Cycling up steep terrain isn’t for the faint hearted, but the adrenaline rush a challenging cycle promises is second to none. Ireland’s dramatic scenery includes a whopping 31 mountain ranges, and as you’d expect they’re an oasis for anyone who fancies themselves a keen climber.
The Emerald Isle boasts some seriously testing – and hugely rewarding! – climbs for road cyclists and MTBers alike – so let’s take a look at some recommended routes and facilities, focusing on what you should expect if you’re heading for the hills…
Located in the south west, the Ballyhoura Mountains are the largest trail network in the country, providing over 98km of breathtaking routes – which include a fair share of tough forest road climbs and twisty turns to please the most enthusiastic of challenge-seekers!
The Castlepook route is a 51km loop, and one of the most demanding routes of all. Starting and finishing at the Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails car park, you’ll traverse over mud, rocks and plenty more besides along challenging course which takes you through the length and breadth of the mountains.
The en-route peak of Knockaclouracaun sits at an elevation of 310m, providing stunning views across the counties of Cork, Limerick and Tipperary – and the perfect place for a pit stop and refuel!
For a bit more of an easier cycle, the 6km Greenwood loop allows you to explore mountain biking with some moderate climbs, and is done in a jiffy too.
In the nearby area, you can immerse yourself in the lush surroundings of Lough Gur, a horseshoe shaped lake which is regarded as one of Ireland’s archaeological gems as humans are known to have lived in this area since around 3000 BC. The Norman town of Kilmallock, nestled at the foot of the hills, is also steeped in history with its heritage centre also worth a visit.
For all your bike hire needs, the locally run Trailriders offer expert advice on all things mountain biking in the area so you’ll have everything you need to jump into the saddle.
Located in Co. Sligo, Coolaney offers a network of purpose-built MTB trails surrounding the Ox Mountains. Promising views across Sligo Bay and over towards Ballisodare, these trails form part of an exciting new development with new routes currently under construction.
One of the most challenging routes at the moment is the red grade trail; its varying terrain and steep incline makes it unsuitable for inexperienced riders.
The loop starts at Coolaney village, and then follows the route towards the ‘Two Way Junction.’ With a shorter (10km) and longer (20km) route to choose from, riders can expect to cycle on singletrack paths which are extremely narrow and open to the elements, taking you through thick forest and heathland; hard work, but the sense of achievement makes it more than worth it!
The nearby small town of Coolaney offers the perfect after cycle rest stop with its collection of restaurants and bars. Sligo Town is also only a 20 minute drive away, hailed as an ideal staycation destination.
Nestled on the Dublin/Wicklow border and just a 20 minute drive from Dublin city, Glencullen is a village which can be found at the foot of the Dublin Mountains – a popular location for day trippers, cyclists and walkers alike due to its location.
The Glencullen Adventure Park (GAP) is a gravity bike park with trails open between Wednesday and Sunday. They also offer bike rentals, have an on-site café and run a series of ‘pedal up’ sessions making it a fantastic amenity for all of the family.
Their advanced red trail features a variety of steep descents and varying surfaces making the route only suitable for the most enthusiastic cyclists with an advanced level of off-road bike handling experience. Along the route you’ll find the ‘Giant’s Grave’, an ancient megalithic tomb which has been regarded as one of the most in-tact in the whole of Ireland.
You’re also only a 20 minute cycle away from Enniskerry, where there are a further 41 cycling and walking trails to explore, such as the Ballinastowe route with its breathtaking views out towards the Sugarloaf Mountain.
Now that you’re up to speed with the toughest hill climbs for MTB enthusiasts, take a look at our shortlist of the best affordable mountain bikes out there on the market.