Peter LennonMartin McMullanMark Taylor
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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

The Trails and Tribulations of a First Time Mountain Biker

Posted on August 29, 2019 @ 3:03 PM in CyclingMountainbiking

Disclaimer: No employees were harmed in the making of this blog. Do try the stunts (not at home) but at a trail centre near you.

As a new member to the team at MountainBikeNI, it was only a matter of time before I would have to get out and experience mountain biking for myself. Boldly claiming “I’ll give it a go! Why not?”, my colleague Ethan and I set out to test the trails, and my nerves, at Blessingbourne Estate.


What to expect when you have no clue what to expect?

Blessingbourne was the first official MTB trail centre in Northern Ireland, dating back to 2013. It is ideal for all level of riders and ages, boasting a pump track, 4km of blue trails and 8km of red trails, making it an ideal location for those starting out on the blues or challenging the more experienced riders on the harder red trails. It was an obvious choice for my first time.

I acquired a bike and a helmet to complete the look and familiarised myself with where everything was on the bike, primarily, the brakes, as I was told that stabilisers were not an option. I adjusted the bike so that I could put my foot down in the likely case that I would need to emergency stop or slow down in a speed wobble and after a quick test run around the drive I was confident enough the hit the trails – or so I told myself!

I had an image of mountain biking built up in my head, very gnarly, lots of jumps and speed demons chasing the trails in epic fashion. So how was I going to match up to that as a total novice? As it turns out, it doesn’t have to be all big airs and break neck speeds.

We started out on Blessingbourne’s pump track, which was great for getting used to the steeper mounds with drops and turns and getting generally used to being on a bike again. The main 3 things I was encouraged to remember:

  1. Head up – Eyes forward and look ahead
  2. Keep your feet neutral when not cycling
  3. Bum back when going down a steep bit or drop

Once I had these etched into my brain, I was ready to take on the trails.

If you’ve never mountain biked before, it’s best to go with someone who has, and get them to lead the way. That way you’re not hit by an unsuspecting rock garden that you’re not ready for and you won’t veer off the trail you’re on or end up on a trail that’s too difficult. I found it really helpful when Ethan would shout “narrow bit coming up” or “keep right” and that way I was at least mentally prepared for what I was about to approach.

Once you have found a buddy to join you, it’s important to think about your selection of trails. Blessingbourne has over 12km of trails with a good mix of red and blue. The loop allows riders the option of heading home or continuing with more of the trail without taking you out of your way.

Once I had gotten the hang of cycling round the trails with some turns and steeper slopes, I wanted to prove myself on some of the harder stuff – for me that meant conquering a rock drop of around 20cm. If you are like me and appreciate a good dose of adrenaline, this is a good place to start. Similarly to going around the trails, I found it helpful to watch Ethan go first so that I could see which lines to choose, how to best approach obstacles and what way to position myself on the bike. Once I had watched and learned, it was time to give it a go. I got into position, lined up the rock and gave myself a quick pep talk before peddling off towards the jump. I hit the line, grabbed a few inches of air and landed gracefully on the other side, feeling like the queen of the world. “Let’s do it again!”.

One of the best things I found about mountain biking was that the smallest jump felt like a massive leap to me, so even though looking back now it seems less impressive, at the time I was over the moon and felt pumped to try even more. You can be a first timer and feel like a pro.

Use Your Brain.

Once I had gone over the jump a couple of times, I felt confident and ready for any other obstacles I might have to tackle. It’s important to remember that it’s still unfamiliar territory and if you don’t think you’re going to be able to do something, there’s no shame in either taking the chicken run or coming off the bike and walking it across.

I was able to ride some rock gardens and a boardwalk (slowly) but when it came to approach Blessingbourne’s famous ‘Crocodile’s Back’, I knew I wasn’t ready for such a narrow task with its steep drops on either side. It’s like saving a present for yourself in the future, today’s not the day, tomorrow doesn’t look good either, but someday I will do it.

Take a Breather

It’s a rush of green and brown as you whip through the trails but it’s easy to forget to stop and take in the surroundings. Even if just for a quick breather, a photograph or video set up, it’s good to stop along the way and really appreciate the scenery around you. If we didn’t stop it would all feel like a blur and the trails would have merged into one. It can also help you get your bearings and figure out where you’re headed to next. Blessingbourne is a stunning location and when you stop along the forest it feels like you’re in a fairy-tale setting, the lush green canopy overhead and the tall trees that hug the trails make for a great contrast to every day life.

