly slow riding and are prepared for the extreme inexperience of some of the other riders, I’d advise giving it a go.  If you are an inexperienced rider you may get even more out of the experience.

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This is the route plan for the 2010 Sky Ride.  It differs from last year’s route, which is nice.  It is unfortunate that Sky have chosen to make helmets mandatory for minors for this event, it seems counter-productive to force children to wear helmets whilst telling them how safe and great cycling is.  At least the rest of us are free to choose.

Alternatively there is Critical Mass two days before.

Alternative Route Into Manchester

I wanted to pop into the city centre today but I wasn’t in a rush.  I ended up at the Whalley Range High School, with the intention to go onto the Fallowfield Loop to Chorlton, take Seymore Grove to Old Trafford and use the Ship Canal to get into the centre.  At the school I decided instead to follow a sign indicating a Sustrans route to Manchester.  I rode down a residential street for a while with no indication to turn off and eventually ended up in Alexandra Park. 

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I saw another sign and followed it, and a series of subsequent signs around an odd and indirect route through the park which led me out onto a side street parallel to Princess Road (not the most bike friendly road around).  There was another sign which led me onto Moss Lane West, I followed.  This was the last sign I saw.  Eventually I ended up in Chorlton, at Seymore Grove as i had originally planned.  These signs are a good idea in theory; directing cyclists who want an alternative to the main routes to lesser-known back-street routes.  They always seem to fall apart by only being partially signed, which is even worse when you consider that the signs’ main target market are newer cyclists.

Still, I found a park I didn’t know about, and managed to add about 12 km onto the direct route.  I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story:

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Hydes Brewery on Moss Lane West.  I would recommend the brewery tour here, at the end they teach you how to pull a pint of cask ale and then leave you to it for an hour or so.

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Classically bad cycle infrastructure at Old Trafford, cycle lane ends at a pinch point caused by a traffic island.

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A lovely folding Raleigh Twenty “Stowaway,” locked by its front wheel only, due to badly-conceived bike parking facilities at The Lowry Outlet Mall.

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Next to it a Pashley Princess and another less elegant bike locked-up together.  Could this be LC and PB visiting the Lowry Mall?

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Smashed bottle in segregated cycle lane near Castlefield.  Oddly it is a Strathmore water bottle, rather than booze.

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More motorised carnage on the roads just off the A57(M).  Hope everyone is alright.

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Parked up outside the railway arches at UMIST.  Good spot to park up if getting a train at Piccadilly due to CCTV and university security staff nearby.

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Interesting single-speed Kona I have seen around town a few times.

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Another bicycle route signpost on Whitworth Street showing Piccadilly station to the left of the sign, with Piccadilly Station itself visible at the end of the street.

In the end I managed to extend the 4 km round trip into town to 23 km, partly with the help of Sustrans signposting, partly because sometimes its just nice to have a wander around on the bike.

8000 km

Yesterday my odometer rolled around to 8000 km (~5000 miles).  I got my odometer in September 2008, meaning I have done 8000 km on the bike in just under two years.  In September 2009 I had done ~3200 km so I have really managed to use the bike a lot more in my second year of odometer ownership.  Those who cycle in competitions and train hard probably rack up 2 or 3 times as much distance, but I don’t cycle competitively or train for rides, almost all of my riding is for transport.  I’m quite pleased.  Pleased enough to use a map tool to draw a radius of 8000 km around Manchester:

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I passed the 8000 km mark on a leisure ride with friends from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester along the Rochdale canal, with a few stops at pubs including the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms in Sowerby Bridge, The Golden Lion in Todmorden, The Red Lion in Littleborough, The Slip Inn in Milnrow and The Ship Inn just outside of Castleton.  I hadn’t done much drinking and trail cycling before but the one thing I have learned is that when you are exercising the alcohol has a much reduced effect than when enjoyed as part of an evening sat in a pub.  At the end of the ride I felt like I hadn’t had any alcohol at all, possibly due to the increased metabolic rate from exercise.  It was a very pleasant ride, coming in at around 68 km, which I did on my Raleigh Tourist.  If it can be done on the Tourist it can be enjoyed by anyone with a similar bike, such as a Pashley.

