You’d never believe that a marauding group of moped and autocycle riders could cause so much mayhem, as Ted Bemand continues his report on the Wirral Wobblers’ laugh-a-minute tour of Northern Ireland.
Last month’s report on the NACC Wirral Wobblers’ tour of Northern Ireland ended with two machines crashing into each other while searching for the ‘Invisible Lake’ – fortunately without injury and the bikes still usable – while the more powerful machines (all relative, you know!) took the hilly coast route to Torr Head, led by Ian Shrage on the Hippo C90.
On my 2bhp, three-speed Puch, I decided to follow the hill-huggers, but the little motor had to work hard to keep up, and as the pack surged past on a particularly steep section, John Holding, 80, with his 77-year-old wife on the back of their Honda C90, stamped the box into first, and gave it the gas as the gear/clutch pedal came up.
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Bad move, John! The bike reared up vertically and, like a Torvill and Dean Boléro routine, Jackie fell off with her husband on top as the bike dropped neatly into the ditch. It was so beautifully choreographed it was well worth a 10 on the scorecard!
My head cam recorded the whole event. “It’s only a scratch,” said John, and Jackie responded with: “He’s getting too old for these wheelies.”
Deckie, in the back-up car, waited patiently while they readjusted the Honda’s leg shields (only the mirror was broken) before the Honda rejoined the fray.
By now the pack, unaware of the second crash, was miles ahead. Deckie guided me, on my own as the back rider, to Torr Head down one of the steepest, twistiest of roads we’d seen so far, and by the time we got there, the others had gone!
I had to zig-zag in first gear, with the engine screaming, to get back up (no pedal assistance on the Puch) and it was probably another 10 miles before we met up with the group at Ballycastle.
After visiting Ballymoney to see the Dunlop memorial garden, Deckie had a treat for us.
Tapping the side of his nose, he just said: “Follow me,” and we came to a small garage business in Armoy that housed a superb collection of old and very old racing machines. The owner was a former backer of Joey, and trust and friendship seems to be the currency of door-opening in Northern Ireland.
The last stop was the famous King’s Road setting from Game of Thrones, Dark Hedges Road, but without leaves it wasn’t quite as impressive as we’d imagined.
Back in our hotel in Coleraine that evening, we started to add up the scores on the doors. In two days we’d had two crashes and collected £90 for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
John Holding had got himself a puncture, which is a pig of a job on a Honda, getting the bike high enough to drag the back wheel out.
Howard Bentham, the original ultra-lightweight traveller (at last year’s Isle of Man event he managed, he used a back-pack I’d have had difficulty getting my sandwiches in), had the idea of getting his washing done by the hotel, but sadly his T-shirt came back like a shrunken head, just about right for a four-year-old!
We also had one retirement because of an abscess. Peter Hansen, on the Moto Guzzi Cardellino, had to make an emergency pit stop at a friendly dentists. Drilling, draining and antibiotics followed – and the dentist even put a tenner into our MSF pot!
Next day, in bright sunshine for a change, John Maconaghie turned up with his very nice Autocycle to lead the group, passing over the North West 200 race circuit at Portrush to reach the Giant’s Causeway…
Neolithic block paving gone mad! It’s quite amazing what the power of nature can produce, and makes our feeble efforts to create feats of engineering seem totally insignificant.
Then it was on to the famous Carrick-a-Rede ‘rope bridge’, now steel cables. The 1km walk deterred some, but after the memorable (if short) crossing, we were stopped immediately by a sign that read: ‘Path closed due to H&S.’
We retraced our steps, and some riders (the Guinness testers) went on to Joey Dunlop’s Bar while the rest followed John to a headland viewpoint 2km further on.
Just as we arrived, a strange black cloud could be seen moving quickly towards the land, from which vertical lines descended to the sea.
All too soon we realised what it was when the mother of a hailstorm hit us (and also the drinkers at Joey’s Bar) but in minutes it had gone and the sun returned.
Back at the hotel, we discovered that Peter Hansen, who’d been in bed all day, had been rushed to A&E for stronger antibiotics. Fortunately, he was back riding next day.
On Saturday the whole gaggle of jostling pensioners moved off, with Jim Scott leading on the Yamaha Town Mate 80 and Martin Archer’s Excelsior drowning all other exhaust notes.
We were heading for the Cookstown 100 races, but lost Eric and Pete (back-up car) when Doug McGarvie’s Black Douglas clutch cable snapped.
The rest of the pack arrived at the narrow road leading to the racetrack – just ‘lanes’ that make the TT roads seem like motorways. There were no official car parks, but the local farmers were letting off space in their yards at £5 a pop.
As we were collecting for MSF, I convinced one farmer that a block payment of £10 would be acceptable (to us!) and he reluctantly agreed to take my tenner.
At the entrance gate our mission was spelled out again, and not only did we get in free, but also those generous Cookstown race organisers put £20 into the pot.
For the next hour we witnessed some thrilling riding, and Pat (thou shalt not pass) Keeling single-handedly extracted £120 from mostly willing spectators. Another good day in the bag!
Sunday found the car park buzzing with dozens of mopeds assembling for the famous National Autocycle and Cyclemotor Club’s Lough Neagh Challenge – 100 miles around – which seemingly had never been done in one go before, but they didn’t tell us that!
Six riders decided first to go directly to the Shanes Castle Steam Fair near Antrim, and I decided to go, too, but my Puch’s 2bhp was no match for the bigger boys’ toys, Howard Bentham’s Garelli Tiger putting out a tyre-smoking 61/2bhp!
Off we went, the little ‘Austrian’ howling beyond its cruise speed of 28mph, and at times its 35mph combat speed (with a hurricane on its tail!).
‘Catch-up’, especially on the hills, was becoming impossible, but luckily the roads were quiet and, crouched over the bars, I hammered on.
Talk about the loneliness of the long-distance runner! On one hill, screaming in second gear, I had to concede to a tractor growling on my numberplate.
The others waited patiently at major junctions, playing sudoku on their phones.
Despite it all, we still made the 50 miles in two hours. The fair was enormous, but we had only an hour or so before the main group arrived at the lunch stop.
We almost blagged our way in, but the guards spotted that our charity was not on the official list and, like a lot of escaping prisoners, we were hauled back. My haggling was to no avail, gaining only pensioner rates, and Howard and Dave kindly paid for us all.
After our lunch break re-assembly, the rest of the tour took in the peaceful lakeside roads, the flat terrain being quite unlike the harsh hills of the English Lakes.
After our ultimate viewpoint of Oxford, we said our farewells to what had apparently been the largest Northern Ireland NACC gathering so far.
Doug (Mr Mugs) McGarvie donated 36 special commemorative mugs to those riders remaining.
Next month’s concluding report embraces a visit to two fantastic motorcycle collections, another crash, 17 parking tickets, the Gobbins cliff trail, and stardom on Ulster TV – a spiffing end to great craic!
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