With the news last year that the sponsorship deal between Sky and British Cycling was ending, there was some doubt about whether there’d be any more city rides in Manchester. Once British Cycling announced the new deal with HSBC, it became clear the event would be coming back.

Other than the change of sponsor, you’d be hard pushed to notice any difference. The route is the same as last year’s, though different to the route from earlier years, which used to take you to the National Cycling Centre.

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This year, it was just me and our eldest on the ride, as the others were busy. We started at The Hub at MediaCityUK as it’s not that far from where we live, just a short ride along The Bridgewater Way. While we were at The Hub, we bumped into some friends who were taking part for the first time, so it meant we had some company as we went round.

The atmosphere at The Hub was much the same as last year, though there were some additional attractions for kids, such as a mini track and an off-road cycling course. These were pretty busy though, with us being informed it’d be an hour wait for the mini track even though there wasn’t much of a queue.

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The Hub at MediaCityUK

We set off around the Salford Quays waterfront, over the bridge at The Lowry and along Trafford Wharf, where construction of the Metrolink Trafford Park line is under way. Soon, we were on the roads and heading past Hotel Football and towards the White City junction.

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Riding along the soon to be reduced Trafford Wharf

The White City junction is usually a pretty horrible and dangerous place to ride, as Helen Pidd has written about recently. It’s normally somewhere I avoid, mainly as there’s plenty of much nicer routes. Without traffic, it’s actually quite a pleasant experience.

We carried on onto The Bridgewater Way. The dual carriageway this time, rather than the canal path. Again, this is somewhere you normally avoid riding, due to the lack of any safe place to cycle and the number of people driving way above the speed limit.

At the end of The Bridgewater Way, we were back on Chester Road and passing over the Mancunian Way as we reached Castlefield. Again, most of Chester Road normally best avoided when it comes to cycling, from the city centre and out through Trafford to Altrincham. This is largely due to Trafford Council’s unwillingness to give over any precious motor traffic space to cycling.

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Passing over the Mancunian Way on Chester Road

As we pass under the railway, we continue onto Deansgate, which is a pleasure to ride down without traffic. Now that the Metrolink has made huge parts of the city centre no-go areas for cycling, Deansgate must surely be a prime candidate for providing a safe route across the city centre. If only Manchester City Council would commit to providing space for cycling rather than space for parking.

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Riding along Deansgate after getting caught by a brief shower

After a right turn up Peter Street and past the soon to be mostly demolished police station, we arrived at the Albert Square Hub. This seemed a bit more subdued than at MediaCityUK, there were some activities going on, but not as much.

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The Hub at Albert Square

After a break for coffee and churros, we were on the bikes heading back to MediaCityUK along the same route.

As we reached the bridge over to MediaCityUK, we were able to see what the organisers had done here as some recent changes to the bridge by MediaCityUK has caused much annoyance to people riding through here.

The changes started last year with the introduction of cyclist dismount signs. More recently, large stone blocks have been added to the ramp on the MediaCityUK side.

The purpose of these are to stop people riding through here, supposedly due to incidents on the bridge. Though the outcome is they introduce a new danger and point of conflict, while restricting access to the bridge for anyone with a non-standard cycle or those with disabilities. MediaCityUK have said this is a temporary measure until a more permanent solution is found, but they’re not giving away any more than that.

It’s clear that any conflicts on the bridge are due to its poor design. On both sides, the ramps narrow as you leave the bridge, leading to pinch points that cause conflicts.

The layout of the Trafford side is particularly poor, with a narrow ramp compared to the steps and poor visibility of the steps as you come over the bridge. On the ramp itself, there’s a dangerous unmarked drop on its side that needs to be addressed.

During the City Ride, the stone blocks were removed and cones were added to separate those on bikes with those walking. This actually worked quite well, and could be used as inspiration for a permanent solution. Unfortunately, MediaCityUK didn’t waste any time in returning the stone blocks once the ride was over.

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MediaCityUK bridge with cones separating people on bikes from those walking

As we reached the MediaCityUK Hub there was just enough time for our eldest to have a go of the mini track before it closed for the day. He enjoyed this, particularly as he did quite well against the older boy who he was riding against.

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Our eldest on the mini velodrome

As I mentioned, other than the change of sponsor, you’d be hard pushed to tell much of a difference from last years ride. As such, my criticisms of previous rides apply to this one. It still feels like it’s more aimed sport cycling than cycling as everyday activity or as transport. You also still see a few too many weekend Strava warriors in Lycra, shouting at people to get out of their way. I wasn’t the only one to pick up on this.

As much as I welcome the City Ride and the experience of riding in the city without traffic and poor air. I still really want to see Manchester have regular open streets / car-free days, as I mentioned in my top 10 wish list for the Greater Manchester Mayor. I hope one day we’ll see this happen.

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