I’ve lived in Manchester now for nearly 11 months and, with the exception of a few hangover and / or exhaustion induced days, I’ve cycled into work every single weekday in just about all weathers.
For the first couple of months, I was taking the most direct route I could find which was a solid 6 miles along the rollercoaster that is the A664 Rochdale Road. Now, as much as it’s (largely) a nice wide road with cycle lanes and / or bus lanes and I very much enjoyed the variety of the short but sharp hill climbs & descents, in hindsight I’ve come to realise just how dangerous a route it actually is and just how lucky I was to never have an accident.
Of course, the problem with bus lanes is that they are frequented by buses. Sure, they’re useful for avoiding most of the traffic but leapfrogging loud, dirty monsters largely driven by idiots with no spatial awareness and no idea what their mirrors are for is just not fun.
A few close shaves later and and I started looking for a quieter, safer route. This came in the shape of the B6393 which runs largely parallel to the Rochdale Road, past JW Lees brewery, through an industrial estate, over the M60, past the Greater Manchester Police HQ and finally into Manchester through the usual inner-city suburbs.
Whilst this route is almost completely devoid of cycle lanes and carries only slightly less traffic, it is considerably safer. I think this is partly thanks to the much more controlled crossing of the motorway and the fact that drivers are forced to give you more space on the road when you’re sharing the same piece of tarmac.
I do have a theory about cycle lanes… I think some drivers see that white line as some kind of magical barrier which protects them and the cyclists from each other; of course, the truth is, you should give cyclists the same amount of room as you would any other road user but I find cars, buses and trucks buzzing right by me all too often whenever I’m ‘protected’ over there with the drain covers and broken glass.
But, I digress. Along with the not being killed bonus, my new road route takes my daily mileage up to 15 miles so I’m able to get a little more of a workout in every morning and afternoon too.
Of course, the Troll was built to be rugged and has already proved itself more than capable both on road and off road. With that in mind and my new road route bringing its own fair share of close shaves, I’ve been looking for some kind of off road route which has materialised in the shape of a stretch of NCN Route 66 and the Rochdale Canal towpath.
Keep your eyes peeled for a post about riding on route 66 and, while we’re at it, riding on canal towpaths in general; for today, a brief report on how the Troll has been handling this new route.
I don’t currently have a computer fitted to the bike so I’m not quite sure what the mileage is of my new route but, considering it takes me significantly away from the 2 road routes, I reckon it’s approaching 10 miles each way. Of course, it’s mostly flat but there is a gradual incline all the way home with several locks and flights of steps along the way.
The surface varies wildly from freshly laid tarmac to thickly spread granite chippings to deep mud to herringbone brickwork, most of which is in a fairly poor state of repair with several areas actually fenced off where the towpath is falling away into the canal.
The oldest sections of the canal are somehow the most solid, most likely thanks to the brilliance of Victorian engineering. Whilst this is all very nice and interesting and historical, the problem is those pesky Victorians were rather fond of using cobbles; cobbles, which you’ll know if you’ve ever ridden on them, are very rough and get VERY slippery when wet.
For the the last couple of months, I’ve been taking the safer road route into work and the canal route back home again. With the rigid fork, the journey in is effortless and generally takes about 30 minutes but the return trip can take up to 1 hour and, thanks to those cobbled sections, is a bit of a boneshaker.
And so, a new experiment! I managed to bag a set of Fox F100 air suspension forks which are actually lighter than the standard rigid steel fork that comes with the Troll. With preload and rebound adjustment and lockout within reach of the bars, they’re also suitable for every kind of terrain at only a moment’s notice. Sure, they’re silver and blue so they don’t match the original colour scheme but I’m not too worried about that.
What I am slightly worried about is the coverage provided by my new SKS Shockblade front mudguard… I went for the 28 – 29″ wheel version as it’s slightly longer than the 26″ wheel version and, despite being slightly narrower, still covers my 2.2″ Halo Twin Rails quite well.
Ugly as sin as it may be, it’s really the best option for keeping as much crap off the bike as possible when running a suspension fork; we’ll see what the coverage is like on next week’s commute. No doubt we’ll be back to rain by then; it is Manchester, after all.
I really didn’t like how the new front mudguard looked with the old full wrap one so I also invested in an SKS X-Blade rear guard. I’m still not happy with the overall look so it’ll need some tweaking but I’m willing to live with it for the comfort of a suspension fork over the dreaded cobbles.
I took it out yesterday for a quick shakedown along the canal and first impressions are very promising indeed; with the fine preload and rebound adjustment right there at my fingertips, I was able to apply just the right amount of cushion for each section of the trail and lock it all out again as soon as the path smoothed out.
Only time will tell if the fork stays on and the towpath becomes my commuter route of choice…