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

2016's Queen of the Mountain

Posted on August 11, 2017 @ 3:14 PM in Cycling

One of the most iconic sportives in Northern Ireland, the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive takes place this year on Saturday 9th September. In the lead up to the event, participants eagerly train to be in with a chance of winning the specially timed segment up the infamous Torr Head. The fastest male earns the title of King of the Mountain and fastest female, Queen of the Mountain.

We caught up with the 2016 Queen of the Mountain, Claire Vernon, to hear her thoughts on the day. Claire is a keen cyclist from Belfast who rides with Phoenix Cycle Club. She flew up Torr Head’s QOM Segment in a seriously impressive 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Torr Head tops out at 1,210 feet with a gradient hitting over 20% in places and an average gradient of 8%.

I had originally planned to do the longer, more formidable route but due to last-minute social commitments (and since I sacrifice enough of my social life for cycling) I thought I’d forgo the 115 mile-route (what a martyr!) and do the 85-mile cycle instead.

Since I no longer had the challenge of completing the longest leg in one of the toughest sportives in the UK and Ireland, my sportive buddy had planted the idea in my head of completing the 85-mile route in under 5 hours. So, with that goal in mind, and charged with a healthy dose of competitive spirit (sure, it would be good if I managed the sub 5-hour target but it would be even better if I beat my friend to the finish line…), I set off like the hammers.

The first section is a bit of a blur as I hopped from group to group, depending on which one offered the best speed/shelter ratio. Unfortunately to meet my target I had to skip two of three feed stations. I opted for the middle one, where my sportive partner had allocated a strict 10-minute time limit to stuff a ham bap into my gob.

Knowing that Torr Head now awaited me, I was lucky enough to receive a tow along the coastal road by a strong two-man team putting in some kind of time trial-esque effort. I’m not quite sure why they chose to do this in the lead up to Torr Head, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

For some reason I thought the QOM challenge was on the very first part of Torr Head, so I attacked the first steep, winding section until I felt sick. Eventually, after dodging cars, fellow cyclists and sheep, I saw a roadside marker indicating the actual start of the segment, about three quarters of the way along Torr Head, leaving me wondering “What kind of masochist decided to place it here?!”

 

Claire's winning Torr Head ascent captured by sportive photographer IndustryImage.

I really was truly spent by that stage, but I summoned some inner strength by recalling all those times I’d been charging up a hill on a training ride and someone shouted out their car window “Keep ‘er lit!” – which always gives me a little boost.

(Maybe during future Giant's Causeway Coast Sportives you could have a roadside speaker that blares out “Keep ‘er lit!” at participants?)

With legs burning and heart frantically beating, I finally trounced Northern Ireland’s most ball busting climb. After enjoying the thoroughly dissatisfying descent off Torr Head (a climb that deserves a much better descent), I rolled into Ballycastle, finishing under 5 hours and – more importantly – beating my friend by a good 5 minutes.

 

Claire collects her QOM Prize from Chain Reaction Cycles Belfast Flagship Store.

If you want a chance to tackle the event’s KOM / QOM segment on either the 85 or 115 mile route, you can register for the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive on the event website, and keep up to date with everything via our Facebook page. If you’re planning to earn the title, the time to beat for King of the Mountain is 6 minutes and 40 seconds; and 8 minutes 46 seconds for Queen of the Mountain.

Claire Vernon
Claire Vernon  Cyclist and QOM at GCCS 2016

7 Top Tips to Help You Conquer the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive.

Posted on May 23, 2017 @ 2:30 PM in Cycling

Sportives are hard, and the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive is certainly no exception. To help you prepare for the day, whether you've signed up to the 35, 85 or 115 mile legs, we've got some great tips from top Irish long distance triathlete and coach, Lorcan Healy

1. Get the miles in!

Don’t underestimate the challenge. As with other endurance events – such as half marathons, marathons and triathlons – you wouldn’t complete them without any training. This means getting the miles in on the bike and increasing your fitness to meet the demands of your sportive. A general rule of thumb is that you should be able to comfortably cycle two thirds of your sportive distance in training. For example, if you’re riding the 115 mile leg of the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive, you should be able to clock 77 miles in your training. Also, mimic the terrain of your course in training. If it’s a hilly sportive you are planning, get your climbing legs on during training and try a few hilly cycles.

 

2. Break the distance of your sportive into chunks

Your sportive cycle can seem daunting, especially if it is a super hilly 115 miler, or a distance you haven’t cycled before. If you break the distance of the route into sections, it becomes less daunting and will help keep your motivation levels up. Aim for the food stops which you’ll come across every 20/30 miles. This is a great way to break the distance down. Food stop to food stop; it will help keep your morale high and the sportive will seem to fly by.

