Author Archives: niall

About niall

cycling less than i plan

Planning…

To keep my positive focus I’ve now booked time off work for the 600km spin. It starts Saturday 10th June so I’ve booked a couple of days to allow time to panic properly and get my bike and gear sorted. I’ve also booked the week off after for a bit of a holiday. I hope I don’t need it all for recovery!

Perspective

I’m having some real doubts about the Audax Challenge I’ve set myself this year. The turn of the month, my reasonable success restarting training in January and starting to increase my training for February has made it all more real than it was in the early days of January.

My first big marker is April 23rd with the Dark Hedges 200. I’m mostly confident that I will be able to manage that ride. I’ve done both the course and the distance a number of times and know what to expect. It’s the next BIG marker that has me really worried – Coast to Coast 600 on June 10th just 7 weeks after the Dark Hedges! I’ve no experience of distances over 200km and none of multi day rides either. That scares the 💩 out of me right now!

part i

part ii

Where the brain starts to screw me now is with those doubts. I’m finding it much harder this month to keep the same motivation for my training. Some of this is that the initial excitement is wearing off and that shit’s getting real. Mentally it would be much easier to find an excuse to give up than deal with the possibility of failure. However, I keep setting targets, making plans and focusing on the next ride.

On Sunday I rode almost 60km, slightly longer than I expected and my longest ride since August 2021! Milestones like that keep me motivated.

Perspective? My blogger friend Jim at Fit Recovery is dealing with the shock of being made redundant after 25 years with the same company and the prospect of starting all over again with a new company. Good luck with the new job Jim 👍

Light Up My Life

As requested by Paul over on 36×25.blog here is a rundown of the lights I use to keep me safe and allow me to ride at night.

Daytime Riding

I know a lot of people who dismiss the usefulness of lights during the day but I’m very much a “be safe, be seen” type of person and ride virtually every time with a rear and front flashing light.

Up front I have a Lezyne Micro Drive 500 XL. This has nine different modes including flash, pulse and various levels of steady light. It has an integrated adjustable silicone strap that fits pretty much any handlebar size and a weatherproof full size USB plug (no lead required) for charging. The USB plug is protected by a removable, chunky rubber cover which is its only niggle. This cover is not attached to the light body and can fall off or get mislaid. Thankfully these are available to buy separately despite the light now being discontinued (other current models use the same charging system). Despite having mine about 5 years I still haven’t gotten around to creating a fixing system and yes, I have managed to lose a couple of them!

The photo above shows the light on the top of the bar but I prefer it under the bar and the adjustable strap allows for this very easily especially as the light can swivel on the strap. Keeping the light under the bar gives a cleaner looking cockpit and more space on the bars.

My rear light (Cateye Viz 300) resides on my seatpost as I use a bottle style tool kit in my second bottle holder and no rear saddle bag.

This light is pretty new and really good. I was lucky to avail of a deal with my club where they bought a batch of these and subsidised the cost to members. It only cost me €15 which is an absolute bargain.

I run it on flash mode (but not the most annoying pattern) and having seen it on other club members’ bikes it’s really noticeable.

spot the guy with the same light

Removing the light from the holder is a bit of a faff and rather than potentially breaking it I tend to remove the whole thing, strap and all for charging. This means I could potentially lose the strap but on the flipside I’m unlikely to lose the light while out.

Night Riding

First of all I use both the above lights, still in flashing mode. I don’t use the Lezyne light on full beam mode. I found it weak for night time MTBing and upgraded to a better light (below) but I haven’t tried it on the road. I think I’ll see what it’s like this week in case I ever need it as a backup. As a flashing light it’s an effective additional eye catcher for approaching traffic.

My main headlight is the Moon Meteor Storm Pro which was originally purchased for MTB riding off road on forest tracks and trails. The level 5 full beam is really good for this kind of use.

Using it on the road though, it’s not as good. L5  is way too bright for cars while L4 or 3 are less dazzling but don’t provide as much visibility. Changing through the levels requires cycling down and through the flashing modes which isn’t practical when riding fast. The light did come with a remote that I’ve never used (and had forgotten about until now!) that might make this a bit easier and I will investigate that this week also. The model I have (max 1700 lumen) is now discontinued but there’s a very similar new version available with a 2000 lumen boost.

The major downside of this light is its weight. Including the mount it weighs 260g. It comes with a helmet mount but I wouldn’t fancy that weight on my head!