Ashton

Today I went to Ashton-Under-Lyne.  Ashton is one of the towns in the periphery of Manchester, probably one of the closest at around 12 km out from the city centre.  The fairly short distance combined with the fact that it is largely downhill into Manchester would make Aston ideal for commuting into Manchester from, an easy ride in (mostly downhill) for when you are feeling less motivated (on the way to work) and slightly uphill on the way back (but at least you’re going home).  The reason I went to Ashton is the market stall “Sweets of Yesteryear” who sell pick and mix of nice quality and a good range for about half of what you would pay in the city centre.  The road to Ashton (Ashton old Road) isn’t that bad to cycle on for a fairly busy A road, I think there was the odd bit of painted on bike road but nothing consistent.  At Snipe retail park I turned left onto Lord Sheldon Way, a recently (ish) built dual carriageway leading to Ashton Moss leisure park and IKEA and then the town centre.  lord Sheldon Way had some particularly useless cycle infrastructure:

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The cycle lane is on the pavement, raised off the road.  This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the bike path had the same priorities as the road it is a part of.

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At this traffic signal, cyclists are expected to go left, stop, use the pedestrian crossing and then re-join the rest of the road where the path continues.  It gave me the distinct impression that the lanes were painted on as an afterthought when they realised the pavements were slightly wider than usual.  Surely its not too big of an ask to have the bike lane go straight along the road with anyone wanting to turn left having to give way to the traffic in the bike lane.  That is how they do it in countries which don’t actively discourage cycling like we do.  There were about 5 of these civil engineering failures along the length of the road.  I am only thankful for the fact that facilities such as these remain optional in this country, you can just use the road instead.  Still its a shame to see an opportunity missed, and money thrown away.  The roundabout at the end of the road used a similar arrangement for the bike lane, but by this point it had long been abandoned in favour of the road.

Once in Ashton, the search for bike parking began.  There are a number of multi-storey car parks in Ashton but a long search revealed only two bike parking stands

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The people of Ashton interpret the meaning of bike parking quite loosely.

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After buying copious quantities of sweets, the decision was made to have lunch at Ashton Moss, a leisure park containing several restaurants, a cinema and bowling lanes.  Ashton Moss is owned by the property developer King Sturge, a rather large company, and despite the fact that it was 2-3 km out of Ashton town centre 9easily cycle-able by a novice), provided hundreds of car parking spaces and was surrounded by the attempted bike infrastructure discussed above, there were no bike parking facilities at all.  I was genuinely surprised, I didn’t expect anything good, maybe just those wall mounted locking points which are great if you really love your front or back wheel but are not too fussy about keeping the rest of your bike, but there was nothing.  Quite unbelievable in 2010.

Anyway, Ashton is nice for the sweets, not so nice for the bike infrastructure.

Places to cycle in Manchester #1

For those of a nervous disposition with regards to road cycling, the Fallowfield Loop offers a reasonably long traffic-free cycleway.  Stretching from Chorlton (near Morrisons) to Debdale Reservoir via Fallowfield and Highfield Country Park, the 13 km route is thought to be the longest urban cycleway in Britain.  At the Debdale terminus, a cycle-friendly path exists which ends at the Ashton Canal close to City of Manchester Stadium.  Conveniently from there on you can cycle along the towpath all the way to Piccadilly Railway Station in the city centre, offering a traffic free ride from Chorlton right into town (although it’s far from a direct route).

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The entrance to the cycleway at Fallowfield (heading to Chorlton).

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The beginning of the Fallowfield to Chorlton section of the route.

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Perhaps the only downside to using the cycleway is these metal speed traps every few hundred metres.  I assume they are there to prevent people using motorbikes, but you could still get a motorbike up to a fair old speed in the gaps between them.  In practise they just make cycling on a proper bike less fun.

I’d still thoroughly recommend having a bash on the old Fallowfield Loop though.