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Road types in Ireland

Motorways or M Roads

It is illegal to ride a bicycle on a motorway but these roads are great for keeping traffic off the rest of the road network. Some dual carriageways (main roads with two lanes) bear a close resemblance to motorways but unless they are designated motorways, it is legal to cycle on them.

You have motorways (illegal to cycle on), main roads (generally avoid), secondary roads (used by most cyclists) and backroads (great for cycling).

N Roads (Republic of Ireland)

These are the main roads between towns and cities and are generally to be avoided. Sometimes there are shoulders, in which case they are fine for a while, but often there are none and they can be a thoroughly unpleasant cycling experience.

Often they avoid the most scenic parts of the country. Our routes use these roads sparingly, and usually for only a few hundred metres at a time.

A Roads (Northern Ireland)

These are the Northern Ireland equivalent of N roads and generally to be avoided.

R Roads (Republic of Ireland)

These vary from busy two-lane roads between towns to very narrow roads (commonly in tourist areas) and are commonly used by cyclists looking for the most direct route. They feature prominently in our routes. Note that near cities and towns they can be quite busy.

B Roads (Northern Ireland)

These are secondary roads in Northern Ireland.

L Roads (Republic of Ireland)

Only some of these are signed, and they often don’t have signs for placenames. They can be two lanes or single-lane backroads. Although surfaces can be rough in parts, they are often fantastic for cycling, being used mostly by local traffic. The biggest difficulty is navigation, which is aided by the Cycle Ireland app.

C Roads (Northern Ireland)

Like L roads, these are rarely designated with their identifying letter on signs. Unlike L roads, they often have a name and that is usually shown on signs.

Road Surfaces

Poor road surfaces are one of the worst things about cycling in Ireland. I read a theory once that if you are a cycle tourer, you should reduce your daily mileage by 10 per cent to take into account the effect of poor surfaces.

That said, it is a reflection of just how quiet many roads are. It is all a tradeoff.

Any time that i have been riding in Ireland and thought to myself that this road is really rough, it has improved within a minute. More than anything, surfaces are patchy with, at worst, okay sections followed by bad sections followed by good sections. It’s never really bad for too long.

Be careful on descents where surfaces can deteriorate with very little warning and potholes can lurk around corners.

Summary

You have motorways (illegal to cycle on), main roads (generally avoid), secondary roads (used by most cyclists) and backroads (great for cycling).