Welcome to our cycling Blog. Whether you are a cycling enthusiast or complete beginner, looking for ideas for the family or planning trips with friends this blog will aim to provide you with up-to-date, relevant information on cycling in Northern Ireland. CycleNI.com staff will be keeping you in touch with local events and new routes whilst industry experts will be revealing their secrets on everything from bicycle maintenance to hidden gems for cyclists of all abilities to explore.
For your definitive guide to cycling in Northern Ireland visit www.cycleni.com
Posted on February 20, 2014 @ 4:11 PM in
I’m in my early sixties, suffer from Fibromyalgia and have only been cycling for just about four years. I seen the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive advertised on Facebook and Cycle NI and thought now there’s a challenge that could be worth going for.
There are three routes to select from 57km which covers the Causeway Coast, 126km which covers the Glens and the Antrim Coast and the 182km the Giant Killer. As you can guess I selected the shorter route (35 miles in old money). Basically there is a route to suit all abilities from those like myself to those who want an even bigger challenge, to club cyclists who really want to test themselves against their mates and the route.
There was plenty of pre event information from the event organisers, keeping us up to date with details on training advice, lists of B & B, parking on the day etc. For those who had booked early Chain Reaction Cycles provided a free Race Pack worth over £12.00, nice touch and very useful.
I prefer to stay in a local B&B over the full event weekend so that I’m able to soak up the atmosphere, camaraderie and craic in and around the town the evenings before and after the ride. It also allowed me the meet the event organisers, complete my registration, collect my cycling jersey and have a quiet meal in one of the many bars & restaurants in Ballycastle. Not to late a night mind, there’s work to be done in the morning.
Even though on the morning of the event there was howling wind and rain, the music still pumped from the Event HQ to all parts of the town, the place was electric. With some nerves in my head and legs it was great to meet other cyclists some who were feeling much the same. Cyclists regardless to their age, size or ability are all one big family, advice and support is freely given and encouragement offered. You need to remind yourself that this is not a race although not everyone sees it that way, there is also a healthy competitive edge to this kind of event.
The riders eagerly waiting to do the 57km route where standing over all different types of bikes before we were called to the start line. After a safety briefing everyone sets off as the timing chips switch on as we cross the start line. Even at this early stage the craic and banter is mighty, everyone encouraging each other. The route was very well marshalled and the signage was clear for all to see. It was good to see signs to warn motorists that a cycle ride was in progress. It’s not long before you get the old legs into a rhythm and you pair of with cyclists of similar abilities as yourself. For me it was a steady average pace of 15 mph, what a wonderful way to view the amazing scenery along the beautiful North Antrim Coast which would have been even more scenic on a better day.
I have travelled these road so many times by car but you really don’t see the half of it. Every dip, every rise and every bend on the journey brought yet new panoramic views, oh what a wonderful country we have. The rolling hills took us along the coast road past Ballintoy, the Giant’s Causeway and in to Bushmills (no time to stop for a wee dram) where a few miles beyond we reached the feed station. It was a most welcome sight not just because the legs where starting to burn and the energy levels were running low but I was able to get one of Chain Reaction Cycles roving mechanic’s to twig the gears on my bike. The feed station was just about the right distance in to the ride and there was ample supply of bars, cakes, sweets, bananas and fluid all served up by very friendly staff. After a few minutes of rest, refuelling and both giving and receiving encouragement it was time to get going again.
Ah sure it’s only 14 miles to the finish someone said and she was right. More beautiful scenery all around us as we cycled up hill and down dale through the “Dark Hedges” and through Glentaisie one of the Nine Glens of Antrim on our way back to Ballycastle and the finish.
We arrived back to cheers and claps from our loved ones and the organisers, what a welcome...I felt I had just won the Giro. I know it wasn’t quite the Giro however I had completed my own personal challenge and when the going got tough it was good to know I had the support of other cyclists who helped me ride through the pain barrier and in to Ballycastle. On crossing the finishing line we received a Goody Bag full of yes you guessed it GOODIES. After a tiring day in the saddle it was a welcome treat to receive a warm bowl of spicy pasta, tea, coffee and energy bars all dished out with a smile and a well done. It was lovely to sit down with other competitors and chat about the day’s event and how each rider had made it through the day. The fellowship among the entire cyclist community regardless of their achievements was clear for all to see. (The time it took me to complete the course will remain my secret). It was time to head back to Colliers Hall B & B for a soothing shower and a few hours recovery, before heading out for a wee post event night on the town.
