If motorbike enthusiasts needed any excuse to congregate and eulogise about the prospect of the World Superbike Championship visiting these shores, then the NI Motorcycle Festival provided that perfect platform. The new track at Lake Torrent dominated the conversations on stage and off stage. Punters mingled with famous faces, famous machines and displays off all the gear that you would ever need and more.
The crowds that thronged the floors of the Eikon were a visible representation of how popular and all-pervasive motorbikes are in Northern Ireland right now. Jonathan Rea’s recognition in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year has moved motorcycling even further into the mainstream. Plus the production line of fast riders continues with a raft of talent competing on a regular basis on the short circuits in Ireland and in BSB.
The latest showroom fresh bikes lined up alongside vintage machinery from a bygone age. The Honda CR 93 was first produced in the early Sixties and boasted double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. In race trim, the bike unleashed 18bhp and revved all the way to 12,0000 rpm. No need for anti-wheelie or traction control on these little machines, but cornering on those tyres must have been an event!
The interactive nature of the event saw key faces from the world of bikes take to the stage to answer all manner of questions. Peter Hickman, possibly the best all-round superbike rider in the UK right now, talked about the season ahead with Steve Plater.
A live action arena provided a welcome break from the static displays and trade stands. World-renowned Mattie Griffin pulled manoeuvres on a bike that bamboozled the crowd, whilst the Trialstar riders displayed impeccable balance as they overcame every obstacle in their path. But for real elbows out entertainment, it was hard to beat the supermoto squabbles. Greasy tarmac, broken tarmac and a little bit of the loose stuff offered a test to all willing to take up the challenge. This included none other than road racer Lee Johnston, a man not afraid of backing it in.
Big bikes, sports bikes or cruising machines, NI Motorbike Festival covered all bases. And judging by the crowds at the weekend, they’ve hit upon a winning formula.