How the pandemic brought a biking boom in Cheshire

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:49 17 September 2020

Matt Townley avid road cyclist from Poynton Photo: Alex Livesey

Matt Townley avid road cyclist from Poynton Photo: Alex Livesey


Cheshire cycling booms under lockdown

Acclaimed sports photographer Alex Livesey, inspired by the massive boom in cycling during lockdown and government investment into cycling initiatives created a portfolio of Cheshire people from all paths of life who got the bug.

Alex says: “I entitled the project, The Biking Bug, and the portraits are of Cheshire people who discovered or rediscovered cycling during lockdown. Each subject has a story of why cycling has become important to them over the past few months, whether to work, commute, shop or spend quality family time, but ultimately to stay fit, both physically and mentally.

“The country has been experiencing a massive boom in cycling – millions of people have discovered the joy of being on a bike. The number of cyclists has increased overall by 70% and bike shops have boasted of a sales increase of up to 500% on some cycling equipment. As a keen cyclist myself, I hope that once the lockdown is completely removed the interest in cycling will remain.

Here are Alex’s portraits of pedal-pushers.

Gareth Foster chip shop owner, Fosters Fish and Chips from Alderley Edge Photo: Alex LiveseyGareth Foster chip shop owner, Fosters Fish and Chips from Alderley Edge Photo: Alex Livesey

Gareth Foster, owner, Fosters Fish and Chips, Alderley Edge

“We had a restaurant and then we didn’t! We had considered creating a delivery service before all this but had decided against it, then lockdown happened and it left us no choice but to try it out. I decided to get myself an electric bike; the delivery area we cover is quite small so having a bit more speed behind me means the food arrives as quick as it would in a car. It also allowed me to do the two things I missed the most during lockdown, exercise and fresh air. So far, the service has been a success and the early signs show that delivering fish and chips is here to stay, which suits me just fine.”

Sean Henry, aka the biking Mr Brightside Photo: Alex LiveseySean Henry, aka the biking Mr Brightside Photo: Alex Livesey

Sean Henry, aka Mr Brightside, Davenport

“I love life! I enjoy all sorts of fancy dress parties, social gatherings and festivals, where I’m always the life and soul of the party. I have been to the Glastonbury festival 15 times and it’s one of the main events on the calendar for me. This year was no exception and moreover, it was going to be special as it was their 50 th anniversary. I already had my outfits sorted and was looking forward to the event of the year. Sadly, Covid blew up my plans, as Glastonbury ended up being cancelled. This, alongside with being furloughed and not able to get out and party with friends at the weekends, started to get me quite low. The bike became a saver for my mental health as it allowed me to get out together with my wife and burn off some energy. I regularly head off on big rides into Manchester to clear my head and it is a great release for me. As for the social life, my wife and I ended up dressing up and having our own little festival in our back garden. It lifted our spirits and we didn’t have to camp in a tent.”

Ryan Miles, chef, from Chelford Photo: Alex LiveseyRyan Miles, chef, from Chelford Photo: Alex Livesey

Ryan Miles, chef, Chelford

“As a busy chef I hadn’t been making enough time to exercise before the lockdown. After my industry had come to a halt, I found more time on my hands and was looking for ways to get fit. Lucky for me, a close friend of mine refurbished his old bike and gave it to me. I haven’t cycled for years but now I use the bike all the time and I am loving it. I’ve realised that cycling is not only perfect for my daily exercise but is also a way of commuting into Manchester. I’m up early and start my day off on the right foot by leaving the car behind. The roads are a lot quieter now so cycling is pleasant and safe. I have become much fitter in the last few weeks and feel mega for it.”

Matt Townley, avid road cyclist, from Poynton Photo: Alex LiveseyMatt Townley, avid road cyclist, from Poynton Photo: Alex Livesey

Matt Townley, avid road cyclist, Poynton

“I’m a part of the Lycra brigade – the ones who seem to irritate motorists by just sharing the road. My job enabled me to carry on working from home throughout lockdown. It’s been great to spend more time at home, seeing more of the family and not have the daily commute. However, after working a full day I start to get cabin fever and need to get away from the house for a while and clear my head. When the government said we could exercise every day for one hour it was music to my ears. It meant I could throw my kit on and have a quick burn around the countryside, which I’m lucky to have on my doorstep. At the height of the lockdown there were literally no vehicles travelling on the roads. I can’t remember seeing so many bikes on the roads. As the restrictions on lockdown are slowly lifting, the traffic has now started to build up again. However, unlike before, I feel drivers are being a lot more courteous and patient with us. I hope this will become the new normal.”

