Thursday, November 28, 2013

How to Start a Fire

Keeping Warm
I've always felt November to be a month of anxiety-laced anticipation. It is that slow pivot when cold gives way to freezing, when colour fades to black and white, when Autumn slips into winter. It could be a dreary winter, or it could be a gorgeous winter. It could be a winter of being stuck indoors or a winter of uninterrupted cycling. Which it will be, we do not know. The season will slowly unfold to manifest itself, and all we can do is wait - distracting ourselves with a cluster of holidays, shopping, and big meals. 

Farm Yard
Earlier this week I explained Thanksgiving and Black Friday to an Irish friend. It surprised me that I had to explain it at all, as they've grown up on American sitcoms here and at this time of year practically all the episodes are holiday-themed. But I guess it's possible to watch and enjoy American shows despite not getting all the cultural references, and so Thanksgiving was one of those fuzzy concepts until I fleshed it out with an elaborate description of what actually goes on. In return I am asked whether I miss Thanksgiving. Is it making me homesick?

Hmm is it? Well, not in an obvious sense. Having lived outside the US half my life, I skip it as often as I celebrate it, and have mixed feelings about the holiday anyway. But I do miss the role it plays in marking that November transition. Without Thanksgiving as a marker, I feel a bit lost this year - lacking in structure and a sense of flow.

Keeping Warm
There is also the question of weather. In New England I've formed a strong association between Thanksgiving time and that crisp, dry chill in the air. There is something festive about that dry chill, something comforting and uplifting, invigorating. In Northern Ireland the late Autumn cold is different. Humid and penetrating, it feels as if an army of invisible clammy tentacles slowly wrap themselves around me, creeping persistently beneath layers of wool, then tightening their hold to sap my bodyheat. That kind of cold is not festive at all; it is energy-draining and spirit-dampening. And determined not to give in, I have been fighting it with fire. 

Keeping Warm
At the risk of disappointing those who took my earlier "thatched cottage with no electricity" comment seriously, my dwellings in Northern Ireland have all had modern amenities, including central (oil) heating. However, many here agree that heating a house via fireplace or stove remains the most effective method. There is something about the dancing flame of an open fire that dries out the damp better than anything. 

In my current fireplace I can burn wood, coal and peat - or a combination of any of these. All in all, coal seems to offer the best combination of heat, cost-effectiveness and ease of procurement. Coals burn slowly and they burn extremely hot. The heat is easy to regulate by the amount you put in, and how you arrange them on the grate. And in the new place I'm about to move into, get this: The main wood/coal burning stove (pictured) plugs into the central heating system, so that the radiators and the hot water can actually be stove-powered rather than using oil. I've been tinkering with the system to figure out how it works exactly. 

Keeping Warm
Getting a coal fire started is not easy - in particular when trying to do it quickly, with freezing trembling hands in the early morning. You cannot simply light a piece of coal with a match - it's like trying to set a rock on fire. Instead, you have to create conditions of extreme heat on the grate, which will set the coals aglow slowly and gradually. This is achieved by building up what looks like a little fort of sorts - layering crumpled paper, then thin dry pieces of wood, on which the coals are then placed. You light the paper, which burns quick and shallow, in turn lighting the wood, which burns slower and hotter, in turn lighting the coals which take some time to catch but, once aglow, release a heat of such depth and intensity that a small house can easily be kept warm all day with a couple of bucketfulls. Wooden logs can be added to vary the feel of the flames, which I like doing as well.

Keeping Warm
It is a dry, crisp heat that is comforting and festive in the absence of the seasonal markers I'm used to. I do not miss Thanksgiving, but I do want to wish a happy one to my US-based readers. Thank you, as always, for reading, and I hope you are finding ways to keep warm...

Keeping Warm
...with or without a fireplace!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Roadsters on the Sand

Clive and His BSA
"So what on earth are you doing here?..."

In a village cafe with impressively bleak sea views, we said this to each other almost simultaneously, as if really questioning ourselves. Clive is here from New Zealand, via England, via... well, it's a story not easily summarised. Much like myself, he does not have a neatly packaged explanation for how he ended up in Northern Ireland. He is simply here. Existing in what sometimes quite overwhelmingly feels like the middle of nowhere. Floating really. Coasting. 

