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 June 9, 2015 @ 4:00 PM in
On a recent, glorious Spring day I enjoyed a flavour of the new Cycle Sperrins touring route. Developed by adventure company Far and Wild, these guided or self-guided tours last from one to four days and explore the highlights of this perfect cycling destination, known for its quiet roads and abundance of archaeological sites.
As well as enjoying the beautiful scenery, I got to visit several members of the Sperrins Cycle Consortium, local businesses which cyclists can stop off at en route and get a taste of the local culture and cuisine.
I met the team from Far and Wild, picked up my hire bike and we started our tour from the pretty, Ulster Plantation village of Eglinton. Close to the shores of Lough Foyle, it’s right beside City of Derry Airport, meaning cyclists can set off on their tour as soon as they land.
Our first stop was Rachel’s Kitchen in the middle of the village, a relaxed café where our choices varied from hearty fries to fresh scones and pastries – an ideal place to fuel up for the day’s journey.
We set off and immediately began to ascend into the Sperrin foothills to the south. The going was challenging but manageable, helped by occasional stops and the beautiful views which quickly began to open up: over the main summits of the range and back over Lough Foyle.
Our next stop, the busy village of Claudy just off the main road from Derry~Londonderry to Belfast, was reached in time for lunch. We called into 54 Main Street, a recently refurbished restaurant, café and bar where owner Stephen ensured we were well fed for the next leg of our trip.
Specialties include Sicilian coffee, a range of high quality teas, home baked cakes and pastries and artisan sandwiches. Their plan is to become a hub for visitors to the Sperrins, by providing packed lunches, changing facilities, secure lock-ups for bikes, a range of meal options including speciality sports nutrition, and transport if needed.
Suitably rested and stocked up, we hit the roads again. We followed a short but lovely stretch of traffic-free path along the River Faughan through Claudy Country Park before navigating another series of hilly back roads to our next rest stop, the picturesquely located village of Park. This section, while again tough in parts, was one of the most scenic as we were now in the heart of the Sperrin Mountains.
Our next stop was just a short (uphill) jaunt from the village, and was one of the most unique and memorable of the trip. Tamnagh Foods, nestled in idyllic scenery in the grounds of a 19th century hunting lodge, is an award-winning artisan producer of cheeses as well as granola, relishes and chutneys.
Co-owner Kevin showed us around the cheese production area and explained the different stages of the process. Afterwards we got to try Tirkeeran, a delicious new cheese currently being developed. Visitors are welcome by prior arrangement to see the production area and purchase any of the products.
We said goodbye to Kevin and set off on one of the most anticipated/dreaded parts of the day’s journey. All day my cycling companions had built up the suspense and challenge of Dart Pass – a minor road ascending the side of Dart Mountain to a high point of about 440m.
The climb was indeed long and exhausting, made bearable only by a chocolate bar break and captivating views of Sawel and Dart, the highest and fifth highest peaks in the range respectively. My pride was relieved to find I wasn’t the only one who had no choice but to get off the bike and push, on two occasions. Fortunately cyclists can take an alternative, less tiring route if they wish, marked on the trail map.
It was all more than worth it when we reached the top, however. After a quick stop to catch our breath, we began the long descent into the lush, green Glenelly Valley and County Tyrone. This was easily the highlight of the day for me and one of my most exhilarating cycling experiences, helped by the complete lack of cars on this lonely mountain road.
We then followed the main road as it undulated west through the valley, with views of the Glenelly River below and across to the distinctive glacial cut in the Sperrins known as Barnes Gap.
I was glad for a chance to sit down at our next stop, Bradkeel Social Farm. Our hosts, Mabel and John, treated us to coffee and home-made scones with jam and cream as they told us about their working family farm. Outside we visited the polytunnels (extra hot in the strong afternoon sunshine), got some tips on growing our own fruit and vegetables (some of which I didn’t realise were suitable for our temperate climate) and watched the animals graze on land which clung to the slopes of the valley. Once again, visitors are welcome by prior arrangement and can stay for lunch to sample home cooking using the farm’s produce.
