Do It Before You Die

Took a total break from trials last weekend, and though this column is on a trials website, as has been said before, if there is even the most tenuous of connections to our sport, then it will be included – so here goes.

Whilst it’s appreciated that not everyone involved with trials has an all-round interest in all bike sport, many have, and that includes your columnist, and the reason last weekend was a total break from trials was to fulfill a long held ambition to attend what I’ve been told was one of the great spectacles of biking – an Irish road race meeting.

Ireland’s tarmac sport is almost entirely on closed public roads; there’s loads of circuits in both Northern Ireland and Eire and one of the best is the Skerries, held on a 2.9 mile road circuit about 20 miles north of Dublin, and that’s where it was last Saturday.

The trip appeared an easy one for somebody whose only road transport is a Beta Alp 200, (the tenuous trials connection!!), so the plan was to drive the van to Holyhead (no problem), take the ferry to Dun Laoghaire (no problem), load daughter, kitbag and me onto Alp (no problem), ride 20 miles to Skerries (problem), take in a day and a half of practice and racing (no problem), enjoy fantastic hospitality (no problem), then ride back to the ferry on Sunday morning, travel back to Holyhead and home to catch up on tennis finals/Siverstone F1 tape (no problem), then write this (no problem).

Now, long time pal Scott Rowland was the Team Leader for the eight of us that made the trip and Scott has been on to me for ages, saying that to see the Skerries is “one of the things to do before you die”. So whilst I’m not planning to pop off yet, this was the year to do it.

I’ve always loved road racing, but have not been to many in recent years, so this was an eagerly awaited trip and the Rapley duo loved every minute of it. I know little about true road racers and my only experience has been the Manx GP and the TT some years ago, but let me tell you now, the road racers that do Ireland are simply AWESOME.

It’s virtually impossible to describe the speed, commitment, daring, even the sheer foolhardiness of what they do, but as a spectacle, believe me now, go there and see it for yourselves. If you’ve seen it on tape, nothing, but nothing compares with seeing Martin Finnegan, Connor Cummins, Cameron Donald and their challengers race past your feet and head (depending on where you are spectating) at speeds in excess of 150mph. It is mindblowing, and you just stand there and think what abnormal sense do they possess that enables them to do that.

I could go on, but in a lifetime of watching and riding bikes, a few, very few moments live with you forever. The Skerries last Saturday joined that short list and it was an honour to be there as a Irish road racing virgin.

Spectating is dead easy. Over the practice evening and race day we watched from 15 different vantage points, and in every case we stood on the verge, sat on the bank and lurked behind a wall. It was very laid back, but equally superbly organised and as long as one chose your vantage point sensibly, was pretty safe.

Do it, if not Skerries, then select another, you’ll not regret it.

You may have noticed earlier I slipped in a (problem). Five miles from the ferry on the outward trip with the Alp well loaded (to say the least), we got a rear puncture. Being well organised I had nothing with me, absolutely nothing. So to cut a long story short and not knowing what to do I stopped a taxi driver dropping off a fare outside the Registry Office and asked if he knew of a garage that could help. “Hop in and we’ll find one” and sure enough we did, almost immediately; he couldn’t fix the flat but knew a bike garage that could. So off to the back alley bike repair man and sure, he would fix it, but you’ll have to go and get a tube, so back in the taxi and off to a bike dealer who (fantastic this) were able to supply a tube – tw in fact in case one got pinched fitting!

Then it was back to the stranded bike and daughter and a short but exhausting 400 yard push to the bike repair shop – at least we broke down within pushing distance – and soon enough we were on our way again, only 1hour 50minutes behind the other lads.

So here and now let me say to taxi driver Michael Dunne, you were an absolute star and how I managed to find you from all the thousands of taxi drivers in Dublin, I’ll never know. Thanks to the bike repair man for doing the repair and thanks to my new found friends for making last weekend’s Skerries experience one that Rapley father and daughter will never forget for more than one reason.