u3a - Cycling Spotlight - Northern Ireland

Belfast u3a - Cycling Groups

by Jackie Mitchell, Group Leader

Our Belfast u3a Cycle group has around 25 members who come and go. We meet once a fortnight to cycle from a few different starting points in Belfast, taking ourselves along river towpaths, converted railways and coastal paths. These are mostly safe cycle routes crossing a few main roads. A coffee stop is mandatory!!  

As a trained Sustrans volunteer I ask all to indicate the evening before if they hope to come, sign in and give me an emergency contact number. We check bicycles before we leave. I explain where we are going and how we will cross roads safely. We have 3 trained Sustrans volunteers to lead and help in these rides. The main aim is to socially enjoy ourselves while also improving our riding skills and speed. Cycling in a group is very different; so, it takes some riders a few weeks to adjust. 

One of our routes is along a wide industrial road which has well-trained lorry drivers!! This is an introduction for those who might wish and be able to join our open, slightly faster alternate Wednesday Group which cycles for about 40 miles. We enjoy various beautiful routes along the Strangford Lough, Lough Neagh and around the Mournes. Some of our group often cycle in Sportives around NI. We use the train for access where possible. 

I encourage the group to practise changing tubes and to know a little about mechanics. To this end, I try to find a mechanic willing to give us a couple of lessons every so often. 

Every December we have a short fun ride dressed as Santas, and wave to children, finishing up in a local hostelry for a Christmas lunch. This past year we stood outside one of our favourite Honesty Box cafes in the Titanic area for just coffee and mince pies!! Usually once a year we do an overnight stay somewhere in Ireland, going once to Holland for a Barge and cycle week. The craic is always great. 

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A few of our group initially found that cycling was a great way of being socially interactive while also getting good exercise. It's now second nature for them. We are all a great group, friendly and helpful while also having great fun. 

Physical Health Benefits: As long as a few stretches before and after are done, the physical health benefits are obvious. Cycling, especially on a dropped handlebar can make for speedier rides but can also put a strain on some back and neck muscles. Frequent change of hand hold can alleviate this, using the edge of the handlebar or even putting on extensions to the handlebar. Good gloves with gel pads also help.

Mental and social benefits: A couple of our group have been quite lonely or have suffered stress in the past. All our cycles have a mandatory coffee stop. No one is required to imbibe - but they are required to wait! 

Advice for continuing during restrictions and when coming out of lockdown? JUST DO IT

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