Lizzy MacCallum, NHS consultant from Wilmslow Photo: Alex LiveseyLizzy MacCallum, NHS consultant from Wilmslow Photo: Alex Livesey

Lizzy MacCallum, NHS consultant, Wilmslow

“My job as a consultant in A&E on the frontline has meantI have been extremely busy during lockdown. When I have had time off, cycling has been a real release for me. It’s a way I can get out in the fresh air and into the countryside. I have been going out around the Cheshire lanes at least three times a week for a couple of hours. After stressful shifts at the hospital, the bike rides have been a great lift for me mentally. It’s just me and the fresh air, so I can clear my head before I get on with looking after my family and then heading back into the hospital.”

Rob Bailey, cycling nowhere from Bramhall Photo: Alex LiveseyRob Bailey, cycling nowhere from Bramhall Photo: Alex Livesey

Rob Bailey, cycling nowhere, Bramhall

“I have been a cyclist for more than 45 years. I enjoy club rides as well as racing and I am involved with the administration of the cycling sport within the UK. The day before the lockdown, I went for a ride. All racing had been postponed and club rides had been cancelled due to social distancing. The lovely spring sunshine was too good to miss. After an hour, as I descended a hill, my bike frame broke and I fell off the bike. I was in the hospital for a week with multiple serious fractures to the shoulder, ribs and damaged lungs. I was advised that very gentle riding could help get my lungs and ribs back into place. However, my doctor has banned me from riding on the road until October due to the severity of my accident. Therefore, I borrowed a bike from my son and set it up on a turbo trainer on the drive for a daily half an hour of riding to nowhere. It helps my breathing and extending the shattered shoulder blade. It also gives me a chance to get to know people as they walk past. I get some surprised looks.”

Mike Troup, bike mechanic at Bike9 from Wilmslow Photo: Alex LiveseyMike Troup, bike mechanic at Bike9 from Wilmslow Photo: Alex Livesey

Mike Troup, bike mechanic at Bike9, Wilmslow

“I am in a bike repair and maintenance business. Things went crazy for me during lockdown. On the first Saturday, I took 36 bikes in to the workshop for service and did 40 inner tube replacements. The situation has not eased since then. New bikes are virtually impossible to get hold of now, so people are desperate to get their old bikes repaired instead. The difficult part in my job these days is getting spare parts to fulfil the orders as couriers and suppliers are on reduced staff and stock levels are very low. At the moment, I have more than 60 bikes in for service and repair so I have had to temporarily stop taking more bikes in.”

Don Gibbs, polo player from Adlington Photo: Alex LiveseyDon Gibbs, polo player from Adlington Photo: Alex Livesey

Don Gibbs, polo player, Adlington

“I am a member of the Cheshire Polo Club. When the self-isolation was introduced, all polo stopped overnight, which was a massive frustration. As it became apparent that lockdown wasn’t a short-term measure, I had to find alternative ways of playing. One day, while enjoying the weather in the back garden, I got an idea to play stick and ball on my bike. It was hilarious! Not only was it a good laugh but it actually helped my hand-and-eye co-ordination. Once lockdown restrictions had eased and the polo club had announced their first get-together, I decided to ride on my bike to the training session. The training session was non-contact, we weren’t allowed to ride off and the umpire was checking compliance with the social distancing the whole time. It feels strange to train in this manner but at least it’s a step to going back to normal. ”

Lewis Livesey, schoolboy from Handforth Photo: Alex LiveseyLewis Livesey, schoolboy from Handforth Photo: Alex Livesey

Lewis Livesey, schoolboy, Handforth

“At the beginning of the lockdown it wasn’t too bad and doing the Joe Wicks workout each morning was quite entertaining but as the weeks have passed by it got harder. Studying at home and through online lessons just isn’t the same as actually being at school, plus I really miss seeing my friends. It’s been good to get out of the house on my bike because I’ve been able to ride around dressed as a penguin at the park. I like dressing up as a penguin because it’s good to be able to make people smile during the Covid-19 lockdown. Also, it’s fun!”

Frances Trainer, retro bike owner from Wilmslow Photo: Alex LiveseyFrances Trainer, retro bike owner from Wilmslow Photo: Alex Livesey

Frances Trainer, retro bike owner, Wilmslow

“I have cycled since being a child but fell out of love with it gradually as the roads got busier. However, during lockdown, the roads became much quieter and people have started to rediscover cycling. It was fabulous to see England turn into The Netherlands or Germany where kids cycle on the roads and families go for cycles as they would for a walk. The bike gave me freedom to get out and about and I’m back in love with cycling. This is a 50+ years old Dawes Kingpin bike. At the time, it was fashionable for bikes to have small wheels and Dawes Kingpin bikes were a more sensible alternative to the whacky Choppers. This bike was my sister’s first ‘big’ bike. It had been sitting in my father’s garage in Aberdeen for a long time before we moved it to Cheshire. I stripped it down but struggled to get it back together again, so it lay in our garage for another year. Lucky for me, a girl at work had the rusty frame repainted in its original maroon and my husband surprised me on my birthday with it all done, a wine box on the back and a basket on the front. I have a road bike for getting far away and use this bike for shopping. It helps me carry several bags of groceries home and has been perfect through lockdown. I love it!”

