Geoff puts brake on biking travels

Geoff at the Colosseum
Geoff at the Colosseum

An Ulster travel author says now may be the time to call it a day after completing a round-the-world motorcycle trip.

Geoff Hill, 57, from north Belfast, returned late last month from circumnavigating the globe – and it could be the last big adventure he undertakes.

The former News Letter features editor, now a freelance writer, had been following in the tyre tracks of Carl Stearns Clancy, an Irish-American who, it is said, was the first man to take a motorbike on a round-the-world journey.

It comes after a biking trip from Delhi to Belfast, another across the Americas, and more – adventures that have been made into books.

Asked if he plans any more such excursions in future, Geoff said: “Well, never say never, but it’s difficult to know how to top going around the world, except maybe a Vespa to Mars ... (But) yes, I think it’s safe to say it’s probably the last big one.”

However, he added: “Mind you, I said that about the last two as well.”

Joining him on the trip was former racer Gary Walker.

The idea had first been raised with him about three-and-a-half years ago by a Dublin biking enthusiast called Feargal O’Neill, who had written to him about Clancy’s epic trek as its 100th anniversary approached.

And in late March Geoff set off to recreate the round-the-world trip, following Mr Clancy’s route as closely as possible – through Europe, north Africa, Sri Lanka and parts of east Asia, before tackling the USA.

Mr Clancy had been forced to skip out a large chunk of Asia, and they did the same. But while Clancy had sailed, they flew. And although air travel would occupy much of the route, Geoff said about 12,500 miles were covered by the pair on the road.

However, when the time came for them to leave Ulster, it was right in the midst of the Big Freeze – and he said one of the hardest parts of the whole journey was simply trying to leave Northern Ireland.

“It looked actually as if we weren’t going to get away at all,” he said. “We eventually did – a day late.”

And, to add an additional twist to the already unusual plans, he decided to bring the dead rider’s boots with him in the luggage.

A former neighbour of Clancy’s, who had been entrusted with the boots, sent them by post.

“I just came up with this mad idea of taking them around the world a second time,” said Mr Hill.

“And I must say, when they arrived from Australia and I opened the box and saw these boots that had been around the world 100 years ago, it was incredibly emotional,” said Geoff.

“Just to look at them and think ‘100 years ago someone rode around the world in these’. Maybe it’s a biker thing.”

Asked what his wife Cate thought about his global gallivanting, he said: “She is very tolerant.

“But it is a lot to ask of a wife. I do appreciate it – I hugely appreciate it.”

Major changes in century since the first epic trip

There are some interesting contrasts between the two trips, that took place close to 100 years apart.

In 1912 Carl Stearns Clancy (USA, aged 22) set off with Walter Storey (USA, 31), but Mr Storey pulled out by the time they reached Paris.

Mr Clancy rode a 1912 Henderson, with a top speed of 65mph. The trip took roughly 11 months.

Come 2013 and Geoff Hill (Belfast, 57) and Gary Walker (Belfast, 50) rode on BMW R1200GS bikes, with an estimated top speed of around 130mph.

Their trip took about three months.

The trip was called the CS Clancy Centenary Ride.

It was sponsored by Adelaide Insurance – while BMW provided the bikes. They arrived back in Northern Ireland on June 25. Among the many points taken in on the trip were Rome, Tunisia, Nagasaki and Shanghai.

A book by former News Letter journalist Geoff based on the journey, called In Clancy’s Boots, is set to be published in October.