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Is self-guided biking doable in Western Ireland?

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Apr 25th, 2010, 06:08 PM
  #1
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Is self-guided biking doable in Western Ireland?

My 23 year old daughter and I will be spending 10 days in Ireland in July-August. We are both very active, and we were going to sign up for a six day biking tour of western Ireland and tack on the Ring of Kerry and Dingle peninsula at the end. After a little more investigation, I decided that perhaps we could do a combination of self-guided biking tours along with renting a car and seeing the other sights we would like to see. Has anyone rented bicycles in or around Connemarra National Park? What about Killarney National Park? I have read that bicycles can be rented in Dingle, but that weather can make biking on the Dingle Pennisula very difficult. Am I realistic in thinking that my daughter and I can rent bikes, get maps from the local TI and take off? Are helmets available? I have not found much information about renting bicycles in Ireland (but lots of information about bus tours!). I would appreciate any insight that anybody might have. My daughter has been to Dublin, but I have never been to Ireland. We are both looking forward to the trip very much!
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Apr 26th, 2010, 08:33 AM
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try www.ctc.org.uk for information.

If you are an experienced cyclist, I don't know why you couldn't do this on your own. I would caution that it is easy to overestimate the distance to cycle each day. 30 miles a day is probably a good distance.
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Apr 26th, 2010, 09:07 AM
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There is at least one bike hire shop in Killarney -- opposite the Tourist Information Office -- and the area lends itself well to biking. It is at the entrance to the National Park and there are nearby sites like Ross Castle, Muuckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farms, Torc Falls and the always popular, Gap of Dunloe/lakes of Killarney Tour.

The boats have provisions for hauling bikes, for that part of the trip.

NOT my cup of tea, but immensely popular. I've seen cyclists in varying numbers ALL over Ireland -- paricularly in the West.

Thet seemed to be enjoying themselves!

Bob
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Apr 26th, 2010, 09:35 AM
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We've done three "regular" bike trips with two different US touring companies and we've rented bikes before and after two the trips to do our own extension.

Our problem on our own was the quality of bike we could get at the rental places, and at one place, they did not seem concerned at all that they had run out of helmets.

If I were you, I would still go with a good "regular" bike company--it makes your vacation a vacation, even if you're going up hills forever and you don't have to worry about the luggage, etc. But I also agree that you should tack on a few days to do it "your" way, whether that means you rent a car or whatever.

By the way, we travelled by bus a lot (Ned's Ireland clued me in to that) and have avoided car rental on three trips to Ireland.
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Apr 26th, 2010, 07:11 PM
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Alessandra--

Can you please tell me a bit more about your trips? Were these in Ireland?

We have been vacillating so much on our trip that is coming up for two weeks at the end of next month. We keep going back and forth between the idea of a bike trip and just getting a rental car and settling into self-rental places. We were going to bike, then we decided against it, and now we are possibly considering it again. We're well into middle age, and we are primarily recreational cyclists. But, we've taken trips before from 5 to 9 nights (guided in Vietnam but self-guided with arrangements made by outfitters in France and Germany). We absolutely love the way one can see the countryside from a bike. But, frankly, as far as Ireland we started reconsidering when we thought about rain, wind, narrow roads and hills. We had initially decided on Clare, the Burren and Connemara areas because they aren't so hilly, but still finally decided against the idea. Now we are once again contemplating the idea, but we are thinking of the self-guided trips in the SE that are offered by Celtic Cyclng.

We too have thought about the idea of just getting some rental bikes for the day and doing this on our own, but in all the other places we've visited we've really had difficulty just finding decent rental bikes for a day at a time. I don't know if these will help, but here are some links to a couple places that supposedly rent good bikes for short term visitors.

http://www.irelandrentabike.com/info/info.html

http://www.bearainfo.com/bikes/

And here is a link for routes.

http://www.kelloggs.ie/cyclometer/cy...s-ireland.aspx
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Apr 27th, 2010, 09:03 AM
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Julies:

I remember researching those same bike links forever. I had checked out a lot of self-guided companies, searching for blogs to find out bike quality and so on, too. We just ended up renting bikes in various places as supplements to our guided biking tours, and I can't say we were ever pleased with our independent Ireland bike rentals.

FYI, we own bottom-of-the-line, 1995-era Trek hybrids, so it's not as though we're asking for the moon.

