Hard Roads

Road-racing lensman Stephen Davison talks about his new book, Hard Roads, and his passion for the fast and furious

Road racing is a sport that takes man and machine to extremes. It is probably the most dangerous sport in the world, held on tough roads that demand everything from those that race upon them.

Photographer and writer Stephen Davison knows more than most about the thrills and the trails of road racing. Acknowledged as the sport’s number one lensman, Davison has followed up his previous books Joey Dunlop: King of the Roads, Ragged Edge and Beautiful Danger with Hard Roads, a book exploring the roads around the world on which races takes place.

Speaking on the eve of the launch of Hard Roads, Davison explains his fascination with road racing. ‘What they do I can’t really imagine – and that’s what fascinates me. To ride at the speed that they ride, in the races they race, is totally beyond my comprehension, beyond that of any sane person. They are able to block things out, they are able to ride in the face of what for anyone else would be insurmountable fear.’

Davison’s interest in photography grew from his obsession with road racing. ‘I started watching races, then I bought a camera to photograph them, to try and capture some of what makes them so special – which is that proximity of the rider to the spectator. That proximity to speed is incredible. You are little more than a couple of feet away from a motorbike at 150 mph. It literally takes your breath away – and covers you in stones!’

It may be enthralling, but road racing is also a potentially perilous business for every competitor. The deaths of great names such as Martin Dunlop have grabbed front page headlines, and in the time between Beautiful Danger and Hard Roads Davison endured the deaths of John Donnan, Martin Lindsay and Richard Britton.

‘You build up a relationship with the guys you’re photographing. So say in 15 or 20 years time you could be sitting around reminiscing over a few pints, well in this sport you won’t get much chance to do that. You end up looking at a lot of grief sometimes. I don’t shy away from that.’ 

In Hard Roads, Davison follows a season on the roads - from the tiny lanes of Cookstown in County Tyrone at the season’s start to the exotic city streets of Chinese Macau at the year’s end. At every juncture he captures both the highs and lows of this most exciting and unpredictable of sports.

‘Road racing is not a controlled environment. Anything can happen and sometimes things can go wrong. So there are crashes there (in the book). There is death there,’ he explains. 

Davison has experienced road racing from every

conceivable angle and is still entralled by the sport, which he sees as playing a positive role in the lives of many across the country.

‘It’s a unique part of Irish culture. It’s the centre of road racing in the world, and it’s a unique part of the social fabric here. It’s entirely dependent of volunteers – and what an anachronism that is in this day and age.’ 

Hard Roads is available now, published by Blackstaff Press.

Peter Geoghegan