Thoughts from the saddle: Lessons from a (cyclist) virgin
At 24, for the first time in my adult life, I have my own pair of wheels (without stabilisers). As soon as I arrived in Manchester I initially intended to get a bike. The city’s flat terrain and middling size make it a biking utopia. However, as Manchester descended sharply into a cold, wet winter, I quickly bought a bus pass. Frustrated by too many evenings spent in snail-paced processions down the Curry Mile, my ambition was renewed for the second semester, and I found myself a bicycle.
As the days get warmer and longer, spring is the perfect time to get back on the bike. But for my fellow Manchester cycling newbies, I must impart the following lessons:
Lesson one: Oxford Road is a Minefield
However confident you may feel flying down to uni at breakneck speed, the Curry Mile and Oxford Road are not the place to get your Chris-Hoy-on. The bike lane shares space with the pavement at times and daydreaming pedestrians with an unconscious death wish will step into your path without looking. Keep your wits about you and exercise patience – smugly sounding your bell to clear the way.
Lesson two: You will get wet
The weather in Manchester is as fickle as it is awful. You will head out to town on a rare sunny morning, and by lunchtime be trapped by a torrential downpour. Everyone knows this, but it is especially important to consider when heading out on a bike when the bus back is not an option. Never head out without a raincoat – whatever the forecasts say. I’ve gone so far as to acquire some pack-away waterproof trousers, which look a bit Bear Grylls, but are a necessary last resort if the skies turn apocalyptic.
Lesson three: Know where you’re at
For the cartographically inclined, Transport for Manchester have a map of all the cycling routes in this city. Standouts include the transpennine trail, which stretches across the North of England, or the Fallowfield Loop which will take you from Fallow to Chorlton. Others may prefer to follow their intuition. I found out that my own inner compass was a little faulty when I attempted to cycle to the Halfords in Stockport to acquire some safety gear. I got lost in the leafy labyrinthine suburbs of South Manchester, and what Google Maps said would take 20 minutes, took over an hour.
Lesson four: Choose your ride wisely
Though the idea of being able to go cross country will appeal to a niche crowd, a heavy mountain bike will slow you down. Road bikes are far quicker but the drop handles can take some getting used to. Goldilocks would go for a hybrid or commuter bike, which combines a light frame with flat handlebars – a balance of comfort and speed. Even though Manchester is flat, I still wouldn’t recommend a fixie or single speed bike – gears come in handy when encountering one of the city’s modest slopes.
Lesson five: Stayin’ alive
Understand that you share the road with the greatest killing machine on earth, the car. Road rage is rife in Manchester, and through no fault of your own, you can get knocked down. In fact, it happened to my housemate just the other week at a junction in Withington. Thankfully, after flying over the handlebars, he came away with not much more than a bad graze on his leg, though the bike was mangled beyond repair. So, to be blunt, wear a helmet. When riding in the evening, lights and high-vis are also wise – if you struggle with this on fashion grounds, consider it a throwback to 90’s rave culture. Get a sturdy D-lock and park in public spaces where whipping an angle grinder out from your back pocket would look most suspect.
Let none of this dispirit you however, for we all know that cyclists hold moral authority over plodding pedestrians, lazy bus riders, and planet-killing motorists. And like me, you can use your newfound mode of transport as a replacement for your lack of any real personality.