03 Oct 2022

INTERVIEW: Offaly cycling stalwart on life on and off the beloved bike

INTERVIEW: Offaly cycling stalwart on life on and off the beloved bike

Nicky Noonan on his bike just outside Edenderry

A Chat with Nicky Noonan, Vice President of Team905 in Edenderry. Supplied to the Offaly Express courtesy of Hugh O'Donoghue, Team905 PRO

Over the last few years of club notes, I have compiled occasional profiles of some of our members. This week it’s the turn of Nicky Noonan, Vice President, and a founder member of the club, who can always be relied upon when good advice is needed.

In times of coronavirus lockdowns when many of our citizens are trying to stay healthy, physically and mentally, Nicky’s story of a life filled with activity from school years to the present day may well serve as an inspiration to many.

Nicky was born and brought up Ballynacarrigy Co. Westmeath. He speaks affectionately of his 1950s childhood. “My main memories are of long days playing in fields, woods, forests and streams with my brothers and sisters and the children of neighbouring families.

There were no structured sports for children then except the occasional sports day in the local village. Obviously, no screens or internet devices either. At that point we didn’t have television so practically everything was outdoors and very healthy. I went to the local primary school and always enjoyed learning in the many subjects on the curriculum.”

After attending Mullingar Vocational School Nicky secured an ESB apprenticeship as an Electrician and was assigned to Rhode Power Station in 1965 at just fifteen years old. “I had never been in Rhode before, in fact, I had to look at a map to figure out exactly where it was. My sisters drove me over for the first time and I recall being impressed looking up at the two towers but also with a feeling of slight apprehension. It seemed to me like a huge industrial building.”

“From the start I remember being well looked after in digs by several families – the Jones’, Grehan’s and McGlynn’s - during my early days in Rhode. The training period was five years with a three-month stint in Kevin Street College of Technology every year. Accommodation was provided for us in Dublin for this and, to say the least, city life in the late sixties was an eye-opener for a lad from rural Westmeath! Personally, I found the changing locations between Rhode on weekdays, Ballinacarrigy for weekends and the stints in Dublin a very interesting mix.”

Following his apprenticeship, Nicky continued working in Rhode as an Electrician and in 1973 met his future wife, Helen, who at that point had recently arrived in the village to begin a career as a Primary Teacher. He didn’t waste too much time popping the question and they were married in 1975. Their two children, Gerard and Mary, are now both married themselves and Nicky and Helen greatly enjoy the company of their six young grandchildren.

“Ger, of course, is also a member of Team905 and his kids enjoy their bikes so who knows maybe they’ll be members in the future?”

Before we talk about cycling, I ask Nicky about his time in ESB and his many other interests and pursuits. “In 1982 I was appointed Supervisor of the Electrical Department in Rhode. At that time the ESB was very innovative and progressive and offered a great mix of technical and people management. The organisation encouraged individual and team development and was an early adopter of change management initiatives. This was all leading edge thinking at the time and I found the job very interesting and satisfying. The station operated for more than forty years and was a huge boost to Rhode and the general area.

Technologies change though and ultimately it closed as new more cost effective and environmentally friendly methods of power generation emerged. I would like to think though that the power industry in the Midlands and Rhode specifically will, over the next decade or so, be re-established with the move to wind, solar, battery and other power storage systems.

“Throughout my life I’ve always been interested in photography, politics, motor sports, and earlier, competitive pitch and putt and darts. The training for the darts was probably the most enjoyable! My interest in motor sports encouraged me to take up car racing at a financially modest level at the Tipperary Raceway track between 1996 and 2005. I’ve also enjoyed occasional trips with friends to International Rugby matches.”

“For nearly forty years we have enjoyed caravanning trips and holidays all over Ireland and in Britain and France with the children. The caravanning hobby remains important and Helen and I still enjoy our trips around Ireland and will hopefully go further afield to England and Wales when the restrictions are finally lifted.”

Nicky’s interest in cycling began in the 1980s when he was in his mid-30s. He was intrigued by the Sean McGuinness Memorial Race which passed by his front door every year. “It was my first time to see a bike race and the big bunch, the speed, the colour, the cars and the cavalcade were very impressive. Professional cycling was also starting to appear on TV then
and Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche were establishing themselves on the continent.”

At the launch of a local sponsored cycle in Mulvin’s pub around that time, he agreed, not only to support the event, but to actually take part having not been on a bike since he was thirteen. This decision, perhaps influenced by the late hour, was to provide Nicky with an active outlet for the last 36 years and hopefully well into the future.

“I bought a bike in Ronan’s in Edenderry the next day and gradually worked up to the 25 miles for the event. The circuit was around the Rhode, Daingean, Edenderry loop, a trip I’ve become very used to ever since.”

Hooked on this new pursuit a better bike was soon procured and Nicky joined the fledgeling Edenderry CC, then being formed by Dr. Philip Brady and members of the McGuinness family. Over the late 1980s he graduated to the 200 mile Dublin-Belfast-Dublin Maracycle and for the first half of the 1990s raced in the “big bunch” that had so interested him some years before.

“I took part in Category 4 races all around the country with huge enthusiasm and enjoyment but unfortunately with little success. I still remember clearly though the adrenalin rush generated by the speed in a tightly packed bunch of up to 100 riders at full pelt sometimes on very narrow roads. Edenderry CC ceased around 1996 and I spent a few years with Lakeside Wheelers in Mullingar enjoying several of their annual Mullingar-Galway-Mullingar spins of that time.”

