Is it really too wet to cycle in Belfast?

The head of NI’s Cycling Unit decided to record his cycling weather for a year – and found conditions were more taps aff than lashing down.


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Last year a report showed that 19% of people in Northern Ireland listed “bad weather” as a barrier to cycling short journeys. The everyday variety of bicycle user found this a little puzzling, even while agreeing that safety and traffic were bigger barriers. So the head of Northern Ireland’s Cycling Unit decided to record his cycling weather for a year to see if folk need to wind their necks in.


Andrew Grieve (left) with former DRD Minister Danny Kennedy at Ride on Belfast 3

“The British Isles, and particularly the north and west, is traditionally associated with wet weather. This perception leads to a typical view that cycling in Northern Ireland is a risky endeavour because of rain. With Government efforts to increase the level of cycling – particularly as an everyday activity for shorter journeys – the question arises as to whether this is a feasible objective in terms of the weather.”
(Commuter cycling weather in Belfast – DRD / Andrew Grieve)

Andrew regularly commutes 2.5 miles from his home in Belfast to work in the city centre – a typical journey of around 15 minutes both ways.

Each morning (usually between 8am and 9am) and evening (between 5pm and 6pm) during 2015 he kept a record of the “rain conditions” during his commuting journeys.

The results revealed something quite surprising. Although ground conditions are often damp, only about one in six of all the journeys undertaken in the study were affected by rain – 85% of journeys were ‘rain free’.



Reproduced from the report on the DRD website


Andrew made a total of 455 weather observations over the year, split between his regular commute (348), another comparable journey in the city at the same time (29) and he stuck the head out the window another 78 times at commuting times. That’s dedication.

Interestingly 40% of the “Dry” commutes included damp ground conditions or lying water from previous showers, but no failing rain. 6% of all commutes were “Borderline” wet – spitting, but the type of rain unlikely to get you properly wet over a 15 minute journey.

This chimes with the experience of riders who go by bicycle all year round. Having done this for over 15 years I’d describe Belfast’s weather as occasionally showery and always changeable. Crucially, our Atlantic-driven weather tends to blow through, not settle in for long periods.

“The results show that in Belfast, for journeys up to 2.5 miles (4 km) in length, wet weather is not a serious problem – affecting only around 3 journeys in 20 (15%). It also reports that it is rare for rain to affect both commuting journeys in the one day.”

Weather often gets trotted out on the radio show as an excuse for why Northern Ireland doesn’t have the right conditions for mass cycling (hills being another favourite). But we’ve known for a while that climate isn’t really a major factor when comparing our cycling levels with, say, The Netherlands.


Hopefully Andrew will keep the survey going, but we’d recommend a slight tweak to the methodology by splitting “Dry” into three temperature sub-categories:

  • Baltic
  • Not Tae Bad
  • Taps Aff

You can download Andrew’s weather observations and summary analysis from the Department for Regional Development website (PDF, 343K).

You can also download the full report (in great detail) also from the Department for Regional Development website (PDF, 711K).

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