Clive and His BSA
To put it frankly, befriending Clive Somerville has made me question my sanity. And as I worked beside the television last night, the Secret Window playing in the background, I was reminded of why. Clive Somerville could very well be a figment of my imagination. A stress-induced hallucination, an imaginary friend to keep me company in unfamiliar lands, whatever you want to call it. Bottom line is, his realness is worrisomely implausible. Take the name, for instance. Somerville? I moved here from Somerville, Massachusetts. And "Clive"? I'm sorry, but that's a fictional name if ever there was one - a film noir character. Or, a name I might give to one of my bikes... 

Clive and His BSA
And speaking of bikes, the one he rides could have been plucked out of my imagination. A racing green BSA roadster, 1960s vintage, with Sturmey Archer hub and full chaincase - a beast he maneuvers as adeptly as if it were a BMX bike. 

Clive and His BSA
The BSA's frame has been drilled for rod brakes, yet the bike appears to have been fitted at the factory with rim brakes (which Clive fitted with Kool Stop "Vans" brake shoes - in white, to match the bike's grips). In all other ways, it is a traditional roadster. 

Clive and His BSA
Clive bought the bike (named Lady Huck) while living in England two years ago, in a vintage shop in Dorset. He describes it affectionately as having been in "nightmare" condition, rough shape with most components on the brink of failure. 

Clive and His BSA
Once he started riding it, the bike promptly began to fall apart - which in turn inspired Clive to learn how to fix it. Enter the Sheldon Brown website. Enter the classic and vintage bike forums and various blogs. Enter the world of vintage parts hunted down on ebay, wheels rebuilt by hand, hubs repacked, and cottered cranks replaced. With Lady Huck, boredom is a non-issue.

Clive and His BSA
Then there is also a matter of Clive's commute. He cycles 6.5 miles each way, from his home in Portstewart to his job in Coleraine - utilising the rural cycling highway. With my own impressions of cycling in Northern Ireland overwhelmingly positive, I sometimes wonder whether my sense of this is somehow skewed. But, having lived here for nearly a year, Clive agrees: "Cycling in NI seems really well catered for. The cycle paths are convenient, the drivers are mainly extremely courteous and friendly, the local roadies wave, the police ignores me - it's all round a nice place to ride." Of course, his co-workers nonetheless think him nuts for commuting by bike - but neither Clive nor Lady Huck are phased. 

Clive and His BSA
Though his favourite place to cycle so far has been the New Forest in England - an area he describes as so idyllic, I have difficulty picturing it. And as far as cycling in his native New Zealand, Clive describes it as great for mountain biking and BMX, but "hostile and dangerous" for commuting, roadcycling and touring in most parts of the country. This is interesting to me, as it's pretty much the feedback I get from all those who've lived in New Zealand - yet the place is rather enthusiastically promoted as an ideal bicycle touring destination. Goes to show that it's always good to talk with locals. 

Clive and His BSA
While neither Clive and I feel anything like locals here and probably never will, we've each been getting to know the area and the people, while riding our bikes and snapping photos. Meeting up a few times, we've discovered some common ground - including complicated life stories, a shared interest in film photography, and a giddy admiration for Malachi O'Doherty. We could be figments of each other's imagination, for all we know. And I suppose there is nothing wrong with that. 

Having photographed Clive on his BSA, the following night I had a dream where a group of people - all on vintage roadsters - were cycling on the sand, for miles and miles and miles as the sun slowly set. It was more than a bit surreal, but also quite doable here. Who knows, it could be a theme for a future V-CC Northern Ireland ride...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pretty-Bright! Three Reflective Vests for Plain Clothed Cycling

all  images G. McLaughlin
I've never been an enthusiast of hi-viz gear for transportation cycling. When riding through well-lit, densely populated areas, personally I do not feel the need for it. But as my commutes began to take me through more remote places, the idea of wearing a little reflective something became more appealing. While there's no shortage of hi-viz cycling clothing out there, some bicycle commuters feel that much of it is unattractive and ill-fitting. To address this, a number of companies now aim to make reflective gear that's as effective as it is fashionable. I have tried products from three of them over the past months: the Lightning Vest by Dargelos, the Vesp by Vespertine, and the Capelet by Day Glow Doris. All of these are handmade by small, independent manufacturers and aimed mainly at women. Here are my thoughts on their utility and looks.

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Daylight
The Dargelos Lightning Vest fascinated me from the moment I saw it, because it is such an ingeniously simple concept. This garment is basically a hand-knotted net of 3M reflective ribbon, providing all-over reflection for your entire torso, while also being extremely lightweight and compact. And because the netting is spaced fairly wide, pockets remain accessible. Available in two sizes, the Lightning Vest is drapy in cut and roomy enough to fit over a jacket or coat. Prior to trying it, I wondered whether this might make it prone to snagging on parts of the bike, but I have not experienced that so far - the netting stays close to the body. 

