JFK once said: “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride”. And you know what? It looks like the people of Ireland agree: cycling here has taken off in a big way – there are cycling clubs all over the island and membership of Cycling Ireland has shot up by 50% over the last three years.
And there’s a good reason everyone’s been bitten by the bug: “There’s nowhere like Ireland for cycling,” says Rory Wyley, president of Cycling Ireland. “The incredible network of roads and boreens (small roads) means you can go out with no planned route in mind and follow your nose.”
Nowhere like Ireland? Rory could well be right, you know. Lonely Planet named County Clare as one of the world’s 10 best cycling routes; and incredible trails, such as the Kingfisher Trail in Northern Ireland and the Great Western Greenway in Mayo, are gaining attention from cyclists of all levels and abilities.
UK website GreenTraveller.co.uk noted that on the 370km-long Kingfisher Trail – Ireland’s first long-distance cycling route – “Forest, lakes and farms are just about all you see.”
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Worlds apart for cyclists
Whether you’re mixing top views with steep ascents along south Dublin’s twisting Vico Road, home to Bono and Enya, or taking it easy alongside the green fields of Counties Tyrone or Offaly, you don’t need bulging calf muscles and flourescent Lycra to enjoy the best routes on the island. If flat terrain is what you’re after, try Roscommon or Leitrim (the latter got its first set of traffic lights in 2003). If you’re into a challenge, hit the Glens of Antrim or Connemara’s Twelve Bens for more undulating terrain.
So what makes Ireland different?
Some believe it’s the off-the-beaten-track nature of some of our roads, which are dotted with wandering sheep, lost goats and the odd tractor. Others say it’s because we’re a small island and you can cover a huge variety of landscapes in no time at all, going from rust-coloured bog to white-sandy beach in less than an hour.
But our money is on the people: “Whether you’re of Irish heritage or not, I think you will find the spirit of the Emerald Isle welcoming to all who visit its shores,” writes Darryl Sewell of Jacksonville, USA, about his trip with Cycling Holidays Ireland. “I can personally testify [to that] after being invited in by a resident to have tea!”