Belfast Telegraph

North West 200: Sun, leather, revving engines... it must be race week

Tens of thousands lap up spectacle that is the legendary NW200

A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
A convoy of hundreds of bikers ride off Stena Superfast VIII at the Belfast Port to make their way to the International North West 200
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The sun is shining, there is a smell of burning rubber and barbecue cooking in the air and the roar of engines is drowning out the roar of the waves. It means only one thing - the North West 200 has officially started.

Celebrating its 90th anniversary, one of the world's best-known international road races draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the stunning Causeway Coast for the week-long celebration of motorbikes, incorporating seven days of music, food and drink, culture, entertainment and, of course, racing.

During NW200 week Portstewart's sun-soaked promenade takes on an air of the likes of Monaco.

While the faint hum of engines is carried on the wind from the race track to the shore, enthusiasts mill around the rows of shimmering bikes parked up on the seafront.

LIVE: Hundreds of bikers arrive into Belfast for the NW200

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, May 16, 2019

There is a queue of leather-clad bikers in Morelli's Ice Cream shop in the town, spilling out onto the street. The men, dressed in black leather trousers, boots and thick padded jackets, are seemingly immune to the heat.

Cathy Jamieson, supervisor at Morelli's, said the bikers cannot get enough of her delicious wares.

"The bikers love the vanilla and the honeycomb ice cream," she said.

"They are plain and simple fellas. We have got extra supplies in for this week.

"We can't afford to be running out of ice cream. And we have brought in extra staff. It's a great week for business.

"There is always a big influx of ice cream-loving bikers here on NW200 week.

Cathy Jamieson, Ellen Morelli and Ashley Greenlaw
Cathy Jamieson, Ellen Morelli and Ashley Greenlaw
Portstewart butcher Peter Osborne
Coastguard members, Ian Howard, Alistair Simpson, Mark Connolly and Derek Thorpe
Stephanie Boyd Rodger with son Tyler, partner Andrew and baby Paisley
Racer Patricia Fernandez at the practice session
Racer John McGuinness at the practice session
Atmosphere: Paul Greer
Becky McGuinness, wife of racer John McGuinness; Faye Ho, Michael Rutter’s partner, and Jill McWilliams, wife of Jeremy McWilliams
Bike Fans arrive in Belfast on the Stena Line for the North West 200 races this week

Often-times they will be queuing out the door - and they love our Biker's Breakfast too.

"On the Saturday morning they are all in here for their fries and then back again on Sunday morning for the same - for the cure - if they've had a busy Saturday night.

"There's always a brilliant atmosphere here, especially on Friday night with the fireworks. It brings a lot of people to the town. We are serving people from England and Scotland and further afield. It's great to see."

LIVE: Walkthrough the NW200

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, May 16, 2019

Standing in the queue is Fred Craig from Castledawson, who has come for the week with his wife Wendy.

He said attending the road race is something he enjoys.

"I've come down here every year for the past 40 years," he said. "I have brought my three children down here too for years. I come down to watch the bikes.

"Our nephew Paul Jordan races in the NW200, so it really is a family tradition.

"I love the atmosphere in the town. I love the adrenaline and the roar of the engines. We wouldn't miss it."

Up the street in Osborne's Family Butchers, owner Peter Osborne is slaving away in his kitchen, making hundreds of sausages and burgers in preparation for this week's influx of hungry biker barbecue enthusiasts.

PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019
Peter Hickman (60) celebrates his victory during this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. 2nd Glenn Irwin 3rd Michael Dunlop
Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Peter Hickman (60) celebrates his victory during this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. 2nd Glenn Irwin 3rd Michael Dunlop Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 MCL Insuretech Supertwin Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Derek McGee (KMR Kawasaki) with Jeremy McWilliams (KMR Kawasaki) in close proximity at Ballysally Roundabout during today's MCL Insuretech Supertwin Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
16/05/19 Pacemaker Press Intl/Rod Neill: Peter Hickman (Smiths BMW) on his way to victory in the Superstock race at NW2019. Photo: Rod Neill
16/05/19 Pacemaker Press Intl/Rod Neill: Peter Hickman (Smiths BMW) on his way to victory in the Superstock race at NW2019. Photo: Rod Neill
16/05/19 Pacemaker Press Intl/Rod Neill: Michael Dunlop (MD Racing) battled his way to third place in the Superstock race. Photo: Rod Neill
16/05/19 Pacemaker Press Intl/Rod Neill: Glenn Irwin (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) took second place in Superstock race at NW200. Photo: Rod Neill
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW) leading Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Racing Kawasaki) and Glenn Irwin (Quattro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Ian Hutchinson (Honda Racing) heads Michael Rutter (Bathams Racing BMW) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 James Hillier (Quattro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki) heads Lee Johnston (Ashcourt Racing BMW) and Ian Hutchinson (Honda Racing) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW) leads at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Glenn Irwin (Quattro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki) follows Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Racing Kawasaki) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 James Hillier (Quattro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki) heads Michael Dunlop (MD Racing BMW) and Ian Hutchinson (Honda Racing) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Lee Johnston (Ashcourt Racing BMW) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 Bayview Hotel Superstock Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Michael Dunlop (MD Racing BMW) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's Bayview Hotel Superstock Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Peter Hickman (60) celebrates his victory during this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Michael Dunlop with plenty on his mind after his 3rd place finish in this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Peter Hickman (60) celebrates his victory during this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Michael Dunlop with plenty on his mind after his 3rd place finish in this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Michael Dunlop with plenty on his mind after his 3rd place finish in this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Peter Hickman (60) celebrates his victory during this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Peter Hickman (60) celebrates his victory during this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 Peter Hickman (60) celebrates his victory during this evenings Bayview Hotel Superstock race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
16/05/19 Pacemaker Press Intl/Rod Neill: Jeremy McWilliams was an early leader in the Supertwins race at NW200. Photo: Rod Neill
16/05/19 Pacemaker Press Intl/Rod Neill: Close racing between KMR teammates Derek McGee and Michael Rutter. Photo: Rod Neill
16/05/19 Pacemaker Press Intl/Rod Neill: Stefano Bonetti from Italy took the honours from Jamie Coward in the Supertwin race. Photo: Rod Neill
16/05/19 Pacemaker Press Intl/Rod Neill: Stefano Bonetti from Italy took the honours from Jamie Coward in the Supertwin race. Photo: Rod Neill
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 The first ever Italian winner Stefano Bonetti celebrates winning after this evenings MCL Insuretech Supertwin race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 The first ever Italian winner Stefano Bonetti celebrates winning after this evenings MCL Insuretech Supertwin race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 MCL Insuretech Supertwin Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Jamie Coward (KTS Racing Kawasaki) leads Derek McGee (KMR Kawasaki) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's MCL Insuretech Supertwin Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 MCL Insuretech Supertwin Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Jamie Coward (KTS Racing Kawasaki) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's MCL Insuretech Supertwin Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 16-5-19 MCL Insuretech Supertwin Race - Fona Cab International NW200 Stefano Bonetti (VAS Engine Racing Paton) leads the pack followed by Jeremy McWilliams (KMR Kawasaki) and Derek McGee (KMR Kawasaki) at Ballysally Roundabout during today's MCL Insuretech Supertwin Race at the Fona Cab International NW200 in Co Antrim. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 The first ever Italian winner Stefano Bonetti celebrates winning after this evenings MCL Insuretech Supertwin race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 The first ever Italian winner Stefano Bonetti celebrates winning after this evenings MCL Insuretech Supertwin race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 16/05/2019 The first ever Italian winner Stefano Bonetti celebrates winning after this evenings MCL Insuretech Supertwin race at the North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

"It is hectic at this time of year and it is very much weather-orientated," he said.

"You can have a really good barbecue day, but if the weather turns it can all stop. So you are guessing the entire time. But usually it's a very, very good week for everyone.

"I am currently making hundreds of hamburgers and maybe hundreds of pounds worth of gluten-free sausages.

"It is very labour-intensive. There are a team of people in here working away steady all day to get everything ready.

"But it's good. Everyone is in good form.

"The bikers bring a lovely crowd with them. It is a really family-orientated event.

"And it's always good for business. Last year I sold thousands and thousands of burgers.

