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Bike racing champion with real Geoff Duke of a legend

By Staff Reporter

Published 05/05/2015

Geoff Duke
Geoff Duke

Bike racing legend Geoff Duke, who has died at the age of 92, was revered throughout the world of motorcycle sport and nowhere more so than in Northern Ireland where his name will forever be woven into day to day conversations, albeit as rhyming slang.

It is a measure of his fame in his 1950s heyday that, over 60 years on, generations unaware of the origins still routinely refer to taking a wee Geoffrey Duke when they mean a look.

The phrase was coined at the peak of his powers when Duke was a household name, admired wherever he raced and, on his visits here, won the hearts of all who flocked to see him and in the process created a road racing gene that remains in the DNA of their descendants to this day.

He won world championship races on the Norton, also synonymous with his name, and three times at the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod in 1950 and 51. In that same year, he also became the first rider to hit a then breathtaking 90mph around the North West 200 circuit on his way to victory in a special two-day meeting to celebrate the Festival of Britain. He could not have imagined then that today's speeds would double that.

His greatest exploits were on the Isle of Man, the sport's spiritual home where the six-time world champion raced to six TT victories in the 1950s. It was there he settled after his racing career ended, founding a shipping business when he retired from the sport in 1959 after 33 grand prix victories.

He was a trendsetter, too, becoming the first rider to compete in one-piece leathers, run up by his local tailor.

Born in St Helens in north-west England, Duke served as a motorcycle despatch rider during World War Two and then took up road racing.

His son Peter is also well known here through his Duke Video motorsport film business and also for another link to the family name with his conception of the Duke Road Racing rankings, the Premier League table of the sport, topped seven times by Dungannon's Ryan Farquhar and also by Michael Dunlop.

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