Around the world with the ghost of a motorbike pioneer

A group of Irish riders are retracing the route of Carl Stearns Clancy, the first man to motorcycle around the world

Carl Stearns Clancy was just 21 when he crossed the Atlantic from New York with his 31-year-old friend Walter Rendell Storey and two Henderson motorbikes.

In Dublin on a glum October 23rd, 1912, they began their around-the- world-on-a-motorbike adventure, the first of its kind. They rode on Irish number plates and with Irish driving licences, an acknowledgment, it seems, of Clancy’s identification with his heritage: his father, a clergyman immigrant, came from Ireland.

Their initial ride took them from Dublin via Fermanagh, Donegal and Derry to Belfast, and from thence to Glasgow, London, the Netherlands, Belgium and Paris, where they holed up for the winter of 1912-3, at which point they parted company, for unknown reasons.

But Clancy rode on alone, down through France and into Spain, then to Algeria and Tunisia, back to Europe and from Italy on, by ship, to Sri Lanka; then another ferry hop to Hong Kong, China proper, across the sea to Japan and, finally, the west coast of the United States and a ride east to New York, over the Rockies and through Montana.

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A hundred years ago many of the roads they travelled on were unpaved, if they could be called roads at all. There was no network of workshops for repairs, and few petrol stations. It was an extraordinary feat, about which Clancy wrote as he went for New York's Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review .

It might have been lost in the mists of time had it not been for Gregory Frazier, a 65-year-old motorcycle adventurer, writer and documentary producer. One day, while pondering a 1913 Henderson sales brochure (he owns a Henderson), Frazier noticed a photograph of Clancy and reference to his around-the-world trip.

In an instant he knew there was a story to tell. Frazier found Clancy's long- forgotten reports and compiled them into a book, Motorcycle Adventurer: Carl Stearns Clancy , published in 2010. It inspired the biker fraternity, and last October a group of bikers, myself included, re-enacted the Irish leg of Clancy and Storey's epic journey, from Joe Duffy Motors, in Finglas, to Donegal and Belfast.

Tomorrow we're going to pick up where we left off. We shall set off from Belfast on the CS Clancy Centenary Ride 1913-2013, not on Hendersons but on three BMW R1200 GS Adventures. I'll be with them for the European leg of the adventure, chronicling the places we get to and the people we meet in The Irish Times and on irishtimes.com.

The Belfast-based motorbike journalist Geoff Hill will also be writing, on adelaideadventures.com (Adelaide Insurance is sponsoring the trip), about the entire around-the-world trip, which is due to end on June 21st at Grand Central Station in New York. He carries with him Clancy’s original boots and a copy of the around-the-world pennant made for Clancy by a young Irish girl he met on the Atlantic crossing.

And if you happen to be near the Fortwilliam roundabout (junction 1 on the M2 just out of Belfast) at about 10.15am tomorrow, you may escort us on the 10-minute ride to Stena Line’s Belfast to Cairnryan ferry terminal and see us off. It’ll be a blast.