The Mrs. signed up for a half-marathon in Dublin last month which opened up the opportunity for us to finally explore some of the Emerald Isle. We’d stay in Dublin a couple days, then cross the “border” up to Belfast for a night, then back down to the coastal town of Wexford before heading west to spend our last couple days in Limerick. We were travelling by car, but I was keen to scope out the cycling situation in each city, and finally did a little bit of riding in Limerick to test out the city’s bike share program.
Arriving in Dublin, we entered the city proper just before a football match, which meant that traffic was near a standstill. There were times that pedestrians were passing us by as we idled in a terrible Opel with a defective windshield wiper. Thankfully, the weather was quite pleasant, and once we were past the stadium, the roads cleared up and we could get to the hotel in time for the Mrs. to check-in for her race the next day. Driving on the left wasn’t completely foreign to us as we’d done it for four years in Japan, but it does take a little time to re-adjust. After parking the car however, we explored the city chiefly as pedestrians.
The bike share program in Dublin is aptly named DublinBikes and is sponspored by Coca Cola for some reason. In fact, every city we visited, including Belfast in Northern Ireland, had the same Coke Zero bikes for hire, though the bikes themselves differed slightly. The connection between bike share and soda isn’t apparent to me other than perhaps a unique place to advertise, but I’d be interested to know why Coke has invested so heavily in the Irish bicycle business.
As far as actually cycling in Dublin, it looked to be a mix of unsegregated bike lanes and having to ride in traffic, much like what I saw in London and other cities in mainland Europe and the U.S. What stood out to me the most was the merging of bike and bus lanes, which I’m sure makes sense on some level, but as a cyclist that likes to avoid encounters with motor vehicles, a bus is literally the largest one on the road. Sure, a professional bus operator is probably a better driver than your average person behind the wheel of a Hyundai, but it’s still a bit unnerving.
After the marathon we embarked on our list of touristy things to do, including the Jameson distillery, Phoenix Park, and Trinity College. Then it was up to Belfast for a night where we walked around the city, sampled the local cuisine, and then checked out the Giant’s Causeway with a quick stop at the Bushmill distillery.
Wexford was pleasantly surprising, and a sleepy fishing town yielded the best food and most charm of anywhere else on our trip, at least in my opinion. We stayed above a pub called Jim McGee’s, and I’m pretty sure the guy that handed us the room key from behind the bar was Jim McGee himself. And because it was our anniversary, they even gifted us a bottle of champagne.
Many kilometers and a few castles later, we arrived at our accommodations in Limerick, a city on the river Shannon. There we listened to some traditional Irish folk music being played at a local pub, drove out to visit the wonderfully windy Cliffs of Moher, and toured the historic and well-preserved King John’s Castle. I also got the chance to test out for myself one of the “Coke Zero Bikes” along a greenbelt that passed by our hotel.
The components were pretty standard fare for bikeshare bicycles and I appreciated the no-frills utility of the bike. The double-leg center stand is a nice touch, and the styling is an understated black and red that matches the Coca Cola logo. The front basket was also designed well, being able to accommodate a wider variety of bags than London’s “Boris Bike” style that is oftentimes an awkward fit.
Of most interest to me was the shifting, as they’ve implemented NuVinci’s CVT hubs instead of a traditional internal-gear hub. The technology is beyond my understanding, but it translates to a smooth, non-indexed shifting experience. In fact, the gear selector on the grip-shift has no gears at all—there’s merely an icon of a bicycle on a plane that can be adjusted from flat to varying degrees of incline. You basically match the selector to whatever grade of riding is in front of you and there you go. Novelty aside, it was a pretty straightforward and enjoyable system and my only concern would be the durability and maintenance required of such a complex hub. More information on NuVinci technology can be found on their website here.
While my riding experience in Ireland wasn’t very extensive, I can say that the abundance of bike share programs, the various bike-to-work incentives in place, and the increasing costs of owning a motor vehicle all create an atmosphere where cycling is bound to become an even more attractive option for commuting and leisure. For us, we enjoyed our visit there immensely and have got so much more of the country left to visit that I’m sure we’ll be back, perhaps with our own bicycles this time.
- Bicyclist Abroad