Posted: 11th December 2009 | Eddie Allen
If I said the words ‘cycle commute' what would you think of? Chances are you'll think of a short blast (or pootle) into the city - a few miles tops...
However, when you get to know cyclists, you get to realise that not all commutes are created equal. No sir. Some riders regularly take on commutes that push the envelope. Welcome to the world of the mega commuter, the kind of rider who regularly notch up a 2 ½ hour ride at the start of the working day.
My (occasional) Mega Commute - Liverpool to Manchester - 37 miles each way
NB: Most of the time, I use a bike-train-bike approach to get to work. Sometimes, when circumstances conspire, I end up driving. When I'm feeling brave and fit, and when the weather is kind, I ride the whole way.
I'm up at 5:45am, stupidly early and get a bowl of muesli down as early as possible - I need energy but I don't want to ride after just eating. I get a quick shower, get dressed, grab a coffee and it's time to go. The bike is prepared in the hallway, tyres pumped solid the previous night and bag packed. It's essential to be totally self sufficient on the journey, so it's full emergency toolkit, waterproof, bonk food and drink.
I'm out on the road and the traffic is light. I head towards the A57, a long sinuous road that stretches from practically my doorstep, all the way to Manchester and beyond. The first few miles are flat a chance to get the blood flowing with easy pedalling and get the fluid into the knee joints.
About seven miles in I hit the satellite town of Prescot and a steep hill through the town centre gets the heart-rate up. It's mercifully short and we're soon coasting down past Rainhill and Whiston, outlying satellite towns just waking up for another day's business.
10 miles in and I cross the M62 near Clock Face, and it's sprint time. The motorway roundabout is no place for hanging around. The only way to do it is to crank it up to 25mph and keep pace with the cars. I take the exit and rejoin the A57 on a country road heading towards Warrington. I'm spinning along at about 20mph, the wind is behind me and pretty soon on my right, the gargantuan towers of Fiddlers Ferry power station hove into view. You can see the grey concrete cooling towers for miles around and it seems to take forever to pass them, making you feel like you're pedalling a rolling road - getting nowhere fast. Soon I hit Sankey Brook and the outskirts of Warrington, around 20 miles in. Just over an hour has passed and I'm firmly in that hypnotic zone well known to runners and cyclists.
I enter Warrington and climb the hill past the railway station, flick through a few roundabouts and before I know it I'm out the other side and crossing the M6 Motorway with its cars and lorries rifling underneath. The road then heads across the flat farmland between Glazebrook and Lymm. The tarmac is narrow here and I'm sharing the road with articulated lorries and rush-hour commuters on their way into Manchester. I pass the iron toll bridge that heads towards Lymm and I'm onto a wider dual carriageway taking me towards Irlam.
Soon I've got wide, plush, segregated cycle path and the post-industrial delights of the Manchester Ship Canal, numerous viaducts and the mighty Irlam Locks on my right. The going is still pan flat and I'm making good progress on this new road that bypasses Cadishead.
Soon the canal-side road is at an end and I'm onto a dual carriageway again. Suddenly, my surroundings are becoming more and more built-up, evidence that I'm beginning to enter the outskirts of my destination city, Manchester.
I cross another motorway, this time passing underneath Manchester's infernal ring road, the M60, before entering Eccles, once a standalone town, now consumed by Manchester's urban sprawl. Once past Eccles the urban cycling fun really begins. I'm beginning to tire and get hungry now and the bottles on the bike are getting empty. However, I need to keep my concentration up on Eccles New Road, which is littered with bike traps - AKA MetroLink tram tracks. The trick is to get as perpendicular as you can, then unweight the front wheel as you pass over the track, to minimise the horrible prospect of tramlining your front wheel.
The tramlines mercifully negotiated I come to the part that always gives me a thrill - the point at which my car commute and bike commute intersect - the permanently gridlocked Regent Road. I glide down the outside of a mile of stationary traffic on the furred-up western arterial route into Manchester city centre. As I watch the faces behind glass I imagine myself in their position on another morning, nudging the car in and out of 1st gear, making about 4 car lengths of forward progress per traffic light change, getting nowhere, getting stressed.
I hit the stop line at the traffic lights just as it changes to green - my luck is in and I sprint for the sanctuary of the bike lane that feeds off the left hand side of the truncated urban motorway that is the Mancunian Way. Now I'm onto the city centre streets, passing be-suited commuters clutching briefcases, newspapers and lattes, mixing it with short haul bike commuters on shopping bikes and beaters. I bet they won't believe me if I tell them where my commute started.
Soon I've crossed the core of the city and I'm passing the railway station where I disembark on my bike-train-bike commuting days. Another huge wave of self-satisfaction sweeps over me. I've made it here under my own steam. It's only a few more cool-down miles now and my energy levels are buoyed up by my proximity to the destination and the promise of a hot shower and a hot coffee.
I get off the bike and wheel it into the foyer of work. "On the bike today I see?" asks a perceptive colleague. "Hmm, you could say that" I say before making my way, wobbly-legged, to the showers.
Tell us about your mega commute
If you put in silly miles on your commute and can string a sentence together, we'd like to hear from you. Send your Mega Commute to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Mega Commutes' in the subject line and we'll publish the best.