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!

First Step towards Adventure - Mountain Bike Skills with Tollymore National Outdoor Centre

Posted on July 28, 2016 @ 10:57 AM in AdventureCycling

With mountain biking becoming increasingly popular in Northern Ireland, isn't it about time you got a handle of it?! Find out how OutdoorNI’s Bev Pierson got on when she spent a day learning the basics at Tollymore National Outdoor Centre.

Tollymore National Outdoor Centre

Having bought a shiny new mountain bike last year (but not really knowing how to ride it properly) I booked myself onto Tollymore National Outdoor Centre’s First Step Mountain Bike Skills Course, which is an introductory course to the skills required to ride mountain bike trails safely.

Tollymore National Outdoor Centre is located on the edge of Tollymore Forest Park with a beautiful backdrop of the Mourne Mountains. Making the setting even more spectacular was the fact that on the day of my course there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun shined all day!

After arriving at the centre and waiting for the others to arrive, I was able to have a quick chat and a coffee with others who had arrived before me as I was curious to see why they had booked onto the course. Some of them had heard about the new mountain bike trails and wanted to give them a go and thought this course would give them the confidence, one lady had been bought the course for mother’s day and some of the women just wanted to get out and try something new. Our two instructors for the day were Emma and Amy, who were both excellent at delivering and tailoring the course to the group but were also very approachable making the day really relaxed and comfortable.

But before we were able to do any mountain biking it was off to the stores to get sized up for some essentials…a bike, a helmet and some gloves.  

We started the day off in the centre’s car park practising the position of the pedals on a bike (which should be in the same position of the arms on a clock if they were placed at 9am and 3pm) and shifting our weight back and forward on the bike to improve our balance. To put our skills into action we were given a limbo kind of exercise to try, instead of having to explain it I made sure I took a photo of one of the ladies doing it…

Mountain Biking Northern Ireland

Next up was to give the weight shifting a go on the centre’s skills course, which has been designed for this exact reason. I found it’s really only once you get onto this type of terrain that you really feel the difference when you apply the skills you’ve just learnt. Before our mid-morning coffee break we spent some time learning to ‘pop up’ onto kerbs in order to gain the skills to help get over rocks and obstacles whilst out mountain biking. The next item on the agenda was to master the art of braking and cornering as these are very important skills to have when out on the trails and again we practised them in the car park before using our new found skills out on the skills course. This took us all the way up to lunch where we rewarded with a delicious bowl of homemade soup and sandwiches. Though what I was really looking forward to was the famous chocolate brownies that the instructors had been talking about all morning which we enjoyed on the terrace of the centre with a cup of coffee whilst the sun beamed down on us.

After lunch it was time to pull everything together that we had just learnt and put it all into practise on the trails around the centre. This was definitely the highlight of the day for me as we got to mountain bike through the dense and dark forest with the sun glimmering down through the trees and at one point even encountered some buzzards circling above us. The trails we were riding really tested us on all the skills we had learnt that day especially when having to shift our weight backwards so we could tackle a steep downhill section - which we all tried and succeeded in not falling off! 

Mountain Biking Northern Ireland

Once back at the centre everyone was raving about their day and were even enquiring about the next course they could do. I think everyone on the course will agree with me when I say that I learnt far more than what I expected to from the day and tackled obstacles and drops off that I never thought I would have been able to! All thanks to Emma and Amy!  

Beginner, intermediate and advanced courses are available at Tollymore National Outdoor Centre whether you are coming alone or looking to book in a group for a session.  As well as mountain biking the centre deliver a range of courses including, canoeing, navigation and climbing. So don't miss out and contact the centre directly to find out more.

Click here to read part 2 of this blog series and find out how OutdoorNI's Sarah Nelson got on when she attended one of Tollymore's First Steps Canoeing Skills courses- 'First steps towards Adventure- Canoeing Skills with Tollymore National Outdoor Centre'

Beverley Magowan
Beverley Magowan  Senior Marketing Officer

Beverley used to be a keen horse rider but since joining a local cycle club in 2013 she has developed a passion for 2 wheels instead of 4 hoofs! Meaning she can often be found on a bike exploring the roads across the country!

Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive – Which Route This Year?