Sarah Bellew and her family from Wilmslow Photo: Alex LiveseySarah Bellew and her family from Wilmslow Photo: Alex Livesey

Sarah Bellew and her family, Wilmslow

“Anyone with kids will know how hard it is to find an activity that everyone enjoys. At the start of lockdown we set out on our daily walks with my six-year-old son riding his bike, trying to master the art of starting and stopping, while his four-year-old sister ran along behind. It wasn’t long before the mile-long route, although beautiful, started to become monotonous. That’s when the whining started. After what felt like the one thousandth ‘carry me’ we knew there had to be a better way - bikes. After kitting out the rest of the family we had the freedom to venture further afield, taking advantage of the quiet roads. We no longer had to drag the kids away from their devices, instead they asked to go out on their bikes and explore some more.”

Matt Holmes working from home from Cheadle Hulme Photo: Alex LiveseyMatt Holmes working from home from Cheadle Hulme Photo: Alex Livesey

Matt Holmes, working from home, Cheadle Hulme

“My wife is a police officer and so she had to keep going to work during the lockdown. In addition to working from home, I also had to home school my kids on my own. I was no longer able to participate in the sport I absolutely love, golf, and I was also unable to go to the gym. I suspect all this may have slowly started to affect my mental well-being, as can be seen by the growth of the lockdown handlebar moustache inspired by U2’s The Edge. I desperately had to find a way to get out and get active without leaving the house. I decided to dig out a rusty bike, which my sister-in-law had left in our garage when she moved overseas, and also bought a turbo trainer. I set them up in the back garden and at the end of my working day would cycle for 30 minutes with music on. This was a lifesaver and I couldn’t care less it was women’s bike! My wife and kids have had a go as well. This has now inspired me to buy a road bike. I have started to hit the roads and getting out in the fresh air feels great.”

Katie Rooney, horse rider from Chelford Photo: Alex LiveseyKatie Rooney, horse rider from Chelford Photo: Alex Livesey

Katie Rooney, horse rider, Chelford

“I used to work long hours in the hospitality industry and would juggle that with going to the gym for my spin classes and helping out my friend with the horses. When lockdown hit, my work completely stopped, the gyms shut and I found myself with almost nothing to do. Looking after the horses remained the only thing which kept me occupied and, yep, sane. I was complaining to my friends at the stables about missing the gym. One of them knew of an old bike stored in one of the garages and offered me to use it. We cleaned the bike up, changed the flat tyres and it was ready to go. The weather was fantastic and, even though I haven’t really cycled much before, I really got into riding every day. Getting on my bike early morning to get to the stables and helping out with the horses during the day became my new routine. My industry is now slowly coming back to life and I will soon get back to my job, which will hopefully bring back some normality. I’m still cycling and have every intention of continuing in the future.”

Graham Geary– back to cycling at 75 from Alderley Edge Photo: Alex LiveseyGraham Geary– back to cycling at 75 from Alderley Edge Photo: Alex Livesey

Graham Geary, back to cycling at 75, Alderley Edge

“Along came the nasty coronavirus, and being 75, I decided that I should address the matter of my fitness, something a large number of people my age (and younger) have jumped on during the lockdown. I had two knee replacements and was advised that running would not suit my knees and that cycling would be much better. My bike is very old and by modern standards is quite heavy but fortunately has lots of gears. It’s nothing like these modern carbon-fibre bikes but is a vast improvement on my first ‘proper bike’ I had when I was 10 years old. It was an ex-policeman’s bike, weighed probably about two tons and required plenty of notice if you wanted to stop. I am proud that, despite my age, I’ve taken up cycling. I now go out most days and do a few miles on my bike, and sometimes go for a walk with my wife as well. A welcome bonus is that, since my new cycling activity, I have lost some weight and am moving a little quicker.”

Dominic Bryan, artist Photo: Alex LiveseyDominic Bryan, artist Photo: Alex Livesey

Dominic Bryan, artist

“I am a landscape artist and a part-time university worker. In my free time, I go on my bike to various landscapes to paint. My bike is not only a means of transportation but is also an easel. The whole setup is light and portable, enabling me to set up what could be up to a five-foot painting surface on thick paper clipped to the bike with a wooden trellis. This means I can paint panoramic scenes in wild places without being weighed down with heavy gear – a simple system arrived at by trial and error over a few years of plein-air painting. Lockdown restrictions made me rediscover the beautiful scenery on my doorstep I might have overlooked in the past. It brought a new sense of freedom and peace on the reclaimed streets that you only used to get on a Sunday morning before the lockdown.”

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