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BillJ

Ireland

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BillJ

A few (?) thoughts on Ireland. A little long-winded, but fun to write. Hope you enjoy reading it, too. Not meant as a travelogue, or a definitive description of our trip. Just about biking and such. Read on, if you dare!

 

**********

 

One thing I learned while in Ireland is that Irish bikers are tougher than we modern-day Americans could ever dream of being. We have it SO good here! You ought to see the roads they have to ride on, and the traffic conditions!

 

Take our meanest, poorest-maintained county roads, like some I've found in Lee and Bastrop Counties here in Texas, and make them even twistier, with deceptive decreasing-radius and hidden ninety-degree turns. Line them with six-foot-tall hedges and even taller rock walls, and pack them full of cars and trucks going sixty miles an hour into those blind turns. Coat the turns and hills with slurry (a mixture of pig and cow manure) spilled by farmers fertilizing their fields. Then put yourself out there on a bike, coming the opposite direction into those turns.

 

That's riding in the Irish countryside.

 

If you survive that, then go into downtown Friday-afternoon rush-hour traffic, shrink each lane by a good twelve inches, add a couple hundred more busses than most cities run, sprinkle that snarled-up mess with a million or so willful pedestrians - many talking on cell-phones, lugging massive shopping bags or pushing baby carriages, or all three at once! Then start splitting lanes and weaving in and out of spaces barely a cat's-whisker wider than your bike, while never allowing your speed to drop below thirty miles per hour. Work your way around the double- and triple-parked vehicles, and the bus lanes that start and stop with wild abandon. Here you must remember two very important rules. First is that THERE ARE NO RULES! Second is that everyone else on the road, regardless of their vehicle's size, will be trying to dodge and weave at the same time, and into the same spaces you're aiming for.

 

That's riding in the Irish cities.

 

The few "National" roads you'll get to ride on are no better-engineered than Texas' typical rural Farm-to-Market road, and not nearly so well-maintained. Potholes, trash, mud, steel construction plates, over-sized lorries and tour busses taking their half the road out of the middle... It's all there, along with faded, barely-visible striping (in those places they bothered to stripe at all), no shoulders to speak of, and directional signage that dates back to the Middle Ages. I am NOT making this up! You know those quaint little pointed signs that say things like "Dublin - 56km" and "Limerick - 172km"? They still use those all across the country. If the sign gets stolen, or some prankster twists it around to point you down the wrong road, don't count on the Department of Transportation to come out and make it right, the way they do here. You'll just have to stop and ask directions - a half-hour proposition almost anywhere, because the folks I met LOVE to talk! - or take your chances that the road will lead you somewhere you want to be. Since roads are only marked at intersections, it'll be a guessing game until you reach the next intersection, which may be twenty miles away! Don't count on your navigational instincts, either. Mine are usually pretty good, but I still got turned around six ways from Sunday on an hourly basis, if not more! Words like "north" and "west" become meaningless when a road twists and turns as much as Ireland's do.

 

As if all that's not confusing enough, private businesses are allowed to add their own signs to the same poles as the official directional signs (very popular in heavily-touristed areas, with all the bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants) so that you have to come to a near-stop to sort out your directional sign from all the others mounted there. Be aware that the drivers behind you, who KNOW where they're going, will NOT appreciate you interrupting their traffic flow.

 

That's riding on the National Roads.

 

There were a couple of "motorways" during our travels - most no longer than five or ten miles - that resemble our modern-day Interstate highways. They're divided, fairly new, well-lighted, with limited-access on- and off-ramps and true, American-styled directional signage. They're straight and flat as a rule, with no real scenery to recommend them, but most have 70 MPH speed limits. The trick is that they all end in tangled knots of construction sites and round-abouts - what we know as "traffic circles" - that are an art-form all their own. Navigating the roundabouts may one day qualify as an extreme Olympic sport, requiring all the deft maneuvering and split-second timing of slalom skiing, but with all the dire results of two-bullet Russian roulette!

 

So much for riding the motorways.

