‘Since I bought a bike in 1992, no other possession has given me so much pleasure’
People take part in the Bike to Work Lunchtime Cycle in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
For 21 years after leaving school, the notion of trying a bike again hardly flickered across my mind. But in the 21 years since I bought a bike in 1992, no other possession has given me so much pleasure.
“Pleasure” is the key word. I don’t ride out of necessity, or political correctness, or pursuit of fitness. It’s purely about pleasure – the freedom of rolling along at our own lazy pace – for me and the two people with whom I run away from home for a week on the bikes every year. In between, I do a bit more than the other two, but riding to work is still about enjoying the summer rather than beating the traffic. I don’t think I’ve ever hurried anywhere on a bike.
It started for two of us when our children got bikes. We decided it would be a fatherly kind of thing for us to get bikes to ride along with them. Our spouses doubted the fad would last very long. But in that summer we discovered the pleasure potential. We went to Connemara for a few days – and found that idling in beautiful places between meals suited us very nicely.
The following year, we discovered Irish Cycling Safaris, a small biking holiday company started by Eamonn Ryan (future government minister and current leader of the Green Party) and run out of the bike shop in UCD. It had several well-chosen routes in West Cork, Kerry, Connemara and elsewhere along which it booked accommodation for groups of about 15 cyclists who were ushered along by a laid back guide driving a support van. We remember them as the happiest of weeks.
We also remember the rain. So we moved abroad. The first year in Slovenia it still rained a lot, and the food was awful. But the following year the sun shone in Burgundy when we were there at the time of the great 2005 harvest and the food and wine were wonderful. It taught us the advantages of sticking to wine routes – so we’ve rambled along the Dordogne, followed the Ebro down to Rioja, and criss-crossed some of the most beautiful bits of Italy.
Along the way, someone mentioned New York. On the first Sunday of May, the main roads are closed to traffic for the 42-mile Five Boro Bike Tour. At 8am, wobbling on doubtful hired bikes, we were in the middle of 30,000 cyclists, ready to roll through up through Manhattan into Central Park and work our way round to Staten Island.
And now we have Dungarvan. The Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford, held on the last Sunday of August each year, started off with modest numbers, but has grown every year. Its trick is that it has three routes – 160kms for real cyclists, 100kms for pretty good ones, and 50kms on almost completely flat terrain for the rest of us. It was superbly organised from the start and the word spread , so much so that entries had to be capped at 5,000 for the first time this year. Flowing out of Dungarvan in a snaking convoy of cyclists remains one of the great days out for cyclists.
And Dungarvan suits the pursuit of pleasure in other ways. The Tannery, one of Ireland’s best restaurants, takes bookings from one year to the next for dinner and accommodation on the night before the ride. Each year, we leave thinking that Paul and Maire Flynn will surely have a Michelin star when we come back. And if it wasn’t for the bikes, we might not be back at our table on August 31st, 2014.
Five things I know about cycling
- It’s not about new or expensive bikes. I’ve owned two bikes in 21 years, costing less than $1,000 for the two of them.
- A saddle is for life. I love the familiar shape and feel of my saddle and would hate to have to break in a new one.
- Bike locks need to come with several keys. You’ll surely lose at least one key.
- Hard tyres really do make a big difference. It’s much easier if you use a good heavy duty pump that stands on the ground. You’ll wonder why you ever tried blowing up tyres, and giving yourself back ache, with one of those cheap everyday pumps.
- Bike carriers that sit on the tow bar of your car are by far the simplest to pop on and off, and bikes can be loaded easily and securely.