So after talking about it for a while myself and Ash Sagar rode from Leeds to Manchester.
This was our intended route and the actual Strava GPS track.
The adventure started for me at 5:57 with a train ride across the Pennines as we had elected to ride east to west.
After a false start fixing a leaking water bottle we settled into a relaxed pace heading up Tong Road and Tong Lane we due to our selected route represented the only two main climbs of the day as we planned to go via Hebden Bridge. For this first section of the route we used the Northern Rail Leeds cycle map which is available free of charge from Leeds information at the station. At this point we switched to using OS map 288 (on Amazon).
After reaching the top of the climbs we enjoyed the narrow descent down to the underpass of the M606 at Oakenshaw before continuing on to Brighouse. Brighouse represent our first non navigation related stop were breakfast was eaten along with some sweet tea.
After continuing through Brighouse, via a cobbled and very steep descent, we joined the Green-way route on what was a very good surface for a traffic free route.
Once we arrived at Elland we had a typical Cycle Network experience (we were following NCN Route 66). A missing right turn sign, followed by a right turn that requires you to be on foot before you know about it and a descent that if you have somehow managed to stay on your bike will land you in the canal. Otherwise the stretch from Brighouse to Sowerby Bridge is a good ride on a good surface. However once again in Sowerby Bridge we were caught out by the national Cycle Network signs. This was caused due to the experience of following the signs; we had found that the signs tend to be littered around the place and consequently often at a junction there would not be a sign showing were to go rather, you could glimpse the next sign down the road.
After finding the way in Sowerby Bridge, by use of the OS Map 21 (on Amazon). we continued along to Hebden Bridge for our planned lunch stop however the track surface did deteriorate to only mud a few times.
Proceeding on from Hebden Bridge we continued along using a combination of canal towpaths and the road however we found the the two paths were either of very poor quality, closed resulting in ridiculous step climbing or else featuring frequent water overflows, cobbled and underwater.
After reaching Todmorden we gave up on the canal path and just hit the main road, which was surprisingly wide most of the time and often had a bike lane down the side of it. This identified to me one of the main takeaways of the whole day out, how much faster you go on smooth tarmac both up and down hill as opposed to being on a poor surface which tends to slow down downhill ridding.
We found a busy, but good route around Rochdale and sensible underpass crossing of both the A627(M) and the M62 before rejoining the canal path.
We left the canal path for a final time, when it deteriorated to an non-surfaced track (clearly marked as such on the Manchester Cycle Maps), on the outskirts of Middleton and then followed the heritage route into the center of Middleton.
After following the A664 across the M60 and eventually dropping down onto the A62 to get into the city and arrive at Piccadilly station. This final section turned out to be the most dangerous part of the whole ride with both Ash and I having to pull emergency stops due to cars either failing to give way on roundabouts or turning right across us.
I would recommend this ride and hope to do it again. We took just over 6 hours in total and did not really push the speed at any time just enjoying the natural pace of it. In reality I suspect we spent well over an hour finding the way and eating. Also the hills happen at the start so when you get to Brighouse the hard bit is done.
I would love to do this ride with some transport planners as it is a good mix of great cycle provision and utterly crazy stuff including the direct into the canal cobbled slope.
Finally I would suggest avoiding this route on busy summer Saturdays as I suspect the canal towpaths will be to crowd for bikes to make good time along the majority of the route.