Many people are attracted to cycling by the numerous “sportive” challenges that have grown up in recent years. Of course we realise it is important to have a goal to aim for. But we do question whether £25 for a 50 mile slog round some busy main roads and a free t-shirt is really the pinnacle you’re looking for. So we’ve come up with some alternative challenges – have a scan and pick a couple that grab your imagination :-)

March – Cycle to the Harry Ferguson memorial gardens, just outside Annahilt. Not only is this a classic run, through some of the best countryside County Down has to offer, but it’s also a chance to find out about this fascinating Ulster engineer and entrepreneur. Ask the club run captain about this route next time you’re out on a Sunday!

April – ride the Tour of Ards route, either on a club run or by taking part in the race itself. Let your imagination run free and see where it takes you… You’re coming into Greyabbey, and after over 50 miles of hard racing you’ve managed to make the front group of 8 riders. The bunch is over a minute back. Suddenly McIlroy, recently returned from racing in France, has a mechanical. Down to 7 riders. Coming past Mountstewart, you drift to the back of the group for some food and a quick rest. Approaching the boat club, the break starts to stall. You attack hard, and bury yourself up the short rise. Going over the top, you risk a short glance behind. You’ve got a good gap, but Ballymena strongman Fullerton is just about to claw his way onto your back wheel. Nothing for it but to keep the pressure on and try to establish a solid gap. Another half mile and you shout at Fullerton to come through, but he’s either killed himself getting across to you, or putting on a very good act. The rest of the break has resigned itself to third place, so you ease back slightly in case Fullerton is bluffing. Coming into the last couple of corners you finally force Fullerton to the front, but he’s clearly shattered, and you win the sprint by a clear margin.

May –  Slieve Croob Summit. This is possibly the hardest road climb in County Down. From Dromara, head to Finnis, and then bear left onto Dree Hill. Near the top, turn left into the carpark, and then go through (or over) the gate, and proceed to the summit. Pick a clear, bright day and admire the views – absolutely stunning. (For the really adventurous, there is an alternative, offroad route – on the north side – look for the signs on the right hand side about half way down between the summit and the carpark).

June – Western Isles. The inner and outer Hebrides offer some of the best cycle touring country in the world. How about this for a taster weekend? Start in Larne and ride up to Ballycastle. Take the Kintyre Express to Campletown on the Mull of Kintyre. Ride north (the outside west coastal route is fairly flat – while the inner coastal route is a bit shorter but a lot more challenging). At Claonaig, take the ferry to Lochranza on Arran. If time allows, do a lap of the island, otherwise head direct to Brodick and the ferry to Adrossan on the mainland. Unfortunately the ferry from Troon back to Larne no longer runs, but there’s a great cycle path south from Troon through Ayr, and then you can cross the Heads of Ayr to Girvan. From there, take a loop into the hills around Barrhill, before dropping down to Cairnryan for the ferry back to Larne. A long weekend should cover it!

July – Ride and Climb. This one is inspired by the great Swedish explorer Goran Kropp who cycled 8000miles from Stockholm to the Himalayas, climbed Everest alone (using only equipment carried on his bike), and then cycled home again. For us, the challenge is to ride from Ards to the Mournes, climb a mountain (e.g. Slieve Bearnagh), and then cycle home again in the same day. We’ll leave it to you to plan the detail. Franz Hoeritzauer and Peter Gilmore tackled this one last year in Bermuda shorts, so ask them about their experiences!

Summer. Why not try a 2 or 3 day stage race. Ards CC had teams in 3 stage races in 2017, and there are plans to resurrect the Ards 3 day in 2018. Watch this space!

We’ll add more challenges from time to time, so check back occasionally. Also send us reports of how you get on, via our Facebook pages!