This light though is rock solid. When properly tightened the mount will not move no matter how rough the road surface. This was especially good on fast forest tracks on the MTB. However, I managed to break the clip on the base of the light on an Audax ride when trying to adjust the angle while riding. I was concerned about blinding oncoming traffic so tried to twist it down by manipulating the light itself. Of course it moved, the mount didn’t and the plastic clip broke. As it is part of the light body it can’t be replaced. A bodge repair using electrical tape saved me that night and a slightly tidier wrap of tape now secures the light to the mount.

This year the club is repeating the light subsidy but this time it’s front lights – Cateye AMPP 500. At €15 again it’s too good to miss and even if it isn’t as good as the Moon light it will be a good replacement for the Lezyne. I’m hoping to get mine this week and I’m looking forward to testing it.

On my helmet I use two additional lights. My old rear light (Cateye Rapid Mini) is now on the back as a blinking high level visibility light.

On top I have a second Lezyne Micro Drive 500 XL. This is set on the lowest full beam level and I find it incredibly useful for reading my Garmin screen and checking gears, seeing my pedals for clipping in etc. On this mode it gives me just enough light and lasts forever. Also it’s not very heavy meaning it doesn’t annoy me at all. A heavy light could cause a sore neck or cause the helmet to tilt annoyingly to one side or down over my eyes.

Future Upgrades

This setup works well for me and I’ve used it successfully on Winter 200km Audax rides when shorter days mean that I have to start and finish in the dark. However, if I’m going to ride 400km and 600km this year I’ll need to upgrade my headlights for longer lasting performance.

The ultimate Audax setup would be a hub based dynamo but I don’t fancy spending that amount of money. This light could be a very good alternative – IXON IQ Premium from Busch + Müller. It runs on AA size batteries and two sets will provide 10 hrs lighting and if I run out of rechargeables then regular Duracell will work in a pinch. At €80 on most sites it’s a lot cheaper than a dynamo wheel!

not the sexiest of lights!

Be Seen!

It’s important not to forget the second part of that saying and make sure that as well as being able to see I can also be seen. On local roads round home I’m riding shorter loops and I’m happy wearing a reflective harness. This doesn’t interfere with my pockets and is enough that I can be seen by following or oncoming cars.

On Audax rides when I spend a lot longer riding in the dark and being a lot more tired I prefer something a lot more visible and have used a light reflective workman’s shirt over my gear. This is heavier, less fitted and restricts access to my rear pockets but is incredibly visible at night.

Header image by Reactual.com

Night Riding

In order to rebuild a good cycling habit and also build fitness I need to be cycling regularly through the week and spread out to allow for recovery between rides. As I have to fit this in around my full-time job it means I have no choice but to cycle at least 2 evenings a week. At this time of the year that means riding in the dark.

I’ve done a bit of night riding before but this has mainly been off road with the Club MTB group. There’s a definite sense of security riding in the dark on chunky tyres and with company that is absent when riding a road bike solo.

To make things easier on myself I’ve chosen a route that is mostly on quiet country roads or with a good hard shoulder when I can’t avoid the busier sections. The downside of this is that the roads are narrower and rougher. Meeting traffic can be difficult if they have bright lights or don’t dip but so far I’ve had very few issues. In fact cars are often confused by my lights at night thinking I’m a much larger vehicle and holding back giving me space to pass safely.

Getting set up for night riding can be reasonably expensive but over the years I’ve already invested in good headlights, helmet light, tail light and reflective harness. I’m probably more visible to many drivers at night than during the day!

The most significant difference riding at night so far has been visibility. While my headlight is pretty bright and gives good coverage it is limited and I have to be careful that I’m not blinding other road users. Unless you have a floodlight style light with a high capacity battery it’s never going to be as good as a car headlight so the limit of visibility will always be restricted and you have to ride to the limit of what you can see. This is where the rougher nature of the roads comes into play and speed is reduced as you have to keep a good eye for potholes or gravel deposits to avoid taking a spill or damaging a wheel. Apart from one heart-stopping wobble last night I’ve managed to avoid all of that so far too.

Last night was my 3rd night ride having lost last week to the snow and ice that covered most roads for 5-6 days. The first two were wet nights but last night was dry. I was pleasantly surprised how much this improved visibility. Not only did my light have better penetration, showing me more of the road, but the road itself was easier to see and read. When wet the road is a uniform black at night but it dries out to a much lighter grey with potholes and cracks showing up as darker patches. Much easier to identify and avoid. Gravelly patches are still difficult to spot though.

