Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why a Bike is the Way to Go in Ireland

While in Ireland this past week, I took the opportunity to make an in-depth study of the differences between Cycling in America and Cycling in Ireland. I will be publishing this study next week in the Journal of Comparative Sociology, and expect to win a Nobel Prize for it. Or at least a copy of their home game.

For those of you who don’t subscribe to the Journal of Comparative Sociology, I will summarize the state of cycling in Ireland:

It could be worse.

First off, as you can tell by the above picture a lot more people get around by bicycle in Ireland than they do in the United States. This is in Dublin, and most of these people were in town doing errands, hitting the stores, or watching sports and drinking in the pub. Basically, doing the same things that we do in the states on a Sunday, but their carbon footprint was much smaller.

By the way, I'm not sure what sports they were watching over there. I could recognize cricket and soccer (although over there they call it "KillTheBloodyBastard!!!" ... or maybe "football"). There was some other game that we were pretty sure wasn't rugby, but had people running with a soccer ball and kicking it through uprights or into a net. I don't know what it was, but the Irish seem to love it.

There was even a tandem chained up outside of a department store.

We ran into the couple on this tandem later (I think), and it was cool to see that the woman was the captain and the man the stoker. They both looked very strong. I regret that I did not have the presence of mind to yell to them, "He's not pedalling!" It would have been petty payback, but payback nonetheless.

In spite of the gender confusion, this tandem is indicative of something else about the State of Cycling in Ireland: They need mechanics. For instance, you'll notice that the pedals are not in sync, so that the captain's pedals are almost vertical and the stoker's pedals are closer to horizontal. Now, you can do this with a tandem, but you usually offset them at 90-degree angles to avoid the "dead zone" in the stroke. These are just plain out cat-e-wonkus, as my grandma would say.

Here's a bike shop in Dublin. I went in there Monday (they were closed Sunday) and they had a mechanic. He seemed busy.

I saw a lot of people on bikes that were not set up correctly for them, with rusted chains and filthy drivetrains. Most of them had fenders (or at least what Bike Snob NYC calls a "filth prophylactic" like the one at left), to pay homage to the wet (and nasty, at least in Dublin) condition of the roads. And, while this will keep your clothes dryer, putting fenders on a bike in that climate -- particularly as close to the ocean as Dublin is -- but not regularly cleaning it and lubing your chain is classic penny-wise and pound (or Euro, now) foolish. It's like chewing gum instead of brushing and flossing your teeth: Sooner or later, things will fall apart, but before they do they will begin to creak and smell bad.

Which probably explains this view from the Millenium Bridge.

It's weird to see such a "disposable" mentality surrounding bicycles in a country that digs a five-mile tunnel to keep from disturbing old neighborhoods. I guess a castle is something that should be preserved, but (at least from a RandoBoy perspective) even a beater bike deserves a proper burial.

Another thing I noticed in Dublin was that cyclists there do not dress like cyclists here. And I'm not just talking about Discovery team kits -- the people over there mostly ride their bikes wearing the stuff that they walk around in.

This is good and bad. It's good because, frankly, if you're just riding a bike a couple of miles to work or shopping, you don't really need to get into cycling-specific garb. It's bad because most of the Irish also don't wear a helmet.

Now, we won't get into the whole "freedom of choice" thing surrounding helmets. The fact is that if you get run over by a cement truck, a helmet will not save your life; however, most bicycle accidents are not that extreme. Most of them just involve somebody's wheel getting stuck in a grate, or a car pulling in front of you, or you hit a curb or lightpost or a pedestrian or other cyclist. These things do not usually involve two tons of metal driving over your head, but do involve your head smacking something very solid ... like pavement. In these situations, a helmet means the difference between life and death ... or at least a permanent vegetative state (like Alabama).

Other things I saw in Dublin:
  • Fixed gear bikes (cool, if they had brakes, since skid-stopping into the rear of a bus is always a bad idea)
  • Women biking in high heels (cool, since they seemed to make it work in a very "Euro" way)
  • City bikes with chain guards (very cool, if you want to keep chain grease off your pants ... assuming your chain had grease on it)
  • Cyclists with both ears plugged by their iPod ear buds (way un-cool ... leave that crap for solo rides on empty roads)
In my next post, I'll discuss the state of non-urban cycling in Ireland. You are, no doubt, breathless with anticipation ... but go ahead and breath.

On a More Topical Note

My friend, Kevin Kaiser, starts the Race Across America (RAAM) Thursday. I helped crew for Kevin and Jeff Bauer on last year's RAAM, when the rode fixed gear bikes as a two-man team. Kevin is an awesome cyclist, and we all wish him well.

If you want to follow Kevin's progress, go to his blog or this page on the RAAM website.


  1. You can only wish that we could be as casual and committed to cycling. (Although cycling in high heels seems a bit much. . .)

  2. You had me until you insulted us vegetables in Alabama.

  3. I certainly did not intend to insult vegetables, nor anyone from Alabama. I just wanted to insult Alabama itself.