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One summers day

I found this post in my drafts, I’d forgotten to post it!  Its a few years old, but its always lovely to be reminded how gorgeous the Military Road is up the Wicklow Mountains.

This summer has been such a disappointment – even the sunny days have been quite cool, hardly any t-shirt days. So when the forecast said that this Friday might be the best day of the summer (with, inevitably, more rain to follow later), I took the day off and went for a loop up around the Wicklow Hills. It was nearly a disaster as my chain decided to explode just past Rathfarnham – very fortunately, it happened just a few hundred metres from a bike shop! So thanks to the guys at Expert Cycles I was on my way again (if 35 euro poorer).

The road was quiet and the weather was quite perfect going up and over the Military Road just before Glencree.

The one good thing about the wet summer is that the uplands are lush and damp with wonderful deep colours.

Glenmacnass Waterfall.

There were the usual sightseers overlooking Lough Tay – perhaps more so than usual, there was some sort of event going on down in Luggala House. They’ve made a new link to the Wicklow Way, visible to the right.

Lough Tay and Luggala House.

I looped back up to the Sally Gap and around again to Lough Bray.

As always on a nice day, there are paragliders out taking advantage of thermals over Lough Bray – it looks fun.

The road was quiet and the weather was quite perfect going up and over the Military Road just before Glencree.

As always on a nice day, there are paragliders out taking advantage of thermals over Lough Bray – it looks fun.

As always on a nice day, there are paragliders out taking advantage of thermals over Lough Bray – it looks fun.

Cycling Bhutan

Its a bit belated, but I had a happy few days cycling in the truly amazing Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in October 2013. Unfortunately, independent travel is not permitted, so I booked through an agency who gave me not just a guide, but a driver too – no extra cost – and went for a mix of driving, cycling, and hiking.

A few lessons from the trip:

To save the hassle, I decided to hire a mountain bike there, instead of bring my own. This was a mistake – the quality of bikes in Bhutan is not particularly good, and they are quite expensive. I thought I could negotiate myself a good quality one, but that proved impossible as I was reliant on my travel agent to get one for me, and it was hard to communicate my needs. So I’d strongly advise anyone going to bring their own bike.

Be aware that for the Bhutan travel trade, all cycling is mountain biking! Real off road trail riding is rare (even though the King is known to be an enthusiast). If you want to do this, be very specific and insist you have a guide who is experienced in this. Otherwise, you will end up riding on the roads – which are beautiful and challenging, but I would have loved to explore more out of the way routes. At the moment, if you want to explore remote Bhutan, trekking is the only way to do it. Hopefully in the future they will develop real long distance trails.

I would also advise not trying to cover too much ground in Bhutan. Whether on a bike or a bus, the roads are gruelling. Much better to choose a region and explore in a little more detail.

Remember that whether you are travelling alone or in a group (you can of course go on a tour group, but I don’t see the point in this – you end up paying just as much to share a guide with many people), be careful to communicate very clearly what you want – most companies have a range of tour guides on call, and they are always flexible and friendly. But there is no point asking to go for deep mountain trekking or mountain biking if your guide is not experienced in this (some specialise in cultural tours). If you ask for someone with cycling and trekking experience, you’ll get it, and they will usually be more than happy to do something different with you, as many of them are very bored with the usual routes.

Visiting Bhutan is of course expensive – very expensive. Is it worth it? I would say definitely so. First off, the costs are not as high as it looks at first, simply because your visa includes so much. It is a genuinely unique (that overused word) experience. There is simply nowhere else in the world like Bhutan. The landscapes are consistently breathtaking, the culture is fascinating and its wonderful to see a place genuinely unspoiled.

This photo simply doesn’t show how big this Buddha is, its enormous.
Yes, this really does exist.

Ice Bike

Last Sunday I went for a quick ride up Ballinastoe again – there was a bitterly cold easterly wind whipping in from over the Irish Sea.

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How cold I didn’t realise until I got back down – the mud and water on the bike had frozen solid! – It was impossible to clean it off, even with the power wash at the trailhead.

Iced up bike

Ballinastoe in the Snow

There was snow over the weekend in Wicklow – on Sunday it was gorgeous, I rode around the trails in the cold sunshine, but I forgot my camera. I was back today, but most of the snow was mostly gone except for sheltered spots. But it was still a pleasure to hear the crunch of clean snow under the wheels, even if only for a few minutes. The conditions were difficult under a dark grey sky, with a mix of crushed ice, slush, snow and mud, and even some dry sections on the trail. But the bike handled it all fine, I’m constantly amazed at the grip of the Nobby Nics in all conditions. I only fell off once (thankfully, onto some snow).

The ridge top overlooking Lough Tay was surprisingly snow free, I guess it was more exposed to the sunshine of yesterday. But there was a ghostly silence over the landscape – the roads are iced up and impassable, I only saw a few dedicated hikers doing the Wicklow Way – and a handful of mountain bikers. The final sections down of course were the usual mud, lots of scrubbing to do before I could get in the car.

 

Ballinastoe trail

 
Near the top

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Bike culture, Thailand and China

I was in Thailand and China (Guangxi and Shanghai) in January. One nice thing to see is that there is the seeds of a bike culture growing in parts of Asia. I saw a surprising number of hipster fixies on the streets of Bangkok and Hoa Hin, and there are plenty of new shops now in China selling decent quality mountain bikes and road bikes, a complete contrast to a few years ago when the only bikes available seemed to be for kids or the very poor. It was noticeable that a high proportion of people riding nice bikes were westerners, but there were plenty of locals too, in addition to the last remains of the old bike culture, iron flying pigeons and all.  Even the occasional roadie on an incongruously expensive Italian carbon road bike can be seen on a Sunday morning in Bangkok, and I saw one small antique shop selling lovely old English Holdsworth utility bikes, ancient Brooks saddles and all.

