As a collector/rider of Raleigh three-speeds, I was very excited about the promise of seeing tons of my beloved bikes on our trip to Ireland. Just as vintage Schwinns seemed to be locked to every bike rack in Chicago, so too would Raleighs, Rudges, Humbers and Triumphs be chained to every footpath tree in Belfast, I reckoned.
Not true, it turns out. Cycling in the north of Ireland in September was, well, difficult to detect. On the road to and from Ballycastle, we encountered a dozen or so road cyclists on modern road bikes and wearing full cycling kit. After that, nothing. Well, there was the occasional kid on a department store mountain bike and once there was a pair of muddy mountain bikes on the back of a Range Rover near Glenarife Forest, but pretty much nothing.
To be fair, we spent less time in the tonier spots of Belfast than our itinerary originally called for. So, it's possible there was a wealth of bicycle commuters around Queens University that went unseen by us. But based on my limited data, I concluded that bicycle commuting was almost nil.
One cousin offered an interesting explanation. Riding a bicycle in the bad old days of his youth meant being vulnerable in a city that offered too many ways to meet with trouble. Better to be on foot or in a car/bus, he said. I don't know how much stock to put in that, but I certainly don't have the credentials to dispute it either.
As for the country roads -- those bucolic, winding paths through pastures and rolling hills that I was certain would be teeming with tweed-clad versions of myself -- I think I know why those were bicycle free. About the 100th time I met a 2-meter wide vehicle coming toward me at 60 mph on a 3.5-meter wide country lane, I realized that cycling these roads would require nerves of steel.
Maybe those videos of English cyclists were just propaganda by British Rail. Or maybe it's different in England and they're donning plus-fours and cycling away. But in Ireland, I saw bugger all when it came to vintage bikes and country cycling.
Until, that is, I came across a 1950s Raleigh three speed with full chaincase and original components -- hanging from the wall of a pub in Hillsborough, up the street from my family's pub. I saw exactly one vintage bike in Ireland and it was wall art. Oh well. Thankfully, there's more to life and to vacations than cycling.