 

3. Make sure your bike is in good condition

Your bike is the tool that is going to get you across that finish line so it to needs to be in good shape. Make sure your bike is fighting fit the day before your sportive. The last thing you want is to be fit and motivated to complete the challenge ahead only to be let down by a mechanical issue. Consider leaving your bike into Chain Reaction Cycles to get a service before your big event. Or if you’re a keen amateur bike mechanic check your tyre pressure and brakes are working and not rubbing on the rim. Don’t forget, mechanics from Chain Reaction Cycles will also be on standby throughout the day to help with any technical problems!

 

4. Take the right kit

Anyone familiar with the weather in Northern Ireland will understand that one minute the sun can be splitting the sky and the next it's bucketing out of the heavens. Being cold on the bike is a miserable experience, therefore being prepared is key. Suitable kit is a must when undertaking a cycle that will last a few hours. Check the weather forecast the day before your event. If there are showers expected then fold a lightweight rain jacket and keep it in your back pocket of your cycling jersey. It's best to be prepared so you have nothing to worry you on the morning of your sportive.

 

5. Pace yourself!

This is huge. It should be in your head as you prepare for your sportive and yet this is the most common factor that sees people withdraw three quarters of the way into the cycle. Don’t pay the price for setting off too fast - you'll just end up wanting the road to open up and swallow you as you dive deeper into the suffer fest. In a big event such as the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive, it is easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and with fitter riders; it is a mass participation event but NOT A RACE! Ride at your own pace or with people who you may have trained with. This will allow you to keep plenty of energy in reserve for the more challenging aspects of the course.

 

6. Nutrition

This is an important factor on the day of the event. Any cyclist who has run out of fuel and has “bonked” or felt the “knock” will tell you that it is a very unpleasant experience. Make use of the food stops available during the sportive. Keep drinking energy drinks every 10 / 20 minutes and eating energy bars and gels every 45 / 60 minutes. If you do feel yourself getting tired, a good idea is to have a caffeine energy gel. After this, you'll feel like somebody has given you a new set of legs. Also the night before the event try to eat foods that are high in carbohydrates such as pasta and rice as it is this that will provide you the energy to conquer whichever route of the sportive you're doing.


7. Enjoy it!

You’ve done the training and worked hard in preparing yourself for the challenge so enjoy the experience! There's no doubt you will find the going tough at certain points (cough Torr Head cough) but think of all the work you've put into preparing yourself for it. Completing a sportive is a huge achievement and highly rewarding so enjoy the whole experience. Enjoy crossing that finishing line and meeting other participants and sharing your stories from the event. Enjoy the after party! There's no doubt in my mind you'll be buzzing for a few days after and will be signing for your next sportive very soon.

Enter the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive now!

Lorcan Healy is a professional physiotherapist and triathlete coach with Peak Performance Coaching. He has ridden competitively across Europe and provides indepth coaching lessons and training programmes.

Lorcan Healy
Lorcan Healy  Triathlete and PT

Lorcan Healy is a top Irish long distance triathlete and coach. He has raced at the highest level within Ireland, the UK and Europe.

Torr Hell! The Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive - Cycling Northern Ireland

Posted on April 28, 2017 @ 1:00 PM in Cycling

The summer has been busy for me with lots of work and of course tonnes of cycling. One final sportive before the end of season, I headed to Northern Ireland in September to complete the Giant's Causeway sportive.

I had been very busy all week so I arrived in Antrim with no notion of what I was cycling, where I was headed or what to expect! Usually I would read the official website, look at the route and the elevations but time just ran away for this one. Luckily I rang a friend on the way up  who has done the sportive numerous times and she warned me to only to do the 126km route. The 180km would be a big ask especially with Torr head at the end. She kept coming back to Torr head, saying it was tough, it goes up and up some more... to be honest, I have cycled up the Alps so didn't really pay attention.  How hard can it be?

It's not often I listen to anyone but I was very glad that on this occasion I did. 126km was more than enough. The route is hilly enough and then, having already cycled 103km the fun begins! Or not, I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

Have you ever been on a roller coaster? At the start it chugs up almost vertically and your mouth goes dry. Then it drops considerably along with your tummy. That was the first bit. I don't know how I had never heard of this climb until the day before. Even cycling in the Alps I don't remember any of it being this bad. This Torr hell was relentless. 17 kilometers in total. I would climb up a very steep aspect, it would get a bit level and then it would go up again. I don't know. It seemed to go on and on. Parts are 23% gradient, (that's steep!)  I honestly thought I would just fall over. My arms and abs were killing me later from pulling so hard on the bike. My front wheel kept lifting off the road in an unprovoked wheelie. The views were lovely though, looking up and up and up at a wall ahead with little tiny cyclists. Thankfully the weather was being kind to us so that was something. I had to dig deep and get up this wall. I found my inner Serena Williams, I was grunting and shouting good-oh, along with some fine sailor swearing and it seemed to help no end! Certainly made the guys around me work a bit harder, they thought I was shouting at them!

