28th Bike Ride report in full




Once again, dear readers and supporters, it is my pleasure to lay before you the stirring tale of how I overcame huge odds and dangers to complete my 28th consecutive Manchester to Blackpool Bike Ride. Listen it's my story and I'll exaggerate if I want to! This being the 28th time I've done this one could, if one was being generous, call me dedicated and courageous, or as I suspect most people would feel ,that I was off my rocker! For those of you new to Three Owls and to my cycling saga on the charity's behalf, I should perhaps take a few moments to briefly explain how I came to be doing it in the first place. Twenty eight years ago I suddenly, without warning, found that one of my knees was swollen and extremely painful- the phrase frying an egg on its surface springs to mind! I consulted my doctor, also a keen cyclist, who prescribed anti-inflammatories. These didn't have much effect unfortunately, and I sorted he condition out with some capsules contained green lipped Mussel extract from New Zealand. At the same time, by sheer coincidence, I saw some information about the annual bike ride, then in it’s, I think, third year, and for some insane reason decided that I should use the knee more or lose the mobility in it. Upon announcing my intention to cycle over sixty miles, with a still slightly dodgy knee, my doctor felt, quite reasonably, that I was off my trolley! 


I assured him that I would take all reasonable precautions, and if would drop out if I couldn't complete the distance without doing damage to myself. Of course I hoped he was wrong but only time would tell. The first ride was a real eye opener, with a mass start of several hundred riders from the Town Hall square in Manchester, and the first twenty minutes were considerably more dangerous than the rest of the trip! I survived and finished the ride, with my knee in good condition, and, as they say the rest is history.


The ride seemed to come round very quickly this year, and as in most other years, my pre-ride preparations were almost nil. I didn't spend hours building up my stamina or honing my body to a state of perfection (that would take a lot longer than the available time!), and while I know there will be many who will say this is a totally wrong way to prepare and a terrible example to others, I can only say that I agree with you, but it seems to work for me! I tend to spend much more time on my trusty steed's preparation, since, without it I'm dead in the water, and I do at least want to have taken every precaution against mechanical failure. Stripped down, thoroughly greased and oiled, I then turned my attention to the bike-just kidding. The sight of me stripped down, greased and oiled would be too much for most people to stomach, including me! My bike is a Peugeot Prologue, which was purchased a long time ago and has been a very good servant over the years. The tyres were in pretty good condition, not having had a lot of wear in the intervening twelve months, but I thought I would change the back one for a new one, which I got from Halfords in Bury. It was a perfectly good tyre, but I also saw a Gatorskin brand one which was more expensive and supposedly very puncture resistant. I splashed out on this one and changed the tyre yet again. I’ve had a pretty good record for punctures in previous years, and reasoned that if I took every precaution I could get away with it again this time. Getting an early night on the Saturday before the ride (much to the disgust of my two rescue rabbits, who had to go to bed earlier than usual!),I got everything prepped for the next morning and got up at 3.30am, allowing enough time to eat and feed the animals before I left.


I left the house at 4.30, in the early morning light and set off for the start in Manchester at the Imperial War Museum on Salford Quays. This isn't the easiest place to find if you don't live in Manchester, and adds both time and distance to the ride. Oh for the days of starting from Albert Square! With almost no traffic and a fine morning, the ride was very pleasant, and as I always do, I treated the eleven miles as a warm-up to ease any muscles into the routine again after the time out of the saddle. A few minutes out of the city centre, I felt the awful rumbling sensation from the back wheel which told me I had a puncture! This has never happened before the start in all the time I've been doing the ride, and as you can imagine I was not best pleased! I got the wheel and tyre off and quickly put a new inner tube in place(Top tip-always carry at least one on a ride).I carried on and arrived at the start in time to get a photo with my yellow suited friend 'The Voice of the Ride’. We’ve been doing this every year since I can remember, and he gave me a mention regarding it being my 28th.


