Student Cycle Challenge 2014: Stories

We recieved lots of fantastic Student Cycle Challenge stories, you can read a selection of these below. Many thanks to everyone who sent in a story!

Best New Cyclist Story Winner:  Ciara Meikle, UL’s Holy Rollers Team.

“I like to think of myself as a born-again cyclist after this cycle challenge. Like all kids my dad taught me how to cycle ‘with no stabilisers!’ at the tender age of five. It was a common sight for our neighbours to see a curly haired girl pedalling around on purple bike with her doll strapped to the back. That purple bike made me feel like a proper grown up. I would stay on the left side of the foot path and even back it into parking spaces, just like mom. Though one winter that purple bike went into the shed and never came out again, like that toy that falls under the bed and is forgotten about.

When we finally remembered my favourite purple bike a few years later my legs had grown too long and wouldn’t fit under the handle bars anymore, and for some reason my purple bike just didn’t seem so special anymore and my love of cycling was forgotten.

Growing up I’ve always watched students cycling to and from college. College and cycling have always seemed to go hand in hand. So when I got the offer for my course in UL a bike was first on the shopping list. Of course all the ‘accessories’ had to be bought too, high-viz jacket, bike lights, bike lock, helmet (after much debate with my mother. Of course it was a compromise, if she’d had her way I would have been wearing knee and elbow pads).  So on the 8th of September for the first time since my purple bike cycling days I was back in the saddle.

When my friend told me about the cycle challenge saying no wasn’t an option, the amount of freebies we were offered made that clear. We went in search of a third team member which we soon found, it’s amazing what the words ‘free stuff’ can do, and ‘UL’s Holy Rollers’ were formed.

The cycle challenge has been great. Those crisp early morning cycles before a nine o’clock lecture are my favourite. Also whizzing down the hill at what can feel like 100 miles an hour on my way home for dinner. I even bought a pair of water proof pants so that I can still clock up trips when it’s raining cats and dogs (It’s a very attractive look I must say).

My college bike may not be purple but the cycle challenge has rekindled my love of cycling. It’s faster than walking, cheaper than driving, there’s no traffic jams and with all that extra exercise I definitely deserve an extra biscuit with my coffee.” Ciara Meikle, UL’s Holy Rollers Team.

Cycle challenge: Accepted! I haven’t cycled since the age of 9 years (now 20)! I know, its shocking right?.. But after doing the marchathon challenge earlier in the year, I decided if could do that, then I can definitely do the cycle challenge. I got myself a rental bike and off I went. It was a very different experience for me because I wasn’t used to cycling at all.. It really took time for me to gain confidence in my balance, but I did it! I began to cycle around the college campus, race track, and the park. Mid-week was my first time cycling on a busy road (from town to college & vice versa), it took a lot of courage because I was super scared to be ran over but I got through it and after that, anything’s a piece of cake… This challenge made me realize what I was missing out on, cycling is such a fun exercise to do with or without people. 

I came to a conclusion that me cycling will not stop when the challenge finishes, it will be an ongoing life changing thing! So I will be purchasing a bike and cycling my heart out.  So thanks national transport team!!Ziyanda Shologu, The Avengers Team IT Sligo.
Back to Top

“I started this cycle challenge quite unhealthily. I was not physically active, and quite unfit. Thanks to a change in diet, inspired by this challenge, and the cycling involved, i have felt my fitness levels and overall health go up. I feel I am physically and mentally in better shape, and I am sleeping much better, due to the regular exercise I have been getting. In fact, I have had to go down a notch on my belt, a real tangible result for me.

I would like to thank you for providing this opportunity for me, and I feel a real and positive change has been made to my lifestyle.” Anonymous

The cycle challenge has been a pleasure to partake in. The manner in which this programme has been conducted has been nothing short of exceptional; from the professional way in which it was run & monitored to the daily reminder emails and motivational pep talks – i’ve really been encouraged to get ‘on my bike’ and hit the road.

Coming from a countryside secondary school it was always my dream to one day be able to cycle to and from school; to both help the environment and myself (in terms of exercise & freedom). However, it was never a very feasible option for me. 

My dream has become a very rewarding reality this year however, helped on by this programme which gave me the drive I needed to get cycling and to do so at each opportune moment. 