My day’s cycling ended just a short distance further in the idyllic, crossroads village of Plumbridge. We called into Watt’s (The Glenelly Bar), a friendly and homely pub which is a great place to relax after a strenous day on the bike. While I didn’t stay over, there are various accommodation properties in the local area including Sperrins Cycle Consortium members Ballynsollus Cottage (self-catering) and Gortin Accomodation Suite and Activity Centre (hostel and self-catering).
While I was exhausted, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable day and an experience I’ll remember fondly. It was great to meet the various people living and working in the Sperrins, and a nice sense of achievement knowing we’d started almost at sea level and had cycled up through the foothills and over the main chain of the range – a distance of about 56 Kms / 35 miles (though it felt a lot longer with the challenging terrain).
The suggested Days 2, 3 and 4 of the Cycle Sperrins itinerary take in many more of the region’s highlights (with an option of returning to Ebrington via the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal). These include the impressive Beaghmore Stone Circles and nearby Davagh Forest Mountain Bike Trails, St. Aidan’s Church and Holy Well and Broighter Gold Rapeseed Oil économusée. Accommodation options include Consortium members An Teach Glas (self-catering) near Maghera and the glamping lodges at Benone Tourist Complex at beautiful Benone Strand.
As part of the service, Far and Wild provides bike hire and full kit, a map guide, support including pre-arranged end-point pick-up and luggage transfer, emergency call-out, and guiding if required.
To find out more or to book your Cycle Sperrins tour, visit www.farandwild.co.uk/activity/cycle-sperrins/ or www.facebook.com/cyclesperrins
Posted on January 16, 2015 @ 2:26 PM in
Cycling Ulster’s leisure road cycling calendar is already jam packed with events for 2015, so whether you are a serious cyclist or a novice wanting to cycle their first sportive there is plenty to choose from. These non-competitive events, otherwise known as sportives or leisure events, are normally run by cycling clubs and charities and offer a great way for cyclists to come together and enjoy a leisurely day out on the bike whilst also pushing themselves at the same time.
Having bought my first road bike at the end of 2012 I entered a few of these events myself. I remember turning up to do my first sportive, slightly nervous from not knowing what to expect but also because I’d never cycled more than 20miles at a time! However, nerves aside, I was quickly made to feel welcome by my fellow participants as we all approached the start line. Clearly bitten by the bug I started to enter more leisure events, below is a synapse of the events I have taken part in…
Dromara Cycling Club, a club well known for its friendliness and professionalism at delivering events, host the ‘Dromara Coastal’ every year which takes in the beautiful scenery along the County Down coastline and the shores of Strangford Lough. There are two routes available – 60 and 80 miles – and is a great introductory event for leisure riders.
This 55 mile ride is organised by the Kilbride Cyclists cycling club and follows roads around County Antrim. With only one route on offer you can expect a fair amount of hills at this event! After around 30miles and just after a quick descent into Glenarm you will then be welcomed with a variety of homemade sandwiches, buns and cakes and oodles of tea and coffee at their feed station. Back on the bike for another 20 odd miles to the finish line where a BBQ awaits you and a well-earned cuppa!
The Tour of the Orchard County is a sportive organised by the Armagh Tigers, a charitable trust set up six years ago and by a group of Armagh business people with a long history of fund-raising for local charities. On the day there are two routes (36miles & 68miles) around the Orchard County of Armagh passing many historical points of interest along the way. We opted for the shorter 36mile route and were joined by array of cyclists of varying abilities. Half way round there is a small feed stop where you can pick up just enough to see you through to the finish line where a very well deserved burger and chip awaits you!
The Maracycle is a well-known event where participant’s cycle between Dublin and Belfast in support of Ireland’s leading peace building charity, Cooperation Ireland. Due to lack of training, on the day we decided to take part in a section of the route from Belfast to Newry which meant we cycled around a total of 40miles (a bit of a cop out compared to what the other participants had ahead of them!). The camaraderie of the participants is what definitely stands out about this event and is probably what spurs people on to complete the longer distances. In Newry (which was the finish for us) we received a commemorative t-shirt and medal, which was a nice touch.