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Daylight
One thing I do find a little awkward about the Lightning Vest in use, is figuring out the head and arm openings. It's not complicated, but it does take some care - particularly to not get my hair caught in the netting.

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Daylight
Judging the Lightning Vest as an article of wearable, fashionable clothing, I have to say that I like it. The silver netting is light and ethereal-looking, and the cut is unexpectedly flattering. It certainly is unusual, but to my eye it looks nice.

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Flash
And as far as reflective properties, my favourite aspect of this garment is the amount of coverage it provides. 

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Flash
With my entire torso covered in reflective netting, I am equally visible from the front, rear and sides. Made in NYC, USA, the Dargelos Lightning Vest is priced at $138. 

Day Glow Doris Capelet: Daylight
The 50's Capelet by Day Glow Doris is a vintage "Dior-inspired" vest that comes in hi-viz colours (yellow, green, pink and red) with reflective trim and buttons. The rounded collar, 3/4 bell sleeves, floral ribbon trim and retro cut give it a soft, feminine look that makes for an interesting contrast with the neon and hi-viz colour scheme. 

Day Glow Doris Capelet: Daylight
Roomy in cut and easy to put on, the capelet closes via a hidden velcro strip in the front (the reflective buttons are decorative), which also makes it possible to adjust fit. Though designed to be worn over a jacket, this capelet is available in one size only (S/M). Made of a lightweight polyester fabric, it is bulkier than the other vests featured here, but can still can be scrunched up to fit into a (deep) pocket.

Day Glow Doris Capelet: Daylight
As far as its fashion appeal, the Day Glow Doris Capelet is clearly targeted at those who go for the funky retro look. I am not sure the '50s styling is my cup of tea exactly, but I can appreciate the design and do find the cut flattering. And as far as neon goes, I also like the particular shade of red/orange the manufacturer chose: It is not a typical "construction zone orange," but more like the colour of a wild poppy rendered in neon. 

Dayglo Doris Capelet: Flash
In the dark, the Day Glow Doris reflective features are limited to the reflective ribbon at the collar, sleeves, buttons and waist. In the front there are quite a few reflective bits. 

Dayglo Doris capelet: Flash
However, in the rear and from the sides the reflective areas can be less visible. For instance, if I wear my hair loose it will cover the collar, and if my arms are too far forward the strips along the sleeves will disappear. To be sure, this capelet is highly visible - but the reflective features are limited to the edges, rather than being its centerpiece. Made in the UK, the Day Glow Doris Capelet is priced at £49 (or $80 USD at current conversion rates).

Vespertine Vesp: Daylight
The Vespertine Vesp is a mini-vest with a deep v-neck cut and a ribbon-tie front, that is a lighter-weight, more versatile alternative to the manufacturer's line of reflective dresses and jackets. 

Vespertine Vesp: Daylight
Available in sizes XS-XL, the Vesp is shown here is the silver lamé fabric, and is also made in several neon colours (yellow, green, orange and pink). It is adjustable to fit over a jacket (go up a size for thick overcoats). 

Vespertine Vesp: Daylight
While the Vesp does not exactly look like everyday wear to my eye, the delicate tailoring and the use of diagonal lines make it surprisingly flattering and as unobtrusive as a silver lamé article of clothing can be. It also impressed me by being much lighter and more collapsible than it looks - I can easily scrunch it up to fit into the tiniest of pockets.

Vespertine Vesp: Flash
In the dark, the Vesp's arrangement of reflective 3M ribbon make a sort of butterfly shape in the front,

Vespertine Vesp: Flash
And a large, prominent "X" in the rear that covers much of the torso, supplemented by another thin reflective strip at the waist-line hem. The edges of the X extend to the sides, where the reflective ribbon is also quite prominent. Made in NYC, USA, the Vespertine Vesp is priced at $68 for the neon versions and $84 for the silver lamé.

Overall I find all three of the vests described here easy to wear, reasonably attractive, and effective in their high visibility features. For riding in the daytime in overcast conditions, the Day Glow Doris provides the best visibility with its swathes of neon fabric. For riding at night, the prominent X of the Vespertine Vesp seems to be the most eye-catching from the back, while the all-over netting of the Dargelos Lightning Vest provides the most thorough reflective coverage. 

