The Giro d'Italia has been and gone - but what makes people love cycling so much?
Getting on two wheels has never been so popular. As Bike Week continues Kerry McKittrick finds the Giro d'Italia has left behind a renewed enthusiasm for all things cycle-related in Northern Ireland.
Interest in the activity was already on the up for some time, of course, as across the province, cycling infrastructure is being improved constantly with dedicated cycle paths and facilities.
A bike hire scheme — known as the Boris Bikes, after the London Mayor — is set to hit Belfast towards the end of the year with more than 30 docking stations around the city centre, while the ever-popular Bike To Work Scheme offers hefty discounts on bikes and equipment for those who would like to cycle to work.
This week, people are being urged to get rolling as part of Bike Week 2014, with a dedicated programme of cycling events to celebrate everything pedal-powered.
And as we prepare to mark the events, we speak to three keen local cyclists about why they love getting on their bikes.
Suzanne Wylie (48) is the chief executive designate of Belfast City Council. She lives in Belfast with her husband, John, and they have three children, Rebecca (20), Natalie (18) and Stewart (14). She says:
"I'm not a fanatical cyclist – I don't do anything long-distance or competitive, but I do cycle in and out of work regularly.
I've always cycled on and off and when on holiday.
About four years ago, I realised that my children were able to sort themselves out in the mornings and felt I wanted to get fit again.
I was director of health and environmental services at that stage, so I also wanted to set a good example.
I got a bike through the Bike to Work scheme and thought I would see how it went – I ended up getting addicted.
I come down the Comber Greenway for part of my commute, which I love.
I get very frustrated sitting in traffic, so it's actually quicker for me to cycle.
I also feel like I've already done something with my day by the time I get into work in the morning.
I don't cycle only if it's absolutely pouring with rain in the morning, or if I have to drive somewhere for a meeting.
If I don't cycle for a few days then I notice I get grumpy and my energy levels go down.
It's something I really enjoy and that's why it becomes so addictive.
I don't have time to go to the gym, so it helps me stay fit.
Every now and again I'll cycle to meet a friend for coffee, depending on the weather, so I don't just keep it for travelling to work.
When we go to Donegal the whole family brings bikes, so it's how we get around when we're up there."
‘Taking a ride out to the country is a great escape’
Former Apprentice candidate Jim Eastwood (34) is a businessman and after-dinner speaker and lives in Cookstown with his wife, Paula, and their children, Charlotte Rose (3), Eathan (2) and newborn, Erin. He says:
“My dad cycled and I suppose everyone remembers their first bike, as they were such a great form of transport as a kid.
I liked bikes but my dad would have been actually racing bikes when I took an interest. I was given what they called a ‘gate’ — a big old heavy bike to race on. I think my dad didn't want to invest too much to see if I would stick with it as I had a lot of other interests such as football and Gaelic.
I had it from when I was 11 until I was 17. I raced all over Ireland and Europe and had some success — I was the underage all-Ireland cycling champion when I was 14.
However, I decided at 17 to give up cycling and concentrate on football and Gaelic.
I tend not to have regrets because I feel that it's a waste of energy, but I got back into cycling two or three years ago and after I got some fitness back I thought to myself, ‘Why did I give this up in the first place?'.
I get together with some friends on a Sunday morning when I can — I go with Harps Cycling Club and the banter is fantastic.
When my children are older, I'll get them on bikes — I think everyone remembers getting their first bike for Christmas. You want to give your kids all the opportunities you have yourself.
For cycling, I know how good it is. If they take it or leave it after I show them then fair enough, but at least they'll have the option.
I live two minutes from the countryside and although I have a great job and a very rewarding home life, when I'm out on the bike I think about the lovely view and if my legs will hold up — it's such escapism.”
‘Injury forced me to quit rugby so I took to the bike’
Former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland (54) is the co-chair of the NI Conservatives and Chairman of Peace Playes International. He lives in Holywood with his wife Colleen. He says:
“I've been a cyclist for years. I had to stop playing serious rugby at the age of 28 because of a joint problem and that's when I took to the bike as it's easier on the joints.
I normally go at the weekends and I've been on a few trips over the years such as the
Co-operation Ireland Belfast to Dublin Maracyle, which I'm doing this year again.
I cycle with a group of friends and we normally head to a good coffee shop and back again. We'll do about 40 miles most days. I do cycle into work in Belfast if I have to go in evenings or at weekends. I want to get organised enough to cycle into work most days — the cycling infrastructure in Northern Ireland is improving every day. You go to the continent and see people on bikes everywhere — it's a way of life and you can see people are fitter and healthier because of it. I'm also more of a tourist so I look around me and see things.
I'm doing the maracycle again this year — I like to support the event as I'm on the board of Co-operation Ireland and I like to raise a bit of money for a worthwhile charity. We talk a lot about the problems in Northern Ireland but these organisations are some of the positive things to come out of our society.
The maracycle itself is good fun. The route has improved since the first time I did it because it's one cycle path instead of roads. There are great people on it and we have great fun. The first time we did it we had too many pints of Guinness on the night in between, though, so it was a much tougher ride on the way back!”
The Co-operation Ireland Maracycle takes place on the weekend of June 28/29. For full details and how to enter, visit www.cooperationireland.org/mara|cycle
A packed week of events
Among the highlights to watch out for in Bike Week 2014 are:
- Ballymoney, Thursday, June 19. Ladies Ride Out Cycle ride from Riverside Park. Contact Sonya Crawford, tel: 028 2766 0236
- Newtownabbey, until Sunday, June 22. Guided bike rides. Contact Allison Bennington, tel: 028 9034 0048
- An Creagan, Omagh, until Sunday, June 22. Free Bike Hire. Contact Paula Bradley, tel: 028 8076 1112
- Fermanagh, until Sunday, June 22. Adult bike training programme available in local community centres. Contact Chris Elliott, tel: 028 6632 5050
- Loughmacrory, Tuesday, June 17. Group cycle from Handball Alley. Contact Hughie McCallon, tel: 07879 013 528
- Fermanagh, Saturday, June 21. Hourly guided bike rides at Castle Archdale. Contact Chris Elliott, tel: 028 6632 5050
- An Creagan, Omagh, Sunday, June 22. Bike Archaeology tours. Contact Paula Bradley, tel: 028 8076 1112
- Bike To Work Day, June 20 — Belfast City Council — Bikers' Breakfast, Belfast City Hall; Derry City Council — Bikers' Breakfast, Guild Cafe; Ballymoney Borough Council — Bikers’ Breakfast, Lower Bann Leisure Centre