The taxi arrived at 7.30pm and we were safely driven to O’Connor’s Bar for the post event party. We arrived early and had time to sample some fine food and drinks in very warm and comfortable surroundings. Many other cyclists, their family and friends had the same thought so the craic that had started many hours earlier just continued. The party was a wonderful way to chat with the event organisers, fellow participants and wind down. During the evening a prize draw took place with many wonderful gifts on offer. I was lucky enough to win a voucher for a meal for two in O’Connor’s Bar. It was used a few weeks later on my next visit to Ballycastle.
So what can I say about The Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive? The event is open to all cyclists, of all abilities, ages and genders. The scenery is breath-taking, the route is well signed posted and marshalled, the food and feed stations are great, the goody bag is worth a few quid and the hot food at the finish was worth going the extra mile. I could go on and on enough to say it’s an excellent event, very well organised and I’ve already booked to do it all again in September 2014, bring it on!
I was delighted to learn that the event was awarded as “Leisure Event of the Year” for 2013. CONGRATULATIONS everyone.
Finally I would like to say a big thank you to the event organisers, their sponsors and everyone associated with such a wonderful event. See you all again in September!
The 2014 event will take place on Saturday 13th September and again starts and finishes in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim with an entrance fee of £35. For more information and to book online please visit the event website - www.giantscausewaycoastsportive.com
Posted on January 13, 2014 @ 12:12 PM in
Rusty Surginor, a keen climber and outdoor enthuasist, had been competing in a climbing competition and unfortunately injured himself. Whilst recovering at home he started to think about what he could do with the days off work and this is where the plans for his adventure across Ireland on a bike started...in Rusty's own words "They say when one door closes another opens: this time they were right..."
I had always been drawn to the idea of crossing Ireland unsupported: either by foot or by bike. Usually the plan would be outlined to non cyclists or hikers a half an hour before closing time in a pub or at a wedding. The fantasy fuelled by the warm glow of enthusiasm brought on by whiskey and usually received with polite expressions of disinterest. Hikers and cyclists know the look. The one when we know that whomever we’re talking to just doesn’t get “it”. Ask anyone to explain precisely what “it” is and they’ll usually fail. But we still know what “it” is. We still take to the roads and hills and know when we’ve found “it”. I was determined not to waste my days off and so dusted off the pipe dream and made the plan.
The simple plan consisted of cycling coast to coast across Ireland and bivying along the way. 113 miles across the top of Ireland in as little time as possible. I had done no cycling preparations prior to setting off but the excitement had already took me and there was no stopping me now. Kit packed and with a few crude directions on my iPhone I mounted the borrowed racing bike and set off on a rainy Monday through heavy Belfast traffic.
The incline to get out of the valley of Belfast was a shock to the system however after 30mins or so I found myself looking down over the city and heading towards Antrim. The lack of traffic and green fields of the 7 mile straight soothing my cluttered mind and as the endorphins kicked in I felt the thrill of this new adventure take told.
My bike was kindly loaned by fellow Hikers blog member Oisin and perfect for the job. Originally I had thought of using my own mountain bike. A few hours into the journey I realised that this would have been disastrous. I settled into the rhythm of the road quite well. Stopping here and there at garages and shops to fill up on high sugar snacks. My marathon experience taught me that running low on fuel could end any such trip quite quickly. Hitting the wall when the body’s glycogen reserves are depleted brings the body and mind to some strange places. The will starts to dwindle and excuses come to mind as to why you should stop. Failure stalks you in the form of rationalising to yourself why you should stop. In any endurance event learning how to avoid listening to these thoughts is key. I was able to avoid alot of this by keeping fuelled up.
The first days cycling brought me to Plumb Bridge. Just the other side of the Sperrin Mountain range. A lack of any form of rational planning meant that I had accidentally plotted by route directly over the Sperrins. Much of the route was therefore uphill and the Sperrins for all their beauty took an astonishing toll the first day. As daylight faded and I limped into the town of Plumb Bridge in search of food and a spot to make camp I was utterly exhausted but still extremely pleased.
After a quick meal, several pints in the local pub and a hearty sleep I was back on the road before sunrise the second morning and surprisingly enthusiastic as I knew I would arrive that day. I can only describe the excitement like that of a child on Christmas Eve.
