When the weather is good I ride four times a week, for three to four hours. I head towards Yorkshire up Blackstone Edge, then there’s a choice of climbs used in the Tour de France. Cragg Vale is one, which is the longest continuous climb in the UK. If I’m heading past Ripponden way I stop for a brew and piece of cake at The Handmade Bakery in Slaithwaite.
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I was born in Manchester in 1948 and I’ve lived here all me life, never moved out. I left school at 15 and got a job on a building site. I used to ride to work on me bike and then train when I’d finished for the day. Meet all the lads and off we’d go, out into Cheshire or over Saddleworth, routes I still do now.
When I was 17 I started racing proper for a club, the Manchester Domino, then a year later I got selected to ride for Great Britain. We was travelling all over the world, but I was always glad to get back to Manchester and go out for a ride with the lads.
I did three seasons racing in France, coming back in winter to pick up odd jobs in the building trade. The social scene was pretty good in Manchester so we spent most of our time in the clubs having a drink. But in January I’d always start training again, before the season started.
The equipment back in the 60s was pretty primitive, big thick tyres and bikes that used to fall to pieces. But we had Harry Hall’s in Manchester to sort our bikes out and he’d do them cheap. I remember they always had the kettle on to brew up. It was more like a clubhouse.
In the 70s I got an offer to turn pro. £17 per month, which wasn’t a vast amount of money, but with the winnings and the equipment they provided it was the right thing to do at the time. That meant I had a professional licence and could ride against some of the top guys in the world.
In ‘71 I got selected to ride the Peace Race which was a big thing for me. I’d never been to that part of the world before, but all the guys were brilliant and we got on really well with the Polish and East German riders. When we was racing obviously it was a different kettle of fish. They wouldn’t let you into the echelon without a fight and the weather in the mountains weren’t so good at all. But it was something we just got through and I enjoyed it so much that I went back in ‘72. I think I finished mid-way both times. It was one of the toughest races I’ve ever done. Lots of crashes with the guys who got their wheels stuck in the tramlines sliding off and bringing half the field down.
I was starting my own building company in Manchester at the time, riding as a pro and working as well. You could never support a family on what you were getting in prize money. In ‘78 I rode London – Holyhead for the first time and won £600 through primes and finishing quite a bit up the finishing list. Of course I split it six ways with my teammates.
The roads were a lot quieter back in my day, but there’s still some great rides out of Manchester. Jump on a train at Victoria Station to Littleborough and there’s miles and miles of quiet roads, no traffic problems at all and plenty of hills. I think people are coming to realise that keeping fit and having a good time is the thing to do now and that cycling just fits the bill for both those things. Where I live in north Manchester, the whole family can take their bikes along the canal and it’s completely rideable for miles on end. Life’s good to you if you keep fit, I think.
Of course the weather can get pretty wild up here, but I think people are more resilient in Manchester. It’s the way they’ve been brought up. When I was training I’d have probably been working in the rain all day before going out at night so it never really bothered me. Though I’ll admit that my business did suffer on sunny days as I’d be meeting the lads in Manchester and we’d be going out cycling when I should have been laying bricks.
Life could be hard, but we had some of the best international riders in Manchester out of any area in England. Some of the guys round here won the Tour of Britain when it was 14 days, like when I used to ride it. Even the food we ate wasn’t like it is today. It’s a decent diet they get now but we’d be riding across England in all weathers on egg, bacon and cornflakes. A tough life, but we never complained because we loved the sport.