For women seeking fashionable hi-viz wear, either of these products could fit the bill. And if you like the concept but find the price too high - why not whip out the needle and thread, and get creative with the 3M ribbon? Although what I'd like to do is find some 3M yarn and do some hi-viz knitting... 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

Waterfall Flowing Upward
If I were to start a sentence with "I won't ride my bike when..." how would you complete that sentence? 

Yesterday I completed it with "...when the waterfalls flow backwards." 

According to the weather report last night, Castlerock was "the windiest place in the UK." Having taken the train into Coleraine early morning, on my way back I could hardly stay upright when walking home from the station. The wind felt like a magnetic force pressing me into the ground.

Later in the day, I was out taking photos with a friend when I saw it... There is a series of waterfalls along the cliff edge of Binevenagh Mountain in the Downhill stretch of the coastal road - thin streams of foaming white water, flowing down from a great height. Only this time the streams were flowing up the mountain instead of down. Blown backwards over the cliff's edge, they looked like a set of erratic, rogue fountains. 

Unlike anything I've encountered here before, this sight made me feel like a complete slack-jawed tourist. Feebly I tried to capture it on camera, but really I just stared and pointed. "The waterfalls are flowing backwards... They're flowing backwards!!!"

"Sure," said my friend nonchalantly, "the wind gets nasty here. If you threw a brick over that edge there it would come back to you. Not a day to be on your bike hey?"

I imagined cycling up the mountain with a brick in my basket and perhaps some video equipment just to conduct that little experiment. But no, it was not a day for the bike. It was a backward waterfall kind of day. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How Dark Is Your Dark?

Dark Commute
Well, it looks like we've entered that magical time of year... the season of 5pm nightfall. Today I rode home along a pitch black road under an ink blue sky, my path illuminated by a faint hint of stars and my bike's dynamo headlight. There was precipitation in the air that was not quite snow, but a fluffy sort of sleet, and bits of it fluttered, mothlike, in the headlight's beam. I could see nothing else around me, save for the vague outlines of scraggly trees. 

Having happily ridden my bike through the past four winters, at some point I began to take it for granted that I was equipped to cycle at night. This changed during my attempt at a 300K brevet last spring, when I found myself absolutely unable to navigate a hilly, winding country road in Central Massachusetts in the dark, despite (multiple) powerful headlights. Part of the problem was no doubt exhaustion and nerves, but part of it was how absolutely dark that particular darkness was! 

Those of us who cycle mostly through populated areas are accustomed to streets being lit at night. In cities, the ever-present blaze of street lights and store fronts, and the constant stream of car headlights means we are never in the dark at all. In suburban areas, the lit up windows of residential homes provide a soft background glow. Even many of the unlit country roads tend to have reflective features or white lines along the shoulders that - in the beam of a bike's headlight - reveal the shape of the road ahead and guide us around bends. 

But what of areas where there is nothing - and I mean, absolutely nothing - to provide illumination other than our bicycle's lighting? It's an environment difficult to imagine until you've experienced it, and cycling through it can be just as much about being able to tolerate it psychologically as it is about having adequate lighting. When it's so dark that we see nothing other than what's in front of us, the imagination can run rampant and the mind can play tricks on us. 

I am getting myself used to cycling in the rural dark here - mainly by sticking to short stretches of familiar roads. More than anything, I am finding that knowing the road is helpful, as well as knowing how far I have to go until the next well-lit stretch. So far, I feel fairly comfortable doing this - the biggest challenge being that I tend to get sleepy. Nothing like complete darkness to fool us into thinking it is bed time, even when it's hardly dinner time.

In the winter season, some portion of our transportation cycling will almost certainly take place in the dark. How dark does it get where you ride, and how do you deal with it? Do you feel that, aside from equipment issues, cycling at night requires some mental or emotional adjustment?

Monday, November 18, 2013

A New Context

Misty Mountain
The transportation choices we make tend to be context specific. This goes for the "big" choices such as bike versus car versus train versus bus versus spaceship versus horse and carriage. It also goes for specifics such as what kind of car or what kind of bike we choose, as well as the ways in which we use them. 

