Cycling Rural Roads: Vistas, Overtaking & Roadkill

Old Ballybracken Road near Kells

Is it safe to say it? Has spring actually arrived?! It’s been beautiful weather for cycling these past couple of weeks – although still a bit chilly, as I discovered yesterday when I stupidly set off in shorts, and forgot to pack my extra leggings in my cycle bag. I arrived home over two hours later frozen to the bone – lesson learned.

I cycle a lot on rural roads. It’s a world away from city cycling. Cars will always take the shortest, most direct route to a place – which inevitably is the busiest road. I avoid main roads like the plague – I hate them. I love windy little country roads – the ones the cars rarely take, unless they’re local. I get to cycle through beautiful landscapes. Yesterday I cycled home after work from Belfast to Ballymena, via Doagh & Kells. I took the Kilbride Road, leading onto the Old Ballybracken Road. It was much hillier than I thought it would be – about 1500ft over one 12 mile section, with a couple of real lung-busting sections (for me anyhow – maybe not so bad for fitter cyclists). I was chasing the sunset the whole way home – it was setting over the hills to my left, and the height gave me some incredible views. I didn’t see a car for miles – in fact, the only person I encountered between Doagh & Kells was a woman fixing a farm gate post, who stopped what she was doing and observed me for a couple of minutes as I puffed & panted my way up the steepest section. She told me I was “doing rightly, love”, which was encouraging.

Old Cushendall Road, Glens of Antrim

The downside of a rural road, however, is that when you do encounter a car, it can be hazardous. I regularly cycle the Carnlough-Ballymena road; last Saturday, my sister & I were on our bikes, and we were overtaken dangerously on at least four occasions. It seems everyone is in a desperate hurry. Even when a cyclist, further ahead with a clear view of the road ahead, is holding out a restraining hand and mouthing back “wait”, drivers are still determined to overtake on blind corners and over the brow of a hill. On two occasions, these risky overtakers were forced to suddenly swerve towards us, when they suddenly saw the danger that we had tried to alert them to. On one occasion, a woman in a Nissan Micra overtook us in spite of the large HGV hurtling over the hill towards her & us. Crazy driving.

I find it difficult to imagine that these drivers are travelling somewhere so urgently that it justifies risking not only their own lives, but those of the people around them – myself, my cycling companions, other drivers. Perhaps if someone is rushing to the deathbed of a loved one, or the birth of a child, I could find a little bit of understanding for their haste. But the reality is, very few of us are ever travelling to somewhere with such urgency that it justifies this risk-taking behaviour. Everyone is rushing, but the reality is that no-one really needs to.

It’s a shame that everyone is in such a hurry on rural roads. I can’t help feeling that they are missing out on what’s around them. Surely they can’t be noticing the incredible vistas spread out around them – they can’t take in the beauty of the sun setting as they journey along. When I hear a car engine come racing up behind me, clearly desperate to get past me, I feel disappointed for them that they are missing out on everything I’m getting to enjoy – the shape of the land, and the connection with nature that comes with cycling through a landscape.

I feel for the wildlife as well. Rural roads are a killing field for animals. I cycle past so much roadkill. In the past week alone – a couple of badgers, a cat, several birds including pheasants and a duck, and quite a few squished frogs. It’s unfair. Roads cut through the natural habitats of these animals, and then they are mown down by speeding vehicles. I’ve never knowingly hit or injured an animal on my bicycle. On the contrary, cycling allows me to enjoy the wildlife around me. Yesterday I cycled past a field of miniature ponies – there are lambs everywhere – I stopped my bike to watch a couple of circling birds of prey. Cycling allows me to see the landscape and life that is around on the rural roads in a way a car never will.

Carnlough Road, near Ballymena – Slemish in the background

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