by Kristin Leary
Last month, I went on a business trip to Ireland for ten days. Like most of these trips, I knew the days would be packed with meetings, but the evenings would usually be open. Open for me to explore a new city. Open for adventure and fun. And open for anything to happen.
I’ve found that the best way to learn about a new city, its customs, and their people, is to find a local pub. You belly up to the bar and spend the evening shooting the breeze with the bartenders and the local “Norm & Cliffs”.
As I ordered the first of many pints of Guinness beer, I noticed several individuals at the opposite end of the bar looking not at me, but at my t-shirt. I didn’t think anything of it. I continued drinking my beer. My bartender pal at the Quey’s Pub in Galway, poured me another Guinness, compliments of the t-shirt gawkers. Soon, they came over to chat. They told me that my Excelsior-Henderson t-shirt got their attention.
Little did I know, I’d be spending the entire evening talking with these Irish motorcyclists about biking. It seems that no matter where you are on the globe, if you find someone that is a motorcyclist, you instantly connect.
It was funny to see how impressed these men were that I drove my own bike. They were impressed for a few reasons: 1. It’s expensive. 2. It’s dangerous. 3. It’s not “lady-like”.
It’s Expensive. Although many people in Europe have motorcycles, many have very basic bikes with little chrome or accessories. These Irishmen were quick to remind me that they don’t have the high volume of motorcycle shops in Europe as in the States. Buying bikes and accessories involves a lot of thought and a fat pocketbook or a lot of debt–and not necessarily in that order.
Many of the bikes found in Ireland are imported in from the United States. It’s funny to hear the Irish speak about Harley-Davidsons and Honda Gold Wings. They put American made bikes on a pedestal. They speak of the quality, the class, the unique look and the image they have while riding an American bike.
Not many people own American bikes. They are just too expensive for the average Irish biker to own. To put things into perspective: an $18,000 Harley-Davidson in the U.S. would sell in Ireland for approximately $27,000 American dollars! It’s amazing. But the American made motorcycles are the craze there. You can see Nortons, Triumphs, and BMWs on literally every street corner. But not bikes made in the U.S.–you seldom see them.
It’s Dangerous. For those of you who have been to Ireland, you know what I mean already! I’ve never been in a country or a city in the U.S. where the roads are as narrow as in Ireland. They do not have a major interstate systems like we do in the U.S. The back roads in Northern Minnesota would be perceived as a major roadway in Ireland. These single lane roads, lined with stone walls and overgrown bushes, are quite an experience to travel on. Not only do the locals drive like maniacs, nearly swiping the oncoming cars’ side mirrors, they drive on the other side of the road! Visiting motorcyclists touring this area often find this a fun challenge.
So you have the high speed, the single lane roads, and the stone walls–could there be room for anything else to interfere with a motorcyclist? Of course, the sheep! There are sheep absolutely everywhere on the roads in Ireland. The Irish men I was speaking with said that hitting sheep is consistently one of the top five causes of motorcycle accidents/deaths in Ireland each year. The next time you drive by sheep grazing in their pens in Wisconsin, be thankful.
It’s Not “Lady-Like”. When I heard that one, I almost fell off my barstool laughing (or maybe it was the four Guinness beers taking effect). Not “lady-like”–I didn’t understand. What isn’t lady like about motorcycling? Is it that we don’t wear dresses or high heels when we ride or that we don’t shower for a few days when on long trips? I still am trying to figure out that one. And when I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Over the ten days that I was in Ireland, I saw many women passengers on touring bikes and sport bikes, but never once in the driver’s seat. Hopefully, in time, more women will learn to ride and experience the difference between being on the back seat to being in the front.
After hours of talking about motorcycling with these Irish bikers, I was anxious to get back home to the United States to ride my bike. As I left the pub, I promised my new Guinness friends, that if I take an international work assignment in Ireland, I’ll be sure to bring along my bike. Even if it’s not “lady-like”.