Community Bike Rides - Member Interview: Jack Watson MBE
We recently caught up with Community Bike Rides member and Irish cycling stalwart Jack Watson MBE for a quick chat about some of his most memorable cycling experiences over the years and his involvement with Community Bike Rides.
Q: You've undoubtedly had a collection of memorable experiences from your extensive involvement in cycling, are there any that stick out?
A: Yes, many memories stick out in my mind. Probably one of the most memorable was walking out into the Arena at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles where I was mechanic to the Irish Cycling Team. Going up St Patrick’s Hill on the first Nissan Classic, in which I was Chief Judge, and hearing the roar of the crowd - which was 6 deep on both sides of the Hill. Passing my International Commissaire’s Course after 2 weeks of study in Colorado Springs, along with Maurice Bann Lavery, the late Ben McKenna and the late Ian Gallagher. The success of a live televised race which I was involved in as the Technical Consultant in Kazakhstan. Being awarded the MBE, for my services to cycling, by the Queen and receiving the award from Prince William in Buckingham Palace. The formation of the Federation of Irish Cyclists (FIC, original name of Cycling Ireland), the first true National Body for Cycling on the Island of Ireland for many decades, in which I was deeply involved. Being in attendance, as a member of Cycling Ireland, when Pat McQuaid was elected as President of the UCI. The list could go on and on.
Q: Have you seen the world of cycling change from when you first got involved when compared to now - how so?
A: The whole concept of coaching and equipment has changed dramatically over my 70 years in cycling. Back in the 50s there was really no scientific approach to training, it was long miles on a Saturday, longer miles on a Sunday and 2 or 3 evenings during the week. Now a large number of our members pay for scientific coaching. There was a couple of standard things done to fix your position on the bike now a lot of riders pay in excess of €100 for a Bike Fit. There were only steel frames back in the days with a 4 or 5 speed block and a double chainset. Now it is carbon fibre with a 12-speed block and gears operated electronically. And we have gone from a woolly pair of shorts and jersey with two pockets on the front, the pockets were affectionately referred to as air brakes, to scientifically designed clothing. And indeed, the times recorded in time trials and the speed at which road races are run off reflects that all these changes do produce results. Away from the competitive side is the number of people who are now members of Cycling Ireland (CI). Prior to the formation of the FIC there were some 2,400 members in the three existing federations. When we came together that jumped to 4,000 and around 2015 the membership almost reached 30,000.
Q: One of your many roles within cycling was as President of the Federation of Irish Cycling (Cycling Ireland), how did you enjoy your time in that role?
A: It was a fantastic five years although I had the problems with my old federation the Northern Ireland Cycling Federation (NICF) always at the back of my mind. A small number of members of the NICF would not accept the FIC as the UCI recognised National Governing Body for Cycling on the Island of Ireland, and a lot of time, money and energy was used to try and get these people to come aboard with politicians involved, costly court cases, nasty press articles but I am glad to say that in the end common sense prevailed and they eventually joined CI. But setting this aside, there were many great days and times. Particularly visiting provinces and clubs give me a great buzz. The purchase of the property in North Circular Road in Dublin under my Presidency was fantastic and I came up with the idea of calling it Kelly / Roche House which was the cherry on the cake. The formal opening was a great occasion with many dignitaries in attendance.
Q: What got you involved in Community Bike Rides - how have you enjoyed it and why?
A: I hadn’t ridden my bike for around 8 years before the onset of Covid and started to go out on my bike but at my age, touching 80 and no cycling for 8 years I found it very difficult. However, purchasing an E-bike quickly reintroduced me to the pleasures of getting a few miles in. However, I still missed the comradeship of group cycling. I was aware from my last year on the Board of CI that sponsorship had been obtained from an insurance company for non-competitive use, so I quickly found details of the Community Bike Rides and got involved. That was 3 years ago, and I have never looked back. The crack is mighty and the runs are of a duration and speed that an 80+ year old can still enjoy his cycling. The coffee and scones help to get to know everyone much better. I found it amazing that on our particular run the ages are generally in the mid-50s to mid-60s and the general view is that they are sorry that they did not discover cycling at an earlier age.
Q: Where would you like to see Irish cycling in 20 years?
A: I would dearly love to see the velodrome completed and used extensively and successfully. In my 30 years on the Board, it was always in the background as to when Ireland is going to have a track. And although it was nearly there a few times it always got knocked back. Now it is closer than it has ever been. Not sure if I will see it in my time but it can still be a wish. Under Pat McQuaid Ireland nearly had the World Road Championships a number of years back hopefully we can find another entrepreneur to make this happen. A return of an event like the Nissan Classic which drew all the top professionals to our shores would be nice to see in the next 20 years. An Irish backed professional UCI Team would be amazing, but I think that this is too much to hope for even in 20 years.