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The Great Western Greenway is tailor-made for memorable cycling experiences, releasing visitors from the dangers of automobile traffic while providing the support needed to tailor for one's needs.
Although parts of Mayo possess inclines that will test the most avid cyclist, the official cycle ways, loops and quieter back roads are perfect for visitors who prefer to smell the roses as they’re cycling by. Such is the variety of landscapes in Mayo that one’s surroundings are practically always of aesthetic interest.
A feeling of sheer childish abandon comes with the wind in your hair on the Westport to Achill route. Known as the Greenway, its advent has brought a dramatic boost in support services for cyclists. In Westport alone the possibilities for bike hire range from tandems to upgraded bikes for serious riders, bikes with tag-along extensions for wobbly learners, trailers for sightseeing toddlers, bikes with baby/toddler seats attached and for the enthusiast who wants a contingency plan there are electric bikes.
Cycling in Mayo will take you through some of the most peaceful places in western Europe, past undulating pastures of ruminating donkeys and oblivious sheep, separated by traditional stone walls, with tumble-down cottages and newer stone clad homes. Leaving Westport, the gently sloping path to Newport takes you away from the road and along a path bordered by orange, purple and white wild flowers, under stone bridges, and past gaily painted houses with smoky chimneys. As you travel west extensive vistas open up of sea and sky, mountains and beaches, stone walls and and rolling fields.
As in many counties in Ireland, particularly after the Tour de France exploits of Stephen Roche & Sean Kelly in the 1980s, Mayo boasts several popular cycling clubs including Castlebar Cycling Club, Westport’s Covey Wheelers, Ballina Cycling Club, Western Lakes Cycling Club and Mayo Cycling League.
Most towns offer dedicated cycle locking hubs, as do offices and shopping centres. The center of Westport features a series of sculptures of bicycles expressing the community’s commitment to ‘Smarter Travel’ options. Dubbed Westport Walks Wednesdays, schoolchildren and office workers alike take to their bikes or feet on Wednesdays to support the initiative. In 2013, in conjunction with Westport’s Smarter Travel initiative local enthusiast Laura Heneghan cycled 1500km to Italy taking in the UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and Switzerland along the way and meeting like-minded people as she went.
Ninety-year old Newport resident Bea Mulchrone remembers well when passersby routinely stopped for a chat at her white-washed wall through the years, a social phenomenon that was put paid to by the Irish love affair with motorised transport.
Time was when bicycles and pedestrians were the norm in towns like Newport and Foxford. But the dominance of automobiles from the 1960s on proceeded unchecked until the adverse consequences of automobiles--from undermining community connectedness to sedentary lifestyles leading to health problems--made themselves apparent.
Today with the dramatic re-emergence of the bicycle in all parts of Ireland, rural and urban, new possibilities have opened up for residents and visitors to savour the pleasures of the Mayo landscape at a more human speed.