Winter’s ending. It’s doing so uncertainly, as it always does, but there’s now sometimes warmth to the sun and daily the days grow longer.
I’ll be able to appreciate one of my deep loves of winter cycling – naked trees – for some time yet, but signs of spring – such as the snowdrops – are emerging elsewhere.
Over the last couple of months the highest roads in this corner of the world have often been too treacherous to tackle. While down below there might be none, climb above a few hundred metres and there can be ice, sometimes in sheets across the road where the rain running off the moors has temporarily frozen to a halt.
So last week’s mild spell saw me raise my cycling horizon and ride over Cross o’Greet for the first time in a while. At 427 metres you pass – if heading south – from the Yorkshire Dales into the Forest of Bowland. At Slaidburn I typically turn west, returning to Lancaster through the Trough of Bowland, but last week I continued another ten miles south to Clitheroe, a place which – despite being little more than 30 miles distant – I’m ashamed to say I’d never been before. I wanted to visit The Green Jersey cafe, which has just opened there.
The cafe’s situated in the town but also right at the foot of Pendle Hill, classic cycling country. A big group of riders was just leaving as I arrived at midday. Richard, the owner, isn’t serving food during the week, and only cakes at weekends – but he’ll look to change that if the demand is there. I think it might be. In the meantime, he’s serving damn fine coffee and you can top up on flapjacks, energy bars and gels, and help yourself to bananas in exchange for a deposit in the honesty box.
It’s these little touches which make The Green Jersey feel such a treat: a collection of classy cycling books and magazines spread across the long central table, to browse as you relax; the knowledge that you’re being served by a fellow cyclist, so filling up your water bottle isn’t going to be a problem, that there are spares should you need them. If you will forgive my being momentarily sociological, it’s a place where one’s cycling identity can be announced and is appreciated and affirmed rather than – as can sometimes happen – merely tolerated.
I recognised Richard – he ran a bike shop in Lancaster a few years back. He’s a man who lives and breathes the cycle trade and he knows how it’s changing. Small bike shops are struggling to compete with the big on-line retailers, and they need to offer something different. A place to visit during a ride, or a base from which to start a ride, is an obvious response. The Green Jersey is not just a bike shop, and it’s not just a cafe. It’s both, and much more, and potentially even more than that (by which I mean that such places will become in part what we as their customers choose to make (of) them). Richard has an admirable spirit of adventure and openness to the possibilities ahead. He has plans for courses and events – anything, I think, which simultaneously gives him business whilst responding to potential needs and desires out there. He wants it to be a place which matters to people locally, as well as a place which draws in people from further afield. The place has a cycling ethos. Such places are helping to make cycling happen, and they need cycling to happen to help them thrive. Richard is an entrepreneur, betting on cycling’s growth. Such entrepreneurship creates the conditions through which cycling can grow.
The Green Jersey is less a shop or cafe than a venue; its ethos is I think similar to that behind Look Mum No Hands in London; it’s an ethos which – as Richard himself noted – Mud Dock pioneered, many years ago now, in Bristol. Such places are ‘cycling hubs’ – places to cycle, to watch cycling, to talk cycling, to acquire cycling, to learn cycling – to do all the kinds of work which are required to move cycling to a place of greater centrality, both in our own lives, and also in our culture as a whole.
The Green Jersey was officially opened by the President of British Cycling Brian Cookson, and by cycling legend Graeme Obree just a few weeks ago (not bad friends to have, eh?!) It’s a really super place, a splendid place to break, or start/finish a ride, and I wish Richard and all concerned all the very best. I’ll certainly be returning, and other local businesses please take note, it’s put Clitheroe firmly on my map as a lovely place full of character and worthy of a longer visit.
For those of us committed to transitioning our world towards low-carbon and convivial, human-scaled sustainability, we need a broad and deep bicycle system. As such, any place which is hospitable to bicycles, cycling and cyclists not only deserves but actually demands our support. Come on, there’s no better justification for a coffee and a flick of the latest issue of Rouleur!
Is there something about rising expectations and surging ambitions associated with this time of year – the tentative end of winter making way for the slow dawn of spring? Certainly, there’s real optimism in the air for British cycling – it’s apparent in the immediate response to The Times’ ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign, in last week’s Parliamentary debate on cycling and its future, and in London Cycling Campaign’s current ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign; it’s apparent too, in patriotic (but not I think parochial) hopes for major British success in cycle sport – not just at the Olympics but also at the Tour, and just maybe the Classics too.
This ‘optimistic, spring is in the air’ feel is also apparent locally. An event marking the arrival of the ‘road racing year’ in this part of the world is the Coal Road Challenge, organised by Lune Racing Cycling Club. It took place yesterday, another mild and slightly damp day. It’s a super ride into the Yorkshire Dales: out through Wray, the Benthams and Ingleton; up past Chapel-le-Dale and Ribblehead to Newby Head Moss and then down into Hawes; west to Garsdale Head and the long hard climb over to Dentdale via ‘the Coal Road’, which reaches 537 metres; and then the Dent cobbles and the stiff climb over to Barbondale before the final ‘home run’ west along Lunesdale.
The Coal Road Challenge is what is still sometimes called a ‘reliability trial’ – an early season test of fitness and equipment in preparation for the racing season. It was certainly the hardest ride I’ve done so far this year – initially riding as part of a big group, then solo as the group fragmented in the face of the climbs, and towards the end trying to share a faster pace with a guy (Steve, I found out later) from the Lune. (I covered the hilly 67 miles in just over 4 hours – I’d have been very happy with this, were it not for the fact that throughout the day I also witnessed how much stronger and faster than me are so many other riders!)
There were far more people riding than I’d expected. This big turn out is I think a sign of cycling’s continuing renaissance here. Whilst London is getting the lion’s share of attention, there are positive signs for cycling elsewhere, including up here in England’s north-west. Wherever we are, let’s work towards a truly great year for cycling.