Donegal is well suited for cycling holidays

MARTIN Birney has spent the past few months exploring the highways and byways of Donegal on a bicycle.
A qualified cycling coach, Martin (65) has been putting together cycling holidays in Mallorca, France and Italy for more than twenty years through his company, SportActive.
At this time of year, the Ramelton native would usually be leading guests on cycling holidays on the Spanish island of Mallorca, which has become a real mecca for cyclists.
However, lockdown has meant that Martin is currently back in Donegal, living in Kilmacrennan, but with so many routes to discover and so many new places to see he has no plans to relax just yet.
“Our company is committed to helping cyclists at all levels improve their skills and have fun doing so. While all the tours are based in Spain, France and Italy I can now see us looking at opening one a lot closer to home after lockdown,” he said.
Martin has competed in Europe and Australia in international races on the road and track, achieving 4th in the World Masters Championship. His cycling passion has taken him to many parts of the world but he believes that Donegal is on a par with anything he has seen.
“Okay, the weather’s not great at times but that’s easily sorted with the right clothes. At the moment we’re all restricted to 5k from home but there’s still loads of small roads around here to navigate which is fantastic,” he said.
“I still get that wow factor every time I’m on the bike around home,” he says of days before the 5k restriction.
“ If I had to pick one route, the Knockalla Coast Road and around Fanad Head is something else. It’s got fantastic scenery and the road conditions are quite good.
“The loop from my house in Kilmacrennan, through Milford and down to Fanad and Tri-a-Lough, over the Harry Blaney Bridge, into Carrigart, over to Creeslough and up the Gap is special too. It’s hard to beat going over Lough Salt and looking down into Mulroy Bay on a good day,” he said.
“Everywhere you go in Donegal you see something different – the mountains, the lakes and the sea,” he added.
As part of the French SportActive tour, cyclists want to visit some of the iconic climbs on the Tour De France, places as Alpe d’Huez, Croix de Fer and Mont Ventoux.
“I do about 20,000 kilometres on the bike each year with all the tours so you have to keep yourself in good condition.
“I would normally be out in Mallorca at this time of year before moving to France in late May and then on to Italy before coming back to Mallorca in late September and into October. November and December are spent in America training.
“That’s a lot of my life spent on a bike but it’s a real labour of love. I’ve worked various jobs in different parts of the world but I always came back to the bike and my I’ve found my ideal job. It’s hard work at times but I wouldn’t swap it for anything,” he said.
Word filtered through earlier in the week that the hotel Martin works with in Mallorca is due to reopen on April 23rd.
“The quicker the vaccine is rolled out and people accept that that is the way this is going to work the better,” he said.
“Our tours attract a lot of repeat custom – about 70 per cent – and we get people from all walks of life and all ages. The majority are leisure cyclists.
“There’s been a big boom in middle-aged people starting cycling and they want to learn about the bike because they didn’t do so when they were younger. We teach them about the proper use of gears while we’re also big on cycling etiquette and how best to conduct yourself on a bike. Patience and manners are two important traits to learn as you’re the person who comes off the worst in any collision,” he said.
Every member of the cycle training team at SportActive is an accomplished cyclist in their own right.
“Having experienced the very best that cycling clubs had to offer, we wanted to make these experiences accessible to everybody, which eventually led us to found SportActive – a unique cycling break company, committed to help cyclists at all levels improve their skills and have fun doing so,” he said.
Martin works closely with leading cyclist Sean Kelly who helps them deliver the best cycle training across Europe’s most picturesque locations.
“No matter what level in life you’re at – a brain surgeon, carpenter or grass cutter – when you’re on a bike they’re all the same.
“It doesn’t matter if you have an expensive, top of the range bicycle. If you haven’t the miles down and the conditioning in your legs it won’t make you go up that hill any faster.
“People want to ride and enjoy the bike. I’m delighted to see the amount of people using bicycles on the pathway between Dunnes of Illistrin and Kilmacrennan. It’s amazing how many families use it with their children. It’s a great outdoor activity and the sooner they managed to connect it to the Mountain Top and into Letterkenny the better,” he said.
“Donegal has so much to offer for cyclists,” he added.

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