Belfast Bike Tours gets to the parts that other tours can’t reach

Ain’t nothing like the wheel thing

By Gráinne Brinkley

IT’S not everyday you get work in an area that combines two of your favourite past-times.

But for 34-year-old Jerome O’Loughlin, a love of cycling and an interest in meeting new people is something he gets to enjoy everyday. Jerome’s eco-tourism provider ‘Belfast City Bike Tours’, has just been voted as ‘Best New Outdoor Activity Provider in Northern Ireland’ in the OutdoorNI.com Awards, quite an accolade for a business launched just six months ago. The Fermanagh man saw a gap in the market for a guided bike tour of Belfast after driving tour coaches around Europe.

“I had an idea of a bike tour knocking about in my head for some time as I’ve always been around bikes growing up and I enjoy mountain biking in my spare time,” explained Jerome, who lives in South Belfast.

“I wanted to start a new business and marry it up to something I had an interest in or a passion for and people and bikes are two of those passions. I was driving coach parties around the continent for eight months, so while I was doing that I decided to do some research and took part in loads of bike tours in cities such as Amsterdam, Paris, Bruges, Madrid, Barcelona.  It’s very big business on the continent.”

After hearing of successful bike tours set up in Dublin, coupled with the prospect of the Titanic Centenary flooding Belfast with tourists in 2012, Jerome felt the time was right to set up shop in his adopted city.

“As a tour guide by trade I have a good knowledge of the whole history of the island, it’s a subject I have an interest in anyway, so prior to launching the business I spent three or four months researching Belfast and putting a good, informative tour script together,” he said.

“I designed the tour so that it would be doable for everybody.  An interest in bikes helps but it’s by no means essential. We start off in the Cathedral Quarter at our base in Linen Street and cycle all through there, then down and around the Titanic Quarter, back into the city centre and stop off in St George’s Market for a quick coffee.  After that we cycle through the city centre to see the various sites and then we head up towards Botanic Gardens, around to see Queen’s University’s Lanyon Building and then back down to the city centre again.

“All in all, the tour lasts between two and a half to three hours. I obviously provide the bikes and helmets, so all you need to bring with you are sun glasses, a raincoat, camera and a sense of humour.”

Since its official launch by the Mayor of Belfast in June 2011, the bike tour has proved very popular, according to Jerome.

“Overall, people love the experience of the tour as they are really getting to see the whole city,” he said.

“One of its major advantages over a walking tour is that you cover more distances but you can also get to the places a bus tour might not get to. Some of the feedback we get in terms of favourites would be Botanic Gardens, particularly if the weather is good, but everybody loves St George’s Market and there would be something wrong with you if you didn’t.  It’s one of the few places open on a Sunday and it’s jiving there.  There’s a real atmosphere.”

Plans are already in the pipeline to add more tours to the repertoire in collaboration with other local businesses.

“The first one will be called ‘Titanic Bike and Boat Tour’ which will be done in conjunction with Lagan Boat Tours,” explained Jerome.

“We’ll cycle through the Cathedral Quarter, take the clients off the bikes and onto the boat for that part of the tour, then back on the bikes again to cycle through the Titanic Quarter.  The ‘Hilden Bike and Brewery Tour’ takes you from the city onto the Lagan Towpath and cycling to Hilden Brewery in Lisburn, where you’ll have a tasting session with some food followed by a cycle back into the city.”

Jerome said one of the main reasons he set up the bike tour company was to show a different side of Belfast.

“I wanted to show the Belfast of now, of the future and not necessarily looking back into the past,” he said.

“What I call ‘Troubles Tourism’ is still important and I think it’s important that people experience it, but it’s not what I wanted to do, although I would still include some aspects of it into any tour that goes into such areas, certainly.

“We’ve actually been approached by a third party about the possibility of doing a West Belfast bike tour so it’s something we’re definitely looking into, particularly now that the Gaeltacht Quarter is taking off.”

For more information on Belfast city Bike Tours, visit www.belfastcitybiketours.com

 

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