Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Derbyshire last week
Well, not quite. Jorge Lorenzo, Moto GP Yamaha, is looking carefully where he is going
Motorcycling teaches observation. Riders pay more attention than drivers. Bikers look for changes in the road surface; they look for drains, manhole covers, cambers, ridges, painted lines and oil stains. They develop an acuity others rarely achieve. On two wheels your life depends on wisps of wind, flecks of rain, the smell of wet grass. Jackie Stewart once told me how he could sense when a race crowd’s attention was not on him (as it usually was) but on the accident round the next corner.
Motorcycling is like that. Your senses are heightened; there is intoxication – literally – in the adrenalin. I motorcycled as a teenager. You watch
other road users carefully when so much depends on reading their body language.
Girder forks and single cylinders. Ex-WD machines were affordable
I was drawn to motorcycling. I had no hope of a decent car, but a bike was almost within reach and even a modest 250 had a decent turn of speed. Years later, I went to a Guild of Motoring Writers’ test day on the Chobham track, cheerfully riding BMWs and memorably a Honda 400 Four, far and away the fastest bikes I had handled. In my teenage years anything over 60mph induced double vision. Bikes were harsh, vibrated and their guidance was imprecise. At Chobham, engines were silky smooth, handling was transformed with oleo struts and better tyres, and a hundred and twenty miles an hour was a dawdle. I was spellbound.
Common sense prevailed. I knew that I would go ever faster, much as I had done with cars, and accidents would hurt. You can’t have a small accident on a fast motorcycle. It’s possible but unlikely. In a car you could have quite a big accident and get away with it. I abandoned the idea of a motorcycle. I rather envied those astride high-revving masterpieces, getting the adrenalin rushes and thrills those oily and clattery British vertical twins had inspired all those years ago.
Well, I don’t feel like that now. Bikers should get ASBOs and be banished.
Take noise. You can tell it's the weekend by engines revving to 7,000 on the bypass. It is like living within earshot of a grand prix.
It was mayhem in Derbyshire last week. There are 50mph limits everywhere thanks to bikes. Lines of traffic amble along decent undulating open roads, with good sight lines and gracious curves while bikers swerve round them. A traffic officer told me the limits are to try and reduce motorcycle casualties. Notices proclaim motorcycle danger areas. Yellow and black placards entreat drivers to Think Bike! Of course the adrenalin junkies take no notice. They gather in villages, bikes gleaming in chromium, resplendent in glossy paint, riders in coloured leathers and artworked helmets.
But these are not keen bright-eyed youngsters. They are white-haired, balding overweight born-again bikers, who can now afford machines three times as fast as the Triumph Thunderbirds and Norton Dominators they couldn’t run to as teenagers. They ride at weekends, they ride badly, and their observation is poor. You don’t need to be a traffic officer to see how unsafe they are so we suffer speed limits, notices and scary manoeuvres.
Born-again bikers should be restricted to what was in series production when they were sixteen. No more Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha multi-cylindered howling monsters. No more racy coloured leathers. They should act their age with a Barbour suit and a Corker helmet, on a Francis-Barnett, James Captain or BSA Bantam. LE Velocettes were quiet. Four-strokes should be bolted to Watsonian sidecars and American V-twins utterly forbidden.
Magnificent machinery. Norton Dominator