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The heyday of this iconic seaside town may be behind it but Blackpool remains a popular resort – and one with lots of potential for cycling

There’s more to Blackpool than kiss-me-quick hats, roller coasters, arcades, windbreaks on a long beach and that 158-metre tower. But like most British seaside towns it’s had to work through a hard economic downturn. Between the dawn of rail and the advent of cheap package holidays abroad, Blackpool boomed. It drew holidaymakers in their droves from industrial towns across the North.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach by Jeremy Thompson

Blackpool Pleasure Beach by Jeremy Thompson

Tourism remains the town’s biggest employer, accounting for one in five jobs. But visitors today are more likely to be day-trippers than families on their annual holiday. The traditional tourist draws are still there, however. The Illuminations still shine each autumn. Blackpool Council bought Blackpool Tower, the Winter Gardens and the Golden Mile Centre back in 2010 to keep them viable, in a move the Financial Times called a “last-ditch effort to arrest Blackpool's economic decline”.

Winter Gardens by Radarsmum67

Winter Gardens by Radarsmum67

Away from the arcades, casinos, music venues and bright lights, there are some outdoor gems. Stanley Park has been revitalised with lottery funding and is one of the best in Britain. The beach – “seven miles of golden sands” – remains spectacular on the right day. In 2016 it was voted the UK’s best beach and the second best shoreline in the world, behind Dubai.

Cycling ought to be more popular than it is in the town. It’s densely populated and flat, and bikes are an inexpensive way to get around. It should be like Hull. Aside from the promenade cycle path, however, what Blackpool mostly has for cycling is potential. Perhaps the tide is turning?


The best type of bike for cycling in Blackpool

Blackpool sits beside the Irish Sea on a low-lying coastal plain, the Fylde peninsula. You’re unlikely to need a bike with a wide gear range or electric assistance unless you’re heading away from it – into the Forest of Bowland, for example.

There are remarkably few bridleways on the Fylde and essentially no singletrack trails. So there’s no strong argument for getting a mountain bike or even a gravel bike. A road-going bike is your best bet. It must have mudguards. Blackpool is as wet as most places on the West Coast, and it’s liable to flooding and lingering standing water because it’s so low-lying.

For urban journeys, a traditional roadster such as the Pashley Poppy (RRP £745) is a good choice. The upright riding position suits short trips and the high weight is largely irrelevant given Blackpool’s lack of hills. The Poppy does have a 3-speed hub gear so you can change down if you encounter a headwind. It comes with mudguards, weatherproof drum brakes and optional accessories such as a wicker basket.


Pashley Poppy

If you’re going to be riding further afield as well as to and from work, a road bike is the most efficient way to explore the lanes of the Fylde and beyond. The Boardman SLR 8.8 Disc (RRP £875) is very good value. Its aluminium frame and carbon fork are mudguard compatible, and its riding position isn’t as uncomfortably racy as many road bikes. The drivetrain is 2x10 Shimano Tiagra and the wheels are tubeless ready, two features that it’s nice to see on a bike at this price.


Blackpool’s transport network

Blackpool is well connected to the rest of the UK by road thanks to the M55. Within the town, there’s less to shout about when it comes to infrastructure – especially for cyclists. There is a splendid traffic-free route along the promenade, all the way up the coast from Starr Gate to Fleetwood. But as the maps of North Blackpool and South Blackpool show, the cycle network aside from NCN 62 is primarily made up of recommended side streets that may or may not have cycle lanes painted on them.

Blackpool’s main railway is Blackpool North. There are several smaller ones: Squires Gate, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Blackpool South to the south and Layton to the east. Most services are operated by Northern, with regular trains to Liverpool Lime Street, Manchester Airport (via Piccadilly) and York. Avanti West Coast runs a few trains per day to London Euston. Northern services carry two bikes per train on a first come, first served basis. Avanti West Coast trains carry up to four, with reservations mandatory

Buses in the town are run Blackpool Transport. Bicycles are not carried. “The only exception,” the company says, “is foldable bicycles which must not block walkways or exits.” The same policy applies to Blackpool’s trams, which are also operated by Blackpool Transport. The tram service dates back to 1895, making it one of the oldest electric tramways in the world. Trams travel up and down the seafront from Starr Gate to Fleetwood. Do take care if you have to cross any tramlines by bike. Cross them square on, not at an angle.


