The report of the 2022 Manchester to Blackpool Bike Event by John Thorpe.

July 11, 2022


I'm sure the majority of you will be delighted to hear that I survived the annual test of grit, tenacity and padded underwear, and am here to recount this tale of cycling derring-do for your delectation. As I am always at great pains to say, the opinions, comments and any controversial remarks are entirely my own, and are made without apology and are not necessarily the opinions of the Trustees of Three Owls. Anyone of a nervous or delicate disposition should perhaps read something more gentile or take a sedative prior to reading!


        As always, the event seems to roll around all too quickly, particularly so this year, and I realised only a week or so before the event that I needed to get my act together and my entry form filled in. First job was to check with my friend Les whether the date was convenient for him, since for the past few years he has been kind enough to meet me in Blackpool and transport myself and the trusty bike back to Bury. Fortunately it was fine, since his other half, a keen gardener was going to Birmingham on a horticultural related trip, so I did not need to book transport back with Bike Events. Not that I have any criticism of their facilities, it simply meant that the cost could be saved.


              Next job was to make sure that the cycle was fully functional and in running order. Since it is kept indoors and not used a huge amount, it does not suffer from the elements or excessive wear and tear. However it never does to be complacent and so everything was checked over. The main problem was the back tyre, which of course supports a lot of weight, with the rider and any 'luggage'. I had grown increasingly unhappy with the tyre I have used for the last two occasions, as I mentioned last year, and it's anti puncture capabilities were, I felt, somewhat overstated, given that I'd had several punctures to show for it.


       Although spending money is never something to be taken lightly nowadays, I enquired with the chaps at Halfords, and was recommended a super-dooper one which has a double skin, and came highly recommended by one of their very experienced customers. The price tag of thirty four pounds was a bit eye watering and I almost needed a lie down in a darkened room and liberal supplies of sedatives and Southern Comfort! However if it lasts and does the job it's an investment, and anything that can save time and effort on a long ride is worth it. It certainly had a decent amount of tread, something most of the other slimline tyres distinctly lack in my experience. 


        It does seem ironic that you have to pay more to get what you got as standard years ago-there's a moral there somewhere! Anyway the tyre was duly fitted and seemed fine, and the chain was lubricated with some stuff which I use on my motorcycle chain. The axles, which are so thin it's amazing they don't snap with  the pressure on them, were treated to a liberal application of silicone grease, which I picked up for a very nice price at the car boot sale. I didn't realise how costly it is normally until I did an online check, so had the immense satisfaction of getting a bargain and using the best!


                The day before the event I gave my rabbit, Robbie, as much time indoors as I could and had an early night, something I haven't done for a while I must admit. As I always do, I got his breakfast ready in advance, my own breakfast and the food for the tortoises, to save time in the morning, I gave the bike one last check and was glad I had done, since in my haste, I'd put the front wheel round the wrong way, and the little magnetic piece which helps the cycle computer to read the speed and various other calculations, was on the wrong side. Thankfully this was easily solved, but it only goes to show we can all make mistakes.


        Next morning I was up at 4.00 am and after doing everything necessary for the animals, left the house at 5.30, hoping that I didn't get any punctures on the way into Manchester. As always, this does allow me to relax and let the muscles get into a rhythm, and thankfully I had a trouble free ride, arriving at The Piazza at Salford Quays an hour later.


      There were already a few riders there as well, of course as the Bike events staff setting up the facilities for the start, which was due to be 7.30'ish.I asked whether my friend Rick, 'The Voice of the Ride' was around, but like last year he wasn't, and the staff member said they'd had complaints from the people who lived in the flats that there was too much noise with the commentary, so they couldn't use a microphone this early.


         It isn't the same without his brand of wit and deadpan humour, and it feels as if a bit of the fun has been eroded because of the location. I have to say that my own preference is for the car park at the Manchester United ground or the Town Hall Square.


              I had made a laminated sign with the words' 33 in a row', and managed to get one of the staff to pose with me for a piccie, so that there would be a record of the fact. Given that I don't know how long the event will continue into the future, I might be a bit premature in saying that this record is unlikely to be equalled or beaten, but I feel fairly confident in saying it anyway. Put another way of course, you could say that no one is going to be insane enough to put themselves through it every year for over thirty years, and perhaps that's a comment on their sensibility and my lack of it!