Many cyclists debate the hardest leisure events in Ireland and normally the Dromara Hilly will get a mention because of its notorious climbs. However, there are a variety of routes which should suit as many people as possible (105miles/77miles/52miles/37miles). On the day of the event there had been torrential downpours from the early hours of the morning so initially we were to complete the 52 mile route but then only ended up completing around 40 miles in the horrendous weather conditions. Over half way in you’ll be greeted with a fantastic feed station at Leitrim with sandwiches, buns, yoghurts plus lots more and then when all the hard work is done burgers are given out to all finishers. To help guide you along the way and to offer some kind words of encouragement you’ll see Dromara CC club members dotted along the route.
Lap the Lough is on every cyclists list of events to complete, an event that circumnavigates Lough Neagh and started in 2006. A friend and I entered to complete Lap 9 which took place in August 2014. On the day of the event there was a feed stop every 20-25 miles which was a great way to breakdown the distance of 85miles – a distance which I’d never cycled before. The route is also fairly flat so it’s not that demanding, the most important thing is making sure you feel comfortable on your bike because you could be on it for around 5-7 hours. Half way round there was a lunch stop so we could stock up on some soup and a roll and at the finish line there were yummy wraps for everyone.
The Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive is held every September with many club cyclists considering it as their end of season sportive and one to train for because of the infamous Torr Head Road on the 80mile and 115mile routes. Luckily for me there was a shorter option (35miles) that avoids the Torr Head but follows the beautiful Coast Road as well as through the magnificent Dark Hedges instead. The scenery, the friendly atmosphere and the banter between participants are definitely what make this event plus the hot spicy chicken pasta that was laid out for everyone at the finish line.
Entering these type of events is a great way to not only motivate yourself to get out on the bike but also to meet like-minded people. One event worth considering this year is the much anticipated Gran Fondo, a legacy event from last year’s Giro d’Italia which expects to attract up to 4,000 participants. There is a 36 mile route, which would be ideal for beginners or a 109 mile route, suitable for more experienced cyclists.
It is a good idea to carry out some preparation before you take part in any event in order to make it as memorable as possible! Make sure to check your bike so that it is in good working order and it is also very important to check the weather forecast so you can prepare what you will wear on the day. Some things you will need on the day are your water bottle, some snacks, cycling gloves, shoes, helmet, some money and your mobile phone.
To see what events are on throughout the year visit www.cycleni.com/events
Posted on October 29, 2014 @ 3:31 PM in
A day out on the bike really isn’t complete without a good coffee stop thrown in for good measure! So that’s why CycleNI.com have put together a list of their favourite cafes and coffee shops all across the country, perfect for relaxing in and refuelling for your onward journey. Some places mentioned below have bike parking outside and all of them are sure to give any cyclist a warm welcome!
Inevitably there will be places to add to this list so if you know of somewhere that is not included and is cycle friendly please let us know by commenting below!
- Divis Coffee Barn – the recently opened coffee barn at Divis has had many cyclists flock to it to sample the homemade baking and cooking delights and at 1,025 feet, it is Ireland’s highest coffee shop. The new Ridge Trail on Divis is open to cyclists and offers spectacular skyline views over Belfast.
- Lough Keepers Cottage – located on the Lagan and Lough Cycle Way, The Lock Keepers Inn is the perfect stop off for a coffee, breakfast, lunch or a snack. Using the best of local ingredients where the owners strive to bring you good food in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere
- 5A Lockview Road – this cafe is a tiny, quirky little place that serves up great coffee and great food. Inside and outside you’ll notice the relaxed atmosphere around the place and another benefit is that it is ideally located on the edge of the Lagan and Lough Cycle Way in Stranmillis.