Now I cycle to and from college each day at least 3 times; I make trips around campus on my bike & even use my bike as a means of a ‘goods transporter’ for my shopping – with a ‘very manly’ basket attached to the front of it.
Back to Top

As the old Irish seanfhocail goes: ‘táim ar rothaí an tsaoil anois’ (I’m on the bike of life now – i.e. I’m thrilled) and I know I won’t be leaving the saddle any time soon.” Josh O’Regan, UL’s Holy Rollers.

On Thursday the 16th of October I left college at around 9’clock. I had well and truly had enough of college work and was knackered too, which made sense because I’d been on the road since 7 that morning. I enjoyed the cycle home though, that is I enjoyed it until I crossed the river Liffey and I had to start cycling uphill. Despite this I powered up the hill on Bridge Street and turned right onto Thomas Street. My commute takes me along the length of Thomas’ street and onto James’ street; I cut through James’ Hospital onto the South Circular Road, then onto Herberton Road and as I cross over the Grand Canal I take a right onto Dolphin Road. I follow the canal up until the Drimnagh luas stop before I turn left towards the inners of Drimnagh, That’s when I know I’m really on the home straight.

It was on Dolphin road when I witnessed the incident, just before the junction between Davitt and Slievenamon Road. Usually witnessing incidents on the road is not something that’s on the top of anyones to do list, but this time it was a little different. As I cycled on a fox ran out in front of me, she crossed the road towards the canal about

20 meters in front of me with a smaller fox, which I’m presuming was her cub, closely in tow. They ran across the road, ignoring me as they ducked under the crash barrier. I continued to cycle on, I’m just at the spot where the two foxes ran out between two parked cars when another little fox runs out, forcing me to jam on the brakes. The little guy obviously got a fright as he made a burst away from me while still trying to cross the road. He kept his eyes locked on me the whole time he crossed the road, and remained watching me when as he got to the other side. This may have been the reason why he didn’t see the crash barrier that the previous two foxes had ducked under. He flattened himself against the barrier, picked himself up again, and darted successfully under it. As I set off again I was finding it hard to catch my breath as I was still breaking my heart laughing at this unobservant fox.

Just goes to show you need to be observant at all times when you’re on the road. Whether you’re a cyclist, motorist, pedestrian or in this case a fox.” Colin Dowling, DCU Dynamo’s cycling team
Back to Top

It was the beginning of the academic year in Trinity. The summer had come to an end. A time to be negative, you say? But, nay! For me, this was the time to start something I had been promising myself for the past three years, something I had challenged myself yet had found excuses not to try. Perhaps it was the naiivety of good intentions the first week back in term, or perhaps it was the start of something completely new – a new path this year. I was going to cycle to and from college.

From the start of my freshman year in Trinity I realised that the bus and the dart, though fantastic, were causing stress in my life. Arriving two minutes too late to a bus stop would result in an extra half hour awaiting a bus (which didn’t even drop me beside campus). The one bus that could drop me to campus arrived twice a day at 7.45 and 8am, and realistically this was not going to happen in my first year in college. Not only that but the fairs had multiplied from the usual 45c back in the heyday of Transition Year to 2.40! 2.40 into college, and another 2.40 home.

This had to end.

Cycling had always been at the back of my mind. How simple it seemed! I wouldn’t be bound by any timetable except my own, I wouldn’t be left waiting at the bus stop, I wouldn’t be paying the equivalent of two chicken rolls a day on my transport. On top of that, I would save time and money on the gym! So, why did I not cycle, you ask? What was holding me back? Alas, I have no rational answer. Perhaps it was the fear of cycling along the road side by side buses and taxi men, perhaps it was mere laziness, or perhaps it was a disbelief that I would ever be able to cycle what would usually take me an hour on a bus.

So on a cold wet September night when I opened my emails to find a cycle challenge – I knew it was for me. This was it. It was going to happen.

A good friend of mine had began cycling into college a few weeks prior to me and I had envied her everyday. She would arrive in windswept from her journey and glowing from the exercise and fresh air. Now was my chance. We chatted and agreed that myself, herself and another friend of ours who had recently moved in to Sandymount would do it. We would challenge ourself to cycle into college – rain hail or snow we would cycle into college (Except snow..). Now, to find a bike. 

