SO, where have the last 19 years gone?
It doesn’t seem that long ago, back in 2000, that I was in a CSPE (Civic, Social and Political Education) class, learning about Ireland’s 2020 targets to improve the environment over the next two decades.
While progress has been made since then, I do wonder if more can be done.
We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions since 2000 but have increased since the global base year of 1990 (which we must be within 20% of, relative to UN and EU targets).
However, emissions from Ireland’s transport has more than doubled since 1990 and is projected to grow further. Despite progress in road safety, we still have 74% of all transport trips in Ireland being made by car, with the remaining 15% and 11% being walking and other modes of transport respectively. While travelling by car is the only option for many, especially rural areas, are there ways we can try and lower our car dependency and improve air quality?
As Christmas is coming, why not treat yourself or someone else to a bike?
There are currently more than 15 places in Cork city where you can buy one and many more around the county. As many reading this will probably have only driven by car and need to make most journeys over 5km, cycling for their daily commute is not an option. There are also young families to cater for, large business deliveries to be made and sometimes the weather just isn’t great.
These were the problems that faced me when I chose to buy a bike in Halfords in Little Island in Christmas, 2015. As a traffic and transport engineer, I think it is essential I cycle more and explore the various towns and cities I design streets in. After all, I’ve used other forms of transport such as cars, buses, trains, taxis and my legs. Why should cycling be any different?
Once I had a bike, for the first time in over 12 years (13 years after I got my driving licence), how could I incorporate it into my life?
I travel by train to work, take the car to do grocery shopping, and for everything else I will usually walk. Nevertheless, once you buy something, you generally want to make use of your investment.
So, after my bike was largely dormant in January and February of 2016 (along with my two-month-old gym membership), I started to cycle around my local area at weekends. I’d cycle to the cinema, to park runs and other areas of interest.
Then, I started to try and cycle into work once a week and then try and use my bike to look at different sites and projects I was working on.
As the weather improved, my wife and I would go for cycle trips in more rural areas. It was just a matter of packing the bikes into the car and driving to a route we liked.
Sometimes it rained, and rapid cancellations of a 15km trip had to happen. Other times, we’d cycle direct from our house and explore around the area, with the aim of stopping at a nice café/restaurant at the end of our trip.
Yes, we were still using our car for essential trips but cycling certainly reduced fuel bills and the stress of finding car parking spaces, while it also improved our general fitness and wellbeing.
After moving house and job at least once in the past three years, I’ve also prioritised where I live and work relative to where I could cycle. It’s a subtle yet important change in my life, where I’ve tried to live a bit more sustainably.
While I’ll still need to use my car for trips that our just not possible by bike, I feel I have at least tried to reduce my own personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and improve my local area.
There are many beautiful places to cycle around both Cork city and county. Any tourist visiting the city can take out a Coke Zero bike from one of the many stations and cycle around the Marina, to Fitzgeralds park, to CIT or UCC, to the Lough and to Fota Island, if they really want to test the limits of the rental bikes.
As a city that is just over 10km in width, there are many places that be reached in less than 30 minutes by bike. However, the slightly hillier parts may mean a bit of circumnavigation is needed if you don’t have a Tour de France ability to climb steep hills.
For the rest of the county and rural Cork, you can spend a Saturday travelling on different trails such around the coast by Kinsale, Rosscarbery or the Blackwater Valley cycle route. Or, if you live in the slightly more mountainous areas, there are still places to explore such as Millstreet, Fermoy, or the Beara peninsula.
The most important thing is to just get on a bike and explore on a weekend.
There are also good websites out there such as corkcyclingcampaign.com, cycle-route.com and bikemap.net that can recommend good routes in your area.
Bike Buying Guide
The best-known bicycle shops are the likes of Halfords and Argos, but there are othes you can find by just searching online.
Other people may be selling bikes second hand on sites such as donedeal.ie.
The most important thing is to try and cycle the bike first to ensure it suits you and you feel comfortable. The best ones for part-time cyclists are either a mountain or hybrid bike.
Initially, I bought a Carrera Roadbike (the ones you see in the Tour de France) but it was uncomfortable to cycle on and not suitable for any rough terrain. So, I had it replaced with a Carrera TDF hybrid.
Some places will need to assemble your bike before you can effectively pick it up, so best to allow a day or two for this.
Other items you need to buy are lights, a high-visibility jacket and helmet. While the latter is not mandatory on Irish roads, it’s worth wearing if you want to feel a bit safer when cycling. There’s quite a lot of argument out there about the merit of wearing a helmet when cycling but it’s a matter of preference. I’ll usually wear one if cycling with traffic or in a situation where my head will be at risk. Other areas such as a quick cycle through a rural track or greenway, I would wear it a bit less.
It’s a bit like wearing a woolly hat on a mild Autumn day. You may or may not catch a cold anyway but if it makes you feel safe and comfortable, then go for it!
€160 is about as low as it goes for a bike at a mainline chain such as Halfords but there are many decent second-hand bikes you can buy for less €100.
Cheap lights can also be bought online for less than €10.
Buy two locks— a D lock and thick cable lock are the best combination, for around €30. Using two will make your bike a lot more difficult to steal when parked.
Helmet — your preference, but I would recommend one if you haven’t cycled in a while, around €20.
Hi-Vis Jacket — If you already have similar clothing then just go with that.
Cycle Gloves — optional but essential when travelling in windy or cold weather
Cycle bag —unless you buy a bike with a basket in front, this is useful for dropping stuff into, especially if doing a quick grocery run or travelling to work.
Corkonian Cycle Challenge 2020!
As we enter the Christmas period, and the New Year resolutions stage of the year, allow me a to set you a small challenge.
Buy a bike for less than €160 and cycle it once a month for the next year. If you like it, you can cycle more. If you don’t like it, you have not wasted too much money and you can also sell it on and get some of your money back. Cork needs more people to cycle more over the next year, whether to just explore undiscovered parts of the city and county or just to improve the overall environment. You can also take part in the Christmas Cracker cycle which raised funds for Marymount hospice.
Here a 12 cycle trips you can try over the next year...
1. 5km (30 minutes) cycle in your local area and take a picture for #corconiancyclechallenge.
2. Cycle to work at least once.
3. Waterford Greenway Cycle. This is a very scenic route between Midleton and Yougal.
4. Rent a Coke Zero Bike in Cork city centre and cycle to the Marina, Fitzgerald Park or Curraheen Greenway.
5. Cycle to your nearest shop to buy one grocery/local takeaway (your choice!)
6. Take a trip in the Cork rural countryside and cycle there (10km/1 hour cycle).
7. Cycle to your local coffee shop/café with friends.
8. Cycle to a sports event such as at Paic Ui Caoimh, the Parkrun or to the gym.
9. Hill challenge — climb a hill at least with a 100m vertical climb (just to check if gears are working!).
10. Try cycling to the county bounds on one weekend.
11. Take part in a charity event such as Christmas cracker cycle.
12. Organise your own cycle event in your local area, even if it’s just for a short 5km cycle.
Finally, the main benefit cycling has given me in my life is that it has made me happier and less stressed with the other pressures in life such as work, Brexit, or whether I should make a start on the lower tray of the chocolate Kimberleys. So, give it a go!
Hugh McCarthy (@Corconian) is a Chartered Engineer and has worked as a transport consultant on a variety of cycle infrastructure projects in both the UK and Ireland.