2012 Irish Rally, part 1
The Best Rally in the World.
I’ll start with that bold statement, and let it sink in a bit while I write the background info: Last week was the 46th Annual Irish National Vintage Motorcycle Assembly. While there are a few events that have a history longer than 46 years, none of them are quite like this one. It continues to have a very strong turnout every year for many reasons, which I’ll get into further down the page. It isn’t the biggest rally, as the participant list is kept at 165 bikes to fit the hotel. But many more people apply than that each year, so the organizers have the tough job of sorting through the applicants. Mrs. Occhiolungo and I were accepted for this year, and we didn’t think twice about buying some new rain gear and two round trip tickets to the Emerald Isle!
We had heard about the Irish for many years, from friends who had attended in the past. Each person said that it was among the best rallies in the world. As our readers will know, Team Occhiolungo prefer long rides over short ones, and really old bikes over classic bikes, and kicking tires in a parking lot instead of bidding at an auction. We’ve ridden a bit on our old machines, and seen some beautiful roads, beautiful scenery, nice folks and nice bikes. Each Velocette rally, for example, has at least 3 of those things. As do the other top rides. But the Irish had all four things. In abundance, and every single day. We rode on cliffsides along the Ocean Coast, through green valleys, up mountain passes, through forests, on isolated cart trails and 45mph sweepers. All of them, EVERY SINGLE DAY. Then a new route the next day, featuring the same caliber of roads. The quality and variety of the roads was hard to believe. The hill climb up Priest’s Leap, and down the road to Camp, were among the steepest roads that I’ve ever ridden. Equally steep, twisty and as dangerous as the best roads during the week we spent at the top of the Colorado Rockies, slower and more treacherous than the delightful Ward’s Ferry Road near Yosemite. And the twisties along the beach reminded me of Hwy 1 in Marin County, but without the tourists.
Now that we are back home, I agree with the guys that it was the best rally in world that I’ve done to date. But I’m always hopeful to find an even better one if that’s possible! Maybe the Oude Klepper run in Belgium? Are there any other suggestions?
We were joined by many riders from Ireland, including a rather large percentage of lady riders on early machines. But the group wasn’t only locals. There were many riders from England of course, but also from further places like Malta, Sicily, Germany, France, Wales, Holland, a few others from the USA and three came all the way from Australia! The draw wasn’t just the quiet backroads, but included scenery of the greenest green colors, streams, waterfalls and lakes, twisty beachfront paths, very nice people and a most excellent assortment of pre 1962 motorcycles. Instead of listing all the bikes, I’ll try to put photos of them with captions. But a short list includes Broughs, Williamson, Rudges, Speed Twins, AJS, Scott, Indians, Guzzi, flat tank Nortons and many others. The club encourages riders to bring early bikes, with a preference for flat tank (pre 1929 ish) bikes. Riding is 4 days, with Flat Tank Friday being a day to bring out the earliest stuff if the rider was on a later machine earlier in the week.
The green view of Butter Road. The diary farmers in this valley use the road to take milk to town, and we guessed it would be butter when they arrived, due to the bumps and potholes along the way. This is representative of the typical bright green scenery we rode through. The roads were steep and slippery and didn’t leave much margin for error. This one actually has a lot of room on the edges, many had greenery that was 8 feet tall right at the edge of the tire tracks. But on a 1915 bike, it wasn’t too tough. The early bikes were made to ride on these types of roads. And the rider was much happier here than on a 50mph two line highway with cars, shops, bicycles and other distractions.
Mileage was about 140-175 miles per day. That doesn’t sound like a long day if you are used to slogging on a 4 lane highway. But these roads were, umm, challenging. We typically left the hotel at 9:30 am and returned around 7:30 pm, just in time to kick tires and tell lies in the parking lot, then retreat the dining room for more of the same. Ireland has only 4 million people, and not many of those live in the Southwest Corner of the country. So it is quiet out there. Not built up like rural England, and not at all what I had expected.. A few towns and villages were present, and were handy places to buy petrol, or Irish coffee or maybe a pint of Swithwick’s, but many of the road miles were in quiet isolation, without many people to see. About half of the total miles were on roads with just one lane. And not a wide lane, but just big enough for an oncoming car to pull over 2 feet or so while the bike swerved left and avoided the ever-present green hedges and slid past the car. If two cars meet on the road, they both go a bit into the ditch or into the hedge, or maybe one of them would back up to a wide spot in the road. Note that many of the roads in County Kerry are like this and always have been. Hence the car drivers are very good and don’t crash much. Some of the ‘challenging’ roads have an added obstacle: green grass in the middle of the road. This is fine, but slippery when wet. The roads were all paved though, and paved pretty well. In the western USA, such quiet roads would be made from dirt and gravel. But in Ireland they are paved in asphalt so that they don’t wash away in the rain.
A pair of Brough Superior SS80 motorcycles. My favorite model of Brough, and these two were ridden with verve all week. They were joined by a Brough 680 model on most days.
1914 Williamson. Motor by Douglas, a flat twin with watercooling. Twin radiators, band rear brake, generous valences on the mudguards and power to pull a veteran sidecar. This was a long-time restoration by the owner, and he rode it all week.
A few of the bikes stopped for lunch. McCandless Rudge, Matchless, sidevalve Triumph, Velocette KSS.
At the top of Goat’s Path.
At the pub.
1908ish Calthorpe JAP
We stopped at Inchigeelagh after riding for an hour on a beautiful “dual carriageway” This is the Irish name for a road that is 10 feet wide and has grass growing the middle. Coffee, tea and other beverages were served at the bar, and Dave Mac got out his squeezebox and played some tunes. It was a fun time, and the old Irish guys were singing songs, then convinced one or ladies to dance with them in the street. What a great time!
Williamson at the top of Healy Pass. We only saw this one day, but many riders stopped at the top, then rode back down and back up again to enjoy the turns. About 1/4 of it is visible in this photo.
Coffee stop in Fawnmoor.
There is a good place to stop called Ladies’ View. Named for the ladies in waiting for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861. Here is her view over the lakes and valley.
Dave Mac, the famous Irish Rudge rider and his squeeze box.
Stone walls are all over Ireland. They don’t need paint, and they don’t rot in the rain. Here is an assortment of bikes: Norton International, 1929 Ariel, flat tank AJS Big Port, Triumph
This Rudge Ulster was very nice. It had a lot of extra chrome on the forks, stand, brakes, etc. And the bronze head looked great.
Another view of the Rudge.
Simon and James Robinson.
John Quirke describes his 1913 Sun Precision while Dave MacMahon plays a tune.
A rare beast; a swingarm Rudge. Dave told me a story about the bike. He had heard that Rex McCandless had made a special frame for a Rudge after the war, and that it had ended up with the famous racer Stanley Woods. Woods didn’t have anything nice to say about how the bike handled, and the frame sat in his garden for many years. When Dave Mac tried to buy it, Woods said “no, it has to stay”. It turns out that the frame was supporting some of Mrs. Woods’ flowers in the garden and she wouldn’t allow it to go away. Dave snuck in one day, replaced the frame with another one, and carted the McCandless home for restoration. Stanley saw him driving off with the frame tied to the top of his car, and didn’t say a word…
This Vincent was ridden by a dad on holiday with his two small sons. On some days, both boys would ride in the chair, one on top of another, with helmets bobbing as the rig went down the road. Note the twin front disc brakes.
Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 on the Irish Rally.