My first visit to Manchester in 2003 was less than thrilling and I’ll admit my relationship with the city didn’t get off to the best start. Much like Glasgow, I found it full of oppressively red brick Victorian buildings, difficult to navigate, and rainy. I’d been living in Edinburgh for the last several months and much preferred the city’s medieval and Georgian architecture, which was far less stifling.
Time passed, I ended up in Liverpool and started to make the jaunt up the M62 more regularly. The city grew on me; I began to find my way around the city centre and get to know outlying areas like Stockport and Chorlton. I know my way around the tram network and the odd bus route. The galleries and museums intrigued and impressed me, as did the biannual Manchester International Festival. I have some wonderful friends scattered around the area, so I enjoy spending time there when I get the chance.
On the last weekend of good weather in May, I was staying with a good friend who is also a keen cyclist and told me about the Brompton Dock bike rental scheme at Piccadilly station. She’d already picked up a bike for a week’s trial and it sounded like a pretty good way to hire a bike for a few days and explore the city on two wheels. It’s really easy to use; create an account online, decide which membership plan you want to pay for (trial, occasional or frequent rider) and enter your mobile number so you can receive access codes to the lockers. The trial membership is only £10 for a week’s rental, which is by far the cheapest way to rent a bike in Manchester. It’s a lot easier to use than the Boris bikes in London, which required a card with chip and PIN to rent one, last time I was there. Meaning of course that a pretty big group of tourists is excluded from turning up and renting a bike. Visitors from non-C&P countries can use Brompton Dock provided they have a UK mobile number. You can reserve a bike online or via text and then you get an access code to open the designated locker. There are instructions on the lockers on how to fold and unfold the bikes as well as demo videos online. Not being mechanically minded I wasn’t sure how easy it would be, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.
The Brompton was easy to ride, very manoeuverable and light. I had no trouble getting it on and off the tram or getting it indoors when needed. It’s great on paved surfaces, but you’re going to feel it on cobblestones as there’s nothing to absorb the shocks. The saddle is the only real drawback; we agreed that it was not comfortable, it’s somewhat narrow and doesn’t have much in the way of padding. There’s a non-standard bolt securing it to the frame, so swapping it over for your another saddle isn’t an option.
So I have a fun little bike–what did I do with it?
On Friday, I joined my first Critical Mass ride–a monthly mass cycling event encouraging people of all ages and experience to get out and ride together through the city. The route is spontaneous, changing each time. The sunshine brought out about 150 riders to central Manchester’s and with such a large group no one was going to be setting any landspeed records, which suited me fine. The route rambled through the Northern Quarter and Great Ancoats Street before eventually turning south and finishing in Platts Fields Park, near the space run by bicycle co-operative Pedal Manchester. It was a lot of fun and we had a good chat with some fellow riders afterwards.
Sunday’s journey was the more sedate Gabardine Ride, which was something of a warm up for June’s Tweed Ride. Anyone who wished was welcome to put on some summer finery and meet in Albert Square for a leisurely ride towards Chorlton. Given that I was travelling out of a backpack, I pulled together an ensemble consisting of a top somewhere between a dress and a tshirt, leggings, and a pair of Campers that are half-brogue, half-trainer. With some borrowed pearls for that finishing touch.
There were about 10 of us in total, and their knowledge showed me parts of Manchester I would have never seen otherwise. We stopped at the Whitworth Art Gallery for some refreshment partway through; their cafe has garnered a fair bit of attention for its seasonal and locally sourced menu. I couldn’t resist a slice of deep dark chocolate cake to help fuel the remainder of the ride. Winding through Moss Side, Fallowfield and taking in some lovely shaded cycle paths, we arrived in Chorlton for a quick pint in the sun at The Beech Inn’s beer garden. Chorlton is one of my favourite towns in the north and its village green was a happening place with a family-friendly festival in full swing as we biked past. Word of another cycle group at Jackson’s Boat pub near Sale got us back on our bikes and following part of the Mersey river near the Sale Water Park. It was really tranquil and felt worlds away from Manchester city centre.
Eventually it was time to head back to the city and we were guided to Stretford tram station by a local rider. It was easy to get the Bromptons on and off the trams and then return mine to the dock at Piccadilly.
It was a fantastic weekend to explore Manchester by bike. Cycle events take place across the city regularly and if you want to find out more, the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign is a good place to start.