Trading Places

City to countryside. Urban to rural. England to Northern Ireland. Hampton to Rathfriland. Our relocation has thrown us into a bit of a cycling utopia blessed with epic backdrops and challenging hills. It's been a month of countryside cycling and it's definitely opened our eyes to a few things that places like London could do with and vice versa, it's not all rosy across the Irish Sea.


Cycling Culture


It's very hard not to come across someone who doesn't use a bike for commuting in London. The drive is definitely on in the capital and the infrastructure is coming along with it. I managed to find a commute purely off road to my old school but there were plenty of different route options I could take to work and home. It's quicker getting around towns by bike and it's convenient. The amount of time spent in traffic is replaced with a bit of exercise and you're home before you know it.


It's the complete opposite where we live now. Our small town of Rathfriland is situated on a hill, we live half way up one side. I'm not seeing many make a dart to the shops on their bike, in fact, I don't see many locals walk around either. It's a big car culture in the sticks and I do understand why. The hill we live on has gradients anywhere from 8%-20%, it's a big effort just to get up one of the ascents (there are around 6 different ways up!) with fresh legs. But one of the local supermarkets is literally a 2min walk from our house, we refuse to use the car for that journey but I know locals will. It's embedded.



Public transport is around 1 bus an hour so if you miss that into the next major town, you're stuck! Compare that with back in Hampton and we're blessed with 3 different buses within half a mile and a train station a mile away. I couldn't tell you where the nearest train station is! Train network in Norn Iron is pretty much non-existent unless you're around Belfast.


So do people use bikes here? Yeah for sure but it seems more for leisure and competition than commuting. It's probably different in the bigger towns and especially in Belfast but when towns such as ours are quite isolated, I get the feeling the convenience of a car outweighs the effort on a bike to get to work.


Topography


Should be quite self-explanatory but London is hardly known to be hilly. Yes it has Richmond Park, Ally Pally, Swains and a bit of Crystal Palace but come on, you accumulate more elevation by climbing the railway bridges. Throw yourself over here and you're climbing around 100ft every mile. Put it this way, my commute was around 8miles to school give or take and would hit 50-100ft of climbing (can you call that climbing?!). I've created a 10mile loop for myself and there's 850ft+ and I'd class it as a flat route!



But with the change in topography comes with a massive upside. The landscape is stunning. The Mournes I can see from my window and I've already conquered a few climbs in and around there. The efforts reward you with panoramic views of the Mournes and beyond. I can actually see Omeath from my window so on a clear day, I am blessed with amazing views.


Another plus is the improvement in my hill climbing. All I do is climb and I've conquered some pretty tough climbs so far. One which gave me a bit of fear was Coyles Hill. I had descended it and my forearms began to get cramp because of the sheer drop down. But I ventured back and plucked up the courage to drag myself up it's 20%+ ramps. I just now need to keep it going and capitalise on this strength I have managed to develop. I'm no whippet by any means but not humiliating myself either on the Strava leaderboards.


Road Rage


You literally have to expect it living in a city or a very dense urban area. More people = more likeliness you will come across an idiot on the road. I've had my fair share of arguments and hearing from others, mine are quite mild in comparison. I have learnt to let some things go just because if they're an idiot in the car, what will they be like outside of the vehicle? I do have a GoPro but I didn't want that to be a focus on my rides, personal choice.


For the first few weeks in NI, I never had an issue. I even had waves from old farmers in their tractors and I always stopped to let drivers pass if I could or if a tractor was approaching, I would pull over so I don't get squashed by it's massive wheels. But it had to happen some point and it had to be with a farmer didn't it?! Long story short, he close passed me with his trailer on the brow of a hill. I confronted him as he pulled into a Livestock market further on and he thought the inches he gave me was absolutely fine and couldn't see an issue even when I explained to him how he could of waited and that my 2yr old son would like a father to grow up with. I had created a scene because there were other farmers there but he ended it by sticking his hand up to me and telling me to have a nice day. It was the closest I've been for a very long time to be hit and he needed to be told. I doubt it but I hope my confrontation with him has resonated and he now passes other vulnerable road users with space and patience but one thing I have not see yet in Northern Ireland...a flying pig!


The roads here too are mostly national speed limit and a lot of drivers believe that's the target for every bend. One driver that passed me this week (credit they did pass me in the other lane) but if I had to guess the speed, I'd say at least 80mph. Very rare to police around so what's the deterrent? There isn't one. You don't get speed cameras around here so you do have to be wary of the roads you're on.


The Future


All I have to do to find quiet roads is roll down the hill, turn left and that's it, no one. I want to try to explore as much as I can whilst the weather is kind and conquer as many climbs as I can because one thing I know from previous trips over to see family is that Winter here can be very bitter and brutal. The road I had just mentioned had deep snow drifts a few years ago which cut off that part of the town so I need to take advantage of every minute of riding time that I can negotiate with Mrs NITP.



I am also blessed with some very popular MTB spots. Castlewellan, Tollymore and Rostrevor are all notorious for off road trails. My gravel bike however I don't think is the right tool for that job. So I have been toying with the idea of trading it in for a MTB for the Winter and to explore the local forests...


There's a few clubs around too which I would like to at least join for a ride or two. I really don't mind riding solo but it's in clubs where I might pick up route tips, cafe stops and just naturally network. Rathfriland does have a bike shop/cafe called The Yard so I need to introduce myself in there as they will be my point of call for all things mechanical.


Notinthepeloton will carry on but obviously we will be sharing our adventures from here. We've already created some nasty looking routes which you can find on our Strava page and there's a few events we would like to tick off including Lap the Lough which takes us past our Sister-in-law's house on Lough Neagh and the Lakelander Gravel Grinder over in Fermanagh. You never know, there could be a return of The One series, I have plenty of hills to include for it!



notinthepeloton