"Bikers absolutely love the meaty ribs and lots of kebabs. I find that people, when they are barbecuing, they want to keep it simple: burgers, sausages and ribs just fly out the door.

"We open from 7am to 5.30pm on Saturday. Going by previous years, by the time we reach 5.30pm on Saturday we are all absolutely exhausted. It is a really busy time of year, but it's a fantastic week. I never get up to see the bikes, unfortunately, I'm too busy here making burgers."

Over at Portstewart Golf Club people are sitting along the greens, soaking up the sun and watching the practice races.

Spectator Jeff Brown rode from Bangor to attend the NW200 with his friend Dean Allen from Limavady.

"I came down especially for the NW200 this week," he said.

"We are staying in a caravan.

"I've been coming here since 1971.

"I love the buzz, the excitement and the craic.

"The social side of it is really good also.

"I ride a Harley-Davidson myself.

"I love the whole show. It's a whole week's festival. There's a show up in the pits for the kids, and the racing is fantastic. I love everything about it.

"As long as we get good weather and no one is injured, that really makes the week."

Heather McCubbin from Portstewart, who is watching the practices with her husband Andrew, said attending the road race is a tradition.

"I started coming to watch the motorbikes 40 years ago with my father," she explained.

"It is really a family tradition.

"I just love the buzz of it all, the sound of the bikes and the smell and the atmosphere.

"It reminds me of being a teenager.

"I always took photographs of it every year. My dad took photographs as well, he used to bring a cine camera and take footage.

"It's like a festival atmosphere here during the week.

"There would be a lot of families around.

"The weather is absolutely fabulous this week. We hope that all the riders have a safe week."

And racing in also in the blood of the Rodger family from Ballymoney.

Andrew Rodger and his partner Stephanie were there with said their two children Tyler and Paisley.

"We come to see the NW200 every year," Andrew said. "We bring the whole family. It is my daughter Paisley's first year.

"We are very much a racing family. Our son Tyler and daughter will grow up with this too."

However, for Andrew this year's visit is tinged with sadness after the death of William Dunlop, who was killed during practice at the Skerries 100 road races in Co Dublin last July.

Andrew added: "Coming from Ballymoney, biking is sort of bred into us. I went to school with Michael and William Dunlop. It's not nice this year without William. It's very poignant. He is sorely missed.

"We come here every year to support the Ballymoney men. We are Ballymoney through and through and the racers become idols to us.

"It's the danger that attracts me and the fact that I know a lot of the boys who are racing. Them flying by the brick walls and the stone houses, it's always there.

"You don't want to see anyone get hurt, but the racing gives you that adrenaline rush.

"When the weather is like this, with the sun shining, and there's the roar of the bikes, there is no better place to be."

Also watching from the sidelines is biker Paul Greer, who rode in from Bushmills.

"I come here every year, I enjoy the bikes," he explained. "I'm into the bikes in a big way. I ride a bike myself, I've a ZX-10, a sports bike.

"I come here every year for the speed. There's a brilliant buzz, a fantastic atmosphere. The nightlife is really good. You get such a buzz out of racing, from the speed and the danger that is in it as well. It's just an adrenaline buzz, we are all adrenaline junkies."

And the good weather and the excitement brings the crowds to the area.

Keeping a watch over everything is Alistair Simpson from Castlerock, who is part of the HM Coastguard's Coleraine Rescue Team.

"We are part of the emergency services response team in the NW200," he said.

"The specific role for the Coastguard is guarding along the cliffs between Portrush and Portstewart.

"We are based in Ballyreagh Golf Course, we have a rope rescue team there.

"We have had incidents in the past where people have unfortunately fallen over cliffs, just with the sheer number of people around and, of course, with alcohol involved we have had the odd incident.

"Over the years we have had incidents where people have fallen on rocks and extraction can be a bit tricky.

"A few years ago we had a serious incident where a young fella fell from the cliffs. Thankfully he survived, but he was very seriously injured.

"Should there be a serious incident and they require a rescue helicopter to come in, we would take charge of landing that and helping to evacuate any casualties.

"We are parked right at the end of the course there and we love to see the bikes going past. We are all enthusiasts as well as working at it."

  • For more information on the North West 200 and race times, log on to www.northwest200.org

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