Love to Ride recently ran our first ever cycle challenge in Belfast, tying in with the much-heralded visit of the Giro D’Italia. It’s not every day that one of the world’s major sporting events spreads its wings to somewhere so accessible (although in 2014 we’re being graced by two of them).
My partner has extended family within the shadow of Scrabo Tower, and having spent some time whipping up interest in the challenge, I was curious to see what cycling was like across the Irish Sea. So we hopped on a ferry with bikes and camping gear to check out what Ireland had to offer.
Starting in the South East corner of Ireland, where tractor rallies are more common than Critical Mass rides, we were a bit of a curiosity, albeit one that met with a friendly reception. The rolling hills of the coastline passed quickly under our wheels and we were soon in the Wicklow Mountains, which were riddled with road cyclists out on club runs, enjoying the scenery and the café stop at Glendalough Green.
Pressing on through Dublin, we started seeing a much broader range of cycling. There were couriers on cargo bikes, women riding in floaty dresses, and dads on Dutch bikes with child seats. Dublin is pretty flat, geographically speaking, but it’s also clearly made some serious investments in cycle infrastructure, with more planned. The shared use paths we rode on were a lot wider and more accommodating than most, and were appreciated by not just the cyclists but walkers, runners and people using mobility buggies.
As we approached Belfast we began to see more and more symptoms of Giro fever. Towns and villages along the route have been encouraged to go pink, the colour of the race leader’s jersey. Whether it was the chance to show a unified face, or just a fun splash of colour, they had gone at it with a vengeance. We saw pink pubs, pink trees, and the now-famous pink tractors and pink sheep. The race itself was well-run and amazingly well supported, with thousands of spectators lining the road side. The stages we watched in NI were a convincing demonstration of how a country can get behind cycling, even if just for a long weekend.
Belfast is a relatively small city with a compact centre, across which many journeys could be made by bike. Dublin is forging ahead of many places in the UK, with its pleasant cycle routes, proliferation of bike shops and long-running hire bike scheme. All across Ireland we encountered optimism about cycling and what it could do for the country, whether through health, tourism or just plain fun. I’d hope that a big part of the legacy of the Giro is more cycling for everyone, whatever they ride.