I knew that I had two bikes hidden behind the lawnmower, the ping pong table and dozens of spider webs in the shed. I wrapped myself up in hoodies and scarves (to protect myself from the spiders) and fond my way to the back of the shed. I hoisted out my first option – my old bike. As rusty as they come, half my height, realistically this wasn’t going to do. Back in the shed I went. I pulled out my dad’s old treasured bike. Tall, purple (yeah, I know) and majestic. This was it. I hurriedly shoved it in the back of the yaris and whizzed it up to FitzCycles. They pumped it, attempted to derust it and fixed the brakes.

I gave my old bike to our Sandymount team member and we were all set to go. Yes, this was it. No excuses now. The challenge begun.

The first morning. I remember it well. I geared up in my Penney’s illuminous jacket, my massively oversized helmet, and a pair of boots. This was it. I stuck some lights onto the back of the bike, and rolled my sleeves up (for aero dynamic purposes).  Off i went, on my saddle. Cycling through my estate was a breeze. No cars, no children just me my bike and the road. But then it came – the main road. It was me and the cars side by side. Rest assured I have never pedalled faster in my life.

As the days went on I realised – this wasnt so bad. I was enjoying myself. The wind was blowing me most of the way, I could see the sea for most of my journey and I whizzed past cars stuck in traffic.  This was lovely. The pride I felt arriving in to trinity, bypassing my bus on the way and arriving in perhaps not windswept but  content with my achievement. Once the first hurdle was done I knew the rest would be ok.

Ultimateky the cycle challenge has taught me a few things :
-I do not like cars
-I do not like buses
-I do not like pedestrians
-I love helmets
-I love passing cars in traffic
-I hate wind
-I have no leg muscle
-Bells are great
-Leaves are evil
-Mud guards are key
-Cycling with no hands is impossible
-Cycling saves me over 500 chicken rolls a year
-Cycling is good exercise
-You can never arrive anywhere in a bad mood after cycling
-Tablets are great!”
Pirate Revolution Team TCD

Back to Top

“I remember first learning how to ride my bike, it was an arduous task there was support from every angle – quite literally! From the stabilisers I really ought to have grown out of, to my worried parents and interfering grandparents it’s a wonder I ever learned to cycle at all! But cycle I can, albeit rarely, and not very far until recently.

I spent my Erasmus in Sweden last year and realised with a shock that cycling has really taken off in Dublin, and like all young enthusiasts I wanted to be a part of it! However the infrastructure in Dublin is vastly different to the sophisticated and separated cycle lanes I had grown accustomed to in Sweden so the task was daunting.  One word that strikes fear into the heart of every newly fledge cyclist: buses. A four wheeled killing machine. (Slight exaggeration but certainly that captures my fear most accurately). In an effort to overcome my anxiety I researched how cycle friendly Dublin is and I took solace in the fact that Dublin is number 9 on the Copenhagen Index of Bicycle friendly cities.

In order to feel a part of the movement I infiltrated an organised cycling gang and became part of the cycling revolution sweeping the country.  The ‘Pirate Revolution TCD’ cycle gang is not as swashbucklingly or ferocious as the name suggests; however they have that enterprising and enthusiastic spirit associated with pirates and are passionate about issues such as helmets with flashing lights and, bikes with pretty baskets. Finally I had found a team where I belonged. Together we would take on the Student Cycle Challenge.

Somehow I managed to romanticise how lovely the Irish climate is and simply forgot the practicalities of what one ought to wear while cycling? Before I knew it I was faced with the classic fashion vs function dilemma. Do I dress in clothes fit for all the elements an Irish day can hurl at you like wind, rain, sun and on occasion irate drivers? Or do I dress so that I will not be publically shunned while ambling around the arts block where the fashion elite belong? To quote Martin Luther King “I have a dream that one day” luminous clothing will make a dramatic entrance to the fashion sphere and that helmets will be the must have fashion accessory.

These are all the factors not publicly advertised, making cyclists the most hard-core commuters on the road. Essentially the Student Cycle Challenge is not something to be undertaken lightly, but it is incredibly rewarding. There is nothing like breaking free from the shackles of public transport, life is too short to be constrained by timetables and traffic. In the student cycle challenge you take charge of your life like never before and experience a freedom public transport users never will. 

