Chris lives in Batley and is chair of Cycle Kirklees, a group promoting everyday cycling and safer bike routes in the area. At the last Cycle Kirklees meeting Chris offered to take me for a tour of his favourite “gravel” routes in the area – a term meaning unsurfaced roads and tracks. Along the way we also found plenty of time to chat all things cycling.
Chris can be found pedalling anything from a full suspension mountain bike to a heavy Dutch omafiets, but recently he’s enjoyed mixed-surface riding on his old commuting bike, which he skilfully pilots down rough muddy tracks that many people would prefer to tackle on a mountain bike. “I’m the guy who, if we’re all out on a road ride, I might suddenly nip off down a bridleway to check it out, and catch them up further down the road”. But he also rides regularly with his 8 year-old son and has become a passionate advocate for making it easier for everyone to get about by bike.
By his own admission he “spends a lot of time looking at maps”. He rides with a social weekly cycling group, Fat Lad At The Back, and meticulously plans routes for them. But with his cycle campaigning hat on, he applies the same attention to detail to plans and consultations for cycle infrastructure and road schemes. “Some people get a bit bewildered by the details but I’m the guy who actually wants more detail! I want to see measurements, types of kerb… it all makes a big difference to the end result.”
Our tour of Kirklees takes in every type of track except for full-on rocky mountain biking. There are greenways, canal paths, wooded byways, muddy bridleways, tracks across golf courses, not to mention plenty of quiet roads to link them all up. On the way out we ride through Oakwell Hall country park and its beginner mountain bike trail, where Chris frequently goes with his son. “You could take off a lot of the distance from the loop we’re doing by missing it out, but I really like the trail there.”
After 45 hilly miles I’ve run out of water and oomph, so Chris drops me off at the railway station in Dewsbury and heads home. All but a small fraction of our route has been in Kirklees and for Chris it starts and finishes by his front door – not a far-flung exotic adventure, but a proper work-out and really good fun.