Monday, 1 November 2010

Think Bike? Bikers; Think!!


The Think Bike safety campaign currently on our TV screens is a hard-hitting and effective one. It reminds me that, when I drive, a ton and a half of mixed metals surrounds me; an exoskeleton to protect me in the event of something bad. A biker has no such armour. He is a meat envelope astride a powerful beast, far more vulnerable when shit goes pear. And yet, irrespective of the millions of quid being poured into looking after bikers, every time I see one taking the piss it makes me far less inclined to care.


The scene on the telly runs thus. Chap in family hatchback pulls up to T-Junction. Looks right, clear, looks, left, clear. Pulls out to turn, whack; motorcycle impact to car from the right. Bits of biker everywhere and an explosion of assorted Kawasaki components. Bad times. The lesson for the driver is to check traffic from the right one final time before manoeuvring, and to look out for stuff coming at you that is smaller than a car or a lorry.

So far, so obvious. Thing is, if the driver had a clear view when he looked to the right, if a motorcycle had enough time to bear down on the car in the time it took between that glance and pulling out, he must have been moving with considerable speed. Maybe the video was badly edited to create this illusion, but it does tend to support my experience that a lot of motorcycles are ridden too damn quickly all the damn time.

ROSPA, 1996:- “...Over one third (38%) of the motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents in one study were considered to have been speeding before the collision....” That's a lot.

Buyers of fast bikes suffer from the same syndrome as buyers of particularly fast cars, things like highly modified Subaru WRXs and Mitsubishi Evos. They buy these bikes and these cars because they like to go fast. Interestingly, per se you are more likely to see a Subaru being thrashed noisily down a crowded city street than a Ferrari. Owners of bona fide supercars seem happy to simply know that they have a fast car and don’t need to demonstrate it to pedestrians the whole time.

Fast bikes are built for the purpose of going fast. They aren’t happy around town, they need to be opened up otherwise they get all grumpy, oil up their plugs and misfire. They don’t really get ridden gently, in the same way that guns don’t get shot lightly. It fits, then, that the buyer of a sportsbike buys one with the intention of riding it fast; the more extreme the bike, of course the more likely this is.

It is here that I start to have a problem, particularly when bikers keep asking us to “think bike”. Firstly, the motorcycle press, in seemingly every superbike review say something like “settling into a steady 90mph cruise” and “I throttle back to 80mph for a while”. It's almost like exceeding the speed-limit is completely legitimate on these machines, and in a way, annoyingly, it is.

You see, bikers have a sweet deal on the road, jams disappear thanks to the ability to filter through traffic, which must lower the blood pressure massively. Best of all, apart from GATSOs, which are becoming rarer, hardly any fixed speed camera in England can catch a speeding biker. In a car we have to sit in the roadworks at 40mph, but astride your ZZR you can sprint through at double that, with no way a speed camera can identify you.

Yes, there are idiots on the road in vehicles of all kinds, but the use of speed, and general behviour of motorcyclists seems to be getting worse and worse. Bikers have flicked me the bird a few times for not letting them pass me, each time I had been a) travelling faster than legal anyway, and b) already passing slower traffic at the time. Yes, biker, I understand you want to go faster, have some damn patience until it's safe to do so.

At typical motorway speeds my recent experience is that a biker will pass in any way they can, typically ducking in and out of traffic paying no heed to the safety of themselves or others. If there's a space, no matter how small, if his Fireblade will fit in it, he will dive in. Think Bike indeed. Does this mean Expect Idiots?

Let's see equality. Bikers, give us some space and we'll reciprocate. Like it or not, you form a minority on our roads, stop acting hard done by when you have to slow down to 80 every once in a while. Car drivers; pay some bloody attention. Stop phoning, texting and tailgaiting, we all deserve as much space on the road as you do. Police and the government; let's have front number-plates on bikes so they have to show some respect to the same road laws as the rest of us. You've already waged war on the motorist, why should bikers have an easy life?