Monday, October 3, 2011

Finally, a three speed in Ireland

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.


  1. I think you're right to observe that there is little cycling on the country roads, though I think the drumlins of county Down make lovely biking territory. However you would see hundreds of commuter cyclists in belfast, most of them on little hybrid bikes with big tyres that would be unsuitable for touring. You would also see a lot of leisure cyclists on the greenways and towpaths and along the flat section of the Antrim Coast, between Larne and Cushendun. But why would you expect us to be out on antique bikes dressed in tweeds?
    many employees here get bicycles half price through tax releif to encourage them to cycle to work so there have been a huge growth in this in the city.

  2. Good points, Malachi. We had less time in Belfast proper this visit than most, and it was bucketing throughout that time. You're completely right about my off-base expectations -- which were mostly in jest, but still. I suppose I thought I'd see more bikes left over from the 70s and 80s, which you do in the States. One commenter from England reminded me that your weather probably does claim more vintage frames as victims than ours. Could be, I suppose. Maybe what's odd isn't the lack of 40-year-old bikes in Ireland, but the prevalence of them in California.

    As for the Antrim Coast, before I return, I'll impose on you for a point in the direction of the flat bits. And yes, the whole time I was in Katesbridge and the like in Down all I could think of was how perfect it would be for cycling.

    Next time! Thanks so much for visiting and commenting.

  3. I don't think Mike's expectations were all that unreasonable. There are loads and loads of vintage English 3-speeds on the roads in Boston after all; I too thought that in Ireland there would be even more.