The photos below show a neat little sculpture was outside a small hotel in Yangshuo in Guangxi province. The leafy bike below that is an apparently permanent fixture in Lumphini Park, Bangkok, while below that these two upmarket bikes are a strangely elegant intrusion on an otherwise dull street near the notorious Soi Cowboy.

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Up and over Black Mountain in the Cooleys

I had a morning training event in Dundalk at the end of March (yes, I’m way behind dates in posting here), the weather forecast was great, so of course I took my bike with me. By 2.30 I was at Ravensdale Park in the Cooley Mountains in glorious sunshine. I decided to do a little singletrack around the forest, then climb the 508 metre summit of Black Mountain to look for trails I’d been told about on a previous visit, then descend on an old track that runs down to Anaverna townland and back to Ravensdale. On my way I found the first primrose I’d seen this year.

There is some singletrack in the forest, some seems purpose built for mountain biking, I presume by a local club. But the climb following the Tain Way long distance walk is a long tough ascent on forest roads. The sheep here still have their winter coats and oddly enough don’t have any lambs – I saw dozens of lambs in Wicklow the previous Sunday. Maybe northern sheep are most distrustful of Spring? Whatever the reason, they looked very hot and bothered.


There were horses too, near the summit. They didn’t look well cared for.

The summit of Black Mountain is heavily disfigured with modern masts. I prefer the more modest megalithic tomb called that marks the highest point at 508 metres. From the top, an old farm track runs east along the ridge and then descends down to the townland of Anavarna.

Once over the top, there are a choice of trails, many of which look impassible when boggy. I decided to loop back down to Ravensdale.

Although sunny, there was a haze over the hills making the horizon invisible. A gorse fire on one of the hills made it look like a smoking volcano.

On the way down, along a beautiful grassy trail, there is what I think is a 19th century set of fake megalithic tombs, probably a landlords folly.

The way back to the car took a lot longer than expected. I was having trouble changing gears when all of a sudden everything seized up. For the second time since I got the bike, the gear hanger had snapped (I suspect from a bang I gave the bike when loading onto the car). The chain got caught in the rear so I couldn’t even roll the bike. I had to carry it down, hide it in a ditch, then drive back to pick it up. Awkward, but still a very nice ride. There are lots more trails in the area worth exploring I think so I’ll be back.

Tour de Burren June 29

I’d heard a lot about the Tour de Burren, everyone says its maybe the best cycle event in the country right now. I signed up for the second longest route, 104km, and of course it was pouring rain.

Ballyvaughan is a tiny village, but they set up a very good carpark for the 2000 or so riders.

The start is close to the well known ‘Monks’ pub, doing directly west to Fanore.

I got to the start thinking the rain might hold off for a little bit, but it started to pelt down almost immediately.

So on went the ’emergency’ waterproof, which stayed on the whole ride. And I left my camera behind so it wouldn’t get as waterlogged as me.

6 hours later, packing up. It was a long, slow ride in the rain, but very enjoyable. Sadly, no photographs of the beautiful route.

All in all, its a great event, a model for others. Its fun and social, and the different routes loop in on each other, meaning everyone gets to see everyone else at some stage. North Clare is of course sublimely beautiful, even in the rain. Its tougher riding than it appears -although there are no big climbs, there is constant short sharp ones, which can be draining. And of course there are those Atlantic winds.

Wicklow 200, June 2012

On the 10th June I did the annual Wicklow 200 ride, starting and finishing in Greystones. Just like last year, I managed to arrive late, so spent most of the day vainly trying to catch up with the main group. Unlike last year, it didn’t pour rain all day. It wasn’t great weather – grey and a little cold, but at least it wasn’t wet. Although one symptom of the very wet year we had was a terrible cloud of midges everyone had to battle through on the way up Glencree. I never really got going at a decent pace, so I was almost ridiculously slow (it was after 6pm when I finished), but better slow I suppose than not doing it at all.

At the start…

Going over the Sally Gap there were some very odd cloud formations including this twister forming over Dublin.

The sky lifted briefly as I went past the Blessington Lakes.

After a late start, I seemed to spend most of my time riding alone, trying to catch up with bunches visible in the distance.

Sunshine in January, Connemara

A little late to post these pictures, but at the end of January I took advantage of some very nice weather on the west (it was pouring rain on the east coast), to go ride in Derroura in Connemara in Galway.  I’d been there before, but it usually seems to be swathed in mist and rain.  This time was very different.

 

The trail rises up around the mountain on a narrow path of flagstones.

The payoff for the first climb is a series of beautiful views south over the lake made famous in the John Ford film ‘The Quiet Man’.

Rounding the top, there are wonderful views over Lough Corrib and its numerous islands.

There is a pot of gold around here somewhere.

The trail winds back down to the carpark through forest on a series of long timber tracks (some of them are very slippy) running across the bog.

Living small

I’ve always loved the idea of living in a very small, but super organised space.  I love this video of a brilliantly organised apartment in Hong Kong

 

and, via Gismodo, here is another.

 

My only problem is I’d need two of those – one for me, one for my bike collection.