Local exploring has really been a theme for 20/21, mainly out of necessity, but has really helped cultivate some local experts in off-road riding and route planning. We chatted to Mike Gaskell, aka @Mikmonken_Cycles, about riding from his doorstep in Macclesfield, a town to the south of Manchester that borders the Peak District, who’s offered up his impressive route catalogue below for anyone to try.
Sup Mike! We’re stoked you’re sharing a slice of Macclesfield gravel with us! Has it always been your home turf?
No problem, more than happy to share routes with anyone that’ll listen. Nope, Macclesfield hasn’t always been home turf, I sometimes wish it had as I grew up down in the flatlands of Essex and moved to Macclesfield about 10 years ago, and only really started riding longer distances again 4-5 years ago, but it’s a place with something for everyone from a riding perspective.
Set the scene for us. What should you expect if you’re heading out for a mixed terrain ride from Macclesfield?
Macc is a great place to ride from, there is something different depending on which way you point your compass. We’re lucky that we’ve got a canal bisecting the town, so north and south you’ve got towpaths that can take you on a 20 mile flat loop in either direction. These are great to ride with the family or if you fancy something a little more accessible, although south does get very muddy in the wetter months. This was where I headed when I took part in The (Socially) Distance(d) with my young daughter, with plenty to see, low traffic and pretty chilled.
Head out west and you’ll be hitting the Cheshire Plains which are pretty flat too. Mainly you’ll be searching for bridleways and linking together whatever off-road you can find with quiet country lanes. There’s a really nice 50-ish mile loop called Laureen’s Ride that goes out towards Manchester Airport, linking together plenty of bridleways, but you can guarantee you’ll see a tonne of roadies if you head out west and take in Tatton Park.
My favourite direction to head out is east up into Macc Forest and the Peak District: I could spend hours riding out there. I quite enjoy climbing and even more so off-road, and east of Macc is hilly but it’s so worth it. Head out just before sunrise into the Peak District and once you’ve got the bulk of your climbing out of the way, plus if the weather is good you’re guaranteed an amazing sunrise that I reckon would be hard to beat anywhere. There are tonnes of trails, farm tracks and bridleways that criss-cross the Peak and quiet lanes that flow in between the various edges that make for some spectacular routes. Climbing-wise on an off-road route you’ll be tackling some 20% gradients at some point, unless you’re very clever at route planning!
What are your top three refuel stops that you’d recommend within riding distance of Macclesfield?
I ride with a group of friends on a Thursday night pretty much throughout the year and pre-pandemic we would always end up at The Park Tavern. They’re usually more than happy to let you take your bikes to the enclosed yard at the back and the beer is great. I can’t wait for them to reopen again for post-ride beers.
Mid ride, Flash Bar Stores has been bailing me out with coffee and breakfast (which gives you an idea of what time I set out on my weekend rides) through the winter and when they’ve been allowed to open. It’s a great place to stop, as whichever way you go from there it’s freewheeling for a few minutes.
Picturedrome Macc is the place I’ve tried to start and finish my rides from as it’s pretty central and it has a selection of local pop-up style restaurants. It’s probably not for the most frugally-minded but I know I can bribe the kids with a milkshake and grab a beer with the bikes tucked away out back!
Lastly, Lee’s back garden for beers around the fire, he’s got a strict no more than six policy so it’s a nice quiet place to go for a few drinks post-ride, and during the summer he’ll fill up the paddling pool!
Do you have an ultimate favourite off-road section near home?
My favourite off-road section is through Macc Forest. From the top at Standing Stone you head south through the gate with the forest on your right side, it’s an undulating path that peaks at a really nice viewing spot overlooking Trentabank Reservoir, with Macclesfield and Manchester in the distance. From there it’s a fast fire road back down to the road home. On a nice day heading out at sunset you’re treated with amazing views, guess I’m just a sucker for a nice view. There’s also a little Strava segment where I’m slowly knocking down my time!
Do you have any advice for riders visiting the area? We’re guessing low gearing for starters?!
Yeah, a decent gearing range is a plus, big tyres too, I ride 650b x 47 (most of my mates are running 700c x 35), but anything to suck up the rocks if you’re not running suspension.
If you’re heading into the Peak, pack or wear something windproof or waterproof, you very quickly ride out from the sheltered valley that Macc sits in, to very windy open hilltops, and it’ll probably rain at some point too!
Finally and probably most importantly, save your legs for getting home. Macclesfield defies physics and no matter what way you set off, you have a climb to get out of the town but also a climb to get back into the town! It must have been a volcano or something years ago, and it still catches me out now.
Tell us about your bike set up.
I’m a one bike, lots of wheels, kind of cyclist. I ride a Mason Bokeh finished with SRAM Force 1X 42t upfront and 11-42 at the back. I have Farr Aero Gravel bars which I love and a Brooks C17 saddle to keep me comfy at the back. I’m currently internally debating whether I should start saving for a GX Eagle AXS gearing and remove the gear paddle from the Force shifter and use the Eagle shifter, just makes the mullet a little longer at the fringe and I’m not sure I could cope with that.
Wheel-wise, I taught myself to build wheels a couple of years ago so my main set is a set of professionally built and straight Hunt Mason X with WTB Horizon slicks and a self-built slightly wobbly WTB KOM 650b with WTB Ventures fitted for wetter weather, I’ve got a couple of other sets of wheels thin and fat 700c that I never ride as well.
It’s a bike that meets all my needs, off-road, on-road, commuting, and climbs and amazingly well in all weathers, love it and can’t wait to take it bike packing this year!
Thanks Mike! If you’d like to give one of these brilliant off-road routes a try, click on the komoot Collection where you’ll find Tours for each.
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Last modified: 15th April 2021