Homeward Bound

After 90 minutes of blue and red trails I was really feeling the session, my legs were starting to tire, and my hands were stuck in handlebar grip position; it was time to head back.  As we were cycling, I was thinking about how I had managed to go around both blue and red trails having never mountain biked before (not even being on a bike in 5 years); I had managed to figure out the basics and try some harder elements throughout and even made it around without falling off or hurting myself (minus a few scratches and bruises). If I can do that, then anyone can do it, and it’s totally worth giving it a go!

If you’re reading this and are now thinking you’d like to try mountain biking, Blessingbourne is easy to find, located on a private estate just 1 mile outside of Fivemiletown. It costs £3 to ride the trails or £5 if using the car park.

 

For more information on Blessingbourne Estate, Davagh Forest or any of Northern Ireland's official mountain bike trails, please visit MountainBikeNI.com.

Kerry Kirkpatrick
Kerry Kirkpatrick  Assistant Marketing and Events Officer

A true North Coast water baby, happiest when on the beach.

Dan Wolfe at Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails

Posted on June 28, 2019 @ 11:51 AM in CyclingMountainbiking

In our new #TipsFromAPro series, Dan Wolfe takes us through the fundamentals of mountain biking we can all improve on.

In our second #TipsFromAPro video, Dan Wolfe takes us through tips we can follow to improve our results when riding at an Enduro level, be it local or on the biggest mountain bike series in the world.


Dominic Lyttle
Dominic Lyttle  Assistant Marketing Officer

Dominic has recently joined the ORNI team following completion of a MSc in Marketing from Queen’s University Belfast.

In his spare time, Dominic enjoys trekking, travelling to new and exciting places, and playing basketball, alongside drinking far too much coffee!

An Incredible Fundraising Story from This Year's Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive

Posted on June 14, 2019 @ 11:16 AM in AdventureCycling

We caught up with Kathy, who contacted us at the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive with the incredible story of seven friends who are raising money for a very special cause.

 

Hi Kathy, thanks for speaking with us today. You and your 6 friends have been doing some fundraising this year – can you tell us more about that and why you decided to take part in the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive?

We are all school mums who met a few years ago and someone suggested we start a Book Club. So we did, meeting every Wednesday morning in Ballyhackamore, East Belfast. Occasionally we would share a book but mostly it’s just coffee & sharing chat. At one of these mornings we learned the devastating news that Julie was ill. She elected to go to the Christie in Manchester for treatment, and they really provided light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

We continued to meet every Wednesday, sharing a lot of laughter and a lot of tears too. However, after gruelling chemotherapy treatments and, despite her iron will she was not able to pull through and very sadly passed away in February this year. The Book Club girls were looking for a way to honour her memory and raise funds for the Christie so we decided to sign up to the Sportive 2019. Julie loved spending time on the North Coast so this challenge felt just right.




That’s incredibly sad to hear Kathy – your fundraising really is incredible and it’s such an amazing thing to do! Is there somewhere we can find out more about this and donate to your cause?

Our Just Giving is https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ForJulieMcKH?sfns=mo Here you can read our back story to this fundraising effort and donate.

 

Thanks Kathy, we’ll be sure to check it out! Have any of your group ever taken part in the Sportive before?

Two of us (Kathy & Poppy) completed the 35 mile route in 2017 & 2018 and have signed up to the new 60mile route. Jennie, Mary, Maxine & Suzanne (Julie’s eldest Daughter) are novice cyclists and have signed up for 35 miles. We also have Cheryl and Lynda, the support team providing cheers and jelly beans along the way!

 

It’s great to see you come back and also to welcome your friends for the first time – I’m sure they’ll have a fantastic experience. What are you looking forward to most on the day?

We’re looking forward to the beautiful route along the Coast Road past Ballintoy, Whitepark Bay and on past the Bushmills Distillery. We must remember to smile at the camera in the Dark Hedges! 

We chose this Sportive as it is safe, well organised and marshalled, it’s all-inclusive and open to all abilities. This is not a race for us, and we’ll be enjoying every moment taking in all the sights and sounds. The camaraderie and support from the more professional cyclists was much appreciated and I hope we’ll be supported again.

