Cycling through Ireland can be a rewarding alternative for anyone moderately fit and with a willingness to invest their own muscle-power into getting from A to B. It is, however, not as idyllic as described in many brochures - Ireland has changed immensely in the last few years. Guidebooks will show you pleasant, flat cycle tracks near the Lakes of Killarney with smiling, fresh cyclists. What they will not show you is the winding, steep road leading to Killarney, full of huge potholes and used by speeding 18-wheelers. A road you will have to use as cycle tracks are rare and the hard shoulder (if there at all) is used by slower traffic and debris-strewn. And the mention of "comparatively traffic-free roads" will beg the question which country Ireland has just been compared with.
But a cycling holiday in Ireland is not totally out of the question ... bearing in mind a few things:
- Bringing Your Own Bike
Generally this should not be a problem and might be an excellent idea - transporting a bicycle by plane is not a great problem and surprisingly affordable.
- Renting a Bike
This alternative to bringing your own us available and even one-way rentals are possible. That said you will have to use a "strange" vehicle and pay for the privilege.
- Transporting a Bike in Ireland
On buses and trains bikes can be accommodated for a moderate fee, a good idea if you want to skip some miles.
- Joining an Organized Tour
Several companies offer cycling tours, including pre-booked accommodation, planned routes, luggage transfers and a back-up vehicle. While this generally is akin to a package tour, it will considerably ease your planning.
- Dress Sense
Ireland's weather has a deserved reputation for variety and cyclists will have to pack for this. Also consider safety - unless you are aiming for aerodynamics to rival Lance Armstrong wearing a hi-viz vest is recommended.
In Summer days are long in Ireland, but once it gets dark the darkness is total. A decent headlight that may actually show you potholes, loose gravel or roaming badgers in time is a must. If you rent a bike, insist!
- Safe Cycling
You are the weakest link - make sure there will be no sudden good-bye! Traffic on Irish roads can be murderous and cyclists have no defensive zone. Stay as close as possible to the left side of the road at all times, resist the temptation to cycle side by side and always be prepared for cars or trucks. On most country roads you will hear those long before you can see them - using a Walkman or iPod while cycling is not a good idea.
- Safe Parking
Leaving a bike unlocked is plain stupid and may lead to loss anywhere. In the larger cities bikes should never be left outside overnight, they are very likely to get stolen or vandalized.
- Bring Spares and Tools
Irish roads are notorious for puncture-inducing debris, Irish shops are not generally famed for stocking bicycle spare parts.
- Get a Decent Map
Unless you want to tour Ireland the Celtic way (in mysterious spirals, that is) a good, detailed map is a must. This will also show you very steep inclines you might want to avoid.
- Do Not Expect Continuous Views
Ireland's roads are generally running between hedges of considerable height and density!
- Do Not Cycle in Dublin
Though you will see cyclists taking on the Dublin traffic like Japanese combat pilots an enemy aircraft carrier, especially messengers and students, this is for experienced cyclists only. Experienced in Dublin - tourists should walk or use public transport.
Having said all this you might understand my previous remarks regarding guidebooks and brochures. But rest assured - millions of cyclists take to the Irish roads each year without coming to harm. And thousands of tourists see the country from a bicycle's saddle, most of them being quite satisfied by the experience.
Route planning is the secret of success more often than not - anybody attempting to conquer vast distances in a single day is usually doomed. Roads that appear fairly straight on a map suddenly wind left and right with a vengeance, not to mention crossing the odd pass every few miles. Bear in mind that a lot of places famed for their views only possess this view because they are high up - and that you will have to pedal there!
Some guidebooks and general literature are recommended for initial planning: