Around the world from Dublin on a bike - in 1912
It was the most dangerous motorcycle journey of its time – an epic adventure in 1912 – and the riders were captivated by Ireland, writes PETER MURTAGHWHEN A motorcycle rider and his machine get together, it’s usually only a matter of time before the question emerges: when to set off on the round-the-world trip?
The dream was made reality for many an armchair biker by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s 2004 TV odyssey and book, Long Way Round, and subsequent spin-offs.
Close to a decade later, the sound of yet another BMW GS hurtling across the Mongolian steppe en route to Beijing is unlikely to come as much of a surprise to a yak herder sitting by his yurt.
Motorbike websites today are full of “how to” information about long-distance adventure biking in Asia, Africa, South America and elsewhere. The accompanying blogs feature a swarm of bikers having the time of their lives.
What many of them may not realise is that the craze began 100 years ago in Dublin.
The first man to ride his motorbike around the world was an Irish-American advertising copy writer and film-maker named Carl Stearns Clancy. He set off with his biking partner, Walter Rendell Storey, 100 years ago this month.
“The longest, most difficult, and most perilous journey ever attempted”, on motorcycle, wrote Clancy of a journey that friends and colleagues told him was “insane”. But he went nonetheless and, what’s more, he did it.
On October 23rd this year, motorbike enthusiasts will re-enact the start of Clancy and Storey’s epic trip, assembling at Joe Duffy Motors in Ballymun, before following Clancy and Storey’s route to Belfast via Meath, Cavan, Fermanagh, Donegal, Derry and Antrim. Thereafter, across the world, bikers will retrace other parts of Clancy’s route.
In 1912, there were few surfaced roads, let alone maps by which to find them. Motorcycles were not built for endurance travelling, tyres were basic and repair garages were almost non-existent.
Clancy and Storey rode machines made by the Henderson Motorcycle Company, which was founded in 1911 in Detroit, Michigan. The 1912-built Henderson Four was a long machine with a four-cylinder engine and just one gear. There was no front brake.
But, with a top speed of 55 miles per hour, it was reputedly the fastest motorcycle of its day. It cost $325.
Why did they do it? “The facts are these,” Clancy wrote. “We are ordinary business men who are supersaturated with work and who have decided to invest a year’s time in something else than the everlasting chase for the almighty dollar.”
But how to pay for it? Clancy wasn’t the last motorbike enthusiast to hit on the wheeze of getting an editor to pay for his adventures and so, in multiple dispatches between November 1912 and February 1914, Clancy told the story of his 18,000 mile journey in the pages of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review, a New York-based weekly magazine. The story was then largely forgotten until it was rescued by another biking enthusiast, Gregory Frazier, who assembled the reports into a book, Motorcycle Adventurer (published by iUniverse in Bloomington, Indiana in 2010).