Champagne Rides: A Chat with Didsbury Bicycle Hire’s Ashleigh Otten [COMPETITION]

There’s something quintessentially British about riding a bicycle.

That idea may not be something that is perpetuated by the media, but many people in Britain enjoyed rediscovering their bikes during the lockdown.

For many of these new cyclists, it wasn’t necessarily about racing to a destination dozens of miles away. It was milling about town, meeting someone for a ride and going for picnics.

Bike Hire Across Liverpool, Manchester, Chester, Cheshire + Lancashire

And this is exactly the side of cycling that Ashleigh Otten wanted to show when she created Didsbury Bicycle Hire – a company which, as well as renting out bikes in Didsbury in the south of Manchester, also provides bike hire in Liverpool, Manchester and across the north-west on England.

But it’s not just bikes that Ashleigh is looking to share, it’s experiences. It’s about riding beautiful upright bicycles at a leisurely pace, shared with friends and loved ones while having a picnic in the likes of Tatton Park or Sefton Park while supping on champagne and savouring delights from local delicatessens.

Anyway, I had a chat with Ashleigh to learn more about her vision and what got her started on this journey.

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DC: So, Ashleigh, tell me about your cycling story and your inspiration for starting your bicycle hire company.

“I started getting back into cycling about 2 years ago. I used to be cycling mad, but it was a long time ago and it took me a while to build up the confidence to get back on the saddle. But When I did though, that was it, I was hooked, and off the back of that I started Didsbury Bicycle Hire.

“We got started at the end of 2019. It’s a community-based cycling hire company, basically. We’re from Manchester, and provide services right across the North-West region.

“The main reason we started the company is to encourage people who’ve not been on their bike for a while – or even never cycled before – to give it a go again and use cycling as a form of commuting day-to-day, where they can.

“We also want to use our platform to promote other local independent businesses. That means when people are renting one of our bikes, and have booked one of our experience packages, they can go out and see the benefits of a local community-based lifestyle and the concept of shopping locally as a cyclist. So, from all the physical and mental benefits of cycling, to stopping by the local independent businesses, buying the fresh, beautiful products and catching up with the shop keepers who you come to build up friendships with over the years.”

DC: So what is Didsbury Bicycle Hire and what do you offer?

“As we also want to promote British industry, we decided on a fleet of Pashley bicycles. They are beautifully designed and provide the rider with an upright seated position. They can also be fitted with racks that enable us to equip the bikes with baskets and crates which are used to carry the picnic accessories that we offer. So people can cycle wherever they like – be it Sefton Park in Liverpool, Tatton Park in Cheshire or the South Manchester parklands- or anywhere else across the North West of England for that matter – and have a great day out, celebrating their occasion in a way that’s unique to them.

“A lot of what we’re offering with the experience packages is centred around special occasions. Whether that be a romantic bike ride, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, hen dos, baby showers, or even marriage proposals!

“In addition to the bikes, we offer picnic blankets, luggage straps, a Roberts radioand other accessories to provide that sense of occasion… and maybe even the perfect photo opportunity!

“Recently we’ve also launched a “champagne afternoon tea hamper” package, having teamed up with BisousBisous, which is an award-winning French patisserie based in the south of Manchester.

“As well as providing a range of picnics we can also create bespoke flower arrangements, which we design according to any specifications the customer may have.”

DC: What inspired you to get started?

“Going back to my own personal experience, I was dying to get a bike and start cycling again for a number of years. But because it had been so long since I’d last ridden, I just didn’t feel confident enough.

“Until two years ago I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a lovely pink Pashley Britannia.

“I was really excited when I bought it… but then it sat there in the shed for who knows how many months and I just looked at it, unable to pluck up the courage to get out there again.

“But eventually I did. And I started to remember how wonderful it is. Being outside the bubble of your car, you take so much more in. From the birds chirping in the trees, to the smell of the air in winter and the cut grass in the summer.

“Even being able to engage in conversation as you cycle past people – I realised there’s a lot to be said for cycling, and that it can contribute to that community-centred lifestyle which can really add to a person’s happiness.”