 

I wasn't able to get to Northern Ireland to rent a motorcycle, as I'd hoped. We were having too much fun touring the Republic and, sadly, motorcycle rentals are not available there. Republic of Ireland insurance companies will not cover motorcycle rentals the way United Kingdom companies will.

 

However, a fellow I met through our friends near Dublin made a point of firing up his own bike - even swapping a battery from a smaller bike to the larger, to get it started - and tracking me down so he could DELIVER the bike to me for my use the last several days we were there! Paddy Lane was a fellow I'd been acquainted with all of a week and a half, and he went far out of his way to make sure I got to ride a bike on the Old Sod, as I'd dreamt I would.

 

His bike is a 600cc Suzuki sport bike - the fastest, most powerful bike I've ever ridden. I'm not a sport-biker, so my experience is pretty limited, but still... I thought the V-Max I rode a few years back was the fastest, but I don't remember it having anywhere near the acceleration this thing had. The Suzuki's handling is also much more sensitive than I'm used to. My Beemer's pretty well-engineered, but fairly forgiving in turns and such. My old Harley's like a tracked tank or APC - it just goes OVER obstructions. On that Suzuki I felt every pebble and ripple in the road, and there were LOTS of 'em!

 

I puttered around on it for an hour or so, familiarizing myself with the controls and such - just long enough to realize I had no business on something that fast, and NO desire to pilot someone else's machine down those gawd-awful roads! Then I went back to the house to pick up Jackie, and took her for just enough of a ride to show her WHY we weren't going touring on Paddy's Suzuki.

 

I carried two things with me on our brief ride - a medallion my father gave me back when I was a teenager, that he himself had worn as a boy, and a patch memorializing the events of September 11th. In that way I like to think I carried the spirits of my father, who enjoyed motorcycling himself when he was younger, and never quite got over his fascination with bikes, and my cousin, Ed Graf, a BMW aficionado who died in the World Trade Center attacks.

 

Whatever one says about the roads, I can't fault the Irish people on hospitality and friendliness! We went to the Dublin Harley dealership in Blessington Street a couple of times, and to an aftermarket shop called The Celtic Motorbike Company, Ltd., and met several different riders during our stay. All were as friendly as could be. Friendliness is the Irish way, I know, but - in contrast to many of their American counterparts - folks there didn't seem as concerned about WHAT you rode as THAT you rode. Maybe being part of the same mad brotherhood on the same tiny island breeds tolerance and respect, or maybe we just got lucky. Either way, I was favorably impressed.

 

Saw a lot of BMWs, but never a dealership. Must be one there, somewhere. I did not get a chance to visit with any Beemer riders, unfortunately.

 

Didn't see many women riders - the fellow at the Harley dealership said there weren't many in Ireland - but the few I noticed (or could see were women, since everyone wore full-face helmets and as much riding gear as they could put on, against the cold, wet weather) seemed just as insane as the men. No "girly biker" scene in Dublin, by gawd!

 

No lightweights, either. Whether riding a Lambretta or a Harley, these men and women take their riding very seriously, and do it well, under conditions most of us wouldn't consider. Year-'round, in pouring rain or what little sun they see, you'll find 'em wheeling in and out of the roundabouts, and over those cobblestoned alleyways. Sidewalks are nearly blocked with parked motorcycles of all description. Irish riders commute on two wheels. They spend their off hours relaxing on two wheels. Some actually work on two wheels, delivering packages and correspondence between downtown offices. Mad as hatters, all of 'em, but sure, and isn't that what being Irish is all about?

 

All in all it was a grand trip; a wonderful time in the beautiful home of my ancestors. If I lived there I'd have to have a bike, of course. I might never rise to that gutsy Irish "trust-God-and-twist-the-throttle" style of motorcycling, but I'd still have to ride. My decades-long addiction to 60-weight motor oil aside, there's just too much fantastic countryside that deserves to be experienced on two wheels. In particular, out west, where I'd want to spend most of my leisure time, there are rural roads one can have pretty much to one's self, at times, which cut through some of the finest vistas in the Republic - mountains, lake country, plains and seacoast. You can see for miles, and you can easily see why native and visitor alike are enchanted with that exquisite little isle. I would not want to miss the pleasure of experiencing it from the saddle of my own motorcycle.

