A spur of the moment day trip to North Wales...
The plan was simple. My girlfriend, Jilly would drive down to her Dad's house in Rhyl from Manchester, I would catch the train in the morning to Bangor and ride to Rhyl along the coastal cycle path. As she only has a small car that is not big enough for my road bike, I would have to go on a Brompton hire bike which suited me fine as I love riding them!
Friday pick-up. Saturday ride...
One of my favourite things about the Brompton Hire Dock is that you can reserve the bike in advance so that you can be sure to get one. The scheme is becoming more and more popular and I think there were only a couple of bikes left in the Dock at Manchester Piccadilly.
After a faulty start (one of the rear latches was annoyingly broken), I was able to pick up a First Great Western coloured pink and purple (Barbie) version that had made its way up north from Reading! This is possibly the nicest colour scheme out of all of the hire options and is certainly eye-catching.
As a tip, I always try and get the Brompton out of the dock the night before, so I can make any adjustments e.g. a quick spray of WD40 or put some air in the tyres. I treat the bike like it is my own and hopefully other people pay them the same respect as the scheme is still excellent value of money.
An unexpected group ride...
I decided not to go all the way to Bangor as the weather was poor and the extra twenty miles would have made me late getting into Rhyl. Instead, as I left Llandudno Junction station, I saw a lovely Moulton bike and a group of people waiting to go on a group ride.
These guys were from the local Sustrans group and leading a leisure ride around Llandudno for the morning. I asked if I could join in and they said 'yes'. They were a friendly group and spend much of their time maintaining the local cycle paths, keeping the route well signed and free of litter. I spoke to John, one of the leaders of the group about my thoughts on route signage.
The ideas I had were well received and my point about the National Cycle Network numbers not meaning anything unless you know what they mean before you set off was also pondered!
I stayed with the group just up to the Little Orme and made my way to the Great Orme high over Llandudno. I have been up here a few times and it is one of my favourites. I like the fact you can choose to go up the 20% incline or the more gradual ascent.
As I reached the Great Orme summit on my Brompton, I was impressed at how well these bikes climb. They are so nippy and quick that even for a relatively tough climb, having a 3-speed geared bike with 16" wheels is not a problem!
Descending the Orme was a different story though. The brakes on the Brompton are not the best and you really need to grip the levers to control the descent. There was also a torrential hailstorm and I was soaked to the core.
I left Llandudno in a freezing rain shower and this carried on with me for much of the way to Rhyl. Only when I reached the derelict pier and colour matching ice cream van at Colwyn Bay did I start to thaw out.
I reached the caravan parks of Abergele with my hands and feet in a sorry state. My gloves had stuck to my fingers and the wind chill left them numb. As I approached Rhyl, the sun came out and caught the pink and purple flumes on the now derelict Rhyl Sun Centre. A once-popular swimming complex with many 1980s architectural touches that dominate the recently regenerated promenade.
I arrived at Jilly's Dad's house, folded up the bike and put it in the car before heading back to Manchester later on in the evening.
How to get more people to the North Wales seaside towns...
This ride was one that I have completed a few times in the past. I have even run to Llandudno from Rhyl too. However, I do not go to Wales as often as I should. The reason is the cost...
In the same way that the former mining towns of South Wales have used cycling to regenerate after their industrial decline, North Wales should promote the cycle path and work with the local train companies to offer special cheap day trip tickets to places like Rhyl, Llandudno and Colwyn Bay from Manchester or Liverpool at weekends.
It's just an idea, but with the day return ticket price from Manchester Piccadilly at around £30, I would probably head back to North Wales more often if there was a special ticket put in place for use at weekends!