Reduced visibility means a reduction in overall speed. This suits me right now as I need to concentrate on building fitness rather than exhausting myself. With cycling you often need to go slower to get faster so that’s my excuse for now! The need for less speed is most evident on downhill sections. It’s just not possible to tuck in and fly down those descents when you can’t see enough of the road ahead. It also has a pronounced impact on cornering. Normally on corners you need to look well ahead and the bike will naturally follow where you are looking. Only being able to see 4-5m ahead means I’m often looking at the wrong section of the road on a corner meaning the bike flows differently forcing me into corners at a different angle and having to scrub off a lot of speed.

Overall I’m enjoying the night rides so far. The roads are quieter and it’s definitely adding a bit of variety. Last night was particularly enjoyable with a dry, mild night, less bulky clothing and that little bit of extra visibility. Having lost last week to what is hopefully the last gasp of winter, it’s given me a new boost to keep going.

Header image by Reactual.com

Humble Beginnings

Yesterday marked what I hope is a new start for me on my cycling journey. My cycling activities have declined significantly starting in the second half of 2021 but completely collapsing during 2022 with only 860km in total and my longest ride being slightly over 56km back in May.

Some of my decrease in activity I put down to a decrease in Club group activities during Covid. The majority of my cycling in 2020-21 was solo and I’ve always found it more difficult to self motivate. The social aspect of Club riding can be challenging at times but overall I found it having a positive effect. As my cycling became more erratic during 2021 and I lost fitness I found it increasingly difficult to take part in Club activities as the group I was a part of became too strong for me and I couldn’t stay with them. I did do some rides with this group and while a few of them were understanding and helpful it quickly became frustrating for everyone and I stopped riding with them. I then found it difficult to find a new group that I fitted with as comfortably and the Club became less attractive for me. Then I got into a spiral of decreasing interest and declining fitness resulting in my worst year since I started cycling back in 2013.

The other reason for my lack of cycling motivation last year was the lack of a goal. Yearly distance goals are too long term for me and a randomly selected weekly mileage doesn’t really motivate me either. My two best years on the bike were 2016 and 2017. It’s no coincidence that I was very active with the Club in 2016 and had two big events that year.

Wicklow 200: June 2016

Causeway Coast Sportive: September 2016

In 2017 I discovered Audax and that gave me a series of goals to work towards that year with the 4 Provinces Challenge. It’s also significant that my cycling dropped off very quickly shortly after I completed that challenge in October 2017 and 2018 was a much poorer year without a specific goal to aim for.

All that is a long way of saying I’m planning to turn things around by setting myself a goal for 2023. I turn 50 this July so as well as having a goal I want it to be something special as a milestone for the year. I’ve decided to take on the Audax Super Randonneur Challenge. This is a series of Audax events that comprise the full set of distances and requires completion of at least one each of a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km event during the Audax calendar year (November 1st – October 31st).

I have selected 4 events that will also allow me to complete the 4 Provinces Challenge for a second time as events can be used to qualify for more than one challenge at a time. The first of these events is the Dark Hedges 200 on April 23rd. This is a route I’ve ridden a few times now and one I’ve enjoyed. It’s a challenging route with a lot of climbing in the second half but will be a good test of my fitness and an indicator of my chances of success at the longer distances.

My first ride of the year and my first step on the road back to Audax fitness was yesterday afternoon. A simple 27km with a little climbing to break me back into the cycling habit. My “plan” is to use this loop to rebuild my cycling habit and some form of base fitness throughout January by completing it 3 times each week. In February I’ll start to increase the distance and elevation and add in some more structured training. For now though I want to focus on getting back to a regular cycling routine.

Header image by alexandre saraiva carniato  from Pexels.com

Good Friends I Hadn’t Met Before

On Saturday I made the long journey to Tipperary. Leaving Omagh after work at just before 6pm I arrived in Galtymore North Car Park just before 11pm with a longer than expected stop in Lisnaskea to get fish and chips and a short pee and tea break in Portlaoise. The purpose of this journey? To attend a hiking event organised by Martin of Soletrail on Sunday morning in the Galtee Mountains.

