Cycling the Wild Atlantic Way
Even though the Wild Atlantic Way wasn’t conceived as a cycling route I suspect that Fáilte Ireland intentionally choose to use the term ‘way’ when naming it so as to keep their options open. In fact in Ireland the term ‘way’ is associated with the National Waymarked Trails, particularly the Wicklow Way. There are sections of the Wild Atlantic Way that are very busy and not all that suitable for cycling on. In many cases there are better, safer alternatives, however, they haven’t been documented and there is scope for an cycling variation of the route – watch this space!
The Atlantic coast of Ireland has always been popular with cycling tourists thanks to its spectacular scenery and famous attractions. And in Ireland in recent years leisure cycling has experienced a massive surge in popularity. The infrastructure is slowly starting to catch up with the demand and there are cycling paths projects, known as greenways, at various stages across the country. The original and still the best, the Great Western Greenway, quickly become a huge hit and the envy of every county council in the country.
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A guide to the best of Irish cycling with 80 routes spread across the entire island, there is something for everyone; from gentle, traffic-free cycles, ideal for the whole family, to long challenging routes packed with relentless climbs. The routes range in length from 8km to 207km on a variety of surfaces including tarmac roads, gravel tracks, canal towpaths and singletrack.
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Mountain Biking along the Wild Atlantic Way
There is quite a strong mountain biking scene in Ireland however it seems to be mostly focussed on racing. The network of official trails is limited to a number of trails on Coillte ( the state forestry company) land, only one of which, Derroura, is close to the Wild Atlantic Way.
Derroura Mountain Bike Trail Network is located on the N59 route approximately halfway between Galway City and Connemara. With 16km 16 kms in length, lies at the gateway to Connemara. The trails here will offer you massive views north into the Maam valley and westwards to the Twelve Pins. Derroura offers you some incredible mountain biking in some of the most spectacular scenery in Connemara. The nearby MBW Bike Shop in Moycullen offer excellent advice and expertise as well as bike (electric, mountain and fat) hire.
Obviously the whole of Ireland and particularly the west coast is riddled with paths and tracks and much of it is ideally suited to mountain biking. The lack of a formal trail network may put people off.
However many of the walking routes and trails could offer potential for mountain bikers. Technically many of these paths have been designed and documented for walkers. But they many be cycled with great care. It seems to me a great pity that different users of these trails couldn’t share them. Cyclist should give way to walkers and take particularly care on blind corners and when travelling quickly as you never know what may be ahead. The I.M.B.A. (International Mountain Bike Association) Rules of the Trail are a good starting point.
The Strava Heatmap, which shows where users of the very popular Strava cycling app has been, is very useful when planning your route. And while mountain biking isn’t that popular it can give you some ideas.
Another novel way of exploring the coast of Ireland is by fat bike. These huge wheeled bikes are designed to go where normal mountain bikes cannot so are the perfect way to travel across sand and soft, boggy ground. Although still a rare sight around the country they could become more common as people realise how capable and fun these amazing machines are. MBW Bike Shop in Moycullen have a fleet of fat bikes available for hire.
The Great Western Greenway
The Great Western Greenway which connects the town of Westport with Achill Island in Mayo was the first long distance cycling path in the country. The 42km route has been a great success bringing plenty of the business to the region. The surface is a mix of compact gravel and tarmac and is suitable for all types of bikes (though a very delicate road bike might be a little uncomfortable). Popular with families who may only do a shorter section of the route before being picked up by one of the many companies that offer shuttle and bike hire services.
The success of the Mayo Greenway has inspired other similar projects in other parts of the country. Many of which will be completed in the near future.
At over 2500km cycling the Wild Atlantic Way in one trip is a serious challenge that will take even very fit cyclists a month to complete. Fortunately there are many excellent shorter routes ideal for those who want to take a more leisurely approach or who have less time. There are two options an A to B route or a loop.
An A to B route could just follow a section of the Wild Atlantic Way, starting and finishing in towns that are linked by public transport. Bus Éireann, Ireland national bus service, can be used to link most towns. They are generally happy to take bikes for a small fee.
The other option, a loop, can be simpler and is a better option for a shorter trip as less time will spend off the bike getting from the finish back to the start. There are a number of very long, yet popular day rides, notably the Ring of Kerry, that would make for excellent weekend tours. The official Wild Atlantic Way site details a 3 day itinerary for the Ring of Kerry.
Of course there are plenty of other great routes out there, it’s just a matter of putting in a big of effort to research one for yourself. If you are doing this then you will find that Google Streetview is an excellent tool for accessing the road surface of your proposed route.
If you are looking for route advice then feel free to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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