 

Bill J. from Austin

'00 R1100R

Deep metallic red and GORGEOUS!

'74 (?) H-D shovelhead

Bomb-can black and emerald green and BONE UGLY!

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Ebbo

It’s all true… I toured Ireland 2 years ago on my R100rt. We were completely lost in the back roads (no roads signs anywhere!) when we came across an old chap in a suit (It was Sunday) complete with knobbly stick. We asked him the way to this place that was close by, “I’m sorry” he said “I’ve lived here all me life and I know its here somewhere, but I don’t know were”

We dropped in to a village that Sunday lunchtime. All the customers were in suits and ties having just left church. After enjoying a drink and sandwich I paid my bill thinking it was quite reasonable, when my mate tried to pay for his it turned out I had paid for both! We left the Pub I wanted to know I was on the right road for Dublin, So asked a local with the most amazing red hair the way. I kid you not, I thought he was going to have a fit, he was so pleased to tell us the way. “Yes sir, it’s over the river and right so it is, over the river and right. Complete with both arms and even his body gesturing the right way to go.

Once your out in the sticks you can expect anything to happen. I was stopped at a junction waiting for my mate. A woman stopped her car in the middle of the road, got out and asked if I was ok, I said I was fine, just waiting for a mate, “Oh your English” she said, and started to ask me about my trip, Just then another car stopped. Again, right in the middle of the road, It was her friend, she got out and joined in! A Police car came up, “That’s it” I thought “were in bother now” Not a bit of it, The Police car wove its way between the abandoned cars and went on its way…

Life is at a slower pace over in southern Ireland. If you ever get a chance to go… don’t hesitate.

 

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BillJ

We were completely lost in the back roads (no roads signs anywhere!) when we came across an old chap in a suit (It was Sunday) complete with knobbly stick.

 

Ebbo,

 

I think we met that same old man! Right out of Central Casting, he was: no younger than 70, straight and tall, with the tweed jacket and vest, the newsboy cap, the stick, the work-hardened hands and thick brogue. Classic! He was walking with his dogs, at least two miles from the nearest house, when we stopped to ask if we were on the road to Masshill and Templeboy.

 

"Ah, sure, you're in Masshill," he said. Jackie's looking around like "What? Where? Here?" Not a building in sight, in any direction. We never did see a village of any sort - just the lone house we assume the old man was walking from. Whatever else Masshill might have, it sure ain't got no "there" there! laugh.gif

 

If you want a beautiful ride, though, go to County Sligo, find that road we were on and look for the waterfall!

 

Can't wait to go back!

 

Bill J. from Austin

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robsandey

Hi Ebbo I didn't expect to find you here (don't know why). Hi Bill Thanks for the ride report. I have been promising myself a biking trip to Eire for a few months as it is not that far from Cornwall, I just need to find someone to go with. I went there (Cork) on a Rugby tour during 1994 and had a real blast, fantastic people with a fantastic sense of fun and humour. During the after match socialising at Douglas rugby club I was offered a Job and a place to stay from people I had only met a few hours earlier on the pitch, I was blown away by such genuine good hearted people.

The chap who organised the Irish end of the tour for us, was a great fellow. One of the more colourful members of our team asked him if he knew where he could get some canabis. The organiser just smiled and said "you shouldn't ask me that" and then laughed as he left shaking his head. The next day we found out that the he was a sargent in the Cork police drugs squad. I couldn't imagine that happening in Britain.

Cheers Rob

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Ebbo

Hi Rob, yes I do get around a bit! Ireland is all you make of it, probably no good going to the big city's you won’t get the flavour. On one ride out we rode around a long sweeper and came across a group of kids playing in the road, I tooted the horn to warn of my approach, The kids all scattered to the side of the road then stood and waved! If you did that in most other places you would get a different sort of wave for your efforts!

Edited by Ebbo

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