Tour specifics:
We did Bike Vermont's Ireland biking tour through the area you wanted: Clare, Burren, Connemara. I will put that specific trip as one of our top trips ever. I loved our routes, the pacing, and so on. When we re-did the trip more or less with Backroads two years later, I thought that overall, the Bike Vermont version was still the best.

We did two bike trips with Backroads in Ireland that were "plush". The first was Kenmore to Kinsale, and it was tough biking because the big elevation gain days were the first few days on that trip, but it was beautiful, and every hill had a pay-off. I think they reverse the tour order on some trips. The second Ireland trip with them was generally the same area as the Bike Vermont trip. The dates with Backroads that year worked with our time needs--otherwise, I would have repeated the Bike Vermont trip.

I've met a lot of people who did the VBT version (Vermont Biking Tours--different company than Bike Vermont) of the area you wanted and they were pleased.

Do not worry about being a recreational biker with any of these trips with these companies--and to answer your one question, we have taken them throughout Europe. Although in general, our family of four could be considered good bikers, we often have one of us "down for the count" around the time of a trip. I'm dead serious--I even went on a trip after three days in the hospital, and with how these trips are run, my illness didn't ruin the trip for the family at all.

Here's how it works: the family weakling of the trip will often be riding in the tour van, or will opt out of the day's ride completely to stay in bed at the hotel or sit in a cafe, or will just do 1/2 the day. And every company I know is willing to give the less-than-fit biker a ride to the top of a bad hill. Although we are the type who will bike just about through anything, we do recall completely giving up after the fourth straight day of biking in downpours with headwinds in Scotland. We biked to a local bar, called our tour company to notify them where we were, and spent five glorious hours swilling ale, knowing our bikes and our bodies would eventually be picked up.

The single lane roads are a problem mentally at first, but you get used to it. Different bike companies handle them differently. The Bike Vermont trip had flags on the back of the bikes and were VERY strict about our biking in single file, keeping a car length's distance between biking so that cars could pass.

As mentioned above, we always supplement our trips with pre- and post touring, renting bikes for a day here and there as needed. We never needed to rent a car.

I would go back to Ireland to bike again in a second!

Oh, one other thing. I remember someone telling me that they did not want to be on a tour because of feeling "trapped" with the tour group. With the three companies mentioned above, I have NEVER felt in social lockdown. For the most part, you are only with others at breakfast and dinner. Once you get on your bike, you basically make your day your own.
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Apr 27th, 2010, 10:10 AM
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Thanks to everyone for their input.

Alessandra, I was most grateful for your very detailed information about the biking tours with Bike Vermont and Backroads. I have been looking at the same Bike Vermont trip that you mention. I also have been reading extensively about touring Ireland and was thinking perhaps my daughter and I could just do the trip on our own, planning to rent bicycles in a couple of places (Clifden, Killarney, Dingle, Inishmore).

I have been going back and forth about whether to rent a car and do the trip on our own, or whether to do the Bike Vermont trip. After reading your entry, Alessandra, I am leaning toward doing the Bike Vermont trip.

I am pretty confident in my ability to drive in Ireland, but I am a little worried being on our own on the bicycles. Safety is my biggest concern. It seems that the tour companies put safety as a priority. I have read that some of the day hire bike places don't even have helmets! (One of them even states it on their website).

I may have to flip a coin to decide whether to do it alone or with a tour group!
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Apr 27th, 2010, 11:19 AM
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Safety may be my number one factor in our doing bike trips this way in Europe. My kids have been MILES ahead of me on the road and I just don't worry. I know someone--either a fellow biker or a guide--is up there nearby, and should there be an accident or a flat tire, the matter is solved.

The other factor that we like is that even though we are a close-knit family, the "trying to please all" thing gets in the way of my long-term and daily planning. I love to plan trips, but I end up wanting to throw things at family members when they don't have a clear vision of WHERE they want to go and WHAT they want to do or eat or... This way, once the tour segment begins and before it ends, I am not responsible for anyone's happiness and I get my vacation! For around six days,EACH person in the family has the opportunity to tweak the tour's set itinerary any way he/she wishes on his/her own. The one daughter does EVERY long option and quite frequently is given extra options by guides. The other one will do most of the long options but will also want to take an entire day off.

I think the sticker shock, susaninmichigan, is sometimes the reason that people won't book these trips. But once you factor in ALL that you get (2 meals per day, your hotels, your bikes, your transport, all the schlepping, plus the total safety net) in as expensive a place as Ireland and make sure you convert on-your-own costs from Euros to dollars, then you have a more reliable reality check.