SoleTrail is Martin’s YouTube channel and website. I’ve been following his channel for a while now and we have become friendly by commenting on each other’s videos and chatting via Messenger. This was to be our first opportunity to meet. 

https://youtube.com/@SoleTrail

In addition two other YouTubers were also attending. Gary from Ireland Outdoors is based outside Lisburn in Northern Ireland and has a channel with a similar sized following to myself and Miriam Kennedy from Dublin who has been on YouTube for about the same length of time as Martin. All four of us have been commenting on each other’s videos for a while and were keen to meet up.

https://youtube.com/@IrelandOutdoors

https://youtube.com/@MiriamKennedy

My plan was to van camp on Saturday night to avoid having to get up in the middle of the night to drive from home. Martin and Gary also went with the same option and the three of us met in the car park, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, at 11pm, on a Saturday night! Nothing dodgy about that – right? 

It was strange meeting the two lads (even disregarding the setting). It was like meeting old friends that I hadn’t seen for ages. I’m so used to seeing their faces and hearing their voices on YouTube it was like I knew them already. All three of us had the same experience. 

Gary had borrowed his Dad’s van that had been converted into a mini camper so the three of us went in there for a drink and a chat. Before we knew it it was almost 2am! The three of us clicked really well and had a great time chatting about this, that and everything. I think if we didn’t have to get up in the morning for the hike we could have sat there all night! 

Sunday morning came way too early at 7am and after a couple of snooze presses on the alarm. Dragging myself out into the daylight the other two guys were also just up and soon a selection of stoves were on the go. I was very happy I’d decided to go to the effort of cooking some bacon to make a couple of very welcome bacon baps and tea to get me warmed up and awake. 

After about 45min Miriam arrived and we very quickly found out that she is every bit as nice off screen as on and even better. We had a good chat together as the other walkers started to filter in and eventually we had a group of 15 ready to hit the hill. 

📸 © Martin Leonard (SoleTrail

All week the weather forecast had fluctuated from steady rain to dry to showers and back to dry but the consistent prediction was for high winds. As we left the car park the sound of the wind in the trees was an ominous warning of what was to come. 

Exiting the forest after approximately 1.5km we were in the shelter of the hill and with bright sunshine it was soon quite warm. A pretty fast pace didn’t help me any after the long drive and late bedtime and I was definitely feeling it and glad for the rest stop at the top. 

Thankfully both pace and terrain levelled off considerably as we contoured around the side of the hill heading towards Lough Curra. This was a mixed path, sometimes grassy, mostly rocky and alternating from single file to wide enough for 3. Challenging enough terrain to avoid a twisted ankle or stumble but very enjoyable. It also allowed me to chat to the other 3 but still move up and down the group saying hello to the other walkers and chatting to them for a bit. For a group that only came together that morning everyone got on really well. 

On the approach to Lough Curra the last 1km was along the path of the small river flowing out of the lough. This was in full flow and tumbling noisily down the gully beside us. At this stage we had also turned into the wind and lost the protection of the hill. At times gusts were enough to stop us in our tracks and almost blow us off our feet. 

Approaching Lough Curra we could see low cloud down over the higher ridge and also see spray from the lough being lifted high into the air giving further indications of how stormy it was getting. 

Stopping for a break at the side of the lough we watched as gusts of wind periodically carried big clouds of spray off the lake surface and high into the air. Small white capped waves were blowing across the lake and I was fascinated by the surges of water that sent water flowing down the small river we had just ascended, these surges corresponding to fierce gusts of wind.

Across the lough Martin pointed out a large, dark, rocky outcropping which he explained was the location of “Dan Breen’s Cave”. This isn’t marked on the OSI maps but Dan Breen was an Irish revolutionary and leader during the Irish War of Independence. He was on the run after the British put a substantial £10,000 reward on his head and this cave is reputed to be one of the locations he used to hide out. I didn’t get any photos in the cave but Martin has a great video of an earlier hike to Lough Curra and you can see the cave from 5min at the link below

We took a short break at the cave as everyone got a turn to squeeze in the entrance and have a look around. I’d left my light in my bag outside so couldn’t explore much but it definitely wasn’t a place I’d expect was a comfortable spot to stay for a prolonged period of time.

Outside the rain had started to come in and waterproofs were appearing from bags. The decision was made to avoid the original high route, to return to where we had met the shore of the lough and contour around the side of Galtymore via Lough Curra Mound (600m). A wise decision as the rain came in very heavy and the wind going over the Mound was ferocious. It would have been impossible to walk at 900m and dangerous on an exposed ridge. 

