Mo Laethanta Saoire: A summer of cycling in Cork

In the latest of our summer-themed reads, Eimear Ryan reflects on her conversion to cycling and skateboarding
Mo Laethanta Saoire: A summer of cycling in Cork
There are some cycle lanes in Cork, but they are often blocked by parked cars. 

Like everyone else, I bought a bike. At the time, it seemed like the thing to do.

The weather was fine, the streets were empty of cars, and there was nowhere to go anyway. Venturing outdoors became all about the journey, not the destination, so why not navigate the streets in style?

The only problem was that I left it until very late. By the time I had made up my mind to purchase a bike, most of the big sports shops were out of stock, and all around me freshly-minted cyclists were whizzing gaily through the traffic-less streets, delighted with themselves. Instagram, having deduced what I was after from my Google searches (and maybe from my conversations, who knows) – began to torment me.

Between stories, it advertised vintage-style fixies to me – aesthetically pleasing bikes with all the bells and baskets. Bicycles that, while perfect for zig-zagging between canals in Amsterdam, would surely buckle in the face of a Cork city hill.

In the end, I bought a bike for cash on DoneDeal. It’s a little bit rusty, and there are more than a few cable-ties holding the frame together, but when I’m coasting down a hill on a sunny day with the wind in my hair, and feeling as if I own the streets, I really don’t mind.

However, as restrictions have eased and the volume of traffic has increased, there have been times when that wonderful feeling of invincibility has retreated.

I haven’t yet found the right helmet, and anyway, studies differ on their effectiveness: statistically, motorists give you a wider berth if you ride helmetless.

Cycle lanes around Cork are sparse enough, and are sometimes used as parking spots or otherwise inaccessible. While I find that awareness of cyclists among motorists is generally good, the hiss and wheeze of a city bus overtaking you is enough to make you feel vulnerable.

The helmet might be a good idea, after all.

Having said all this, my experiences so far as a cyclist have not really taught me any lessons or made me a more patient motorist. I still become frustrated by cyclists and pedestrians when I drive, and I still get annoyed by drivers when I cycle or walk – demonstrating an impressive ability to constantly take my own side, if nothing else.

But it’s been fascinating to me to realise how a new mode of transport can change your perspective and allow you to navigate the city with a fresh set of eyes.

I may have walked and driven down these streets countless times, but they look completely new from the vantage point of a bike.

You negotiate space differently, keeping an eye out for bike racks, constantly rerouting to avoid hills (in Cork, a fool’s errand). You’re approaching the city at a different speed, from a different angle; you take shortcuts through estates that you might usually drive around.

Eimear Ryan is from Tipperary but lives in Cork.
Eimear Ryan is from Tipperary but lives in Cork.

You always come back with some new detail or texture to add to your mental picture of the city: a glimpse of wildlife, a graffiti tag, a tiny park that you never knew was there.

While I salute those who’ve spent lockdown picking up a second language or figuring out how to make Bake Off-worthy sourdough, I haven’t managed to learn any new skills this strange year.

I have, however, rediscovered some old pleasures, cycling being one of them. The early weeks of lockdown evoked a strange nostalgia in me, one that I couldn’t quite place for a while.

It’s only recently I’ve realised that 2020 is the closest I’ve come in several years to the feeling of childhood summer holidays – endless days of good weather with not a lot to do. So much time spent at home.

There’s also the fact that the removal of adult diversions – going to the pub, say, or out for a meal – has meant that we’ve all had to dig deep to find ways to pass the time.

Some friends of mine have reported reading more books than they have in years. Others are turning to drawing or jigsaw puzzles, activities that were second nature when we were kids but that we’d never think to do in our busy, grown-up working lives.

In this slower-paced era, we’re once again becoming absorbed in activities for their own sake, rather than as a means to an end.

I’ve taken to playing video games. Not the complex, multi-layered, brilliantly written epic video games for adults like Red Dead Redemption or The Last of Us, either. I’ve been playing the game I enjoyed playing when I was ten, namely Crash Bandicoot. (I’m fully leaning in to the childhood summer.)

It’s amazing how the sound effects of a cartoon marsupial bouncing on a wooden crate in order to extract apples from it can teleport you straight back to the mid-nineties. But in these difficult times, this is what many of us are seeking: nostalgia, comfort, something familiar.

Wholesome outdoor activities are also a hallmark of this summer. Woodland walks, picnics, strolls on the beach, lying out on the grass with a book. Simple pleasures.

It has been many years since I’ve eaten this many 99s. When I venture into town for some message or other, I’m delighted to see so many people sitting in parks chatting, with a takeaway coffee or a can of Fanta or pink gin or whatever you’re having yourself.

It’s exciting to see so many city dwellers using their amenities, fully inhabiting the city’s public space. I hope sitting in parks is a habit that continues on, even when it’s safe enough for pubs and cafes to open up again.

I’ll finish up with one more kinetic discovery I’ve had this summer: skateboarding. My partner and stepson are both skaters, and I got bored of sitting on a bench watching them whizz around skate parks, so last year I invested in a Penny Board – a small, plastic cruiser rendered in primary colours.

It got scant use until this year, when time seemed to flatten and stretch out in a way that it hasn’t since childhood. I’ve discovered that there’s a great joy and freedom in doing something publicly that has no obvious function besides fun; more than that, something that you are not any good at.

You think it will be mortifying, that you will fall flat on your face, that people will tut and roll their eyes at the sight of a thirtysomething on what is, let’s face it, a child’s toy.

But no one minds, and that’s when you really feel as if you could do anything.

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