Being a female rider with a short inside leg and without oodles of strength, the bike I choose to ride is very important. I can’t just jump on any bike and take it wherever I want to go. What some take for granted is a real concern for me… Do my feet touch the floor?! If I stop at the side of the road with a camber can I actually come to a stop safely?
At the moment my husband and I share a bike – we have a Suzuki SV650S (on which we have lowered the suspension and have a cut out seat). This is the perfect compromise – the sports tourer is low but had excellent handling and suits us for our normal riding very well. If we go out together I’m the one sat on the back – of course – which I don’t mind at all. But when it comes to long rides or trips away, being pillion isn’t the same and means I, and my husband, don’t enjoy the journey as much as if we were on separate bikes.
So when we decided to go toIrelandfor a week’s leisurely tour, there was a decision to be made… Pillion for the week. Or hire. Ok it was a no brainer – I was gonna hire!
Celtic Rider were really helpful. After an email conversation with Paul I chose their factory lowered F650GS with low seat – I’ve sat on one at Motorcycle Live before but never ridden one. The Enduro style is one I’ve liked since I was a child, with its leanings towards a dirt bike but fantastic for touring. I spent the weeks leading up to the trip incredibly excited but also nervous – I mean, what would happen if I stalled it when riding it away from the car park?! Yes I get very nervous! But hey – I rode a brand new Harley the length of the country for charity a couple of years ago with no problems (thanks to Lincoln Harley Davidson for the loan), it would be fine.
Squinty-eyed happiness: Me, the Wicklow Mountains, and my hired F650GS
When we arrived on the Sunday (having ridden two up from home, stopped over in a drab Holyhead, and got the ferry over to Dun Laoghaire) we were a little concerned as the place was shut up, but Paul was soon there and had me on my bike in no time. I loved the laid back attitude – so friendly and obviously in love with biking and Ireland. He offered to take us up into the Wicklow Mountains on the outskirts of Dublin to get our trip off to a good start – taking us onto some narrow but beautiful roads with amazing scenery we would never have seen without him. It was really good of him to give us his Sunday afternoon.
BMW F650GS on the way to Waterford
From there we rode down to Waterford. The 650GS was a really nice bike to ride. Despite being able to put both feet on the ground (well, not completely, but enough to be stable) I felt really tall – the visibility in traffic was excellent. The last long trip I did was on a Harley Sportster Nightster and on that I felt anything other than tall, and while I loved the “lolloping” of that bike, this upright machine felt strong and stable.
Ireland is truly beautiful and has some great roads and scenery for a bike tour. We spent six days in the countryside, riding around 1000 miles, taking in as much as we could without making it all about the tarmac (bike tours are fabulous fun but if you never stop to see what’s there you haven’t actually visited a place).
From Waterford we went up to Killarney where we stopped for three nights. The Ring of Kerry is apparently a must – so we obliged on one of our days based in Killarney. It was great to have a base for a short while as it meant the luggage could come off the bikes and we could ride lighter, it makes a difference. It started off really well, and we went over to Valencia at the recommendation of our B&B host, which was well worth it. The road, though, is really not well finished – especially from Waterville (where we had the most amazing crumble in a little cafe) round to Sneem, so bad in fact that we cut off the last bit and took the direct route back to Killarney – just way too uncomfortable.
Nearly but not quite on Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula
Much better was our trip onto the Dingle Peninsula, which incorporated two of my favourite places of the week. Inch Beachwas just totally stunning and took my heart. If I’d have been riding my own bike and not a hire bike I’d have taken it along the sand, just to say I’d done it. There was hardly a soul on the beach, it was gorgeous. And then there was the Slea Head Drive which had the most breathtaking views of the week by far – and a very interesting cobbled ford to ride through. We had to stop for cattle and sheep, and the roads were narrow, but the couple of hours were well spent. We also went over the Conor Pass which was well worth it, although don’t attempt it if the weather is dodgy as even on a beautiful sunny day it was misty and damp at the summit. No sign of Fungi the Dolphin when we stopped in Dingle, but if (when) we go back I’ll be getting on one of the boat trips so I can meet the famous mammal. Again we had our B&B host to thank for our route that day – he was keen to make sure we saw the best the area had to offer, and I reckon we did that for sure. My favourite day without doubt and if you go anywhere near you’d be mad not to spend a day on the Peninsula.
Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula
Conor Pass, Dingle Peninsula
The hospitality we found in Ireland was fantastic and the people are friendly. We pre-booked our accommodation through B&B Ireland, a very easy online system – you book and pay your deposit through the site, and then pay the balance to the B&B owner on arrival/departure. It’s well documented that Ireland isn’t cheap for food or drink. We stayed at three B&Bs with each one having something going for it. Suncrest in Waterford, Avondale House in Killarney and Lakeside Country Lodge in Ennis all come recommended after our trip – the accommodation at all was lovely, and there was suitable parking for our bikes too (I checked this before we went of course). Of the three Lakeside had the best setting without a doubt, I could happily spent a week there, but the couple at Avondale were so very helpful.
The main issue being on bikes was that after a days riding we couldn’t really be bothered to get all the gear back on to go out for dinner, so we ended up with taxis to pay each evening. None of the B&Bs were in town, and the 4/5 miles each way was €10-15 depending on the day and the time and the taxi. Having said that we ate in some fab places – The Country Kitchen in Killarney and Brogans in Ennis were two standout favourites that both served what I guess was traditional Irish food and we’d happily go back if we were in the area again. Food wasn’t cheap though – find the deals – go early, and set meals seemed a good option.
I should mention the Cliffs of Mohar. Supposedly some of the best views inIreland. Don’t bother. We rode there on recommendation (Google told us to), but it is basically a big car park and you have to pay the full entry price to get in. It was rammed, and there was no provision just to stop for 10 minutes. If you’re in a car and want a day out then fine, but it’s not somewhere just to stop and look if you’re on a bike. I’m sure it’s beautiful but we didn’t stop and were quite disappointed you apparently have to pay just to see a view when there are stunning scenes all around the Irish coast for free.
View from the Slate Quarry on Valencia
It’s a treat to be able to ride such a new bike for such a long way, and across all kinds of roads. It loved the wide N roads between towns, leaning into the long sweeping bends with ease. It sat on the motorway happily and being an upright bike I had great visibility over the traffic. In town it was easy to set off and stop, once I got used to the idle speed (and adjusted the clutch a little to make it easier to set off). Height wise it was just fine – my feet weren’t flat on the floor but I was perfectly stable and as the week went on I got more and more confident in manoeuvring the bike around – scooting a bike backwards and forwards to turn around, for example, is something I’ve not really been able to do before due to my height (and girlie weakness!), but that was possible (once I gained confidence). The only problem I had was the lean of the bike when on its side stand was so severe that if I stopped on even a slight camber I really struggled to get the bike upright again once on it. If I was flat footed and therefore had more grip then it would have been easier. I understand it might be possible to lengthen the side stand which would solve this (you can’t put a centre stand on the factory lowered bike as it drags on the floor when you go round bends) – it was a tad embarrassing to get my fellow bikers to push the bike up for me on occasion, at least once a day!
I can’t think of a better way to have spent a week in Ireland– and I can completely see why people fall in love with the place and never leave. Unfortunately though I had to return the bike and we had to return home – that trip home was so uncomfortable! I have always loved Cruisers, but this Enduro bike was fantastic to ride and I would recommend it, and Celtic Rider, to anyone wanting to see the beauty ofIreland. *When* we go back I will be taking my own F650GS with me… I can’t wait to go back.