Posted on September 2, 2015 @ 12:50 PM in Cycling

A Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive veteran having completed the challenge for the past 2 years Andrea Harrower can’t wait to get back to Ballycastle for more this September! The question is which route should she choose?  Route 1: The Causeway Coaster (57km), Route 2: The Glens and Coast Route (126km) or Route 3: The Giant Killer (182km)?  A seasoned athlete Andrea is no stranger to a gruelling challenge however equally enjoys the stunning scenery and enjoyment of the shorter route.  So which route will she (and more importantly which one should you) tackle this year, read our latest blog to find out…

So 2013 and its stormy, ridiculous weather I completed the long 182km route, while the gloriously sunny 2014 so me tackle the short 57km route (where’s the logic eh??) ….the question is, does that mean I ride the 126km route in 2015? The Giant’s Causeway Sportive is a firm favourite in the calendar, a fabulous way to see the north coast – even in inclement weather! The world famous (thanks to the Game of Thrones) Dark Hedges are all the more atmospheric in bad conditions - honest!

Giants Causeway Coast Sportive

Some snaps and cycling selfies of Andrea taking on the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive 

“Why are they called the Dark Hedges when they’re trees?” asked my cycling companion last year. “That’s so Irish”, he added. Needless to say he was an Englishman! Anyway, he had chosen Giant’s Casueway Coast Sportive as his first ever Sportive and had flown over from southern England for it. What a fabulous way to make a foray into the world of sportives, and it was the impressive organisation and sociable atmosphere and stunning countryside that encouraged him to enter further events back home, upping the distances big time in the past year.

As a result, he is eager to come back to do the ‘The Giant Killer in the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive in the next couple of years – clearly I’ll be telling him to go train on Box Hill before coming to tackle Torr Head Road.

Speaking of which, I did a fab triple whammy of Torr Head on the way back from a girls weekend at the end of July on the North Coast – a weekend so full of eating, drinking and lazing that (as is my want!) on the drive home I decided to make a slight detour and throw my bike out of the car at Torr Head car park and do a wee hill rep session. How beautiful is that place? Spectacular. And that was on a very wet, windy and wild afternoon.

Torr Head Road isn’t the only climb on the biggie 182 km route at the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive however, a route that is extremely testing for even the fittest of riders – but which promises unsurpassed scenery and satisfaction.

GCCSLeft - Torr Head featured in the 126km and 182km routes; Right - The Dark Hedges which riders on the 57km and 182km routes will pass through 

The same applies however to the short 57route, which is a perfect introduction to sportives for novices, as well as being a perfect ride for experienced cyclists wanting to work intensely over a shorter route, or for long distance triathletes wanting to have a different location for a spin before heading out for a run from the finish area in Ballycastle.

Indeed, all 3 routes appear to be perfect for anybody. Combine this with the efficiency and enthusiasm of the organisers, not to mention the delectable food on offer at designated stops and also at the post-event finish area, and you’re guaranteed a great day out no matter what the weather (or route!)

Book online today to take part in the 2015 Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive on 12th September.  Online entries close 12noon on 10th September. Click here for more details on each of the routes including maps. 

Latest comment posted by linda on March 30, 2016 @ 11:16 PM

My dad use to cycle with the North Belfast cycle club in the 1950s. He remembers a few people from the club. One of the names was Jack Hull. Dad is 89 now but has fond memories of the club and ... Read more >

Andrea Harrower
Andrea Harrower  The Belles

Eternal adventure seeker.... A sports enthusiast, who competes at a high level but who has as much passion for encouraging other females and kids into the great outdoors. Along with 3 other like-minded girls she founded The Belles in 2009!

A Day on the Cycle Sperrins Tour with Far and Wild

Posted on June 9, 2015 @ 4:00 PM in Cycling

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 TrailsSt. 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 or

Latest comment posted by Robert Parker on December 9, 2016 @ 1:49 PM

Great post, thank you! My wife and I will be visiting Read more >

Martin McAlinden
Martin McAlinden  TNI's Visitor Information Administration Officer

I currently work in Tourism Northern Ireland's Visitor Information team. Working in this team constantly gives me great ideas of places to explore outside of work which i try to take full opportunity of when i can, whether its to take some photos, do a bit of hill walking or cycling or just see a new area.

Road Cycling Events…Where to Start

Posted on January 16, 2015 @ 2:26 PM in Cycling

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

Latest comment posted by imran on October 8, 2018 @ 5:35 PM

Dear Sir/Madam, Today we visited your company website and saw your amazing products range. We have a great idea to improve your product standards and profits by doing business with us. ... Read more >

Beverley Magowan
Beverley Magowan  Senior Marketing Officer

Beverley used to be a keen horse rider but since joining a local cycle club in 2013 she has developed a passion for 2 wheels instead of 4 hoofs! Meaning she can often be found on a bike exploring the roads across the country!

< newer articlesolder articles >
Northern Ireland's Outdoor Adventure Blog