 

That’s what it’s all about – enjoying the amazing scenery and having fun with the other cyclists. What made you take the jump up to the 60 mile route after having previously ridden the 35?

We decided to take on the 60 mile route as a new challenge, a step into the unknown! We have been training most weekends for the past few months and just hope we’ve done enough!

Hopefully all of your training pays off! Finally I have to ask – are you going to tackle Torr Head!?

Torr Head you ask? Never say never!

 

Maybe you’ll be persuaded on the day! Thanks very much for sharing your story with us Kathy :) We'll see you on the 22nd!

 

Julie's Crew (L-R): Mary, Maxine, Poppy, Cheryl, Suzanne, Jennie, Kathy

Keep an eye out for Kathy and her friends on the day – they’ll be wearing special t-shirts made for the day with their friend Julie’s photograph on the back. To find out more information about their fundraising and donate to their cause visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ForJulieMcKH?sfns=mo 

Dominic Lyttle
Dominic Lyttle  Assistant Marketing Officer

Dominic has recently joined the ORNI team following completion of a MSc in Marketing from Queen’s University Belfast.

In his spare time, Dominic enjoys trekking, travelling to new and exciting places, and playing basketball, alongside drinking far too much coffee!

Training Advice from Cycling Expert Dig Deep Coaching

Posted on May 31, 2019 @ 6:09 PM in AdventureCycling

With only three weeks to go until the big day, your training will really be paying off now. In this month’s blog, Dig Deep Coaching training expert Stephen has responded to some of the questions you’ve been sending in. Better still, he recorded a live video detailing everything you need to know about training for the Sportive. You can still purchase Dig Deep’s training plans here: bit.ly/SportiveTrainingPlans

 

In Stephen’s live video he talks through a whole range of subjects including training, nutrition and equipment, and much more! Check out the live video on our Facebook page now!

 

Coming from a different sport:

If you go to the gym 2-3 times a week or go out running 2-3 times week, now is the time to really start focusing more on getting out cycling.

 

Do you need a specific bike to take part in the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive?
Nope! Participants can take part on a normal road bike, mountain bike, fat bike, E-bike, Mary Poppins bike - any bike you'd like!

 

How far on a cycling training programme should I be doing to get up to distance for the day? I’m signed up for the 85 mile/100km route and it’s my first time doing this type of cycling.

I would suggest that you are completing 60-70mile training rides without too much fatigue in the 4-5 weeks prior to the event. If you can be at this level then I would have confidence you can complete the 85mile route on the day.

 

The 115 miles, is it a tough course? It’s my first time doing this one!

The course is hard but so is the amount of time you will spend in the saddle. The biggest factors doing this distance is the terrain and how you hydrate and refuel. Make sure you keep energy levels topped up so you can tackle Torr Head at the end the best way possible.

 

Anything that would help with hill climbing would be greatly appreciated. I will always make it to the top but just so much slower than everyone else. I would be strong on the flat.

Climbing is all about general fitness and technique, to improve in both of these areas I would advise riding hills as much as possible in training. Not only to improve fitness but confidence. Look at increasing your cadence on climbs, get used to riding at a good rhythm and set out your own pace and don’t get too concerned about others, ride to your own limit and not others, as this will see your legs fall off later in the ride.

 

Any good advice for stretching? Pre or post ride?

I am a big believer in foam rollers, these are really good to help get the body ready for a long day in the saddle and help loosen out the muscles post ride. 15-20min a day on this will make a big difference.

 

Is the 35 mile route really hilly, and would I need to get loads of practise in?

The 35 mile route isn’t very hilly but there are a few reasonably tough climbs, the most notable being on the road after Bushmills. This Garmin link has the elevation chart on it: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/course/14818557

For the 35 mile, we would suggest doing 10-15 miles pretty consistently over the last few months and that you attempt at least one ride of around 20 miles prior to the start of the event to make sure you're comfortable with that distance. If you are within this range, then you should be fine to complete the 35mile route. The more training you can do, the better it will be on the day. Also, it depends if you do any other sports.

The two most important things to keep in mind for the last three weeks before the event are:

  • Stay healthy, including staying hydrated and eating healthily
  • Stay injury free

 

Try to strike a balance with your training so you’re not training too much or too little so as not to derail all the hard work you’ve put in.

