WHAT is it about boys and their toys?
Like father, like son; Bunny and Cian O’Riordan loved everything about their motorbikes. They loved revving them, hearing the roar of the engine, and heading out on the open road. They loved the pungent smell of engine oil and the feel of leather. The mighty machines gave them heart and gave them soul.
“Like me, Cian was a real motorbike enthusiast, and he loved his sports,” says Bunny.
After the death of his beloved son, Bunny initiated the Midleton Bike Project, out of a desire to bring the community together, creating a feeling of empowerment, and uplifting people, in a non-judgemental environment.
“We can talk through bikes,” says Bunny, from Little Island, living in Midleton. “The bikes are the catalyst.”
He and Cian bonded through their love and passion for motorbikes. Working together side by side late into the night, swapping tools, swapping ideas, watching their bikes being lovingly restored: they were the dream team.
“Since I was a kid, I just loved motorbikes,” says Bunny. “Back then, I never had the money to be in a position to own one.”
When he did eventually ride one, it fuelled his passion more than ever.
“I remember my very first experience driving a motorbike,” says Bunny. “It was a 1981 Yamaha 250 LC. All the kids who had money drove these bikes. They all had them.”
Bunny was king of the road.
“I cruised along on that Yamaha smiling from ear to ear. It was a wonderful feeling.”
He had found his calling, and then had a willing companion to accompany him, helping to restore and upgrade motorbikes to their former glory.
“As my finances improved, I could get stuck into doing up and restoring motorbikes. It became a keen hobby for me,” says Bunny.
“Cian and I scanned Ebay for motorbikes and parts, mainly in the UK. We found a great bike. Again, it was a Yamaha 250. She was a genuine bike with low mileage. We were really excited.
“Cian and I headed to Newcastle in the UK to pick up the bike. It was winter and it was very cold so we couldn’t drive the motorbike home to Cork. I bought a van down south and we loaded up the Yamaha to bring her home. We clocked up 1,000 miles over a 24-hour period.”
The two motorbike enthusiasts also clocked up precious bonding time on their adventure.
“We had great fun and we really bonded during the journey.”
Life has a habit of getting in the way of the best laid plans. When Bunny’s marriage broke down, his bikes took a back seat and they went into storage.
“The bikes weren‘t the main focus,” says Bunny.
He focused on his son.
“In the early stages of 2009, Cian lost two of his best friends to suicide,” says Bunny. “It was a bad time for everyone and Cian was in a raw place.”
Bunny wanted to restore the smile to Cian’s face, the smile he knew so well.
The Yamaha was the way to go.
“I decided to give him a spin on the bike,” says Bunny. “I got it running and Cian was thrilled. He was 17 and a half.”
“Cian was in pain,” says Bunny. But driving the bike, something amazing happened.
“I saw that smile on his face, the smile from ear to ear,” says Bunny. “It was infectious.
“I identified with that very same smile. It was the same smile I had on my face the day I drove a motorbike for the first time when I was a young lad. It was amazing.”
The men could be in a happy place again.
“I told Cian that I’d give him the Yamaha for his 18th birthday,” says Bunny. “He was really happy.” But, sadly, tragedy was to intervene. Later that year, Cian died by suicide.
“It was like a grenade was thrown into the family,” says Bunny.
“Everything fades into the background; work, life. It is absolutely horrendous. Nobody escapes. It is just a matter of survival, base survival.”
And there were constant reminders of Cian, and of the smile he wore from ear to ear when he was king of the road. The Yamaha 250, the machine that connected father and son, had an important journey to make.
“I kept my promise,” says Bunny. “I brought the motorbike to the graveyard on his 18th birthday. I said to Cian, ‘Here is the bike’.”
Bunny had lost his beloved son and admits: “I had no heart. I had no interest in anything. The bikes meant nothing.”
The Yamaha 250 that had meant so much to Bunny and Cian lost its meaning and its purpose.
“I brought it into the apartment out of the weather,” says Bunny. “It became a clothes hanger upstairs for the best part of five years.”
But gradually the motorbike and its owner began to get their mojo back.
“I began to do up the apartment, tidying it all, and I took the bike out,” says Bunny.
Like the smile on his son’s face, the bike that was destined for Cian triggered good vibes for Bunny. The Yamaha 250 could breathe life into Bunny again, giving him a new lease of life. And it could help others experiencing difficulty in their lives to do the same.
“I got chatting to some lads I knew,” says Bunny.
“I worked in the Haven Café in Cork for a period of time, and the owner offered us a space in Shandon Street. Our first project, the core project, was Cian’s bike, the complete restoration of it.”
The magic bonding process began among the men, who toiled amid oil fumes and grease, stripping the bike, putting it all back together again. The project created a connection between them; a unique camaraderie and kinship. They owned the project and they had to name it.
“Ultimately, I wanted to bring the project to Midleton, our own locality, creating the same pattern of enthusiasm and desire in the community that the group of us had experienced working together,” says Bunny.
“We want to promote wellbeing for men and women, to embrace everybody and to connect with people in a safe environment who may have difficulty in their lives. That is the main objective. People matter.
“The bikes are the catalyst. We can talk through bikes, encouraging people to do the very best for themselves.
“The essence is to provide a sense of purpose and understanding for anyone who wants to have a chat to figure things out.
“I have seen the benefits of it. We want to encourage people to get involved. They don’t have to be bike enthusiasts or know about bikes. Everyone is welcome.”
The Bike Project was very well received in Midleton.
Bunny laughs when I tell him I thought Santa had made an early visit to Market Green.
“People were just amazed seeing the bikes we had restored,” he says.
“They were really interested in the project and very supportive of it. The goodwill in the community is great. Donations, engine parts, and even motorbikes are coming our way.
“We are fund-raising for our own premises in Midleton and that is going well. On November 22, we have an event in Mollys Bar, Midleton, with a disco and finger food.”
There’s another carrot.
“We’re raffling a Vespa scooter, €20 a ticket, selling only 200 tickets,” says Bunny.
The motorbikes are doing the rounds.
“We’ll be bringing them to motorbike shows to show people now that we have built a modified trailer!”
Cian’s bike has pride of place.
“We’re very proud of the Yamaha,” says Bunny. “We did that together, people who were skilled and unskilled. It was a joint effort. Everybody was dedicated. It gives us a great sense of pride.”
Cian’s bike and the other motorbikes lovingly restored by the close-knit group symbolise that what is lost can be found again. It’s like re-inventing the wheel.
“Breathing back life into something is so worthwhile,” says Bunny.
“You know it never leaves you,” he adds, speaking about the tragic loss of Cian 10 years ago.
“But if you can make a real connection with real people, then that is worthwhile.”
Midleton Bike Project. Call 085-1146407.
Facebook: Midleton Bike Project.