As I cycled on the Sun came up and brought with it warmth and the knowledge that I would be in a warm bed that very evening. Crossing the boarder at Strabane I cycled for hours across hills, endless fields and small towns. Letting my thoughts wonder. Content and happy in the rhythm of life on the road. Deeply meditative. The experience was very like walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Soaking in the silence and the scenery.
Reaching the County of Donegal I was impressed deeply by some of the stunning landscape. The barren but beautiful hills of Donegal reminded me that I was near my destination and I actually found myself slowing down to enjoy the cycle. Knowing that by afternoon the dream would be over and I’d have arrived.
I was pleased to see the yellow directional markers on the Bluestack Way in Donegal. The yellow markers are the same as the ones used on the Camino and part of me was pleased to see the tradition being continued with the Bluestack Hiking trail in Donegal. As I pumped the pedals for a sprint finish into Ardara town I felt ecstatic. I felt like I’d just won the Tour de France! Exhausted but happy I climbed off for a well earned pint of Guinness.
The cycle in total took me a day and a half. Respectable enough however without a rucksack I’d imagine it could be done in a day with some training. Importantly though the experience reinforced the joy one can get from jumping in and going for those expeditions that we all have in mind. To go for it, not over think it and let the adventure carry you!
For more inspiring blogs on a variety of outdoor activities from Rusty and others please visit www.hikersblog.co.uk
Posted on November 12, 2013 @ 1:12 PM in
It’s that time of year again when we’re met with dark evenings and cold frosty mornings as well as the inevitable rain that comes along with every winter.
At Chain Reaction Cycles we don’t view winter as a negative, more of a challenge to keep you on the road and trails.
Two of our longest serving members of the team - Brendan Monaghan (road cycling specialist) and Stephen Prentice (mountain biking specialist) have pulled together their own winter essentials kit list which should help you whether you’re commuting to work, riding trails or heading out for a long road ride.
For every road cyclist the key elements of winter cycling are to stay warm, dry and most importantly out on your bike for as long as possible.
Generally my feet are the first to feel the signs of cold, so wearing a pair of Northwave Fahrenheit GTX boots (£121.49) has a large impact. Whilst definitely not the cheapest item on the list, they’re the number one item as far as I am concerned. To enhance that, why not look at a pair of Mavic Thermo socks for that added comfort?
Then I look at the layering for the top half of my body – base layers help to keep me warm and wick moisture, the craft Active LS top (£28.99) is a great example of that: thin, lightweight and dries quickly. My outer layer on the colder days is the Northwave Extreme Graphic jacket (£107.99), warm, shower resistant and with plenty of stretch letting me move to suit my cycling style and position.
For leggings, the Endura Thermolite Pro Biblong Padded tights (£71.89) with the Hi Vis sections gives other road users visibility of me and again the high stretch Lycra lets me perform whilst keeping me warm.
My final essentials are my Castelli gloves (£34.99), my merino Buff (£19.99) and my SealSkinz waterproof cycling cap (£22.99)...all a must for the Northern Irish unpredictable winter.
Mountain Biking / Off Road Cycling
On a cold wet winter day it’s essential to wear the correct gear to give you the best riding experience for the conditions.
To start off a good baselayer – my Helly Hansen Dry Revolution long sleeve (£44.99) will help keep the chill out while my Endura Windchill II softshell (£71.89) keeps the elements out. A Pair of Endura ¾ Humvee baggie shorts (£56.75) help keep me dry and warm whilst still allowing enough movement.
Gaerne G Artix boots (£137.69) are probably my favourite piece of kit, keeping my feet warm and dry and they’re always reliable, great for muddy terrain and removable front studs for extra traction.
My final essential is the Endura Luminite Glove (£31.21), with wind-block fabric…not expensive and ultimately lets you stay on the trails longer.
Other good essentials for mountain biking are a good backpack like the Camelbak Mule (£71.99), a pair of knee pads from Nukeproof at £49.99, some winter socks from Endura, their BaaBaa Merino winter socks are priced at £9.45 and a Buff from Cyclone from £25.99.
All Items are currently in store at our Belfast Flaship Store on the Boucher Road.