- Love Coffee, Lurgan – is an ethical coffee shop specialising in artisan coffee, fair trade, homemade desserts and lunchtime treats. Cycle routes nearby include Oxford Island, Bann Montaighs Trails, Birches & Maghery Trails, Craigavon Cycle Trail, Craigavon Lakes Moutainbike Trail, Derrytrasna Loop and the Newry Canal Towpath.
- Studio Café at Wrights Soft Furnishings, Armagh – is a beautiful coffee shop full of homemade goodies, lunches and fair-trade tea and coffee. The Tassagh Cycle Route starts in Armagh or a short drive can take you to Gosford Forest Park where you can enjoy some off road riding.
Posted on October 2, 2014 @ 11:58 AM in
CycleNI.com brings you the ten most popular routes on its website. These routes are based on what routes our visitors are viewing the most. There is a mixture of short, long, on road and off road routes so there should be something to suit everyone!
1) Comber Greenway
The Comber Greenway is the most popular route on our website and is a 7 mile traffic free path of the National Cycle Network which follows the old Belfast to Comber railway line. The traffic free walking and cycling route begins at Dee Street in East Belfast close to the Harland and Wolff shipyard. From the Holywood Arches to Dundonald the Greenway provides a tranquil green corridor through East Belfast with points of interest along the way including the CS Lewis Statue, views of the Harland & Wolff Cranes, Parliament Buildings at Stormont and the Belfast Hills.
2) Lagan and Lough Cycle Way
The Lagan and Lough Cycle Way on National Cycle Network Route number 93 and 9 is a 21 mile mostly traffic-free cycle and walking route connecting Lisburn, Belfast and Jordanstown. The route is suitable for cyclists of all ages and abilities and passes along the waterside of the Lagan Towpath and Belfast Lough.
3) Newry Canal Towpath
Similar to the Lagan and Lough Cycle Way, this very popular, traffic free route runs from Portadown to Newry and totals 20 miles in length. The route follows the towpath on the western bank of the Newry Canal.
4) Belfast Lough
This traffic free flat section of the National Cycle Network along the shoreline of Belfast Lough takes in views of a truly historic shipyard. The 7 mile route runs on a path parallel to the motorway where you can observe the birds of Belfast Lough from special bird watching hides. The cycle lanes then take you through Duncrue Industrial Estate and onto Clarendon Dock where new businesses thrive alongside the old dry docks, where ships were once repaired. On arrival in Belfast, visit the Lagan Weir and learn about the history of the river Lagan and the Titanic.
5) Loughshore Trail
The Loughshore Trail is a unique 113 mile on road cycleway, not only because it circumnavigates Lough Neagh but because it uses quiet country lanes and consists of mainly flat terrain. As well as providing breathtaking views, the trail also incorporates over 30 major sites of interest including marinas, nature reserves, parks and sites of archaeological interest.
6) Giant’s Causeway to Benone
For a stunning cycle ride along the North Coast, follow National Cycle Network Route 93 between the Giants Causeway in the east and Benone in the west. This 22 mile on and off road route passes through the resort towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Castlerock. Significant stretches of the route are along traffic-free paths.
7) Ballyshannon to Larne
Often listed in the world's top 10 road trips, the Antrim Coast is unrivalled in terms of attractions and scenery. Throw in the Sperrins, an Ancient Walled City and Atlantic beaches and you've got an unbeatable cycling holiday. The complete route is 281 miles in length along mostly minor country roads with varying degrees of cycling difficulty. Whether completed in its entirety or in smaller sections every cyclist will enjoy a truly spectacular experience.
8) Kingfisher Trail
The Kingfisher Trail has been named after the kingfisher, a bird long associated with the lakes, fishing and the tranquillity of the rural setting. This is a beautiful rural area of quiet country roads well suited to cycling as there is very little traffic. This 230 mile trail was the first mapped and signed long distance cycle route in Ireland and is still regarded as one of the most enjoyable.