After last minute checks to the brakes, tyres(especially the back one!), etc, I was poised for the off, and to the rousing cheers of at least  three bystanders we surged over the start line at 6.30 am and started on the road to adventure and Salford! I should have known it was going too well, and five minutes into the ride, still in Salford, the back tyre deflated again! I could barely believe it and with a very heavy heart upended the bike and removed the wheel, tyre and inner tube-again. Those riders amongst you will know all about mending punctures, and doing it at home is relatively simple, because with the aid of a bucket or a sink full of water, it’s easy to find the leak by the stream of bubbles issuing from it. Unfortunately one doesn’t have a bucket of water by the roadside, and it's necessary to either find the hole visually, listen for the leak or pass the tube over the tongue to detect the stream of air issuing from the tyre. The problem arises when the air is coming out faster than you are pumping it in, because the tube doesn't stay up long enough to detect anything! At this point I had a sinking feeling in the stomach, very low morale, and a fear that if I couldn't find the leak, my ride would be over before it had even started. While I was searching for the hole, a rider drew up and asked if everything was OK.I appreciated the thought, but was somewhat distracted by the fact that he was wearing a bright pink feather boa around his neck! 


This Mancunian extrovert chatted for a few minutes and left me with the parting advice 'Don't forget to pump it up!' What I felt like replying is not fit to be printed here and would be an affront to the delicate ears of our readership-suffice it to say  it would have been along the lines of I’m glad you told me that..I would never have worked it out for myself!'


I did locate the puncture site and was applying a patch when a middle aged rider pulled up and asked if he could help. He actually left me with a spare inner tube which he'd put a patch on previously, and I would not only like to take the opportunity to thank here but would be delighted to get him a new tube to replace this one if he reads this and gets in touch. It’s so important to stop and offer help on occasions like this, as the rider may be inexperienced or may not even have a puncture repair kit or a spare tube. We all need a bit of help sometimes, and you never know when your turn will occur.


I put the tube back on the wheel, reinstated the all singing and dancing resistant tyre (which I had frankly lost a lot of faith in at this point), and got ready to hit the road again, with a certain amount of trepidation. As I followed my two concerned fellow riders down the road, I noticed a trail of bright pink feathers blowing in the breeze, and concluded that either the owner was moulting or leaving a trail for me to follow!


Before too long the short hill leading up to the entrance to Haigh Hall came in sight, and I dismounted halfway up the hill to save my energy(well I am officially a pensioner now you know!),pushing the bike over the infamous cobbles at the entrance itself. From bitter experience I can tell you that even the best padded saddle, underwear and shorts are no match for rock hard Lancashire cobbles, and I didn't want to be sporting a surgical support for the rest of the ride!


The downhill road which winds through Haigh Hall is a great opportunity to relax and stop pedalling for a few minutes, but can be treacherous in wet weather, when the bends catch out the unwary speed merchants who find that centrifugal force and a tree trunk are not a good combination for a cyclist and his bike! We reached the rest and refuelling point at the central building complex, and I took the opportunity to make use of one of the row of portaloos before carrying on. Without going into too much detail and putting anyone off their sandwiches, I left Haigh Hall considerably lighter than when I arrived! One of the loos bore a striking resemblance to Dr.Who's 'Tardis', being blue and rather phone box-like, and my sad imagination could see a rider going in, only to find when they emerged that due to inter galactic teleportation, that it was actually next year's ride1 As far as I know this didn't happen. It was good to have a break and stretch the legs for a while, as well as take some food and drink on board for the next stage, but I only ever have about half an hour's rest since it not only eats into your ride time, but to be truthful it makes it very hard to get back on the bike if you rest for too long!


Checking the tyres before setting off, I started out of the park and stopped for a few minutes to talk to Darran from Pilkingtons Cycles, who was manning a maintenance and repair station by the road side. I hadn't seen him for a while, and he was pleased to see me still riding the Peugeot Prologue cycle he sold me quite a number of years ago. I bought a spare inner tube just to be on the safe side, in view of the previous events, but in the end didn't need it for the rest of the trip. It’s always sensible to have at least one spare tube on a long ride, plus of course a puncture repair kit and the tools to take the tyre off if you need to.


The next stage of the journey lay towards Standish, Chorley, Leyland and Preston, the next rest stop for me at least, and by now it was a really lovely day. I was riding better than I expected, and was trying to make up time after previous delays. I arrived at Haigh Hall at 9.20 and left at 9.55, a bit later than last year when I arrived at 9.00am, but was still happy with progress so far. Thankfully the bike was running well, and I even passed a few other riders! It’s amazing what you hear when passing or being passed by other riders, and of course the snatches of conversation are often disjointed and don't make sense, but are sometimes very funny. As an example I quote the following .I  passed a group of riders standing by the side of the road, and one of their number, in a rather high pitched and pained voice, exclaimed ' It’s burning!'


