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What one top Irish cyclist learned on his unusual Dublin commute

Posted on: January 8th, 2019

Ian Richardson cycling commute Dublin

Ian Richardson pulled off some great victories on the road but now the roads of Dublin are posing a different challenges as the role of the bike has changed for him of late.

 


One of the best road racers and TT riders in the country until very recently, Ian Richardson has now taken a step back from competing. However, with characteristic commitment, he’s thrown himself into commuting in Dublin.

He’s found drivers treat him very differently, and more aggressively, on that part of his commute he completes without his dog in tow. Over the last year he’s gotten up close and personal with all that the roads of Dublin have to offer; much of it negative but with some good developments starting to break through.


 

By Ian Richardson

Using a car in Dublin is a miserable experience. It leaves me stressed and angry and I find myself acting in a way unbefitting of my usual nature.

Public transport, while not as much of a rage-inducing form of transportation, has still been a less than a satisfactory experience in my, albeit minimal, usage of it.

These, I would say, are the primary reasons I started using a bike as my predominant mode of transport around the city (which I began to do years before my career in road racing).

I’m also a bone fide cycling tech nerd; I take an intense interest in any new technology or innovation in cycling, whether it is for road bikes, mountain bikes, track, recumbent, unicycle, anything that involves pedals and wheels.

I spend a considerable amount of time trawling all available cycling media for the latest or most unusual aspects of cycling technology.

So, when my wife and I decided to get a dog a year ago, my very first thought was, “Can he be a trail dog?” followed quite closely by, “How will I transport him around the city?”.

I got my close-to-hand Bike Research Hat on and got to work. Knowing we were likely to get a moderately sized dog (who later turned out to be a clumsy giant of a dog), cargo bikes and bike trailers were the only real options available.

We settled on a trailer, mostly due to cost and available space in our shed (which is more like a service course with an ever-increasing N+1).

 

Ian Richardson cycling commute Dublin

One man and his dog (and bike and trailer). The Dublin cycling commute is something Richardson has planned to maximise on safety as he tows Loki around. But when the dog is dropped off mid commute, at Richardon’s in-laws, the welcome on the roads fades.

 

Training our dog Loki to use the trailer was relatively easy- a lot of treats and some familiarization with it in the house and he was ready to go.

My daily commute starts at about 8am.We cycle to the local park for a 20-minute walk before making our way across the city.

My route from the north inner city to my in-laws on the south side (where I leave our dog for the day) has been carefully calculated and optimized to have as little conflict with drivers as possible.

Except for the few hundred meters of road at the start of our journey, the entire route is by either bus lane or bike lane.

This is not to say this route is without danger. I’m reminded of this daily, as I pass the site of the tragic death of Donna Fox at the junction of Seville Place and Sheriff Street.

The barriers are still bent and damaged to this day by the impact between Donna and a left-turning truck. The driver either failed or was unable to see her in their mirror.

My journey from here passes over the Samuel Beckett Bridge and through Grand Canal Dock.This is often the most uplifting part of my journey as many other commuters, on their walk to work, noticethe dog towing behind me and burst into laughter or a smile.

I briefly use the excellent Grand Canal bikeway before travelling onwards. The final leg of my journey involves a leisurely ride through a park, where my dog keeps a keen eye out for squirrels and other dogs.

Despite the park having recently erected temporary signs banning bicycles, the alternative routes are narrow rat ways, congested with cars.

A bikeway along the Dodder River does exist but is currently closed indefinitely as work is being done along a section of the river.

It will potentially be years before this more ideal route is open to cyclists.In the meantime; cyclists have a choice of conflict with cars or conflict with pedestrians.

I drop my dog off to my in-laws at this point and continue my journey south to work. Bus/bike lanes are available for the rest of my route.

But for the last year I’ve noticed the difference between how I’m treated as a road user with and without a giant dog hanging out of a trailer behind me.

The dog/trailer combo acts as a type of force field, cars happily giving me the recommended 1.5 meters of space or more.

With Loki in tow, I often get cheers or thumbs up by drivers as they pass by. Once the dog is gone, the likelihood of aggression from other road users feels much higher.

I’m an extremely cautious commuting cyclist, I am brightly lit up and wear the recommended high viz clothing.

I stop at all lights even when other cyclists pass through them. And I often will stay in traffic when stopped at lights, avoiding the slightest chance of conflict by moving up along the traffic.

Despite this and despite my years of racing experience, cycling in Dublin can still often be terrifying.

 

Cycling in Dublin; the good and bad

At least once a month I will experience a near miss with a vehicle and maybe half as often a fellow road user will be deliberately aggressive in a way that makes me feel my life is at risk.

After a year of travelling with my dog, I’ve yet to have another road user become aggressive towards me when he’s behind me. I’ve still had the odd near-miss, but much fewer than when I don’t have Loki with me.

Commuting by bike through the city has given me a different perspective on cycling than racing had.

I’m no longer in any rush to watch heart rate or power and am more concerned with getting from A to B safely and as unsweaty as possible.

What I have learned though is that cycling as a form of transport is immensely popular- traffic jams of cyclists along some routes is common.

I’ve also learned that our cycling infrastructure is still majorly lacking in comparison to the popularity of cycling.

What I’ve discovered, most of all, is that if every road user imagined every cyclist had a dog towing behind them, then the cyclists of Dublin would feel a whole lot better about their commute.

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