Dropping off the mound we got a bit of relief from the wind and headed towards a small but steep gully to make our second river crossing of the day. Good guiding found us a safe spot to cross and had everyone across without any mishaps. We were then following a vague trail on the steep side of Galtymore. This was narrow and rocky and took a lot of concentration to avoid slipping but I really enjoyed it. I like this kind of technical and challenging terrain. 

Eventually we reached another very small unmarked cave in the hillside and decided to take a break for a very wet lunch. I’m pretty sure my cup of tea was as much rainwater as tea by the time it was finished. The view though, was hard to beat.

This cave sits at the top of another steep gully with a small river that originates on the slopes of Galtymore. This river was to be our guide off the hill. 

The descent from the cave was tough going. There was little to no trail to follow and it was a matter of picking the best line we could find. The ground was very loose rock in places covered by grass and incredibly steep and slippery. At times people were sliding down sections on their bums – sometimes unintentionally with Gary and Miriam re-enacting a particularly good “Rock The Boat” at one point with gales of laughter down the hill.

📸 © Martin Leonard (SoleTrail)

Eventually we reached more even ground and using the river as a guide we picked our way along the edge of the forest and reached the stile that had brought us on to the open hillside a few hours earlier. It was a relief to get back on more solid tracks and out of the wind and rain and enjoy the few kilometres back to the car park finishing with a respectable 10.5km, 490m of climbing and one summit ticked off the list.

The wind and rain made for a shortened day and a tough walk but I had a ball. My aim of the weekend was to meet Martin, Gary and Miriam and the hike was almost incidental. I met a bunch of really nice people and it was all more than worth the effort.

It didn’t end there either. As the others drifted away the 4 of us hung back, made some tea, coffee and hot chocolate and once again ended up in the back of Gary’s camper to hide from the rain, have a good chat and scoff a box of biscuits kindly given to Martin by one of the other hikers.

📸 © Martin Leonard (SoleTrail)

Just like the night before, time flew by and we ended up chatting for ages. I literally had to tear myself away at 3pm to start the long journey home but before we parted ways we got a couple of photos and made plans for a repeat meet up sometime in the New Year. The journey home flew by as I had lots of great memories and stories to carry me all the way home. A weekend I’ll remember for a long time….

📸 © Martin Leonard (SoleTrail)

Driving Stats:

All 4 Provinces: Ulster, Leinster, Munster, Connaught

15 Counties: Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, Westmeath, Offaly, Laois, Kilkenny, Tipperary. Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal.

Distance: 700km

Driving Time: 9hrs

Nightrider

Riding at night on the MTB, sounds take on a much greater significance….

click, click, click as we clip in and leave the yard
calls of “clear” as we head out on the road
the whirr of knobbly tyres on the tarmac
puffs and pants as we hit the first hill before we’re properly warmed up
conversation petering out
the buzz of the transformer on the electric pole at the forest entrance
the first crunches of gravel as we enter the forest trail
the clunk of changing gears as the trail steepens
calls of “straight on” as the lead man almost takes the wrong turn
the blood thumping in my ears as the climb hits 12%
splashing through puddles as we descend the far side
the wind whistling past my ears as the descent picks up speed
the irritating rub of grit in my brakes from the earlier puddles
skidding tyres as we stop abruptly for the forest gate
calls of “holes!” as the lead rider discovers the massive potholes on the next descent
the noisy stream as it cascades down the hill in full spate
the clatter of a falling bike as one of the guys mistimes clipping in after the short break
the unwelcome intrusion of car engines as we briefly rejoin the main road
the beep of my Garmin as I complete another 5km – why so long since the last one!
the whirr of the power assist as one of the guys passes me on his ebike on the next steep hill
the crunch of metal cleats on tarmac as I step off and walk the hill that I swear was 20%+
bark, bark, bark of the dog – stay away from my house
silence then BARK! BARK! BARK! – I’m going to catch you and kill you all!
the rhythmic whoosh, whoosh of the windmills hidden by the darkness
the sound of rain hitting the plastic shell of my helmet as a short, sharp shower passes over
calls of “car back!” as we get closer to town
the crunch of beech nuts as I take the slightly longer route through Drumboe Woods
the “quack” of ducks on the river and splashes as they squabble
the rumble of tyres on wood on the small forest bridge
the squelch of wet leaves under my bike on the bicycle path
tyres on concrete as I lap the yard to avoid finishing on 29.9km
beeps of my Garmin as it confirms my ride is saved
rain thumping on the roof of the van just minutes after finishing my ride
hellos! as I finally come through the front door

Header image from mbr.co.uk