It takes a different breed of sportsperson to place all your trust in just two wheels and the ability to keep them under your control at speeds up to 170 mph. A totally unique band of people altogether.
If it is accelerating to full throttle on straight at the ‘World’s Ultimate Road Race’, as the Isle of Man TT proclaims itself, or swinging around Metropole corner at the North West 200 – it takes something extra special.
On first impression, sipping on a pint of ice-cold orange cordial, Adam McLean is the epitome of relaxation. Seated in Garvagh’s Vines Restaurant, he is unassuming – almost fading into the surroundings.
But the 22-year-old Tobermore man is anything but insignificant. One of the brightest prospects in the world of motorsport, McLean is getting primed for the defining period of his season.
This week takes him to the to the North Coast, to the NW200 where he finished fourth last year, on his debut season, in the Supersport Race and fifth in the Supertwin Race.
At the end of the month, he will head back to the Isle of Man TT, the pinnacle of motorbike racing, an event McLean described as ‘one of the hardest sporting events’ on the planet.
On his first attempt in 2017, he registered the fifth fastest lap ever by a newcomer on a 600 at the famous 37-mile-long circuit.
And he has no intention of stopping.
McLean is a bricklayer by trade, but the 6.30am starts and 12 hour days just didn’t fit in with his racing schedule. He took a change of direction and he is now a salesman for Roy Hanna Motors, who supply his Superbike. McLean credits Hanna for the development of his career.
As well as that, Adam signed for a new team this season - McAdoo Kawaski – who have provided a brand new ZX-10 for the season.
It was always motorbikes for McLean – right from the start. His early years were spent at primary school in Kilcronaghan, just outside Tobermore. From there, a left turn and up Duntibyran Road and eventually onto Rectory Road takes you to Desertmartin Motocross track.
“We would have been up at it,” McLean recalls of his childhood. “From I was three or four, I had a quad and scramblers and stuff like that.”
From there, he branched into MiniMotos and into 125s (cc) and onto the Short Circuit scheme at 12 years of age.
“I wasn’t bothered about football or any other sports – bikes were all I was interested in,” he adds.
It doesn’t come cheap. A weekend at the British Superbikes can cost anything up to ‘a couple of grand’ and McLean recalls coming back from England and barely able to put food on the table. Everything went into bikes.
It began in 2013, a season that saw a lot of money spent for precious little in return.
“Then I gathered myself together and bought my own Supertwin the following year,” McLean states.
He bought it and built it himself, with very little change out of £12,000.
“Compared to the stuff I am on now, that’s buttons,” McLean adds.
McAdoo supply a Superbike, at around the 30 grand mark, with Roy Hanna equipping him with a 25 grand Supertwin machine.
“All three of my bikes would cost (combined) around £80,000. Luckily enough now I have a lot of good sponsors and the team.”
Isle of Man legend Joey Dunlop, despite making it in the big time, did all his own servicing. If Joey tightened something on the bike, he knew it was tight. It brought a confidence that everything was done to perfection.
“I wouldn’t trust myself,” McLean jokes. “The boys I have around me now, the mechanics, I have a lot of faith in them. I trust them and they are second to none at their job. But you wouldn’t let anybody near them (the bikes) or anybody who thought they knew what they were doing.”
After months of preparation, the NW200 will bounce into action today. The circuit will be closed for official practice.
Directing the bike in and out of corners has the physical demands. The five mornings a week with a personal trainer has McLean in tip top shape.
During our conversation, McLean speaks of the unrelenting level of concentration needed on the bike. Spilt second decisions demand total focus. After a session on the bike, his mind is a mess. To the point where you can barely conduct a conversation, until he zones out.
“It is like any other race. There is a mass start and when you set off there are 40 other riders,” McLean explains of the congested environment, with everyone jockeying for position.
Getting the bikes in tandem is another element of the preparation.
“We struggled with the big bike with the setup and stability. The 600 is working well, we have it well dialled in. We were away testing it in Spain in March. We did the BSB in Brands Hatch, we had the Cookstown 100 and we had Tandragee.
“The Supertwin, we didn’t do all that much testing. With a brand-new bike, you always have teething problems and things that aren’t right. We had one day testing in Cookstown and broke the lap record.
“We had a win there. At Tandragee, I finished second to Derek Magee and broke the lap record there too.”
A year more experienced, going into this year’s North West and with a new team around him, McLean admits he is better prepared.
Setting targets after last year’s impressive record is difficult, as McLean explains.
“If you go and luck is not on your side on the day. You could come home with two 10th places because the North West is so hard to be at the front.
“Last year I was fourth (Supersport) and fifth (Supertwin), so there isn’t much room for bettering that. It is not as if you were 20th and were wanting to scrape into the top 15,” McLean adds.
“It is very hard to better it. I could go this year and ride better than last year and on the day five or six other boys could ride better last year. It is very, very hard to predict.”
The 2017 NW200 was ‘up there’ among McLean’s highlights in a growing list of achievements. After this week, the Isle of Man and the Ulster Grand Prix in Dundrod are etched in his calendar.
McLean has come a long way in a short career – one that has saw him become the youngest ever rider to win a national road race.
Motorsport was always going to figure prominently in his life, even though his mother (Claire) didn’t approve at the start.
“My mum found out I had an entry for the Cookstown 100 and she went clean mad,” Adam recalls, telling her it was the only one he was interested in as it was a local race.
He hasn’t stopped since and this Thursday his familiar number 56 will feature on the starting grid.
The ocean will hug the picturesque North Coast, which will be engulfed with motorsport enthusiasts from every corner of the land. All there to witness the buzz, smell of burning rubber mixed with a cocktail of adrenaline.
Adam McLean won’t notice. There is too much at stake. He has a job to do. Keeping those two wheels under control on the latest instalment of his dreams. It’s all about the bike.
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