It should come as no surprise that my own preferences and viewpoints have been largely shaped by cycling in and around Boston for the past four and a half years. At the beginning there were stretches of Vienna mixed in as well, and later Ireland. I've cycled in NYC a bit, as well as in various smaller East Coast towns. I've cycled some through the New England countryside. But mostly my experience as both cyclist and bicycle lover (and these are separate things) is undeniably Boston-specific. And as far as Lovely Bicycle - Had I been living elsewhere I doubt that I would have started the blog, or developed it in the way I have. 

As I explained a few posts ago, I am now living in Northern Ireland - in a rural area on the North Coast. I have no idea how long I am here for, but for the time being this is home. And of course being here has changed - and will continue to change - the context and content of my writing here. 

At various points over the years, I've mentioned that I see myself eventually living in the countryside, and wondered how feasible cycling for transportation would be in a rural environment. Well, it looks like I am in the process of finding out. And the one thing I'm sure of so far, is that context matters here a great deal as well. Not all rural areas are alike. Specifics of topography, road layout, proximity to various amenities, weather-related nuances, even cultural factors, can make all the difference in how feasible commuting by bike is. 

When I first visited Northern Ireland last year, I stayed in a tiny coastal town in County Antrim called Ballycastle. It was a beautiful area to visit, but as a cyclist I would not want to live there. Ballycastle itself has all the basic amenities one would need, but it is best navigated on foot, not by bike. And once you get out of town, the nearest signs of life in any direction are both far and uphill, as Ballycastle is situated in a valley. This makes going anywhere by bike a major project. When I stayed there I was highly motivated by sightseeing and photography, so I did cycle a lot. But for everyday living, I would find cycling for transportation there daunting.

By contrast, the Roe Valley area in Country Derry, where I stayed earlier this summer, is cycling paradise. Not only are there fantastic roadcycling routes in all directions, but getting around for transportation - either to neighbouring rural destinations or to the nearest town Limavady - is very manageable on a bike. Limavady is only 30 miles west of Ballycastle and in photos the scenery appears similar - all glens, sheep, mountains and sea views. But the layouts and the general "vibes" of these areas are very different - and this isn't something you can know unless you've stayed in both places. 

Even areas situated close together can feel like different worlds to a cyclist. Bouncing around between informal living arrangements with friends, most recently I had moved from the village of Aghanloo (pronounced "Anna-Lou") in the Roe Valley to the village of Castlerock just beyond it. I thought I knew what to expect from life in Castlerock, as it was only 6 miles away. But the specifics of the way this place is situated make it feel somehow extra-bleak and uncozy, to the point that it really bothers me. So despite Castlerock's stunning scenery and the availability of a fantastic cycling highway that serves as a direct route to a major town, I would not choose to settle down here - preferring the area where I stayed earlier.

As I'm about to finally move to a place of my own, in a location just right for me, I feel that I have a good grasp of what I need from a rural environment to combine my love of the countryside with my love of cycling for transportation. After some consideration, I will not be getting a car. And while I can't make any sweeping statements about the direction of this blog, I suspect my feelings on the loveliness of bicycles and the romance of cycling will endure.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Go on the Bobbin Bramble

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
Two years ago, I wrote about the Bobbin Birdie when they were first introduced in the US. These brightly coloured, reasonably priced classic loop frame bikes have since become quite popular. The London-based Bobbin now brings another model to the North American market - the step-through Bramble. As they put it, the Bramble is inspired by "the Coventry-made Triumphs beloved by Land Girls and English district nurses in the interwar years up until the 1950s." No doubt fans of Call the Midwife will rejoice.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
The Bramble differs from the Birdie in several ways. Its step-through frame features straight parallel tubes.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
Its construction is lugless, except for the fork crown. The frame is a mix of hi-ten and cro-moly steel, made in Taiwan. The complete bike weighs around 12kg and is available in 17”,19” and  21” frame sizes.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
Instead of the Birdie's internally geared hub, the Bramble features 6-speed derailleur gearing.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
And hand-activated caliper brakes, front in rear, rather than a coaster brake. 

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
And handlebars that are less swept back, for a slightly sportier position. These aspects of the bike make the Bobbin Bramble more suitable for longer and hillier rides than the Birdie, while its commuter-oriented features make it just as transportation-ready.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
 Included with the bike are an integrated colour-matched rear rack,

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
colour-matched fenders, kickstand, bell,

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
and a chainguard providing plenty of coverage.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
The synthetic sprung padded saddle is wide, for an upright sitting position, its caramel-brown colour matching the grips.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
The 26" wheels with 1 3/8" city tires are the same as the Birdie's, and do well on battered surfaces.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
They also allow for plenty of toe clearance when turning.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
But the most noticeable thing about this Bramble is the colour. Bobbin calls this shade "golden-green," and it is the most successful recreation of that magical vintage English 3-speed shade of green I have yet come across. This nuanced green gives off a warm deep glow in the sunlight, with hints of yellow, orange and even crimson detectable in its flame-like shimmer. Needless to say, I am crazy about this colour - but for those less enamoured, the Bramble is also available in plum.

