I did my basic Google research to get insight about what to expect before heading over to Ireland. The Republic of Ireland has very limited (or no) cycling information. Northern Ireland, part of the UK, is more clear with detailed maps and paths.
My top recommendations and insights:
- Leave GPS and cue sheets at home: none of the streets, including major roads, carry their street names anyway. A compass might be more useful.
- Look at Google or an old-fashioned printed map before you head out. Write down all the small towns on your route. The road signs do indicate the direction of the next town over. You can find them if you know those names. You may not arrive as planned, (see No. 1) but you get there and may find new and unexpected scenic routes. Bigger towns are not indicated until you are getting close.
- Do not trust Google Maps or the distance listed to get the correct mileage. It’s better to plan for a shorter trip because you may have to ride an additional 10 to 20 miles.
- Invest in good rain gear! I love my Showerpass jacket and pants. They are expensive and work well.
- Leave your fancy road bike at home. The roads are crappy and your behind will hurt at the end of the day. The roads are mostly just slightly better than freshly grated streets or compacted gravel.
- There are not that many bicycle shops, but I also did not seek them out. Make sure you have the basic tools and knowledge to fix your bike. I am in love with zipties. If you lose a screw or component, they are definitely the way to go.
- Take your lights (head and tail) with you: the roads are narroooooooow! I was happy that I had my tail light with me (nice and bright) because I needed to be more visible. Cars drive past you at 60 to 100 kph and it might be good to be seen.
- Forget making a cycling fashion statement: I love black cycling gear and panniers. In Ireland, safety should be first (see No. 7): Jamie has bright red panniers and my outfits are bright neon colors.
- Ireland has a tons of free WIFI hotspots. The speed is super slow, though, and might be spotty. It works for basic emails and communication, but do not count to upload photos to Facebook in hostels or B&Bs. Trains and buses provide WIFI (limited and SLOOOOOW), but do not support Chrome.
- Irish rail and buses: yes, they do take your bicycles (up to three bicycles per bus/train). The train online reservation system for bicycles does NOT work. Go to the train station to buy the appropriate bicycle ticket. However, you want to buy your ticket online or be prepared to pay double at the station. In the main season you may run into an over-booked bicycle situation. I would check that out in advance to make sure that you get your bicycle on the train and bus.
- Getting there by plane: check out the various carriers (call them) to find out the current bicycle policies and restrictions for weight and box measurements. Aer Lingus and Air Canada include a bicycle as the one free checked bag. Be aware that Aer Lingus has a max of three bicycles per flight policy.
- Ireland is expensive: nothing is cheap, including the whiskey. An exception might be a pint of Guinness. Hostel, airbnb, B&Bs and hotel accommodations range from 18 to 200 euros per night. A B&B for one person is about 40 to 50 euros and a hotel about 80 euros. A basic pub meal runs from 7 euros (village) to 15 euros, while a restaurant is 25 euros (not including any drinks). A save estimation is about 100 euros per day. Keep in mind that all Irish have said that it is now much cheaper than it used to be when the economy was booming.
- If you want to save money (good luck with that), eating helps. Most airbnb.com hosts have allowed me to cook my own food and the hostels have nice clean kitchens.
As a last note: keep in mind you can never really get lost in Ireland. In my experience, the people are very friendly and helpful. They will tell you several times how to go and where to find some good whiskeys. And if you are lost or had enough of the cycling in the rain, just stop at a pub, chat up some people, enjoy a whiskey, Guinness or Irish Coffee and stay the night.