       I got talking to a group of Philippine riders who were doing the ride for the first time, and tried to pass on a few little tips and wrinkles I'd learned over the years. Nice bunch of lads who were obviously very proud of their homeland, as evidenced by the messages on their riding shirts. It does seem that the event is attracting a more diverse range of entrants than it used to, and while I have no time for the 'woke' obsession with diversity, it's no bad thing for the ride and its image.


                     After picking up my information pack and making a few last minute checks, (mainly were the tyres still inflated!), I joined the bunch of riders at the start and left at 7.15 am. Unbelievably my ride very nearly ended before it had started, since someone in a car parked by the side of the road, opened their door as I was riding past. The culprit was actually a rider, as evidenced by his clothing, and I pointed out how stupid his actions were - or words to that effect!


          As always it's a good idea to just settle down quietly in the early stages and not go too mad in wasting energy (especially when it's in short supply anyway!), and I settled down to set a steady pace which I hoped would allow me to get to the other end in one piece and with all my body parts still attached!


               As we negotiated several roundabouts, my mind went back to 2020, when I did it entirely alone and in the dark for the first hour or so. I managed to lose my bearings and waste precious time, and it did bring a sense of appreciation for the help the Marshalls and others give the riders in terms of direction and taking the worry of navigation off their shoulders. The route was pretty much the same as last year, and headed northwest through Salford and Astley Green, before swinging north through Leigh and Atherton and on to Westhoughton. About an hour into the journey I felt there was something not right with the front wheel, and pulled over to check it. Naturally I'd had a puncture, and thankfully had brought along several inner tubes ready to fit. I'm pretty good at this by now, but anyone who says they enjoy having punctures and taking wheels off on the road is a masochist! I only lost ten minutes thankfully, and carried on, but did note that several riders did ask whether I was OK- an improvement on last year when quite a few sailed by without bothering. It's not just a matter of  manners, but it could save someone a lot of time and stress, since not everyone is experienced, and many do not carry repair kits or spare tubes. Of course this is foolish on a long journey like this one, but as we all know, there are a lot of foolish people about.


           I certainly didn't agree with all John Wayne's statements or attitudes, away from the screen, but I did read a great quote, attributed to him which said; ' Life is hard - it's even harder when you're stupid!'


On the subject of great Wayne quotes, another one was uttered when he attended a university debating event, and was asked by one of the students if the hair on his head was real. He was quoted as saying 'It sure is son, it's not my hair but it's real hair!'


               It's a  strange feeling, probably only really appreciated by other experienced cyclists, that when you've had a puncture, you spend a lot of time 'feeling' the way the tyre runs on the road, as if you're expecting but not wanting another puncture. The weather had by now turned warmer, after a bit of a cloudy start, and looked set to be a good one. I always ride better when it's warm, since I feel so much better, and a good mental attitude is all important when you're exerting yourself like this. We arrived at the lovely country park Haigh Hall (pronounced 'Hay’), and I took a break from 9.50 to 10.20. It's so tempting to take longer, but there's still a long way to go, and given that, like many of us, I'm basically lazy and will take  the easy option of a rest if there's one going, I've learned over the years to be strict about this. Taking on fluid and food is important, especially on a hot day when perspiration is an issue, and I was tempted by a nearby ice cream van. I got a large tub with all the trimmings, and I have to say it was some of the nicest ice cream I have ever tasted. Made by Holden’s, it was home made, and it tasted like it- if anyone from Holden’s reads this I will accept a consignment of ice cream in return for the advertising if you're feeling so inclined!


                I also spotted of all things, an original Chopper bike, complete with high level handlebars and classic seat. I couldn't help being nosey and asked the man who was riding it whether it was comfortable over a long distance such as this. He said it was, and had had a few modifications, such as chain and gear set up. He had a shoulder problem in his left arm, and the handlebar set up meant he didn't have to lean forward and put strain on it. I've seen all sorts of bikes over the years, including a penny farthing on this year's event, but I don't think I've ever seen a Chopper before. The originals had a gear stick on the frame forward of the seat, which was revolutionary at the time, but unfortunately caused several injuries to the nether regions of riders if they braked suddenly and shot forward onto it!.Later models left out the gear lever, which was a great relief for all young riders!


