The socialising effect of the cycle path

We live an a world of anonymity. We cultivate, curate and nurture our singularity and detachment. We build walls, physical, metaphorical and technological to avoid each other. 

The way we move from place to place is impersonal and alienating. Even when we sit next to one another on the bus, train or tram, we politely ignore each other. We pass in the street like ghosts. Even our social media is fundamentally asocial. 

But I’ve rediscovered a wonderful phenomenon that I observed a few years ago; the socialising effect of the traffic-free path. 

My commute takes me along the Liverpool Loopline for much of the journey, a converted railway path, tree-lined and idyllic, cutting an arc through Liverpool’s suburbs. 

And moving along the path amid the morning birdsong, I make a point to say good morning, smile or otherwise acknowledge every person I pass. I nod to fellow cyclers, thank dog walkers who control their dogs when I pass. I even say hello to those who don’t. Most nod, smile or say morning back. 

I’ve made it my personal challenge to extract a ‘morning’ from the most morose of my regular fellow commuters- an earnest looking young man with glasses who really should be enjoying life’s bounty more than he appears. He rides too fast, too seriously. He hasn’t smiled, nodded or spoke yet but I have faith and pig-headedness on my side. 

I’ve pondered many times why the Loopline and places like it have this fascinating socialising effect. Maybe it’s the semi rural environment that brings out the human in humans, takes us back to a time when we acknowledged one another. Maybe it’s the isolation of this ‘urban lane’ that makes people feel reliant on their temporary linear community. Maybe the human scale, human speed mode reconnects us with each other? 

I thought it was a ‘cyclist thing’ but pedestrians, dog people and cyclists all exhibit the same elevated sense of social connection. Apart from Mr Surly with the glasses and the Strava obsession.  You know who you are. 

Has anyone else noticed this effect on their local cycle trail? 

Saddlebags for commuting: the old-school solution

 
Getting to work by bike, under my own steam, has an enduring appeal for me. Getting to work with steam coming out of my ears, lathered with perspiration however is lower on my favourites list. 

And it’s for this reason that I’m a big fan of carrying my day-to-day goods on the bike, rather than on my back. I’m a firm believer these days that the bike should carry the load, like the faithful iron horse it is. 

Now, long-term followers of this blog will know I’ve wavered on this issue, flirted with messenger bags and rucksacks and whatnot. But I’ve come right back around to letting the beast take the burden. 

And I’ve found that the best type of bag I’ve used for commute-size loads is the classic saddlebag. 

I’ve owned a number over the years, all made by Carradice of Nelson. First a Pendle in olive green, followed by a giant 20-something litre Camper Longflap in black and now, a ‘just about right’ 13-litre Cadet

Why just about right? The mid-sized Cadet is perfect for my needs, big enough to carry everything I need for the day. This is generally:

  • Tools
  • Spare tube
  • Waterproofs
  • Lock 
  • Work satchel containing work shirt and sweater, iPad, phone, chargers. 

The Cadet is a simple, unfussy single compartment with no side pockets and is small enough to leave on the bike when lightly loaded. 

I keep the saddlebag permanently attached to the bike and take the satchel in and out when I get to my destination, essentially using the saddlebag as a fabric basket. I’ve used an SQR quick release system before to great success but the aesthete in me prefers the look of the bag simply attached to the saddle loops on my Spa Cycles Nidd saddle. I use an old Pletscher Model C rack as a bag support, lifting the bag away from the saddle and holding it at a more pleasing angle. 

Russian bags?

The bag-within-bag (Russian bags?) setup works well for me, allowing me to switch between cycling, driving and public transport commutes without having to decant my daily goods from one bag to t’other. 

I’ve toyed with the idea of a basket but rattles bug me and the Carradice saddlebag gives weather protection to its precious cargo, being made from deluge-proof cotton duck and being tucked behind the rider and out of harm’s way. 

It scores over a single pannier in being a central weight over the wheel, away from road spray, drivetrain dirt and snagging in control gates and undergrowth on the cycle path. 

And of course all forms of bike-borne portage score heavily over rucksacks in the sweat stakes, allowing air to circulate over the rider and through breathable jackets, minimising the dreaded sweaty back in the office syndrome, so beloved of work colleagues. 

What’s your preferred mode of bike portage? Rucksack, pannier, messenger bag, saddlebag or something else? 

*I have no affiliation to Carradice, beyond loving their work. 

My commuter dog days are over

For years I’ve worked in a job where a simple door-to-door bike commute has been nigh-on impossible. 

Since 2004, a 70-mile round-trip from Liverpool to Manchester has been my daily bane; a journey that may have appeal for the cycling uber-milers out there but for an ambler like me was never a regular reality. 

So it was bike/train/bike for a long while, until financial reality curtailed it. There followed by a long stint of motorway driving, breaking my spirit. The commute from hell was a big factor in eventually  changing jobs, moving closer to home, opening up the tantalising vista of a daily bike commute. 

My new job is around eight miles away as the crow/cycle flies and lies at the end of Liverpool’s Loopline, a Sustrans marvel that is part of the Trans Pennine Trail, which stretches the breadth of England, from Southport to Hull. 

My commute now is a world away from the stress of the M62, eight miles of largely traffic-free bliss on ‘roads’ that look much like ancient rural lanes, cutting right through Liverpool’s suburbs. 

 
A short, less-than-one-mile road section leads me onto the trail and into a leafy, man-made sandstone gully. There follows around 30 minutes of trundling along the old Cheshire Lines railway bed until I reach Halewood. The trail continues through Halewood Doorstep Common, around the back of the sprawling Jaguar-Land Rover factory and into work. 

This change of daily rhythm has been profound, made all the more special by the bike itself, which seems more than at home in commuter mode. 

 The Clubman is the most adaptable of bikes, happy on a long road ride, great on gravel and also a delight on the daily grind.

To allow normal shoes I switched to MKS Sylvan Tour flat pedals and I added a Carradice Cadet saddlebag, with a vintage Pletscher Model C rack to support it. My work satchel, lock, tools and waterproofs fit in nice and snug, the saddlebag keeping the load off my back and keeping me comfortable and cool. 

Full-length SKS Longboard fenders keep the trail dirt off my work clothes; I don’t change for the ride, apart from switching from wool t shirt to office shirt when I arrive. 

I ride at a sedate pace, enjoy the sounds of the morning and arrive fresh, awake and ready for a day’s work. Simple. 

Has anyone else recently rediscovered the joy of bike commuting? Or are you ready to give up on motorway Groundhog Day?