Tiffani's Yamaha FZ-07 Tour: An Unexpected Stop in Ireland

Chapter 3, Part 12.

After about 11 hours on planes (including falling asleep on our layover and almost missing our connecting flight), we walked out of the Belfast airport to join our good buddy JD and the rest of his crew, Wes and Jay, for the week. JD hails from Mississippi and was definitely as fast as he was crazy, having won the Pike's Peak Hill Climb a few years back—so I guess I can't make fun of Mississippi all the time anymore. Wes and Jay were from Colorado. We left the airport and went straight to Joey Dunlop's bar, which was decorated with all kinds of rider photos and sweet racing memorabilia. I don't even like beer, but for some reason the Guinness just tastes so good here. We made it the rest of the way up to Port Stewart where we'd be staying for the week, and I was already completely in love with Ireland. I had been dying to come here for years, having a healthy amount of Irish in my bloodline, and the first impressions didn't disappoint.

Tiffani Ireland
Working the grid was nonstop hustle, making last minute changes and trying to keep everything in proper order from one practice to the next until our rider was out on track. It’s was kind of funny being chaotic privateers right next to big, finely tuned operations with riders like Guy Martin and John McGuiness.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

Monday was spent going over the bike and rules. Apparently the organizers threaten to regularly test for alcohol consumption, but you’re still allowed to race as long as your BAC isn’t over 0.10! That’s higher than DUI limits in the States. Tuesday was the first day of practice and the week runs one day on, one day off for practice then racing, probably to compensate for the day that will evidently be lost to post-racing hangovers, haha. The North West 200 is nothing like any race I’ve ever been to. Aside from being ungodly fast, with speeds getting as high as a sustained 209 mph (before dropping drastically to a 40-mph tight left-hander), the scope of the crowd was way beyond that of American road races. Thousands of bikers appeared on site, clad head-to-toe in protective gear, and all were hardcore enthusiasts. I found my people! The medics were all on sport bikes in one-piece leather suits for the fastest possible response to incidents on the 9-mile course, and the whole town actually seemed excited to have everything shut down for the riders. I could get used to this atmosphere!

Tiffani Ireland
This might be the sexiest version of scrubs that I’ve ever seen. One of the medics even had an FZ-10!Photo: Tiffani Burkett

Unfortunately, however, practice didn’t go quite as planned. Some issues with the cooling system on JD’s BMW S1000RR had him sidelined and everyone scratching their heads. Wednesday was spent trying to get the cooling system bled properly and the bike running right again, then Thursday was back on the track. Thursday brought similar troubles, so while JD put down enough laps to qualify for the races with a more-than-solid lap time, the bike just didn’t seem fit to race. With a very heavy heart, he decided to call it off and not risk something happening while on the track. However big a commitment it was to get to Ireland in the first place, racing at those speeds on public roads while flying between homes and fences and light poles was way too high-stakes to be out on a bike that lent anything less than 100-percent confidence.

Tiffani Ireland
Shaka, brah! Trying to get the bike running right again after its trip over the ocean proved a bit more difficult than expected. BMWs are complicated. This is why I ride a Yamaha.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

Being resigned to the idea of the bike as unrideable, we spent Friday looking around the area. We hiked down to the Giant’s Causeway, an epic volcanic work of art of perfectly hexagonal columns, and took a drive along the Northern Irish coast. The plush green, yet rocky, sea cliffs more than rivaled the beauty of California’s PCH, and the remains of castles and other medieval structures just gave it something extra special.

Saturday was race day. There was a definite air of disappointment watching each race gridding up, knowing JD should have been in on it, but when bursts of rain and oil got dumped on the road, causing some pretty long delays, it seemed that maybe things worked out how they did for a reason. We watched the races from a couple different turns, including the starting grid, feet away from riders like Alastair Seeley and the Dunlop brothers ripping by at speeds so fast you could barely even make out their colors before they finished blurring down the street (I really feel for the manual scorers). We then watched some of the remaining races in the rider’s lounge to get out of the rain and take advantage of the complimentary milk and cookies (technically “coffee and biscuits” for the adults, but no one would ever accuse me of being an adult).

I just want to reiterate—these guys are insane! Drafting at those speeds, battling neck-and-neck to the bitter end with zero margin for error, lest you end up crashing into someone’s living room and watching your mistakes replay on TV. I think I’ll stick with circuit racing. What an incredible show though!

Tiffani Ireland
I used to think it was crazy just to ride super-fast in the canyons, but this is some kinda next-level crazy!Photo: Tiffani Burkett

We spent our last night with the crew having some laughs and trying to focus on next time before saying goodbye in Belfast. However, our flight didn’t leave for a couple more days, so we rented one of those itty bitty European cars that gets a million miles to the gallon and decided to do some exploring of our own. Seeing how tight and twisty and beautiful the roads were while just exploring around Belfast, I really wish we had had our gear with us and we could have rented bikes! No wonder these guys are such good racers.

We visited the ruins of monasteries and castles, made our way down to Ireland (which I now know is technically a completely different country from Northern Ireland), explored Dublin, then got a room in a bed and breakfast in Wicklow, surrounded by the endless pastures.

Tiffani Ireland
Now this is the kind of vacation shopping I can get behind; there aren’t a whole lot of things I love more than salvage yards. It was like a treasure trove of bikes old and new and common and rare.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

Before we left Cancun, Hollywood had lost his oil filler cap somehow in a moment of distraction, so we figured that this was the perfect opportunity to find a new one. Mexico has a lot of motorcycles, don’t get me wrong, but 99 percent of them are the size of a Chihuahua and half as fast, so finding a part for an FZ-1 was a tall order. We stopped by a motorcycle salvage yard where the shopkeeper’s neighbor, an expat from Detroit, offered us some tea while he called the owner to wake him up from a long night at the pub. Merlin (double points for being named Merlin) had an infectious laugh and fun personality, and was hugely in love with motorcycles, hot rods and traveling. In short, he was basically an Irish version of Hollywood so between the two of them, our 5-minute stop turned into a couple hours of good laughs and motorcycle tales. If there hadn’t been so many other things still to see, we probably would have spent the whole day there!

We topped off our trip by visiting the unrestored ruins of an old castle in Roscommon, which might be the highlight of my entire travelling life! Next we stopped by the oldest pub in all of Europe in the town of Athlone, still standing since 900 AD! We then took backroads back up to Belfast for one last taste of the gorgeous Irish landscape.

Tiffani Ireland
Having been a huge fantasy/RPG nerd my whole life, the medieval castles of Ireland may have been the single most satisfying place I've been since I started living out my own video game.Photo: Tiffani Burkett

Admittedly, getting back on a plane to return to Cancun was one of the hardest things I've had to do in a long time—and not only because the airport security is such a pain. The refreshing 60-degree weather, charming Irish accents, racing-centric atmosphere, passionate riders, cough drinkable tap water cough, and even just being surrounded by people with whom I can converse easily are things I never realized I took for granted. But if my biggest struggle in life is that I have to walk away from one epic trip to get back to another, I guess I can't complain too much!

Tiffani Ireland
No, this isn’t a map of Mexico! If you’re looking at images first and got lost, go back and read the words…Photo: Tiffani Burkett