      There was also a father and daughter taking part. He'd done it for around fifteen years but this was her first attempt, and I thought what a great test of character for her, and something to remember, even if she never does it again. Kids are far too mollycoddled now, in my opinion, and it would be a great way to teach her independence and a sense of self reliance.


      It was time to leave so I wished them a safe journey and walked back up to the road to set off. On the way I got a great photo of huge metal bee, which was a symbol of Manchester's intolerance of violence, and marvelled at the time it must have taken to construct it.


        The last section of the road through Haigh Hall leads to the main road where I turned the bike's nose left and onwards to Preston, via Standish, Coppull, Charnock Richard and Chorley. The weather was simply superb, and the occasional breeze made riding such a pleasure. I couldn't help thinking of the long hot summers of my childhood in the fifties, and how the whole day seemed to stretch out in front of us endlessly, with a promise of fun, adventure and probably skinned knees and a few bruises. It's a miracle any of us are still here!


             It was on this section that I encountered four lads standing by an upturned bike by the side of the road, and shouted to see if all was well. "No', came back the answer, and I pulled over to see if I could help.


On enquiring what the problem was they told me they'd been there for about half an hour trying to get the chain back over the cogs on the back wheel, and get the wheel back in place. I offered to have a look, and gave a few words of advice as the positioning, as one of the lads tried again. Amazingly it went back on first time, and they all treated me as if I'd worked miracles! I did point out in the interests of modesty and accuracy that I'd not really done anything, but they wouldn't have it, and when I said I'd got a chain splitter with me if they'd needed it, it was greeted with rapturous cries of "He's got a chain splitter!'


               I left basking in a certain amount of unwarranted adulation, but hey you take compliments where you can find them!


       Before too long we reached the start of the carriageway which runs in a straight line for several miles into Preston and the docks area where we take a break. Although the day was fantastic, I still adopted the tactic I've worked out over the years with this stretch of road-head down and just keep pedalling steadily. The reason being that it can become very fatiguing if you allow yourself to think too much about how long the road is. The road runs through Farrington Moss on the left, and it must be an interesting place to visit for a walk, but of course there was no time for such luxuries on the day of the ride.


              Finally, we negotiated a couple of roundabouts (always good fun when joining with other traffic!) and set off down the road into Preston, reaching the dockside area at 12.30. I had a twenty minute break, just enough to eat, drink and stretch, and then back in the saddle again for the last part of the journey, which takes riders through some lovely villages and little communities in the flat countryside of the Fylde. Just as riders set off on this section, there is a steep little road which is flanked by an open park area to the right, and the smell of warm grass brought the temptation to get off and lie down in the sun, but of course that would mean one probably wouldn't want to get back on again!


           This is probably the most scenic part of the trip, especially on a glorious Summer day ,and the fields, hedges, farms and cottages on either side of the road make it a joy, even if the legs are a bit stiff at times! The villages of Cottam and Treales were almost 'chocolate box' perfect in the sun, and it was easy to be lulled into relaxing too much and hitting the potholes and bits of rough surface. You can never truly relax when cycling, because things can go very wrong very quickly if you do, and all it takes is a wheel wobble and a miscalculation while passing someone and you can find yourself shaking hands with a hawthorn hedge- not something I would recommend!


       I was observing the way some drivers negotiated passing cyclists, in the wake of the changes to the Highway Code, which call for six feet of space, and while I'm all for sensible safety measures, I've no time for making changes simply to make it look as if one is doing something to earn one's no doubt substantial salary working for the Ministry of Transport! In reality you can't carry a tape measure around with you, and common sense is all that's needed. Some drivers seemed almost to be afraid of passing cyclists, and as a result were too hesitant and held up everyone else behind them. Equally as always, some of the riders showed about as much sense as Matt Hancock near a security camera, riding four abreast and refusing to move over, and even straying into the opposite lane. I don't defend bad riding simply because I’m also a cyclist, and I don't particularly have any sympathy with the people who think they can ride all over the road and get away with it. Personal responsibility isn't a big thing with most people I'm afraid.


