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 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.
Posted on July 23, 2013 @ 11:23 AM in
Two members of the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive team recently returned from conquering the L'Etape du Tour (the amateur stage of Le Tour de France.) Chris Scott explains how goal setting and expert coaching allowed two 'average joes' to complete such a challenge.
Every goal has to begin with inspiration - whilst backpacking around Europe in 2001 I was en route to the Arc de Triomphe for a spot of sightseeing when my route was blocked by a cycle race. I started chatting to an American couple who told me in great detail how a cancer survivor from Texas had just won his third consecutive Tour de France. Say what you like about the guy but from that moment on I was hooked.
Due to commitments to other sports, cycling took a back seat with only the odd charity cycle and half baked triathlon attempt. However in 2011 a conscious decision was made to complete the L'Etape du Tour. With keen cyclist and work colleague Chris Armstrong easily convinced to sign up to the same goal we set about training for the now defunct Etape Hibernia in Co Clare later that summer .
We aimlessly road for hours around Strangford Lough and the Glens of Antrim (creating the basis of the Giants Causeway Coast Sportive route in our minds) and the infamous Torr Head became our nemesis (yes we are to blame for its inclusion within the route!!). The Etape Hibernia was completed in a reasonable time yet a lot more was required - but how could we feasibly fit in more training?
2012 was a disaster with more of my time spent in the physio's treatment room than on the bike, however with encouragement from Chris A, we battled through the Inishowen 100 and Etape Cymru through the mountains of North Wales. Injury restricted training aside we were a long way from taking on any Alpine passes.
(Chris A and Chris S on Five Finger Strand - Inishowen 100)
With our goal and the experience of the Irish & UK based sportives still firmly front of mind we registered for the 2013 stage of 130km from Annency to Annecny Semnoz - with the summit finish of 11.5 km @ 8.5% it was no small undertaking.
A new carbon Vitus Dark Plasma VR was purchased thanks to great advice and support from the Chain Reaction Cycles Flagship Store in Belfast but our best investment was in the coaching services of Dig Deep Coaching.
Following an interview with coach Stephen Gallagher and completion of a detailed questionnaire, we received our training programme. Training changed from aimlessly cycling round for hours until we felt tired to shorter focused efforts of heart rate and cadence . After the first winter turbo session it became clear that Dig Deep Coaching's programme was going to give us everything we needed to succeed (if we followed it!!)
It should be said we probably weren't model clients - due to work commitments we struggled to follow the plan to a tee but Stephen remained patient and positive - in fact I think his greatest skill is that he treats everybody with the same professionalism and enthusiasm regardless of whether you are an average joe or a champion road racer.
With training complete, the day itself was the most amazing experience, we set off from the shores of Lake Annecy in waves totalling 11,500 cyclists from over 50 countries. With 3 categorised climbs out of the way before breakfast it became clear we would finish within the time limit - providing we finished i.e. coped with the increasing heat. Rudyard Kipling said 'only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid days sun' - I certainly felt like a mad dog when climbing 15km up Mont Revard in 30 degrees Celsius.
The summit finish up Semnoz was always going to be the biggest challenge, in fact it gave us both a kicking during a recce trip in May. But as the large crowd cheered us along the lower slopes something kicked in (maybe the caffeine gels), I was suddenly transported back to my garage turbo sessions of high cadence and heart rates. As I overtook competitors wobbling on the brink, pushing their bikes or lying on the road side I counted off every 100 metres on my GPS until the top and the finish.
9 hours later with 5 1/2 hours climbing we were at the finish, certainly not breaking any records (Chris Froome completed the stage in just under 4 hours) but a life goal completed. Thanks to the L'Etape du Tour and Dig Deep Coaching cycling will never be the same again! So set a goal, make a plan and enjoy the success - why not start with the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive on September 7th this year.
Posted on June 4, 2013 @ 9:48 AM in
When an offer came into the office to attend the launch of a new food cycle trail in the Mournes I jumped at the chance to go after reading about all the yummy food that would be on offer throughout the day.
On the morning of the launch, after waking up I remember quickly looking out my bedroom window expecting it to be cold and wet, given the recent weather, but to my surprise and of course delight there was lots of glorious sunshine and blue sky which got me thinking…what a great day to get out of the office, get on a bike and eat lots of nice food!
On arrival to the Enniskeen Country House Hotel, where the trail starts, we met with our guide for the day and were taken in a shuttle bus up to Spelga Dam in the Mournes where we were quickly kitted out with bikes and helmets as we took in the view of the Mournes. This part of the trail can either be taken in the shuttle bus or can be cycled…it’s up hill all the way so sneakily I was glad we were able to choose the not so strenuous option!
From Spelga Dam we free wheeled all the way down to Patterson’s Farm with only one or two turns of the pedals…maybe we should have cycled up to Spelga Dam to try and burn off some calories to make room for what food was to come!
At Patterson’s Farm we met up with Desy during feeding time to talk about his Mourne Lamb and the difference in its taste depending on the grazing locations. After talking with Desy we were all eager to get to the next stop on the trail (for obvious reasons if you read on) which was back at the Enniskeen Hotel for delicious Mourne Honey themed afternoon tea. Whilst enjoying the spread that was laid out for us on the terrace of the hotel, overlooking the Mourne Mountains, we were given a short talk by bee keeper and guru, Joe Thompson, who told us all about Mourne Honey and the different types of honey that is made depending on what flora and fauna the bees thrive on.
Back on the bikes, for a short trip into Newcastle where we stopped off at Café Crème for some homemade Abernethy Fudge as well as the Cookie Jar to try their famous wheaten bread with Abernethy butter spread on top. Time to cycle onto the Down Royal Golf Club where we stopped to indulge on our Abernethy Fudge before stopping off at Murlough Farm, located beside Dundrum Bay, to collect some free range eggs, which saved me a trip to Tesco to pick up some food for dinner that evening!
The final section of the day was spent testing the tasty treats that the Mourne Sea Food Bar and the Bucks Head in Dundrum had prepared for us which included crab cakes, brill, langoustines and crab claws which was washed down with local stout from the Mourne Sea Food Bar as well as mussel soup, venison, lamb and sweet potato terrain and baked oysters from the Bucks Head.
If all this talk of food is making you hungry then why not get down to the Enniskeen Country House Hotel just outside Newcastle to try out the new trail?!
The Mourne Foods Cycle Trail is a fully self guided trail with bike hire and maps available from the Enniskeen Country House Hotel. Priced from £30 per person - includes bicycle hire, bike pannier storage compartment, trail pack and FREE shuttle bus up to Spelga Dam.