Posted on November 7, 2013 @ 2:36 PM in
Summer maybe over but that doesn’t mean you have to put your bike back in the garage! Some of the best cycling to be had is in the autumn time when the weather is cool but not too cold and the leaves around you turn from green to brown and start to fall to the ground.
So why not put on another layer, get on your bike and check out these routes below, all are finished off with a good coffee stop suggestion!
- Lagan Towpath & Barnett Demesne Mountain Bike Trail – Cycle from Shaw’s Bridge along the green and blue trails of the new mountain bike trails, finishing off with a short cycle along the Lagan Towpath (total amount of cycling is around 5 miles) to the Lough Keepers Cottage for a well earned coffee and one of their gigantic tray bakes!
- Newry to Slieve Gullion Courtyard – This 10 mile route starts in Newry and connects with the Newry Canal Cycle Trail. Once outside Newry it follows minor country roads passing by historic places, archaeological monuments and stunning scenery within the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Once at Slieve Gullion be sure to call into the Grounded Coffee Shop in the courtyard to taste one of their many delights.
- Castle Ward Boundary Trail – The Castle Ward Boundary Trail is just over 8 miles in length and follows the boundary of the estate. It combines multi use trials with some swooping singletrack to get the fun going. After your bike ride relax with a cup of coffee or refuel with a bite to eat in the stableyard tea-room.
- Beech Hill – Enjoy up to 3 miles of cycling in the historic grounds of Beech Hill Country House Hotel exploring the connections the site has with World War II. Finish off the day with a visit to the Ardmore Restaurant located within the grounds of the hotel.
- Crom Estate – Saddle up for this 3.5 mile trail at Crom Estate and discover one of Ireland's most important Nature Conservation areas passing through ancient oak woodland with views of Upper Lough Erne. Don’t miss the Crom Tea House, where it was once customary for the family of the estate to take refreshments.
For more information on other cycling routes in Northern Ireland please visit www.cycleni.com
Posted on September 10, 2013 @ 12:16 PM in
Now the sensible thing to do on a Saturday morning, after the severe weather warnings for the North Coast proved to be oh so accurate, would have been to not even get out of bed, never mind drive up at 5.30am to the start line of the 2013 Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive. But how many people would describe the Belles as sensible?!
In winds of 25-30 mph and torrential rain, the 4 girls set off to tackle the longest of the 3 route choices – 182km also known as the 'Giant killer'!
The very start itself set the tone for the day – Julie and Andrea nearly colliding over the timing mat and crashing out before they even began. Yip, the wind was to blame?!
Sections of the route had already been closed by 9am, due to dangerous conditions, and from the very beginning extreme cold was also to be a key challenge for many of those taking part.
The first 50km was truly horrendous, and many who had set off with the intention of doing the long course, aborted at this point….which brought you back near the start area before heading off on the remaining 135km. The Belles, did a quick pit-stop at the van to find more layers and they did debate (not even a “heated debate”, as the heat would have been nice!) not continuing and just throwing the towel in and heading to the nearest coffee shop. But no, the girls continued.
Two miles down the road the decision was already being questioned, and Julie asked “shall we flip a coin to see whether we’ve made the right decision”. Cathy replied, “we don’t have a coin”. Julie responded, “let’s flip a bike then”.
The Belles soldiered on. (with a banjaxed bike! joke!).
By the 2nd feed stop at 100km conditions were a tiny bit better, but warmth was a distant dream. By the 3rd feed stop at 150km there was maybe the first feeling of not being totally frozen – aided by delicious soup, sandwiches, cake, flapjacks, jelly beans, tea and coffee.
The last 35km included a couple of testing climbs – which also aided the thaw-out! As did the sumptuous and tasty, spicy pasta at the finish line.
The stormy conditions were a headache for the organisers, but they were amazing in their practicality and their upbeat attitude.
This is a top class sportive with second-to-none planning, mechanical support, food stops, and en route support. It boasts amazing routes, with spectacular (when visible!) scenery and roads.
As for the weather? The hellishness made it heaven to complete. Sweet satisfaction overriding how gruelling it was at the time! Anybody that made the start line on Saturday is a true Giant of spirit. Anybody that made the finish is a true…..nutter!
The Belles next BIG challenge is the 2014 Race Across America but to help them get to the start line they need to secure some sponsorship so if you know anyone that would be interested in sponsoring them take on this huge challenge please get in touch with The Belles via their Facebook page.