Cycling in Ireland

The following is an overview of why Ireland is a perfect cycling destination. This article is primarily intended for leisure cyclists, although there is something here for any first time visitor to Ireland who enjoys cycling.

Off-road cycling:

Off-road cycling is cycling where there is a dedicated cycle route that is free from traffic. Ireland has some magnificent off-road cycling, including national greenways, National Parks and mountain bike trails. At Beyond the Glass Adventure Tours we use routes that are predominantly off road for our cycling activities. We like to bring our tours on routes that go through areas of outstanding beauty and are not overly difficult. Here is a selection of off-road cycling options in Ireland.

Greenways

Greenway Cycle Routes have been created by taking disused railway lines and repurposing them as cycle paths. The development of greenways has improved Ireland’s cycle network enormously. Two of the big advantages of cycling on Ireland’s greenways is that they are completely free of traffic and by their nature they are not very hilly. This makes them perfect for an enjoyable and leisurely cycle. 

The first cycle greenway developed in Ireland was The Great Western greenway in County Mayo. The greenway runs for 42 Kilometres from Westport to Achill island, one of the most westerly points on the Wild Atlantic Way. The Waterford Greenway runs from the Viking city of Waterford to the harbour town of Dungarvan. It is 42 kilometres long and runs along the copper coast. There are a number of other greenways across Ireland and more under development. One of the newest greenways is the Midleton to Youghal greenway, a 23 kilometre long route to the east of Cork city.

Urban Cycling

In recent years the cycling network in Ireland’s Towns and Cities has much improved. It is now possible to enjoy safe cycling in many urban areas across the country. The Phoenix Park in Dublin city is the largest city park in Europe. The park has fantastic cycle paths and is a great way to avoid the busyness of Dublin city. There is an excellent cycling network in my home city of Cork. To the west of the city a series of parks and riverside paths make for wonderful cycling. Cork city’s greenway runs adjacent to Cork harbour on the eastern side of the city. This has led to a big increase in the number of people cycling in Cork, both for leisure and to commute. I run cycle tours in Cork city and they are almost completely free from traffic. 

Mountain biking

When I was growing up in Cork, there were no official mountain bike trails in my locality. My friends and I loved to take our bikes to the local woods and create our own trails. Today the mountain bike community is much better served. Mountain biking can be enjoyed safely if you follow a few simple rules, use proper equipment and choose the most appropriate trail for your ability. Ballyhoura bike park is located in north Cork and is one of the best in Ireland. You’ll also find great mountain bike trails in Ballinastoe in the Wicklow Mountains and Castlewellan Mountain Bike trail in County Down.

 

On-road Biking:

Road biking as the name suggests utilises the public road system,  you share the road with other road users. The roads in Ireland are classified as Motorways, National roads, Regional roads and Local roads. A motorway is multiple lane highways with heavy traffic use. Cycling is prohibited on motorways. The national roads are roads which connect the main towns and cities that are not served by motorways. These are busy roads with business and commuter traffic. Certain sections of the national roads are safe to cycle on, local knowledge of the roads is required. Regional roads connect smaller towns and villages outside of the national routes. They can  also be busy roads but much of the best road cycling is on regional roads.Local Roads serve more rural areas of Ireland with low population density. They are often cul-de-sacs or they loop back on to regional roads. Local roads may be less well maintained than the other roads network.

There are fantastic on-road cycle routes across the country. Some of the best are in the remote and scenic areas of Ireland. Some of the top road cycling routes are in the Wicklow Mountains, the Comeragh mountains, on the Ring of Beara in west Cork, and on the famous ring of Kerry. One of the longest cycle routes is The Wild Atlantic Way cycle route, it runs for 1600 km from West Cork to Donegal.

Other things to consider:

What Bike?

There are bike rental companies located in all the main cycling destinations in Ireland. You can hire for a day or for a longer period if necessary. Electric bikes are widely available in Ireland, there is a higher cost for renting electric bikes. If you are using an Irish tour company and joining a guided tour or a self guided tour, then the tour company will provide a bike for you. It is possible to transport your own bike to Ireland. You will need to know how to dismantle and rebuild the bike. There will also be additional cargo costs.

Rules of the road

Be aware of the rules of the road. In Ireland we drive on the left hand side of the road. You must cycle on the left hand side in the direction of flow of traffic. Use of arm signals when turning, particularly in urban areas with higher traffic volumes You are legally required to wear a helmet when cycling in Ireland.

The weather and what to pack

For cycling in Ireland pack lightweight waterproof gear. Bring extra layers which you can add or remove as required. Before choosing your direction of travel consider the prevailing winds and hills on the route.

If you are organising your own cycle pack spare tubes, a first aid kit and a phone. Plan a route that will have you passing a place to get lunch and refuel. Be aware that in more rural areas this may be a little more of a challenge.