And I also have to state this: I never use a travel agent, and other than walking tours, this is the only "group" thing I would consider booking, again mainly because most of the experience is so independent.
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Apr 27th, 2010, 11:38 AM
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For Irish biking pack really good rain gear - summers in Ireland can be more like early April in Michigan IME - rain and windy always possible. they do not call it the Emerald Isle for nothing.
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Apr 27th, 2010, 02:25 PM
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SusaninMichigan, I live in Ireland and much as I would love to do a bicycle trip I have several reservations.
BTW I have done exactly what you would like to do in France and loved it.
My reservations:

1. Weather; for the past couple of years we have had a very wet July and August. Will this year be similar - that is anyone's guess but cycling in the rain is not pleasant.

2. Helmets are not compulsory in Ireland and I would doubt that all cycle rentals provide them.

3. Irish roads (unless you are in a big town) do not have cycle lanes. However, there are cycle routes through parks and along tow paths etc.

4. IMO the best way to do this is to tour from one village to another and spend the night. If you don't go with a tour company and don't bring your own panniers how will you transport your luggage?

5. I would be concerned about the quality of the bicycles in some of the places but not on an organised tour.

6. The really nice places in the area you have chosen are hilly.

If I were you I would either rent a car or use the bus.
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Apr 28th, 2010, 11:03 AM
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cambe - this reminds me of some friends who biked Ireland one August and had about two weeks of wind and rain and not really warm temps
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Apr 28th, 2010, 12:50 PM
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We had the opposite experience. We had one downpour the day we arrived in Ireland one time, the day before we got on our bikes--and then not one drop for two weeks. In fact, temperatures soared to the 80's in the second week. Another trip there we had "soft rain" from time to time, but downpours came at night and for the most part, we had sun and 70's.

In comparison, our Scotland biking trip weather was HORRENDOUS, and one time when we biked the Dordogne, it rained for four straight days. In Brittany, I'd say it rained just about every morning but was rather nice each afternoon.

My point: Ireland isn't the only place on earth where it rains.


Rain gear
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Apr 29th, 2010, 10:49 AM
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But in Ireland it rains much more than in those other places - your chances of rain are great - to wit Cambe's comments from one living in rainy Ireland.
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Apr 29th, 2010, 04:16 PM
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Palenque--

Do I recall that you used to be a bicycle trip guide? If so, I assume you'd be fairly familiar with various routes, countries, terrains and the weather.
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Apr 29th, 2010, 07:32 PM
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Thanks for the additional feedback. Weather is always the wildcard for any vacation, although I do understand that Ireland gets more rain than many other places.

I read that most of the rain in Ireland is fairly light, what we in Michigan would call a "drizzle." Riding in those conditions with rain gear wouldn't be too awful. If the rain is usually a downpour, that would be pretty miserable. Cambe, can you verify that the rain is ususally light, or is that just wishful thinking?

Planning to take rain gear whether we will be biking or not!
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Apr 30th, 2010, 12:39 AM
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susanmichigan, that is a very difficult question to answer. You can get very heavy downpours but generally the rain is steady but light. It can last all day or clear up and the sun comes out. It has been said that you get all 4 seasons in one day in Ireland. When I was working I was in Michigan several times at various times of the year and saw snow but never rain so I really can't compare. The main problem riding in the rain is the mist. Do bring Hi Visibility clothing as you will be riding on narrow country roads, there are very few cycle lanes. What do you intend doing with your luggage?

AlessandraZoe is correct - you can get rain anywhere but just remember the weather in Scotland is similar and she had horrendous weather there. She was lucky in Ireland unfortunately the weather is one thing we can't predict.
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Apr 30th, 2010, 05:52 PM
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Actually, I recently read there was some kind of index that the actual probability of DOWNPOUR wasn't that great in Ireland. Average rainfall on the west coast was about the same as Mississippi. But actual rainfall per hour, not that bad. And I don't think there are tornadoes, but I could be wrong.

If you think about it, if you bike on the EAST coast of Ireland, your chances are better. Much less rainfall there. You'll be surprised if you looked up the stats.

That said, I still would go back in a heartbeat to my West Coast of Ireland. My husband and I, empty nesters now, talked this very night of walking through Galway to listen to music coming out the doors of the pubs and then taking up north towards "our" Connemarra.

As we ALWAYS should say on this board,

To Each His Own.

God Bless,

Alessandra
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