                I glanced over to what I think was a nursery on the right, which had a sign outside reading 'Open as usual', and not long afterwards we passed Kirkham Prison. Just as well they haven't got a similar sign outside-it might create the wrong impression!  Warton was next, and then we began the final stretch which runs along the west coast to Lytham. The lovely Green area with its iconic windmill, much photographed and beloved by generations of holiday makers, loomed up on the left, and again the temptation to get off and have a lie down on the expanse of warm grass in the sun. This stretch can be a real trial on a day when the weather isn't so kind, and the onshore wind is fierce and unrelenting. I've known years when it was better to get off and push than kill oneself trying to battle against a wind that was pushing the bike backwards! Luckily this day wasn't one of those, and the wind was mild and cooling. At a set of traffic lights just before this, a lady rider remarked 'well we're on the last leg now',   'Yes," I replied, 'but the bad news is it seems to go on forever!' 'Oh don't say that", she said with a hurt look. What could I say; I'm not going to lie!


              The sky was blue and the heat was hitting us like a wall along this stretch, which truly does seem to last forever. I've spoken to drivers, who've said the same thing, and they've got an engine to take the strain! I have to confess that the muscles were beginning to feel it a bit at this point, but with the end, if not actually in sight, but at any rate imminent, I gritted the teeth and just kept up as steady a rate as I could.


                  Holiday makers were strolling along the greens and the sandy dune areas by the side of the road, and I couldn't help but think how nice it would be to be able to take your time and not hurry, but I had a schedule, and was aware that my friend Les would be waiting for me. Although to be honest he was quite happy watching the world, and the girls go by, and had probably forgotten all about me!


         There were a lot of parked vehicles along this section, and it's always a bit of a strain on the nerves because at any time someone could throw a door open carelessly and spoil your day in the worst possible way. Some of the day trippers were wandering around the road like lost sheep, and riders had to be aware all the time, even with salty perspiration running into their eyes and temporarily blinding them, as had happened to me a few times en route.


          Gulls wheeled overhead and seemed to be leading us into town. I love the calls of gulls, and it's one of the things I miss about not living on the coast. The smell of the sea on our left, and the promise of crossing  the finish line were great incentives, although on the negative side, the red coarse road surface in Blackpool means you feel every bump, and it can feel unsettlingly like a tyre is on its way down at times!


            Finally the road ended and the final few hundred yards towards the finish line beckoned. Summoning the last bits of energy, and not wanting to look too much like an old man on a bike, I changed gear and pressed on towards the line, being cheered home by people lining the route (well to be honest they weren't just cheering for me, but I have to have some illusions!). As I crossed the line the commentator said " There's another finisher ladies and gentlemen-they've all done well to do it in this heat', and then added ' And a nice coordinated yellow jersey and bike!"


       I raised an arm in acknowledgement and rode off to the right to the little park area by the Glitter Ball to collect my certificate. I found that they weren’t giving them this year, but instead received a medal, which was very nice, but I do like the certificate-there's something official about it! I made my way down to Les, near the Pleasure Beach, and found he'd obligingly got a couple of cans of Guinness, purely to boost my iron levels of course. Even slightly warm it was very welcome, and we had a rest, watched the world go by and then repaired to our usual cafe for a meal and some strong tea. Then the journey home, which was only marred by the fact that the glorious blue skies above us on the motorway were desecrated with about twenty criss-crossed 'chem trails '(Geo-engineering trails) from aircraft.


           I hope this has been entertaining and that if you feel so inclined, you will sponsor my efforts for the benefit of the excellent work which Three Owls do throughout the year for wildlife and the environment. I have done my bit; I now commend my efforts for your consideration. All being well, I will attempt a 34th event next year, but for the time being will put my feet up and top up my iron level while listening to Classic FM!


 


Ride no: 3550


Mileage 77.2 miles


Number of riders: Probably 4000 plus.


Ride time 7hrs 50 minutes total, minus 1 hr 5 mins for breaks etc - 6hrs 45 minutes travelling


John Thorpe

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