Looking back on it that support was what made me cycle in the first place; and the same can be said today with the Student Cycle Challenge. Without it or the encouragement of my team, I certainly would not have begun this incredible journey.  So I encourage you all to “get on your bike”!” Kate Kiely, Pirate Revolution Team TCD
Back to Top

I’m an international student from Madrid, Spain, who is going to spend this full academic year in Dublin. When I arrived here I was weighing up which means of transport would be the most suitable for me. After giving it much thought I eventually went for CYCLING. I’ve also cycled in other european cities such as Berlin and Amsterdam and it worked so well that I thought I would also be a good idea to do it in Dublin. I was right. 

When I finally made up my mind I bought my bike and some weeks later I participated in this Cycle Challenge. I joined the challenge with two more friends from Spain who were ready to face new challenges. We decided to use the bike for almost everything! 

I have to confess that at the beginning I was a bit scared because in my country people drive in the right lane. But after a few trips I realised it wasn’t that harsh at all. 

So the truth is that now we ride our bikes to go to university, to do the shopping, to go running, to go climbing, to do some sightseeing from time to time, to meet in a pub for a pint (just one), to get to the train station, to go to the library… and I could go on and on all day.  

As days were passing by, we realised that we were saving good money as well as time. Not to mention the health benefits of all that exercise. 

The day we were asked to take us some funny pictures which involve cycling we went to the main door of the Guinness Storehouse and took some.  After seeing this photos uploaded on Facebook we thought it was a bit unremarkable so we decided to take one more step. 

We had the crazy idea of dressing up with animals customs and ride our bikes to the Dublin Zoo to take us some photos. Believe or not… we did it and those photos are posted right now in Facebook. 

So this is the end of my Cycle Challenge story and I’m really looking forward to have some new experiences before the challenge ends. I genuinely recommend this cycle experience to everyone.” Carlos García, Shameless Cycling Trinity.
Back to Top

In with a Padlock, Out with a Bang! I would definitely consider myself a regular cyclist. I cycled to college all but 1 of the 120+ days of my first year of college last year, I’m known as ‘Lia on the Bike’ to my Red Cross unit officer and I’m the one who receives the pointed stares from all my driver friends when they tell stories of unruly cyclists. So as soon as I heard about the cycle challenge I thought that it sounded like something made for me. All that I had to do was round up a few of the others who had started cycling on to my team and hey presto The TBSI Cycle Crew was born.

M checks done, helmets and hi-vis at the ready, this was going to be easy. Or so I thought. Unfortunately disaster seemed to strike on the first day. Having cycled in as normal, I went back to the bike park after a long day of lectures to find that someone had left their padlock firmly around my front wheel instead of their own. My bike was grounded and I was left to catch the Bus home. Even worse I had to squeeze onto a bus and inch the way into town through traffic to get in for my nine o’clock lecture the next morning. The relief was real when I got a chance to check on my bike and found the stray lock removed, I could return to cycling and never wanted to have to leave my bike behind again!

Luckily the next few days were uneventful, trying to cycle as much as I could, sending the nightly text to my team mates to see how many trips we’d all managed, enjoying seeing the creative team pics going up on Facebook and drying out all my waterproofs each day (as we hit the wettest and worst stretch of weather we’d had since starting back to college!)

The final day rolled around and the end was in sight as I donned the wet gear and headed out into the wet and windy evening, battling my way along my usual route towards the canal. As I went to cross one of the bridges with the green bike/man I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye, pulling hard on my brakes, I slowed myself enough to only whack into the side of the taxi as he cut the light, instead of having him smack into the side of me. The concern of the pedestrians crossing with me was reassuring and luckily the only damage done was a dislodged front mudguard, a chain off the cogs and twisted handlebars. All easy enough for me to fix in order to jump back up on my bike to get the rest of the way home.

