In his first piece for Northern Soul, Andy Groves introduces his new blog. Today he talks about his passion, how it has changed his life and offers a tantalising taster of the topics he’ll be tackling over the coming months.

Cycling has a mysterious hold on the nation – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say ‘large parts’ of the nation. Interest in the sport is characterised by the huge enthusiasm and in-depth knowledge of those ‘in the know’, and a blank sheet of paper for those who aren’t. Unlike football, where most people have at least a basic comprehension of the sport, an understanding of cycling is very much feast or famine. I want to share my knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for bike riding as viewed from a uniquely Northern perspective.

The state of British cycling today is truly amazing. As I write, the 2013 Tour De France has reached its conclusion on the Champs Elysees in Paris with a British rider at the front. Bradley Wiggins’ win last year broke a century long drought for British riders and now Chris Froome has showcased the enormous strength and depth of cycling on these isles. Last year it was almost unthinkable and now it’s virtually run of the mill. In fact, it’s disappointing that Froome didn’t won the polka dot jersey awarded to the King of the Mountains. 

And where is all this success based? Manchester.

But cycling is not just about the super fit iron men of the professional scene. Participation levels for us mere mortals are sky rocketing. Figures released by Sport England before last year’s Olympic gold rush showed that the number of people using a bike at least once a week had grown by 161,000 in just six months and this is forecast to continue to grow. The London games and the ‘Sir Bradley effect’ not to mention Froome, Cavendish, Pendleton, Cooke, Trott et al will have further boosted participation levels in an activity that is now assessed to be worth £3 billion to the national economy.

Measuring participation is not as straightforward as it seems. There are very many different strands to the sport so statistics alone cannot tell the whole story, nor can they give it the uniquely Northern Soul flavour. That is what I will be doing.

Andy GrovesThere are many cyclists, perhaps even the majority, who don’t really view cycling as a sport. Some say it’s a mode of transport, for others it’s recreation and for some it’s a lifestyle choice. In my writing for Northern Soul I will seek to give an insight into this fascinating world. I will be looking at commuting and recreational rides in the countryside, track and road, BMX and mountain bike, training and heath implications, as well as the more evangelical views espoused by those who see cycling as transcending the bike and becoming a force for change.

I have ideas, lots of them. I had what others thought was a crazy idea in 1990 when I was at university. My plan was to cycle from my parents’ home in Surrey to my then girlfriend’s place just outside Dewsbury. I still own the bike I did this trip on and when I look at the 1980s steel framed racer I find it amazing that I completed it. Looking back now I think I probably was crazy. I had only just bought and fitted panniers. Foolishly, the first time I used them was when I set off on the first 50 mile leg of this trip to St Albans so all of my very limited training was done on a bike about one third lighter than the one I did the journey on. I had a pair of trouser shorts and none of the cleated shoes worn by today’s MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra). To say I was tired and sore is an understatement. The lows of that trip have stayed with me for more than 20 years. The thought of the A45 in the pouring summer rain makes me shudder even now.

But I also remember the highs and the enormous satisfaction of completing the trip. That is what has driven me on to where I am today.

I had another idea about five years ago. This wasn’t a pretty time in my life; I had plenty of things to feel down about. I needed ideas of how to get through that time and out the other side so one of those ideas was to get back on my bike. About 10,000 miles, three bikes, numerous days out, lunchtime rides and a number of holidays later and I am two stone lighter, fitter than I’ve been for 20 years and have plans over the coming years to do more.

So what next? In this column I’ll be sharing my projects, plans and experiences as well as reporting on everything that cycling has to offer in the North.

If you’d like to share cycling ideas and events with Andy, please write to him c/o the Northern Soul Editor, contact details here.