Monday, 8 June 2015

A Bit of a Breeze?

The course of life doesn't always run smooth and circumstances can conspire to disturb the settled routine of daily life. This is what has happened with my cycling, not by choice, I might add. So the opportunity to have some 'bike time' awheel with friends, was too good an opportunity to pass up. The date and venue were agreed by phone for the following Saturday as the weather forecast seemed to hint at improving weather. The weather only improved marginally over the unseasonally cold, wet weather, with strong wind and showers on the day in question. 

I chose to ride to Central Railway Station, Belfast as the other riders were all arriving by train. The journey into Belfast was uneventful apart from the grind into the headwind and a heavy rain shower as rode past the Harbour Estate. Despite the headwind I arrived 10 mins before the agreed meet up time. I preferred to spin a low gear into the headwind rather than push a much higher gear. Retaining the ability to spin and stay on top of the gear meant I would tire much less quickly during the ride. 

Meeting up with the other riders was firstly a chance to admire the various bicycles and secondly to catch up with friends. After the initial pleasantries, our ride leader explained the route would take us through busy traffic for approximately one mile along the busy A20 route Albertbridge Road, onto the Newtownards Road at Holywood Arches, where we would pick up the Comber Greenway route out to Comber.  After a gap of around 35 years since cycling these same roads, the volume and density of motor traffic has increased enormously, along with changes to road signage, road junction layout and traffic control. 

The one thing which struck me immediately was the vehicle fumes. This of course diminished once we entered onto the Comber Greenway which follows the route of the old Belfast & County Down Railway main line (closed in 1950) out of Belfast. It crosses a number of main roads, the crossings being controlled by traffic lights, but then quickly takes the rider away from the hubbub of urban traffic. The route was fairly well used by cyclists, from groups of mamils, (middle-aged men in lycra) groups of women cyclists, kids on bikes, through to youngsters taking tentative steps on their bikes with dad. The strong wind was not proving to be much of a deterrent to many folk. The Comber Greenway is also used by dog walkers and joggers too, so it is a shared space, not solely for cyclists. 

I found the route pleasant and following the former railway track bed the gradient does not rise sharply except where a road has to be crossed and the former railway bridges have long since been demolished. However there are no steep climbs on the route, so the nervous can rest easy. I personally found as a relatively unfit rider after a prolonged lay off I didn't have to change out of the comfortable gear I was spinning once, despite the wind. It was a pleasant run out to Comber and the weather was kind without any heavy rain showers.

The Greenway comes out on the Comber Bypass probably where the old Comber railway station had been. I was immediately aware again of vehicle fumes from the busy road. Our route followed the Comber Bypass to a roundabout where we turned right and proceeded along the road for a short distance before taking a road to the left marked as a part of the National Cycle Network (Route 99) for Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetland Trust

This was to be our lunch stop as our ride leader assured us they have a great cafe and you get 15% discount off your meal bill if you cycle there. It was my first visit and I was impressed by the vistors centre and cafe. There are fine views out over Strangford Lough and of Scrabo Tower from the cafe. The food was good as well. There are plenty of bike parking racks at the visitor centre which was nice to see. Plans for the next ride were made over lunch and bicycle topics discussed. 

The return was made to Belfast after lunch which was mostly into the wind. The journey became interesting once back in Belfast on roads with traffic. The wind was being funnelled between the buildings and the blast of wind as I crossed the mouth of one or two of the side streets blew the bike out into the centre of the carriageway despite my best efforts. Apart from this, return was made to Central Station in good time for the others to catch their various trains. 

After bidding our farewells, I resumed my journey by bike. There was a stand of bicycles for the new Belfast Bike Hire Scheme at Central Station but there were too many cars and taxis dropping off and collecting people to take any photographs. I stopped at the much quieter bike stand outside the Belfast Harbour Commissioner's Offices to take a photograph of the new bike hire scheme. Only one bicycle had been removed from the stand of bikes. I continued the final part of my run, thankful that it was at least a tailwind back.

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