“It’s not my first choice of places to go” says Garry Davoren, as we talk on the phone, trying to come up with a plan for my one and only day of riding while in Ireland visiting my girlfriend, who has just started medical school in Cork. Gary is referring to Ballyhoura, a mountain bike centre close to Cork, and touted as Ireland’s largest trail centre. Hearing his slight resignation, I become a little wary. The weather forecast sounds positively Irish (rain, rain and more rain) and truthfully, I am pretty shattered from a month of riding in the Alps. I make a half-hearted attempt to back out of the day, but in the end we plan to meet up and go ride Ballyhoura. Gary owns a bike shop near Galway called MBC, and is quite involved with Kona, helping manage their Irish grassroots sponsorship program and hosting events throughout the year. I am traveling without a bike, so Gary sets me up with a Satori for the day.
We meet in Limerick and head out to the trails, rain and mist pelting the window of his van. Motivation levels are not exactly at their highest, but when we arrive at Ballyhoura, we both settle into our roles, Gary as the keen guide showing off his scene, and me as the enthusiastic traveling biker, open to ride in any conditions. As with any ride though, our “roles” are quickly shed with every pedal stroke. We find ourselves halfway through the ride, soaked to the bone and loving every minute of it, reduced simply to two guys who just love riding their bikes. The trails are fun too; purpose built flowy tracks that lace the mountainside. So many trails that it’s possible to link up 100km epics within the Ballyhoura network. We chat, and I hear about the trails that he is building in his area, the mountain bike scene in Cork, where I have been staying, and the revered trails in Northern Ireland and near Dublin. If Ballyhoura wasn’t Gary’s first choice of places to show off Ireland’s riding to me, I wonder what these other locales are like. A great thing about traveling with your bike is discovering a side of a country or culture that only your tribe is privileged to experience, and I am getting that right now. So much to explore in Ireland!
After summiting the top trail in mist and pelting rain we connect up a fun descent back to the car, where we change layers and meet up with Johnny, a Ballyhoura local who rides grassroots Enduro for Kona. He shows us the underbelly of Ballyhoura, the loamy tracks that he has scraped out over the years growing up on the mountain as a bike grom. Shredding down mossy corners in the unrelenting Irish rain, I see another side of the trails, and of my experience here in Ireland. Thoroughly soaked once again, we make our way back to the van. The trail centre offers hot showers and change rooms, and after completely sullying a stall by showering with my whole muddy kit on, Gary fires up the kettle in his van and we enjoy a very civilized cup of tea and Jaffa cakes. We talk about the state of riding in Ireland, enduro racing, new bikes and more. While the day has been full of new experiences, and trails foreign to me, there are comforting similarities to anywhere I ride in the world, and the people I share those rides with. People passionate about a sport and lifestyle, and making it happen right in their backyard.