Bobbin Bramble Gold Green
I test rode the Bobbin Bramble at the Bicycle Belle in Boston, along a typical local commuter's route. Much like the Birdie, this is a straightforward, no fuss, "hop on and go" type of bike that did not call attention to itself as I cycled around the neighbourhood. The sitting position can range from bolt-upright to jauntily leaned-forward, and my own preference is for the bars and saddle to be level. However, most of those who buy these bikes seem to prefer the bars set higher, and the handling remains stable with this arrangement.

For whatever reason, I found the ride quality of the Bramble a little cushier than that of the Birdie. On the other hand, I found the handlebars uncomfortable: There is something about this particular bend that twists my wrists at an awkward angle. This could be a matter of personal taste of course. 

The Bramble does not come equipped with lighting, so adding it will be an extra expense. However, everything else needed for a comfortable commute is there. Priced at around $530 in the USA, the Bramble is another welcome option from Bobbin - this time for hillier, longer commutes. And the stunning colour does not hurt either. 

See complete specs and picture set, and many thanks to the Bicycle Belle for the test ride. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Rural Cycling Highway

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
Most of us have probably heard of cycling highways in the Netherlands. These long distance segregated bicycle paths run through suburban and rural areas, making it easy for cyclists to commute into cities and towns. Perhaps less known is that cycling highways also exist elsewhere - for example, in Northern Ireland. Considering NI is not especially famous for its cycling infrastructure or high rates of bicycle commuters, I find this interesting and would like to share my experience. 

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
The place where I am currently staying is about 7 miles from Coleraine - a good sized town by local standards, with multiple shopping centers, a variety of businesses, and a university. It is a major commuter's hub for surrounding rural areas - including the village I am closest to, which is Castlerock. There are two routes from Castlerock to Coleraine. The direct one is along the A2 - a country highway with high speed traffic. The indirect one is along a quiet backroad that meanders along the coast and is quite hilly. When I am on my roadbike riding for sport or recreation, I prefer the hilly backroad. When I need to get into town in my regular clothes, laptop in tow, without being absolutely spent and dripping with sweat upon arrival, the comparatively flat and more direct A2 makes more sense. Luckily, a fully segregated mixed use cycling/pedestrian path runs along the entire length of the country highway.

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
The path is wide enough to accommodate 2-way bicycle or pedestrian traffic. It is buffered from the road by a 3 foot wide grass strip and a raised ridge. The tarmac is a well maintained chipseal. Blue MUP signs as shown here are posted every half mile or so. 

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
One of the nicest things about this path, is how few interruptions there are. I only counted about 3 during the entire 6-mile rural stretch before hitting the Coleraine suburbs. 

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
In the more populated areas, the intersections look like this - but navigating them is intuitive, and it's easy to watch for traffic.

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
Once in the suburbs of Coleraine, the segregated path transforms to a bike lane. At this point an additional two-way MUP appears across the road.

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
Once in the town proper, a segregated bike path takes you over the bridge across the river Bahn into the town center - a largely pedestrian area closed off to motor vehicle traffic. And so before you know it - voila, you arrive in the city after a very pleasant commute from the countryside. 

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
Overall, I would say the most challenging aspect of the cycling highway here is the weather. In mid-November, it is getting cold, bleak and damp, with strong winds. The landscape here is wide open, with little in the way of shelter from the wind or rain. Another thing to note, is that - for the most part - there is no illumination at night. The structured and straightforward nature of this route makes navigation in the dark doable with bright LED lighting - but not everyone will like the spookiness of riding through the middle of nowhere in pitch dark.

Rural Cycling Highway, Coleraine N Ireland
As far as the nicest parts of the cycling highway, it is things like this. Riding along the segregated bike path, I can take it easy and enjoy the scenery and animals. It is a pleasant and relaxing way to get around for transportation. 

The cycling highways in Northern Ireland exist without much fanfare. But they are here, and they are lovely. If others have experienced cycling highways - either in the Netherlands or elsewhere - I would love to know your impressions.