DC: I completely agree. I’ve found that commuting by bike is a great way to clear your head and that when you arrive at your destination you just feel refreshed, whereas when you do so by car, I feel more anxious and stressed.

“Exactly. It’s a form of exercise that’s actually fun. It’s not a chore.

“I just want to show how easy cycling is, especially if you’re going around the back lanes and the cycle routes around the Manchester area and beyond.

DC: I’ve actually seen that Manchester is at the forefront of investment in cycling infrastructure in the UK at the moment. Have you noticed any of that coming to fruition at all?

“Yes, I have. Around the south of Manchester, we’ve got some great cycle routes now which take you straight from where I’m from in Didsbury to Oxford Road in the centre of Manchester and it’s a direct route.

“The number of cyclists, as well, is definitely increasing.

“I think Chris Boardman’s scheme with the BEE Network is brilliant and will really help encourage more people to choose cycling as a method of transport.”

DC: You mentioned it was a long time before you started cycling again, what “brought you back”, so to speak?

“It was largely just looking back at how I enjoyed cycling when I was younger. But since I’ve been out on my bike and reflecting on it, I think cycling addresses many of the current issues we currently face. We’re dealing with a national health emergency in terms of obesity-related illnesses and loneliness, and mental health is spoken about more and more. And, the mental and physical benefits of cycling could really be key to finding a solution to all of those when coming back to the concept of ‘shopping locally as a cyclist’.

“Plus, of course, there’s the environmental issues, and cycling can help reduce emissions.

“There’s just so many great reasons to cycle. Not that we’re looking to lecture anyone by any means, because we still need cars and it’s about being realistic around that – but, if uou can and you find yourself considering cycling as an option for local journeys, then we can help give you an idea of what that’s like.”

DC: And lastly, it would be reminisce of me not to mention cycling clothes on Discerning Cyclist, so what sort of gear do you wear when pedalling?

I actually make a point of wearing anything from a summer dress to wearing heels! I’m definitely not one of the Lycra-wearing cyclists. I like to wear normal clothes, that look nice, but also help to facilitate a comfortable journey.”

COMPETITION TIME! 🍾

Win a Champagne Picnic Bicycle Experience for Two (worth £264)

Didsbury Bicycle Hire is teaming up with Discerning Cyclist to give away its elite “Champagne Picnic Bicycle Experience” in the north-west of England at some point in 2021.

This wonderful experience package, worth £264, will see you and a friend cruise around a park on a pair of beautiful Pashley bicycles, while giving you the chance to stop and relax with champagne and deli delights.

This package includes:

  • Two beautiful Pashley bicycles for the day
  • A bottle of Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top champagne
  • A picnic hamper complete with artisan sandwiches, fresh pastries, macarons and sweet treats
  • A flash of Breakfast Tea
  • A large bouquet of plastic free flowers to keep
  • Picnic accessories for the day, including:
    • Wool picnic blankets
    • A Roberts Revival portable radio
    • Picnic basket including mixed vintage china tea set pieces and cake stand
    • Scatter cushions
    • Fold-out chairs

IMPORTANT: The bikes can be only dropped off to you at Sefton Park in Liverpool, Grosvenor Park in Chester, Tatton Park in Cheshire or The Fletcher Moss Park or Botanical Gardens in South Manchester. The package can be claimed at any point in 2021 and 2022, subject to availability.

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Didsbury Bicycle Hire

If you are interested in booking a beautiful bicycle experience around north-west England, you can see Didsbury Bicycle Hire’s range of packages here, or you can get in touch with Ashleigh at contact_us@didsburybicyclehire.co.uk.

Pete Reynolds

Pete is the co-founder and editor of Discerning Cyclist. He commutes by bike daily from his home to his co-working space. Originally from Wirral, UK, Pete now lives in Spain. When visiting a new city, Pete loves nothing more than to explore it on two wheels. See Pete's Muck Rack profile

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IMPORTANT NOTE: Coffee funds may be converted into beers funds on Fridays.