Not everyone grows up next door to a plumber who drives a motorbike with a side car which carries a coffin containing his tools. With such an entertaining neighbour, its no wonder Ray Beech developed a passion for motorbikes at a young age.
“I grew up in Birmingham and for as long as I can remember I wanted a motorbike or trike of my own. The city was also home to the most incredible transport museum which would make any young boy dream of fast machines.”
Ray, 42, and his family moved to Ireland when he was 14, and he bought his first bike four years later. “It was a blue Suzuki G5 250T – a horrendous yoke to be honest. But in those days, it was considered the coolest thing around because it was a factory custom style bike”
Without a care in the world, Ray accepted a lift one evening to join friends in town for a drink. He was 20 years old and living life to the full. He hopped onto the back of his friend’s motorbike and they drove through Whiteville. When they reached the outside lane of the junction, a car appeared from, what seemed like, nowhere and smashed into the two young men and drove off. It was a hit and run accident.
“My friend dislocated his shoulder. My injuries were far worse, however. An ambulance arrived within two or three minutes and drove me to Loughlinstown Hospital and after a few hours I was transferred to the intensive care unit at the Rehabilitation Hospital. I spent three months in the ICU and received the last rites three times during that period. I was pretty badly broken up with a broken wrist, punctured lung and I had also broken my T6 vertebrae. Looking back now it’s hard to remember a lot of the details because it’s very hazy. But, I know it was really tough for my parents and family and it was their support which helped me pull through.”
According to Ray, his mother’s home cooking was the primary factor that led him to recover sufficiently to be allowed home. “Food at the Rehab was diabolical so my mum brought me dinner every day. Incredibly, a nurse turned around to her one day and told her she was spoiling me and perhaps she should stop. As you can imagine, my mum didn’t take kindly to that suggestion and the fantastic meals continued to arrive.”
Ray’s injury has left him paralysed from the breastbone down. Thankfully, he has full feeling and movement in his arms, hands and ngers.” Having seen some of the more serious injuries in the Rehab, I am just thankful that I have full use of my head and brain.”
When Ray first left Rehab, he was self conscious of the fact that he was wheelchair bound. When he went out, he found himself constantly worrying about where the public toilets were and whether they were wheelchair accessible. “Initially, I spent a lot of time at home and friends would come over to my house. However, after a while I felt comfortable enough to go to the pub and its incredible what alcohol will do to your inhibitions. All of a sudden I couldn’t have cared less about the location of the toilet.”
In 1987, Ray joined a bike club and resumed his passion for all things on two and three wheels. “Before I bought the Suzuki, I had toyed with the idea of buying a trike but there was a serious lack of them in Ireland. In fact, there was only four. No one knew much about them but due to my childhood passion I had read lots of magazines, such as Backstreet Heroes, about them and knew that people with spinal injuries could ride them without any problem.”
In 1988, Ray decided to take matters into his own hands, literally. He bought a Volkswagen Beetle, stripped it down and built his own trike from the parts. “It was a work in progress for a while. Normally, you’d use an automated gear box but I could only get a manual one. We went through a lot of clutch cables. In the end it was a success and I went on to build another four or five refining each of them as I went along.”
In 2002, Ray built his final trike for himself and went on to sell it later to a friend for €1,000. That same year he established a shop called The Trike Company in Greystones with his brother, Declan. They built trikes from Volkswagen Beetles and sold them in the shop. The venture was a success until Ray fell ill in August 2003.
“I got a pressure sore as a result of a poorly fitted wheelchair. The wheel was rubbing against my hip and the pressure sore
finally became infected. I began attending Loughlinstown hospital three times a week. The infection became so bad that I was admitted into the hospital and diagnosed with Septicaemia. My girlfriend, Tracy, was told that I had three days to live. I was later transferred to St Vincents hospital where doctors removed my hips and four inches from my leg. Then I picked up the MRSA bug and VRE. Some 11 months later I was told I could leave hospital.”
According to Ray, those home cooked meals came into play once again – this time courtesy of Tracy. “My poor mum was absolutely panicked and she tried bringing meals in every day but she was travelling from Meath so it wasn’t really practical.”
In the summer of 2004, Ray returned home and decided to move out of his rented flat and refurbish the home which he had bought ten years previously. His tenants moved out and by Christmas time Ray and Tracy were nally able to move into their home.
Ray decided to let business take a back seat and spend some quality time with friends and family. However, it didn’t take long before his entrepreneurial spirit raised its head. “I had bought a Ford Mustang before I got sick and I thought to myself – that’s it now. I’ll be happy to leave it at that. But, I began to get very bored. Poor Tracy – I was doing her head in with all my banal chatter. I have a friend called Neill who would call around and we’d sit down at the kitchen table with a pot of tea and chat away like two old women. Thankfully, one day he suggested the inevitable – how about we go into business together.”
In September 2006, Neill and Ray set up Irish Custom Cruisers in Newtownmountkennedy. The shop sells custom parts and accessories as well as a range of motorbikes and trikes. “A company in China builds 125 and 250 cc motorbikes with Japanese engines called Jin Lun motorcycles. We sell these as well as German made WK Trikes. We have the sole dealership for the trikes for the UK and Ireland. We recently secured sole dealership for Side Bike, which is a French trike company which uses Peugeot 307 engines.”
Like all retailers, Irish Custom Cruises has suffered from the recession and ongoing credit freeze. “I first noticed a downturn in business three months ago. The funny thing is that I know there are plenty of people out there with healthy bank balances. The problem is that they are just too scared to spend it. They’re too worried about what the value of their house is.”
Despite his concerns about consumer sentiment, and a recent bout of cellulitis, Beech is looking forward to the future and many happy rides on his trikes. When asked if he has anything he would like to complain about – he racks his brain. This man lives life to the full and doesn’t stop for a moment to dwell on the negatives. He nally points out that the Health Service Executive needs to stop applying the one for all rule of wheelchairs. “Different people have different needs. I, like many people, am active and therefore need a wheelchair that suits my needs. I was once questioned by a man who was able bodied about why I would need more than one wheelchair every five years. I asked him did he have just one pair of shoes that he used for five years. That made him think twice!”