 

To keep up with all things Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive, follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Dominic Lyttle
Dominic Lyttle  Assistant Marketing Officer

Dominic has recently joined the ORNI team following completion of a MSc in Marketing from Queen’s University Belfast.

In his spare time, Dominic enjoys trekking, travelling to new and exciting places, and playing basketball, alongside drinking far too much coffee!

A Day at the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive

Posted on April 25, 2019 @ 9:58 AM in Cycling

Is this your first time signing up for the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive? Are you wondering what a typical day at Ireland’s most scenic sportive looks like? Read on as we take you through what to expect on the day when cycling the 115-mile route.

 

6:20am: Bleary-eyed, we reach for the alarm just as it goes off and hit snooze. 5 more minutes.

6:25am: Must get up, must get up. This will likely be your second most challenging task today – but you can do it! Summoning enough willpower to get out of bed, we stagger to the shower, quickly get changed into our best cycling kit before fuelling up with a big breakfast for the day ahead.

 

7am: We set off for Event HQ at Páirc Mac Uílín GAA Pitch from our accommodation for the weekend, An Caisleán (there are a number of accommodation providers which you can find here). It only takes 5 minutes from the centre of Ballycastle to reach Event HQ. By this time, there’s already marshals on hand at Event HQ to help us find a good parking space. The familiar buzz of preparing for a big event finally overtakes the desire to go back to bed. Let’s do this!

 

7:05am: In the clubhouse, there are big sheets with the 1000+ participant names laid out alphabetically, so it’s easy to find your name. We quickly sign on and scope out the new jerseys for this year’s sportive.

7:10am: At Event HQ, there’s also a big board showing all 4 routes: 30 | 60 | 85 | 115 miles, and where the famous 4 feed stations are. There’s time for a chat now with the other participants:

‘Which route are you trying?’

‘Are you doing Torr Head?’

‘What was the highlight last year?’

The atmosphere is growing and the craic is one of the best parts of the day.

 

7:35am: We have time to squeeze in a last-minute pre-ride banana and double check the bike is in perfect condition with the Decathlon mechanical support team.

 

7:45am: Marshalls call our wave together – it’s finally time to head out on the 115-mile route of Ireland’s most scenic sportive!

8:30am: Pit-stop for a selfie along the Causeway Coast road – blue as far as the eye can see.

10:00am: We arrive at the first feed station at Ballinlea Road. It’s great to be able to catch a breather and see if these feed stations are worthy of all the praise you’ve heard. They are. Optionable: eat own bodyweight in jellybeans. 3 cups of tea later it’s time to head back out.

 

11am: Flash a sweet dab in Game of Thrones territory at the Dark Hedges for one of the official event photographs. Say ‘Winter is Coming!’.  

 

2.30pm: A final stop at the 4th and final feed station of the day in Cushendun. This is right before Torr Head, and the nervous excitement is palpable – should we tackle Torr Head or opt for the bypass? We can hear our stomachs rumbling at this point so it’s good to stock up on fruit and biscuits before drinking our 76th cup of tea for the day.

 

2.40pm: Torr Head it is! Our legs are definitely feeling the burn, but the views are worth it. Also the marshalls at the junction gave us an amazing 15 second pep talk as we approached. This also means we get to take part in the KOM/QOM segment, a 1.2 mile stretch on Torr Head where the fastest man and woman wins King and Queen of the Mountain. To enter, we simply join the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive on Strava and upload our times.  

4.30pm: With a final push, we cross the finish line. We’re back where we started at Event HQ, legs heavy with exhaustion but thrilled we finished the route. There’re loads of spectators around now, adding to the atmosphere. We collect our medal and freebie and opt for a quick rub down from one of the physios. Picture time! Then it’s off for a well-deserved hot meal inside and shower.

 

8.30pm: Time for the After-Party in O’Connor’s in Ballycastle – we’ve never looked forward to a drink so much in our lives! Highlights play on the walls as we over in intricate detail the ups and downs of one of the best days we’ve ever had out in the saddle. Cheers!

 

Dominic Lyttle
Dominic Lyttle  Assistant Marketing Officer

Dominic has recently joined the ORNI team following completion of a MSc in Marketing from Queen’s University Belfast.

In his spare time, Dominic enjoys trekking, travelling to new and exciting places, and playing basketball, alongside drinking far too much coffee!

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