Bhajis in the mist: A ride from Bradford to somewhere else

Bhajis in the mist: A ride from Bradford to somewhere else

Three men stand in the middle of Oxenhope Moor. One opens his bar bag and fishes out a slightly worse-for-wear bundle of tin foil. Its bright yellow contents are already making a break for freedom. Last night’s leftovers are the brightest colour they see all day. The mist bleeds into drizzle before lifting just enough to reveal a long, dragging climb towards the watershed between the Aire and Calder Valley. 

“This might be a nice ride in the summer”

Spoiler alert. I am one of those men. Twelve months ago, another one of those men – another Tom in fact – asked me if I fancied riding from his house in Manchester to mine in Bradford. And as a nice piece of symmetry, we decided to make it from the suburb of Bradford in Manchester (perhaps most famous for being home of the Etihad stadium). Bradford to Bradford. We splashed our way along and resolved that we should repeat the ride, but in summer, once the trails had dried out a little. 


Bradford-to-Bradford. Yorkshire to Greater Manchester.

Curry-to-curry. Curry capital to the home of curry mile.

Canal-to-canal. Leeds-Liverpool to Rochdale. 

Bradford-to-Bradford and Bradford-to-Bradford again. Reversed and yet somehow the same. Very definitely not summer. Twelve months on and still in the depths of one of the wettest winters on record. Ah well. We’ve got some nice new jackets to keep us dry.


White Rose-to-Red Rose.

Gritstone-to-red brick.


Hills-over hills-to-the flats.


restrap bradford gravel ride


The Idle Working Men's Club is a hundred metres from my house. It makes as good a starting point as any for three idle riding men. Our third man is Dave. He and Tom are both from Lincolnshire. Not that it’s important right now. We pose for a couple of photos in the slowly dissipating gloom that makes for a sunrise this time of year. It’s grim up north apparently.

It would be easy to lean into the trope. It feels grim as we drop down a cobbled lane, under naked trees. Everything feels grubby in February. Dirt pervades. Even the sky looks grimy. Still, the north might be grim, but that doesn’t mean it is unphotogenic. Our first few miles are staccato in their rhythm as we stop-start. Click. We join the canal at Saltaire. It doesn’t exactly pass the old mill here. It virtually goes through it. Walls tower above either side. Doors open straight onto the water. 

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That’s enough along. We dart through woodlands, drag bikes up narrow paths and we climb. Rapidly changing scenery gives the impression of rapid progress. The reality is less spectacular, but we are immersed now. The landscape still feels as claustrophobic as the mill walls. Steep hills hem us in. Walled tracks require peering over and the low cloud obscures any sense of distance and space. There’s no such thing as cadence or pace any more. Every single pedal stroke is different. Furrows and bedrock and puddles and ruts. Line choices made and line choices made for us by the landscape. 

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It rains in reverse as we traverse around Oxenhope. Surface to air projectiles sprayed skywards. Motivation to move slowly. Calves are rinsed rather than backsides and higher.

Bhajis. A warm ‘at. Bradford (Yorkshire)’s finest export. Seabrooks Crisps. Beefy flavour. Vegan friendly. A pair of runners descend out of the gloom. The same pair of runners climb out of the gloom. Missed turning. Easily done. 

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We freewheel all the way to Hebden Bridge. I forgot about this hill. Long enough to be demoralising. Short enough to be done with soon enough. We freewheel all the way to Hebden Bridge. And a flat white. Dangerously close to destroying the carefully crafted hard northerners vibe. Fish and chips three times. Curry sauce. Curry-to-curry-to-curry. Theoretically, we could pick up the Rochdale Canal here and skirt the knockout punch of the climb up to Mankinholes (great name). 

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Three men sweat their way upwards. One has a can of Vimto stashed for a sugar hit at the top. The other two seem to be pausing to take even more photos than usual. The needle of Stoodley Pike looks down on them as they thread their way below it.

Somewhere Yorkshire becomes Lancashire. The world doesn’t end. In fact it looks remarkably similar in both directions. Except for blacker clouds in the direction of Manchester. Cool. 

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Summit up

We descend all the way to Summit. Another good name. Named as such because it’s the high point of the Rochdale Canal. It’s very much base camp rather than the top in any other context though. Still… that means the locks are all in our favour on the remaining 30km pedal to Manchester. Flat down the whole way. Dream. Headwind. And I think that was a spot of rain. 

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There are some parts of a journey that feel like the essence. That summarise the whole ride in a nutshell. There are other parts of a ride that are done because you still need to get from A-to-B. Because the ride wasn’t Bradford-to-Summit. Because Tom’s house is in Manchester. Because there’s beer at the end. Because we don’t want to be in the torrential rain any longer than we need, so let’s just pull our hoods up and pedal.

Greater Manchester isn’t glamorous. I won’t even try to romanticise the faded grandeur. On a wet February day, it is just faded. 

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There is a special noise that tyres make as they rip through surface water. It is an audible tearing. Our tyres do that for two hours straight. The rain grows heavier as we breach the outer perimeter of the M60. At some point we tickle the outskirts of our second Bradford. We don’t stop to document it. The sun sets around 17:00. It’s around that time and darker than midnight.

Blinking bike lights and streaking car headlights. Busyness. A city. For the briefest of moments. Like diving headfirst into a pinball machine. We hold our breaths. And almost literally fall into Track Brewing Company taproom.

Saturday drinkers politely stand back as three men stand in the corner, dripping. Three puddles form under their feet. Three pints are drunk in quick succession. And another three. 

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Plughole grit

Three musettes are stuffed with cans for the road. Three men jink through traffic. One man knows the way and forgets the others don’t. Three miles disappear without noticing. Three muddy bikes are stacked up in a too-small kitchen.

I stand under the hot water of the shower for as long as I dare. Grit swills around the outside of the drain.

That’ll make a fine summer ride, that. Words by Tom Hill (@24tom)

Photos: Tom Hill (@24tom), Dave Beckitt (@numbskull_____)

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Footnotes from Tom

The best riding is definitely between Saltaire and Littleborough – both of which are accessible by train. It would be easy to extend the start and begin in Leeds, using more canal to make your way to Saltaire. Despite the slightly grumpy tone of the article, the ride is great fun all year round. Some of the trails are truly peachy in the dry though. It’s the kind of ride that is absolutely doable on a gravel bike, and in many places is probably more enjoyable on one. But … unless you are a confident bike handler and don’t mind getting rattled around a lot you will probably have more fun overall on a lightweight XC bike. 

Bikes: Tom H - Cotic Cascade (drop bar), Tom R Cotic Cascade (flat bar), Dave Beckitt - Cotic Solaris

Gear notes: we stayed the night in Manchester, so brought a change of clothes, plus warmer layers. The Restrap Race saddle bag was ideal for most of this. We mixed and matched frame bags, canister bags and utility hip packs for a bit of extra capacity. The utility hip pack was perfect for stowing a mirrorless camera once the rain started really pouring down. 

Thanks to Cotic, Albion and Restrap for their support.

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