Comment: Bikers hit back at call for North West 200 ban

A huge crowd turned out on the north coast to watch the action at the Vauxhall International North West 200 this year.
A huge crowd turned out on the north coast to watch the action at the Vauxhall International North West 200 this year.

While motorbike enthusiasts and racers across Northern Ireland mourn the loss of 31 year old Worcestershire sportsman Simon Andrews they remember their local heroes also tragically killed in the sport over the years.

However, what consumes their thoughts - and indeed their social networking activity - is the seemingly insensitive comments by local writer Fionola Meredith published in the Belfast Telegraph on May 16.

In her article Ms Meredith launches a sarcastic and scathing attack on motorcycle racing as a sport, branding it “madly dangerous” and claiming “men in leathers, with more adrenaline than sense, are propelling themselves at unfeasible speeds round the tightest of bends”.

Her desperate attempt to make herself look like a feminist would call into question her real ideals - maybe having a fanatical feminist viewpoint makes for good opinion columns? Who knows what her motives were in writing this but I personally doubt it had anything to do with the “feminism fight”.

On top of this Ms Meredith questions the event’s eligibility for government funding and asks why the Northern Ireland Tourist Board would endorse the annual sports event now in its 85th year.

Is she asking for the government not to fund anything that could potentially be dangerous? What point is she trying to make?

Ms Meredith drew her sword and plunged deep into the heart of the biking world.

She claimed that riders who died during the sport were: “One more name on an ever-increasing list, to be remembered and venerated as a brave hero, who died doing the thing he loved.”

Ms Meredith went on to say these sports stars were not heroes and in her most insulting line stated: “I certainly wouldn’t call these bikers heroes. That’s all part of the macho mythology which keeps this deadly race going, year after year. Glorified sensation-seekers would be a more accurate term.”

Bill O’Hara an avid road race fan, race marshal, biker and volunteer with the Joey Dunlop Foundation, summed up the general feeling in the biking community.

He said: “Not only did it [the column] show disrespect to two riders at the time who were critically ill, but it rubbed salt in the wounds of people who have lost family and friends to the sport.

“It is clearly obvious that her report was based on nothing only an hour or so spent on Google.”

Another racing fan pointed out the Ms Meredith seemed to enjoy the Giro d’Italia but neglected to mention that 11 professional cyclists have been killed in the sport in the last four years.

Meanwhile racer Jerry Coleman pointed out: “When all the Sherpas were killed a few weeks back going up Everest it was a sad event but no one called for climbing to be banned.

“When a number of jockeys are killed or left paralysed from the neck down, no one called for horse racing to be banned.

“When so many people are killed on our road in car accidents every year, no one calls for driving to be banned.

“I know the dangers as does every other rider.”

Throughout the article Ms Meredith uses her feminist ideals to find ways in which to insult the riders, the sport and those who support it.

She even manages to insult rider John McGuinness, calling him “reckless” because his children give him inspiration to push himself to do better in the sport.

Would she feel the same about my stepfather who works in a dangerous job on North Sea oil rigs, or would she have called for my mother to leave her job because she was a long-time feminist campaigner who was threatened numerous times over the years for standing up against paramilitaries and criminals who were protecting rapists and abusers?

Many in the biking community are asking does Ms Meredith expect those who work in dangerous jobs to give them up because they have children?

To top off her ill-thought out commentary Ms Meredith insipidly writes: “One of the worst aspects of road racing is the pant-wetting male sports journalists and enthusiasts who cluster round the swaggering bikers like teenage girls at a One Direction concert, only it’s not knickers, but admiring words that they throw at their love objects.”

Let’s not forget the un-named onlooker she quotes while asking another feminist-fuelled question: “When are we going to learn that deliberately dicing with death doesn’t make you more of a man?”

Of course Ms Meredith admits to knowing nothing about the sport, she’s never even seen a race or spoken to a racer it would seem.

She managed to forget that the sport, whilst male-dominated, is not exclusively male orientated and has - as a result of her so-called feminism - insulted many women riders and supporters throughout the biking community.

What Ms Meredith doesn’t know, because she never took the time to find out, is that the motorbike community are a fiercely loyal and closely knit group of people and they aren’t a minority. With somewhere in excess of 30-40 bike clubs in Northern Ireland alone each averaging hundreds of bikers, and the North West 200 attracting an approximated 100,000 people it would seem she is very much within a minority viewpoint.

As one biker said furiously on a social networking site “you cut one, you cut us all”.

This is not an exaggeration. At the time of writing this my own opinion on Ms Meredith’s column had already clocked up 376 likes, 51 shares and 130 comments in just 16 hours on my own profile.

At no point have the biking community said Ms Meredith did not have the right to express concern about the sport being dangerous. However, they feel that not only are the families of those who tragically died owed an apology but she should acknowledge her column was not written out of concern but rather to provoke reaction by insulting and hurting one of Northern Ireland’s biggest communities.

A bike club member stated: “These guys are committed athletes who are promoting our country in a good way for a change.”

Motorcycle Action Group member and bike enthusiast Ian Hamilton added: “ I am disgusted at this uninformed and dangerously opinionated woman, Meredith, is this how she writes all her articles?

“ She knows nothing about the subject matter, makes no attempt to find out about it, doesn’t visit the event, yet feels she has the right to push her opinion, trampling all over the courageous souls who have lost their lives and sticking two fingers up at the families and friends of them as well.

“Who gave her the notion that she was the moral crusader that we all needed to save us from ourselves?”

As someone who has reason to thank the Northern Ireland biking community for their support in the past it’s fair to say that Fionola Meredith neither speaks for me as a non-biker, nor as a woman. Her article is ill-informed and insensitive.