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Bicycling is an ideal way to explore the Irish landscape. The distances are quite manageable, and in a week or two on a bike, you can travel through several of the regions described in this guide or explore one in greater detail. Hostels, B&Bs, and hotels are abundantly available for touring cyclists who don't want to deal with the extra weight of a tent and sleeping bag. Even if you're not game to undertake a full-fledged bike tour, day trips on two wheels are a great way to stretch your legs after spending too much time in the car.

Roads in Ireland are categorized as M (Motorway), N (National), or R (Regional); a few still bear the older T (Trunk) and L (Link) designations. For reasons of scenery as well as safety, you probably want to avoid motorways and national roads. The R and L are always suitable for cycling, as are the N roads in outlying areas where there isn't too much traffic. The biggest disadvantage of the smaller roads in remote areas is that they often are not signposted, so you should have a good map and compass. In some areas of the west and northwest, only the N roads are consistently signposted. Smaller roads are quite narrow and winding, however, which can be somewhat hair-raising.

If you're going to hook up with a cycling outfitter , you probably won't need to bring your own gear. But if you're planning on going it alone, ask your airline how much it will cost to stow your bike in the baggage hold. Be forewarned that airlines are increasingly charging additional fees for "oddly" shaped and bulky items, such as golf bags and bicycles.

Even if you'll be renting a bike, you'll still want to consider bringing a few of your own items. Rental panniers (saddlebags) are often on the flimsy side. If you have cycling shoes and good pedals, you can easily attach them to the rental bike and make your trip immeasurably more enjoyable. With advance notice, most rental shops can outfit a bike with toe clips, bar ends, and water-bottle holders; an advance booking can also improve your chances of reserving the right size bike. Many rental outfits can also arrange a one-way rental over a short distance (up to 161km/100 miles or so). The national companies, such as Eurotrek Raleigh and Ireland Rent-A-Bike , are set up for one-way rentals throughout the country.

Anyone cycling in Ireland should be prepared for two inevitable obstacles: wind and hills. Outside the midlands, there are hills just about everywhere, and those on the back roads can have thigh-burning grades. Road engineering is often, well, not very engineered -- instead of having switchbacks on a steep slope, roads often climb by the most direct route.

Cyclists have long favored the coastal roads of the southwest, west, and northwest. The quiet roads and rugged scenery of the Beara Peninsula make it perfect for a cycling tour, along with the nearby Dingle Peninsula. The spectacular Causeway Coast and the Glens of Antrim in the North are just made for cycling, with quiet roads and dazzling views. Donegal is one of the hilliest regions and rewards the energetic cyclist with some of the country's most spectacular coastal and mountain scenery.

Ireland's many islands provide further cycling options -- you can bring your bike on all passenger ferries, often for no extra charge, and roads out on the islands have little or no traffic. Some of the best islands with accommodations are Cape Clear, County Cork; the Aran Islands, County Galway; and Achill and Clare islands, County Mayo. There's also some wonderful cycling to be had on Great Blasket Island, County Kerry, although you'll have to find accommodations on the mainland.

Just one more thing: Remember to cycle on the left!

Mind the Wind -- If you'll be biking in the west, plan your route from south to north -- the same direction as the prevailing winds.

Bicycling Outfitters & Resources

If you're booking from the United States, Backroads (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com) and VBT (tel. 800/245-3868; www.vbt.com) are both well-regarded companies offering all-inclusive bicycle trips in Ireland. Included are bikes, gear, luggage transportation via a support van, good food, and rooms in local inns and hotels of character -- everything bundled into one price.

If you want to design your own itinerary and bike independently, several rental agencies with depots nationwide permit one-way rental. They include Eurotrek Raleigh (Ireland's largest), Longmile Road, Dublin 12 (tel. 01/465-9659; www.raleigh.ie); and Emerald Cycles/Ireland Rent-A-Bike, Roches Street, Limerick, County Limerick (tel. 061/416983; www.irelandrentabike.com). Mountain and cross-country bike-rental rates average €20 per day, €80 per week. You can also rent a car bike carrier for €40 per week (good for up to three bikes). On top of the hire price, you'll also have to fork up a refundable deposit of €50 per bike.

If you want your cycling trip to be orchestrated and outfitted by affable local experts, consider Irish Cycling Safaris, Belfield Bike Shop, Belfield House, University College Dublin, Dublin 4 (tel. 01/260-0749; www.cyclingsafaris.com). It offers trips to practically every part of Ireland suitable for two wheels. Group packages include 7 days B&B accommodations and one evening meal and cost €725 (slightly less in off season). If available tour dates don't suit you, or you'd prefer to go it alone, self-guided tours are an option for some locations; they include much the same as group tours (including luggage forwarding) and cost roughly the same as the basic rate plus a €90 supplement. Three- and four-night packages are available to a handful of Ireland's most prime cycling territories, including County Clare and the Burren.

For independent cycling adventures in the southeast of Ireland, contact Celtic Cycling, 22 Ballybricken, Waterford (tel. 051/850228; www.celticcycling.com). On the opposite side of the island, Irish Cycle Tours, 28 The Anchorage, Tralee, County Kerry (tel. 066/712-8733; www.irishcycletours.com), offers guided and self-guided tours in the west -- specifically Kerry and Connemara -- for everyone from honeymooners and families to seniors and singles.

Advance Planning Pays Off -- Don't wait until you arrive in Ireland to reserve your bike. Places do get booked up, and several outfitters have gone out of business in the past few years due to skyrocketing insurance costs and the recession. The only way to guarantee you'll have a bike is to prebook.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.