Bike checks: The gear taking on the TransAtlantic Way bikepacking race

by Ronan Mc Laughlin

photography by Ronan Mc Laughlin

The Wild Atlantic Way is a tourism route stretching the entire west coast of Ireland. At 2,600 km (1,600 miles) it is one of the longest defined coastal routes on the planet. Starting almost literally a stone’s throw from my childhood home the route twists and turns uphill and down dale, along the Irish coastline touching the most northerly, westerly, and southerly points of mainland Ireland as it traverses Ireland’s steepest roads and highest passes.

Offering stunning scenery and an idyllic getaway, the route is a popular tourist attraction, even if it’s only feasible to visit a few of the 14 stages that make up the route per visit. Ireland is not a big place, but the route is long enough that I can’t imagine driving it all would make for an enjoyable holiday for anyone with less than a month to spare.

So naturally, someone decided this route, too long to drive, would make for the perfect bike race.

At less than half the distance of the Race Across America, the TransAtlanticWay is by no means the longest ultra-endurance race on the planet, far from it. But unsupported, entirely self-sufficient, battling the elements of Ireland’s western coast by day and sleeping in ditches by night, not to mention close to 30,000m (98,000 ft) of climbing, the TransAtlanticWay must still rank amongst the most difficult of bike races.

Best of all, there is no prize at the finish line. According to the race website, “there is no prize for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The fastest rider gets the kudos and bragging rights for being the fastest. Everyone else will be riding against themselves, each other and the weather just to finish.”

The prize is adventure

Despite the 3:30 am alarm and the 5 am grand departure, I had to get to the start line to see for myself the 70 odd brave souls who felt compelled to sign up for five to seven days of pleasure and self-inflicted torture. Of course, equally interesting would be the dedicated bikes and equipment that would become these riders’ homes on wheels for days on end.

In previous editions of the race, riders would set off individually from the Peace Bridge in Derry City centre and so I assumed this year’s edition would begin in a similar fashion. I was wrong and less than ten hours before the 5 am start I found out this year’s riders would set off en masse before heading off individually at the official Wild Atlantic Way in my home village of Muff. Thereby scuppering my plans to shoot each bike and rider individually as they lined up for their respective start times.

Regardless of the start type, the bikes were ready, bags fully laden, Crocs, cakes and cups stowed front and rear, here’s a snapshot of tech on show at the start line of the TransAtlanticWay.

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