Even after all the rain, careless lock placers and dodgy drivers I know that I would never choose to get around any other way. After all studies have shown that riding a bike everyday makes you more awesome and who couldn’t do with being a little more awesome?” Lia McCann, The TBSI Cycle Crew TCD.
Back to Top

I was saying to myself for the last while that I must start cycling to college more as it really is only a 20 minute cycle so it is very inefficient to be driving all the time. I had only managed it twice until I saw the cycle challenge adverts on facebook. At once I messaged my brother who is very cycling enthused and Cathal who is trying to get into it a bit more similar to myself. The challenge started, I had my bike at the ready and I didn’t get past the front door. With work until 10pm that night there was no way I was cycling on the dark twisting back roads that late. Thursday was even worse with 9am-10pm with a 1 hour break. Friday was my first real chance at making it in and out of college but I was going bouldering that evening in dublin so there was just no way I would make it home after class and be back in time to drive to inchcore. It was mayhem!

Between an action packed Saturday and a studious Sunday it was Monday Before I was first on the bike. I pedaled in and out of college no bother. Great start to a not so great week. Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday I was in until 11pm each night between Night Hikes, AGM’s and Work there was just no rest for the wicked. I was next on the bike on Friday when I went for a spin with Cathal after work. Our first team spin attended by 2/3 of the team…It was a delight to rest up at the end of the week with a nice two hour spin around the countryside.

It troubled me that over the week and a half trying to cycle as much as possible and I only got a handfull in. It really just goes to show that alot of students who work and have a heavy loaded degree like me do not have time to cycle and it’s not jsut an excuse….I aim to fix this for myself but it will certainly take longer than a week and a half!” Phillip Garrad, Keep her Lit MU Team,  Maynooth University.

“Cycling is fun, so i discovered, even more so when a group of friends motivate each other to get going in the chilly Dublin wind. Freezing hands molded in the shape of bike handle, getting splashed by oncoming cars, just added to the experience and bonding time. And of course,we had great craic taking group photos.. This experience summed up in a sentence: You can take a bicycle from a cyclist, but you can’t take the cycling spirit away!” Esther Hor, R.E.C. UCD Team
Back to Top

One cold morning last week, I crawled out of bed and went about my morning routine, somewhat zombie-like. It seemed like the temperature had dropped a good bit since the previous day. This meant that the daily debate with myself – bus or bike? – would be made even harder today. I knew I owed it to myself to at least make an effort to cycle every day during the challenge, so without overthinking it, I jumped on the bike.

Soon I noticed that the traffic seemed particularly bad that morning, and there were so many cars beeping their horns the whole way in. It should be noted at this stage that I was still fairly groggy – not that I encourage cycling in any mental state other than acute awareness!

Fast forward 20 minutes or so, and I’m just arriving at college. The traffic and beeping seem to have gotten more intense as the journey went on. But then, just as I pull off the road and get off my bike, I hear a continuous, insistent beep right beside me. I glance over and notice that it’s my bus – the 123 – with my usual driver (I go into college at the same time every day). He’s frantically waving me over – so I walk over with my bike. He opens the doors, throws me MY rear bike light and shouts at me: “You’re lucky I’m in a good mood today, here’s your light, you dropped it 20 minutes ago and I’ve been here beeping like a fool tryin’ to get your attention the whole way in! Two things pal – One, you have your head in the clouds; and Two, fair play to ya for keeping on the bike!”

It was so nice to have my bus driver show a bit of empathy. I’ve got the bus with him driving for the last 4 years and I’m usually lucky to get even a ‘Hi’ out of him. So it was heartwarming to hear these words of encouragement. It’s really spurred me on to keep cycling all through winter.” Anonymous
Back to Top

So, it had been a few months since I’d done a long bike ride (6 to be precise), and my bike was looking a bit forlorn so I decided to go on a wee cycle. However, this said ‘wee’ cycle actually turned into somewhat of an adventure race. I started off from my native Dalkey with the aims of cycling to Greystones via the cliff edge path which runs from Bray to Greystones and was said to have great views and a ‘decent path.’ 

Turns out this path was decent for walking, but unfortunately not for cycling as I found out about 3km into the pathway. By the time I had realised that this path was really not cyclable (for 2 reasons – one my skinny tyres and the terrible surface were not a match made in heaven, and two, the sheer amount of people on the path) I had passed the point of no return. 