9) Strangford Lough Cycle Trail
Cycle through St. Patrick’s country and explore one of Europe’s richest wildlife habitats, Strangford Lough, on this 82 mile on road route. It is managed by the National Trust and is a haven for marine life, butterflies and wild flowers. The route which is linked from Belfast by the traffic-free Comber Greenway meanders along the shores of the Ards Peninsula and Strangford Lough along minor roads with all the scenery and wildlife right at your wheels.
10) Craigavon Lakes Mountain Bike Trail
This 6.5mile family mountain bike trail meanders through broadleaf woodlands, wildflower meadows and along the lake shoreline. The majority of the trail is purpose built singletrack linked with some wider tarmac sections meaning it is both challenging and scenic. The trail is suitable for all cyclists with basic off-road riding skills.
Why not experience some of these routes for yourself? Even if you don’t have a bike there is further information on each route page about bike hire and don’t forget to check out the facilities section for the nearest coffee shops too!
Posted on July 8, 2014 @ 12:52 PM in
No more teachers and no more books can only mean one thing...school is out for summer! If you are trying to plan a few day trips away with the kids, the team at CycleNI.com has selected a few of their favorite off road routes perfect for a great family day out.
So if your little ones have been watching any of the Tour de France Grand Depart on the tv over the past few days and want to become the next Chris Froome then pack the bikes into the car, choose a destination from one of the family friendly routes below and off you go!
1) Comber Greenway
The Comber Greenway is one of the most popular traffic free cycling routes in Northern Ireland. Starting in Comber, join the greenway just off the A22 and cycle to Dundonald which is approximately 3-4miles in length. At Dundonald, leave the Comber Greenway at access point 15 and continue up the Comber Road (please note this road can be busy) towards Belfast where you will find an award winning café called Nosh that serves up many delights.
2) Lagan and Lough Cycle Way
Another favorite with many cyclists is the Lagan and Lough Cycle Way. Starting at Stranmillis (just beside Cutters Wharf) the towpath follows a flat wide path and if you cycle towards Shaw’s Bridge, which is approximately 3 miles away, you will come across the Lock Keepers Cottage where you can stop for a bite to eat. If you’d prefer to stop in Stranmillis after your return journey, a new bicycle themed coffee shop called ‘5A Lockview Road’ has just opened on Lockview Road which has some amazing reviews!
3) Newry Canal
Similar to the Lagan and Lough Cycle Way, this very popular, traffic free towpath runs from Portadown to Newry and totals 20 miles in length. Start at Scarva and follow the towpath in the direction of Newry, enjoying the stunning views over Acton Lake before reaching Poyntzpass, this section is approximately 3 miles long. Refreshments are available in Poyntzpass but if you return to Scarva, a fine favorite with many cyclists is the highly acclaimed Tea Rooms in Scarva Visitor Centre.
4) Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails
One of Northern Ireland's most famous lakes, a stunning Victorian Castle, incredible panoramic views and lots of different cycling trails is what is to be expected at Castlewellan. Castlewellan Forest Park’s green and blue mountain bike trails are suitable for families with the green trail being the easier of the two and are both around 2.5 miles in length. Urban Coffee, located on Castlewellan’s main street offers friendly service, excellent food at reasonable prices and amazing coffee!
5) Castle Ward Farm Trail
This 2.5mile cycle route will take you through stunning woodland and farmland as well as past the 15th century Audley's Castle. After your bike ride relax with a cup of coffee or refuel with a bite to eat in the onsite café which serves light lunches, delicious homemade cakes and excellent coffee.
6) Blessingbourne Mountain Bike Trails
Located on a private estate in the picturesque Clogher Valley, this unique trail centre caters for cyclists of all ages and abilities with a range of wide flowing blue trails (2.5miles) perfect for families and a pump track where the kids can really test their bike skills. At weekends, a pop-up Pedal Stop Coffee Cabin opens serving coffee and divine homemade cakes. A great place to refuel, warm-up or just relax and enjoy the views.
For a full list of off road cycling routes in Northern Ireland please visit CycleNI.com