Cycling in Northern Ireland
Cycling in Northern Ireland
The main roads, big towns and cities (of which there are few) can get busy but stay away from these and the quiet rural roads will often have you wondering if you are on a private road due to the lack of traffic. The tourist hotspots can get busy during the holidays but even then it’s not that bad and with the growing popularity of cycling in Northern Ireland motorists are tolerant of cyclists.
Part of the beauty of riding in NI is that despite the relatively small area there is a lot of different terrain, often quite close to each other. There are hills aplenty, nothing Alpine in stature but certainly steep enough to test the legs. One this is for certain, there are very, very few flat roads in NI.
The capital city Belfast is embracing cycling with its own public hire bike scheme and cycle paths are springing up around the city. The city centre and its coastal surrounds are flat and perfect for an easy pedal but if you want to climb then the Black Mountain which overlooks the city can be reached fairly quickly giving incredible views of the city and the coastline for miles.
The Giro d’Italia started in Northern Ireland in 2014 and the route showcased the northern areas of the Province before heading across the border to a stage finish in Dublin. The crowds were incredible with Belfast closing down for the day and the public embracing the event. The Giro legacy sportive takes in the Mourne Mountains to the South which the race didn’t visit during its tenure in Ireland but are just as good as anything seen on the race route.
As mentioned above, the Mourne Mountains in the South East has the highest mountain range in the north and there are many roads which criss-cross the lower slopes of this range. The best bit about riding here is that it is beside the coast, so there’s always a good descent back to the sea giving stunning views as well as plenty of places to eat and drink.
To the north of the Province, the North Antrim Coast road is a must to ride if you are in the area and passes several world renowned landmarks including the Giant’s Causeway. Bushmills Whiskey Distillery is close by as are the Dark Hedges from ‘Game of Thrones fame. This stretch of coastline is relatively flat but if you fancy a climb then the Torr Head road won’t disappoint.
Heading inland the Sperrin Mountains range (the Sperrins) in the centre of NI will give any climber a test with lots of climbs packed together. The roads in the Sperrins are very quiet and you’ll more than likely be held up by livestock than traffic on the country lanes. Views are incredible and make the ascents worth it.
The Lakelands of Fermanagh are quite hilly to the west towards the border with the Republic but heading inland will give you a slightly easier ride. The roads to the north of here which skirt the border with Donegal are some of the least used in the Province and if you fancy jumping over the border you really will find the definition of quiet and remote.
One point worth noting, apart from motorways hardly anyone in Northern Ireland refers to roads with their official title ie A1, B35 etc. If you need directions tell the person you speak to where you want to go and they will let you know which roads you need to take usually via a series of towns and left / right turns. Best to bring a map just in case.
Cycling groups and clubs in Northern Ireland
CTC Northern Ireland (Belfast)
0745 Rouleurs (Belfast)
Dub Wheelers (Carryduff)
Graham Cycling Club (Lisburn)
Killinchy Cycling Club (Comber)
Kings Moss Cycling Club (Ballyclare)
Legacurry Freewheelers (Lisburn)
Lower Omeau Residents Action Group (Belfast)
Northern Ireland Tourist Board (Belfast)
Shankill Area Bike Club (Belfast)
Southern Cycle For Health (Craigavon)
Trappers Cycling Club (Belfast)
Unite Cycling Club (Ballymena)
West Belfast Area Project (Belfast)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag or rear rack and panniers are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.
What have we missed? Recommend your favourite routes using the comments box below.
Cycling routes in Northern Ireland
Coast path, mountain biking, and other local routes
Plan your own route
Cycling events in Northern Ireland
Make sure your bike is working
(from our partners, Halfords)
Creaking cranks, wobbly wheels or slipping saddles are the last thing you want, but Halfords' guide to basic bike maintenance will keep you rolling smoothly. Whether you’re a regular commuter, a leisurely weekend rider, or prefer to tear it up on a serious MTB trail, signs of wear and tear might keep you off the saddle from time to time. Whilst we can’t promise to banish those roadside mishaps, we can help keep your bike tip top with our top tips!
You’re heading out on your lovely bike, with a pannier packed with your essentials. A glorious route lies ahead, but then you run into a spot of bother! Most of the time there are handy hacks you can do to tide you over whilst out and about, and we’ve taken a look into the most common bike problems and solutions…
Clicking saddle? Check that the bolts connecting the saddle to the seat post are not loose. Tighten until the saddle is firmly secured using an allen key from your trusty toolbox!
Squealing brakes? This could be down to dirt or oil on the brake pads. Give it a quick wipe down, then when you get home take the brake pads off and readjust.
Squeaky derailleur? A little lube should help. Remove any excess.
Creaky pedals? Dry pedal bearings, loose crank arms or a worn bottom bracket could be the culprit. Once home, remove and lube the pedal bearings, tighten and lube the crank arms, or replace the bottom bracket if it’s still making a fuss.
Some of the problems you find with your bike might need a closer look, and here’s where we can help!
Wobbling disc rotors, spongy brakes and rattling bolts needn’t be as pesky as they sound for long enough to keep you off your bike! Call and see us with your two wheels at your local Halfords, or with any other bike bothers you might have.
From as little as £15 a year, Halfords will take the labour out of looking after your bike. Halfords offer a range of care packages, they provide free fitting on all parts and accessories bought from Halfords, and even include an annual service worth £50 as part of the plan!