2 August 2011

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North Down Cycling Club has reached a landmark in club membership. There are now 200 members, making North Down one of the biggest clubs in Ireland and probably the biggest in Northern Ireland.


Cycling as a leisure activity has grown strongly in recent years right across the British Isles with the governing bodies such as Cycling Ireland, British Cycling and the Cyclists’ Touring Club all reporting record increases in membership. North Down is probably typical of most cycling clubs in that the bulk of new members are in their thirties and older, reflecting growing awareness among the general public of the importance of exercise as a factor in reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease in middle age. The benefits of cycling are well documented. The Northern Ireland Cycling Strategy (2007) highlights the contribution cycling can make to health, fitness and weight loss. The Health Promotion Agency of Northern Ireland endorses cycling as an ideal activity to combat obesity, noting that for every £50 spent on treating obesity related health problems, less than one pound is spent on promoting preventive measures.


For older riders looking to get fight and lose weight, or youngsters wanting to get involved in cycling as recreation or as a competitive sport, there are several perceived barriers that make them reluctant to join a club. Unfit novice riders worry that they will be unable to keep up with a group and the parents of young riders are anxious about road safety. Over the last few years North Down Cycling Club has developed some initiatives to allay the fears of both groups.

Several years ago the club introduced a fairly gentle midweek evening run of about 20 miles to encourage new riders. It was very successful and many cyclists from those early years have now become established club riders. The group still meets, every Tuesday evening at 7pm at the Groomsport Road roundabout and group leaders Myles Geddis and Greg Simpson regularly chaperone groups of over twenty riders.

The club’s main weekend rides are on Saturday mornings, meeting at the clubrooms in Park Drive at 9am. Four groups are organised catering for a range of abilities from top class racing to novice/improvers.

This year a concerted effort has been made to attract young riders to cycling. Former racing man Noel Boyce is a fully qualified cycling instructor who provides training for primary school children in the Bangor area and this year Noel has been encouraging young riders to come along on Saturday mornings to take part in a group ride. The numbers have grown steadily in recent weeks as word has spread about North Down’s initiative. The group is accompanied by at least two adults both of whom have clearance to work with young people and who operate within the principles of the club’s child protection policy. The ride has a refreshment break in Donaghadee in Bow Bells restaurant and coffee shop, where the proprietor is North Down’s Mark Brooks.


Anyone deciding to join North Down’s swelling ranks will find a full and varied programme of cycling and social events to suit everyone. These include;

Club rides six days a week throughout the year, catering for everyone from hardened racers to casual coffee shop riders.

Weekly time trials or club races from April to September. Races are run at the closed race circuit at Kirkistown.

Spinning sessions three nights a week during the winter.

Bike maintenance classes in the autumn.

Annual cycling holiday to Majorca in April.

Quiz nights

End of season barbecue

Awards night

North Down also organises one of the biggest charity bike rides in the country, the annual Coastal Challenge, proceeds of which are donated to the stroke, cardiology and diabetes units at the Ulster Hospital. To date the hospital has received over £50,000.


Last Wednesday evening’s event was the penultimate race at Kirkistown. A bleak weather forecast threatened to deter riders but it stayed dry for the 62 competitors who took to the line. As usual it was fast and furious racing for 40 minutes. The three groups, once again expertly organised by Eric Blayney, came together after seven laps. Various attempts to break away came to nothing and it came down to a bunch sprint with Matty Blayney surging to the front to take the win ahead of Stuart Henry and Phoenix man Joby Holman.

After four rounds the situation at the top of the table is tight with Richard McCullough on top spot with 38 points. Close behind is Matty Blayney on 34 points and Ross Blayney holds third place with 30 points.

There are two races still to be run in this series. The next one is on August 10th and will be for the Ardill Patterson trophy. This is the only club race to be held on open roads and it will use the Springwell-Hightrees circuit. Two weeks later the final race at Kirkistown will take place and it is highly likely that the overall series winner will emerge from the trio currently leading the table.


There are two races this weekend. On Saturday the Madigan GP takes place at Kilroot. The main race begins at 11am and will cater for A1,2,3 riders over 55 miles. There will be a race for A4 riders over 36 miles and a separate Over 50s race over the same distance. Entries will be taken on the day at the Eden playing fields, Kilroot.

On Sunday the action moves to Lurgan where Clann Eireann will be staging the tough Tour of Armagh. Racing starts at 12 noon.


Sportive riders also have a choice this weekend. On Saturday the Freewheelers’ Round the Lough event will take place, departing from the Antrim Forum at 10am. Entry fee is £10 and proceeds go to supporting sport for the disabled. The distance is around 75 miles and is fairly flat. Refreshments are provided en route.

Hardier souls may care to save their energy for Sunday’s option, the Dromara Hilly 125. This is one of the toughest rides on the sportive calendar and is a hard test for the fittest of riders. The 125km ride leaves Dromara Football Club at 9.30. There are shorter runs of 85km and 60km but the fee for all three is £10 if pre-entered or £15 on the day. A refreshment stop is provided at Leitrim for all three rides.

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