Local rides in Blackpool

Arguably the best and undeniably the most accessible traffic-free ride in Blackpool is the Blackpool to Fleetwood Coastal route along the prom. Part of NCN 62, it’s just over nine miles if you start from Blackpool’s North Pier or 12 miles if you ride from Starr Gate to Fleetwood Pier. It passes all the big attractions along the way. The day after the August Bank Holiday Monday is the best time for this ride. The promenade road is shut to traffic while the Illuminations are tested so you can Ride the Lights on a closed road instead of sticking to the cycle path.

The other useful traffic-free cycling facility in the town is the 1km outdoor cycle track Palatine Leisure Centre. This tarmac circuit is open to individuals as well as clubs.

The start and end of any road ride will be the flatlands of the Fylde. There are enough quiet lanes and places of interest that this needn’t be boring. How about a 33-mile loop down to Lytham Windmill, which you can find on Komoot as Blackpool Tower – Lytham Windmill loop from Layton? On a bigger day out, or a car/train-assisted one, you could get into the Forest of Bowland. There’s no better way to discover the local area than with a local cycling club. Blackpool Clarion caters to a wide variety of riders, while CTC Fylde Bicycle Belles is a women-only group.

Blackpool has very little to offer when it comes to off-road riding. There’s an excellent BMX track in Stanley Park and a pump track in Mereside, but there are hardly any bridleways nearby let alone technical singletrack. Gisburn Forest, 45 miles away, is your nearest trail centre.


BMX track by Kev Haworth Photography

BMX track by Kev Haworth Photography

Bike shops in Blackpool

Blackpool has fewer bike shops than you might expect from its size, and in recent years some have closed their doors and/or websites. There are some highly rated Cyclescheme retailers nevertheless, such as…

Giant Store Blackpool. Originally a family-run independent, this Red Bank Road shop became a Giant store in 2016. No prizes for guessing what brand of bikes are stocked! Giant’s range covers the map, however, with everything from road bikes to electric mountain bikes. Bike fitting is also offered. Cyclescheme customer comment: “Very good knowledge of bikes and equipment.”

Leisure Lakes Bikes Preston. Over the Ribble Estuary in Tarleton, Leisure Lakes Bikes Preston was rated one of the top 20 independent bike deals by the industry magazine BikeBiz. Bike brands available include Brompton, Cannondale, Cube, Orange, Specialized, Trek and Whyte. Customer comment: “First time using the shop – excellent staff and products. Will visit again and recommend!”

Sam Taylor Cycles is a bicycle and motorcycle shop on Vicarage Lane that’s been in business since the 1930s. Bicycle brands stocked include Diamondback and Raleigh. Customer comment: “The whole project has been great start to finish! Thanks again.”


Keeping your bike secure in Blackpool

Bike thefts are highest in the town centre and to a lesser extent in the Pleasure Beach area to the south of it, although the trend for thefts is down rather than up. Overall levels of bike theft in Blackpool are dead average for England and Wales, by postcode area, which puts it alongside well-heeled areas like Guildford and Stevenage.

Nevertheless, always lock your bike whenever you turn your back on it, ideally with a Sold Secure Gold or Diamond-rated lock. Lock the bike through the frame to a sturdy piece of street furniture or a dedicated cycle stand. If you have a high-value bike or will be leaving it locked up for an extended period – for example, overnight – use two locks.

The vast majority of bike thefts take place not on the street but in ‘semi-private’ locations at home. That means on your property but not in the house – for example, a garage, shed or garden. Lock your bike to a wall or ground anchor if it will be in one of those locations. Alternatively, park it indoors.