Gringing my gears on Torr Head

The part of the climb that nearly broke me was when I thought it was over. It had leveled out and seemed like a natural finale. I always look for the top tree / telegraph pole, there was nothing else higher. Then, there, pinned to a fence was "King of the Mountain starts here." I actually screamed at the top of my lungs "AGH F*** RIGHT OFF!!" It meant there was another climb and this section was timed.  No amount of obscenities was going to make this one go away.  Like the lovely demur, classy lady that I am I remembered cycling rule #5, "Man Up." I grew a proverbial pair and got stuck in there.

Not sure how long that stretch was but finally I saw the "King of the Mountain ends here" and that was it done. Some of my group were waiting for me here, others were still behind me. I actually couldn't stop and had to ask the lads to hold the bike still while I fell of it in a heap. One of the chaps was white and looking like he might vomit. My little legs were shaking and I was drenched in sweat. The good news was though we only had 6 kilometers left to the finish. Downhill. The pictures and write ups don't do the climb justice at all, if you want to experience it, get in the car and go. If you're a cyclists and you intend on cycling it,  pack a swear jar.

So the season closed for me on a very steep high. It was tough but I am very glad that I took on the challenge. Another box ticked, another new place visited!

Follow Sinead's blog here.

Sinéad Kennedy
Sinéad Kennedy  Orwell Wheelers

Sinéad Kennedy is a Physical Therapist, Yoga Siromani and Pilates Instructor, based in South County Dublin.

She treats and teaches people from all walks of life, including many athletes, especially cyclists, runners and golfers. Recently featured in the Irish Independant, FIT Magazine, her Yoga 4 Cyclists class has gained notoriety. A keen cyclist and proud member of Orwell Wheelers she has completed numerous cycling events including La Marmotte Sportive.

Sinéad has also completed three Dublin City Marathons, numerous Adventure Races, Half Marathons and the Camino de Santiago.

Bike Lights and Daylight Visibility: Why Cyclists Should Be Seen at All Times

Posted on February 21, 2017 @ 2:07 PM in Cycling

In our newest blog, our friends at SeeSense explain why bike lights aren't just important for night riding.

What do you look for when buying a bike light? You might consider brightness and decent battery life as being important features, or you might want a light that offers good visibility in the dark. But what about being seen during the daytime? How much emphasis do you place on daylight visibility?

It is a crucial aspect of cycling safety that many people tend to ignore when making their purchase. But when you consider that 80 per cent of cycling accidents happen during the day, and with a significant increase in fatalities within a 10-year period, it’s become evident that visibility during the day is now just as important as being seen in the dark.

A greater onus has been placed on cyclists being seen during daylight hours. Companies are designing bike lights specifically for daylight visibility, and it makes sense when you look at some of the research that has been conducted into road safety in recent years.

Following a study of 184 cyclists previously involved in collisions, Australian researcher Phillipe Lacherez found motorists had “looked but didn’t see” the cyclist before it was too late. He suggested that a solution to this was both wearing reflective clothing and fitting a light which works during the daytime and also at night. Many cyclists sport high-visibility gear when on the roads, but hi-vis clothing only offers visibility during daylight hours as it reflects UV rays from the sun. Lacherez suggested the use of reflective strips on your knees and ankles that allows the lights from cars to bounce back and signal a cyclist’s movement.

In another survey conducted in Denmark, 4,000 cyclists were enrolled in an experiment that again proved the benefit of daytime visibility. In the survey, 2,000 only used their lights during the hours of darkness, while the other 2000 participants used their bike lights all day. The results showed that there was a 47 per cent decrease in accidents when lights were used throughout the day.

Also, since 2011, all new cars in Europe are required to be fitted with daytime running lights because of the proven safety benefits. If large vehicles like cars need to be seen during the hours of daylight, then surely it makes sense for a cyclist to also require high visibility?

Most accidents have been found to happen during the hours around dawn and dusk. This is partly due to rush-hour traffic, and also because of factors including changing ambient light conditions which can make it more difficult for motorists to spot cyclists. Bright, visible bike lights can help counter that problem by giving cyclists more of a presence during the day.

Almost half of fatalities occur on rural roads , making them particularly dangerous for cyclists. There are various factors which contribute to the high volume of accidents. Not only does the speed limit tend to be higher, but isolated routes can also be unlit or have poor lighting. Having a bike light that flashes brightly from both front and rear can alert drivers of a cyclist’s presence before they get too close to you, reducing the risk of a collision or near miss.