Now after many miles in the saddle, there are any things which could be burning, but I leave that up to the imagination of my readers, since I wouldn't dream of lowering the tone of this report! Another group of riders who were behind me for a while were exchanging witty repartee while pedalling, and one of their number suddenly let out a loud and prolonged theatrical braying laugh which seemed to last forever. It was like being followed by a large 'Laughing Bag' on wheels and I wasn't sorry when they overtook me.


After a series of roundabouts, we embarked on the very long straight section of carriageway which leads, eventually, into Preston Docks area, and knowing how energy sapping this section is from previous rides; I just put my head down and pedalled steadily, without thinking too much about the distance. If you do it seems to take even longer believe me! Thankfully it was a lovely day with a light breeze and not the wind and horizontal rain of some years, when the legs seem to lock up, and every rotation of the wheels is hard work.


Eventually we reached the end of the stretch and pulled onto the road by the side of Preston Docks. At 11.40 I stopped and took a needed break and a sit down, leaving at 12.05 for the final leg to Blackpool. This wends its way through some lovely lanes with high hedges and fields on either side, and little villages and small groups of houses. The sun was warm, the sky was blue and I was thinking how lucky I was to be able to do this     when so many people would love to but couldn't because of ill health or infirmity. We do take our health for granted all too often, and it's only when it stops us in our tracks that we realise what a precious gift it is.


The route runs through Kirkham and Wharton and joins the coastal road leading into Lytham St.Annes and Blackpool, and at this point I take a deep breath, grit my teeth (yes I actually have most of my own teeth!) and hope that the onshore wind isn't too strong. In some previous years it has actually been so strong that I've made better progress walking than riding, especially along the long 'Green' section where the famous white windmill is situated.


Thankfully this time was one of the better years, and we only had a light breeze to contend with, which was actually quite cooling. This is another 'head down and press on' section which seems to take forever, especially when one is tired, but this time wasn't so bad, and we were soon onto the sand dune section just prior to turning off to the finish line. Amazingly, I'd kept out of trouble all the way in terms of cars and other riders, but on this section a woman motorist who clearly couldn’t drive, pulled in front of myself and another rider to park by the side of the road. She came in at the wrong angle and stopped dead ahead of us with the back end of the vehicle forming a roadblock! Thankfully I braked in time, since I had a bad feeling about the car, but it could easily have been more serious. I believe I said 'Deary me you appear to need further instruction in parking madam!’, or possibly words to that effect!


Along this section I was riding, for a time, behind a family of two children and three adults. The children, a boy and girl of around twelve or thirteen I would guess, were a real credit to their parents, and the young lad turned at one point and said 'Well done!' Perhaps I looked as if I needed encouragement or he thought I was about to collapse, but it was nice of him anyway and I returned to compliment.

It's rather sad that the children who have manners and a decent attitude tend to stand out now, rather than being the norm, but credit where it's due.


I turned onto the section of Promenade closed to traffic, and tried to put on a belated sprint over the finish line as the cheering crowds loomed up ahead. I could see The Voice of The Ride in his commentary box to the left of the line and managed to catch his eye this year, unlike last year when he was looking the wrong way! He spotted me and shouted ''There's my friend who's doing this for the 28th time, he’s probably the oldest rider in the event.'

I was about to take issue with his when he corrected himself and said 'well perhaps not the oldest but the one who's ridden it the most times!' I didn't mind that one, because it's probably true, but since Bike Events records don't go back to the earliest rides, I can't prove it beyond doubt.


Grabbing my certificate, bottle of water and Soreen bar (in the good old days before the recession it used to be a whole loaf!), I took a quick breather and rode off to meet a friend at the Pleasure Beach. He’d offered to come through for the day and give me a lift home in his vehicle. Probably the first time in 28 years I haven't gone back in the coach with the bike in a lorry following behind.


After a relaxing break ,a walk and something to eat, we set off for home, after what had been a great day in the sun, and since I finished at 2.04 pm, only seven minutes after my 2016 time, I was well pleased with the performance. I later found that some 4,500 riders had taken part, give or take a few. I had covered, according to my cycle clock, some 78.9 miles, taking everything into account.


I hope you have found this account interesting and perhaps amusing, and would like to thank everyone who supported me so generously last year. Three Owls continues to provide help and advice to the public as well as to develop the Reserves for the benefit of the wildlife we all love, and any help you can give this year will be much appreciated. With luck I'll be back to do it all over again next year, and until then goodbye and thanks for reading this.



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