In the early 2000s group cycling returned to the roads of north Offaly when a few like-minded individuals, mainly from the Rhode/Edenderry area, began meeting for steady Sunday morning spins of about 80 kilometres or so. Nicky was an enthusiastic member of this group.

“We were happy enough covering the distance at a steady pace until Kilkenny native Robbie Dunne, who had just moved to Edenderry, showed up. Robbie had been part of the Irish racing scene and he quickly injected a fair bit of pace into our Sunday spins.

Cycling wise, this was the best thing that ever happened to me as I was then in my mid-50s and probably felt I was getting old for fast paced cycling. Robbie’s arrival raised the bar for all of us involved at the time and thankfully we haven’t looked back since. In 2009 the present Team905CC emerged from this group with Hugh O’Donoghue as Chairman, Robbie Dunne, Secretary and Brendan McAulliffe as Treasurer.

We varied our local Sunday spins with trips to the Slieve Blooms and in September 2011 embarked on a memorable trip to Alpe D’Huez in the French Alps. We were all shocked and saddened by the sudden death of our colleague and friend Pat Jones just eight months later. Pat was with us in France and for several years before that he and I enjoyed some great midweek spins being either semi-retired or between jobs at the time. He was great company on or off the bike and all would be grand between us unless the subject of politics came up! Since 2013 the club has hosted the Pat Jones Memorial Cycle in his honour.

Nationally it has become one of the primary sportives attracting around 200 riders to Edenderry every year. It’s a great way to honour Pat and I generally help with photography or driving a safety car if I’m not cycling myself.

Unfortunately, the event had to be postponed in 2020 and for 2021 because of Covid restrictions.”

“Since the club formed I’ve worked as Treasurer and as B Group Road Captain and I’m honoured to currently be Honorary Vice President.”

As all members will know Nicky’s views on club development are always well considered and worth listening to. He is always very encouraging to new members and is often found giving good advice and practical support when things get tough on the road. He talks of Team905 building membership from a handful in 2010 to over fifty active members at present.

“Initially we cycled in one group which can be difficult as the pace won’t suit all riders. With numbers increasing we’ve organised A, B and C groups allowing new members to find their level more easily and enabling people to move groups depending on fitness levels. Also, we are moving from an almost all male, middle-aged membership to attracting a younger group, both male and female, which is certainly better.

"I would say to people thinking of taking up the sport – get a decent bike and safety gear, go for several spins solo and some with one or two club members or other cyclists for helpful advice. Cover a few hundred kilometres over a couple of months and then think of joining a club. Going straight into the club scene can be difficult when you’re starting off.”

In cycling, it can be difficult to manage both racing and leisure cyclists. In some urban areas with larger numbers there can often be two distinct clubs for the different disciplines. Nicky strongly believes that both disciplines can co-exist successfully where there is only one club in an area as is the case with Team905.

“The groups of different levels help this and it is important that all groups are respected and catered for equally. It’s also naive to think that so called non-competitive cycling doesn’t involve a competitive element. It’s probably a vital part of most group spins. Attacking hills, digging deep on good sections of fast road and then easing up for a bit should be part of all cycling as it improves fitness and greatly adds to the enjoyment. It’s also necessary if you want to ride in the many sportives around the
country. These are not races but they do take on a certain dynamic and pace and if you’re not prepared to dig in a bit you’ll be left very quickly on the lonely road home.”

Talking to Nicky you get the impression of a man certainly enjoying life and grateful for his good health. What motivates him to stay active as the years roll on and what are his plans for post-pandemic times?

“The pandemic restrictions have been tough, particularly as Team905 has members from four separate counties. Even when distance limits were lifted last year, we had to operate within county boundaries making it impossible to have all our members together. I’m certainly hopeful that this will improve as 2021 goes on. I still enjoy the bike as much as ever. The club spins, the social interactions, the chat and the friendships are very important. I’ve cycled all over Ireland, England and Wales, in the Alps, the Pyrenees, in Asturias in Northern Spain and to the summit of Mount Teide in Tenerife. I can still haul myself up the Wicklow Gap or the Wolf Trap in the Slieve Blooms. I particularly enjoy the spin down the Wolftrap into Kinnity, the sweeping bends, using the full width of the road when it’s safe to do so. It’s a great feeling of speed and freedom and of just being alive.”

“I’m still cycling between 8000 and 9000 kilometres yearly and hope to continue for a while yet. The 140km Tour of Connemara and 160km Ring of Clare are great events that I’ve done for a few years and I intend to complete both again in 2022. I’ll be 72 at that stage so I’m not sure how long that type of marathon event can continue for me but I’m confident of
managing a few more anyway. In cycling, as you get older and wiser you need to maximise drafting and sheltering while also doing your bit. It’s important to hold the wheel in front at 50 centimetres or less, to be aware of upcoming drags and junctions and watch your heart rate particularly as you move up through the group. No point in arriving at the front already in the red. The only way from there is backwards quickly.”

“Fifteen years ago, I thought I was getting old. Then Robbie Dunne gave me the shake-up I needed with a step up in pace, interval training and talk of maximum heart rates and thresholds. I didn’t get old then and haven’t since although I do know that I must also be realistic. Some research is now emerging that suggests older people can, with proper advice and training, continue to hold good levels of cycling fitness and endurance. I can concur with that. I don’t think I was ever an athlete but I have really enjoyed thirty-six great years cycling as a main hobby or pastime and hopefully there’s a bit to come yet.”

Everyone in Team905 will agree that Nicky underestimates himself a bit in that last sentence. Listening to him speak with such enthusiasm about a sport that has given him so much enjoyment and such a healthy lifestyle can only be an inspiration to us all to keep the pedals turning.

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