Motorists have a vital role to play in helping reduce the number of cyclist fatalities and accidents on our roads. Research has found that 60% of major collisions happen at junctions, with drivers commonly reporting that they ‘failed to look properly’. Better awareness of other road users is a crucial factor of road safety for motorists and cyclists alike.

A cyclist also has to be aware of the traffic around them, and by making themselves more visible they are taking an important step towards improving their own road safety. See.Sense ICON and ICON+ lights have been designed with twin CREE LED lights and a fresnel lens to offer unique visibility during the day. Our lights have a 15-hour run-time with optimised battery use, all which can be monitored and controlled from your smartphone and recharged by USB.

Improving cycle safety isn’t just important for reducing fatalities, it can also encourage more people to take up cycling. And the more cyclists we have on the roads, the better cycling infrastructure can be developed to improve the overall cycling experience. Cambridge University found that 85% of local cycling correlated with the provision of better cycle routes. So if we cycle, they’ll build it, and if they build it, we’ll cycle more.

 

Gareth Fullerton
Gareth Fullerton  Works at SeeSense

How to Prepare for a Sportive

Posted on August 15, 2016 @ 5:24 PM in Cycling

The guys at Chain Reaction Cycles share their top tips for preparing for a sportive. 

Sportive cycles – mass road rides with hundreds or even thousands of participants, sometimes on roads especially closed for the purpose – have exploded in popularity. Non-competitive in nature and generally featuring a choice of distances and/or routes, sportive riders can enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that a full support organisation, including food and drink stops plus mechanical support is always there should they need it. 

Build up your mileage

Get the miles in to suit the ride you’re taking on. Scope out the route so you know what to expect – don’t get caught out by a big climb or tough descent. Strava is a great place to research and find new routes.

Why not track your ride, compare data with friends and upload your routes with the help of a training aid? Heart rate monitors and GPS systems like this Garmin Edge 520 are perfect performance indicators, so why not log your activity throughout this year’s riding challenge?

Shop GPS Bike Computers 

Don’t let a mechanical ruin your day

You’ve prepared yourself physically and mentally, so take the same approach to your bike – make sure it’s in good working order with a kit from X-Tools.

Check that your brake pads, tyres and chainset are in good condition, and that your gears are shifting smoothly, ready for a big day in the saddle!

Shop Work Shop Tools


Bike comfort is key

Contact points, areas of your body in direct contact with the bike, are the main areas you’ll want to look after on big-mile rides.

Your handlebar, like the carbon model from Thomson, plays a key role in how comfy your ride is, offering a variety of different hand and riding positions – on the top of the bars for in-the-saddle climbing, on the hoods of the brakes for going uphill or accelerating, or on the drops for sustained high-speed effort in a lower, more aerodynamic position.

Few items of cycling equipment are more personal – or more important – than the saddle. A well-designed and well-fitting saddle, like the Astute Skyline VT Taca, will make epic days in the saddle a breeze. 

A good pair of clipless pedals, like the Shimano Ultegra SPD-SL 6800, offer a smooth pedal stroke and better energy efficiency. Don’t forget to make sure your pedals and cleats are set up properly for maximum pedal-pushing comfort.

Clothing comfort

The clothing you wear can make or break your ride, so make sure you’re wearing the right kit for the conditions.

Look for a good quality jersey, like this Endura model, that offers effective moisture management and a degree of UV protection if it’s going to be hot.

Rear pockets are perfect for carrying gels, bars or other items of clothing on long sportive rides.

Bibshorts, like these from Endura, have straps that go over the shoulders, rather than a waistband, and are regarded by many as being more comfortable as they are less prone to chafing and have no waistband to dig into the stomach. Your ass will thank you for buying a good pair after a long road ride.

It’s handy to have a pot of chamois cream at the ready – it helps reduce friction, prevent overheating and generally offers a soothing barrier which prevents chafing and pain.

Well worn in shoes, like the Shimano R171 shoes, with a comfortable fit and which offer good power transfer will make the difference. Don’t debut a fresh pair of shoes on your first long ride!

Nutrition and recovery

Hydrate yourself before, during and after your ride – whatever the distance. Eating and drinking little and often will produce the best results, so even if you don’t feel overly hungry, try to take some food on board.

Endurance: Typically loaded with high-energy complex carbohydrates, High5 Energy Source is used to maintain fuel stores prior to or during training and competition.

Hydration: Products like  High5 Zero Electrolyte tablets are aimed at efficiently replacing fluids lost during exertion as well as other key nutrients such as electrolytes (salts).

Recovery: Protein-rich recovery products like the Science In Sport REGO Rapid Recovery helps to restore tired muscles after exercise and aid in the creation of new muscle. 

Now you're prepared don't forget to enter the 2016 Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive on 10th September!

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

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