I had gone too far to turn back, but there was also a very long way in front of me. With little other options I popped by bike onto my shoulder (resulting in a large bruise the next day) and began to run. This went fine for a while, until the path began to narrow and I was stuck behind hoards of slow tourists. As the path widened out and became a bit smoother I decided to hop on and freewheel down the hill for a bit, but once again, disaster struck! In my haste to get to greystones and back on the road, whilst running my chain had come off. Now I’ll mention here that I like to cycle, and I like having nice bikes, but when it comes to maintenance, well, Dad is the man. Luckily my struggle with the chain didn’t last too long and I was back going again, minus the little bit of my ego that I had to leave beside the path along with the amount of time it took me to put the chain back on. 

Long story short, 40 minutes of running/walking/ wishful thinking I had arrived in greystones, and was back on the lovely smooth tarmaced (albeit full of potholes) road.  So my proposed cycle from dalkey to greystones, actually involved me walking most of it, but sure look! I tried my best and it worked out alright because I still had the energy and the will to cycle home through many many hills! What did I learn? Cycling involves adventures, and that cycling can be really exciting, rather than just a mode of transport for your daily commute!Sarah McDonagh,  Limp Biscuits Team Trinity College.
Back to Top

Ode to the  Cycle Challenge
Daily morning rhytms
On two till six wheels
Sunrise to Sunset
Leaving green footprint  behind
We’ve rode, we’ve  laugh, We’ve learnt,
No stops for gas, No oil spill, no fumes,
Adrenaline rush, Art driven team On mission
Cat-minded tenelach Dear Cycle Challenge!
We are oh so grateful For Experiencing  here re-cycled  transition
Jurtina Dubis, IT Sligo.

I only got into cycling during the summer because the weather was nice and I thought it would be an easy and cheaper way of commuting in and out of town. I don’t even own my own bike, so I decided to use my mum’s fold-up bike. This was a challenge in itself, because its wheels are about half the size of a regular bike’s. 

When I saw that there was going to be a student cycle challenge, I wanted to sign up, but I didn’t think I would have a team. However, I was wrong. I found out that through my “testing the waters”, two of my friends had begun cycling into town too! I was absolutely delighted to hear that I had started this trend, which I then deemed a “revolution”, hence our team name. 

Since the weather wasn’t great during the challenge, it was so difficult to remain dedicated. My team was fantastic in keeping me going, as I felt I owed them my best effort. The challenge has inspired me not only to continue cycling, but also to try invest in my own bike. I love my fold-up bike, but it slows me down at times. 

My funniest story during the challenge is when my bike wheel was punctured. I was at the exact halfway point between town and home when I could feel the wheel go. I ended up walking to the next Dart station to find that there was no train for another 30 minutes, so I opted to walked to the following Dart station. Instead of my usual 35 minute cycle, I cycled around 20 minutes, walked 20 minutes and was on the Dart for 10, so it took me an hour to get home. My phone died before I got the puncture so all I could do was wait around – it was too funny and coincidental! ” Kirsten Nelson-Burke, Pirate Revolution TCD.
Back to Top

Love Letter to my Lifelong Companion

Dear Fjallagrass*  Tenelach* Bike!
I would love to take this opportunity and thank you so much for driving me freely and safely for the ten days of the Cycle Challenge.   And we are oh so grateful too, to you, the Organizer of The Challenge and to our bicycle  couples, brother and sisters,  cat-minded or art-driven girls on their bikes! Together, we create a green community and spread green messages across the town  we live and wherever we go. We had wonderful times together, getting up bright and early, driven by the   idea of cycle from the sunrise till the sunset. We rode through the high hills of Cartron , and on the flat roads,  between the campuses , lectures, shopping together and forest-bathing or foraging in the woods , in the parks. Always inseparable! Ten minutes, ten times ten, one hundred, time & numbers seems to melt in the wheel of life. We enjoyed fun competitions, daily trip logs,that reminded us that we are on the mission! Mission-transition! We hope that with Cycle Challenge we inspired the New Cyclists to incorporate cycling into a daily routine, and  for us Regular Cyclists, to keep the cyclist community strong and ever growing. Remember, Together we are One, Together We Grow.” Jurtina Dubis, Cats Driven Cycle Tenelach IT Sligo. Note: Fjallagrass is the icelandic word for mountain lichen and Tenelach is an irish  phrase used in the West Coast meaning deep connection human with land.
Back to Top