If the original Mad Max movie was as big an influence on your biking headspace as it was on mine, then the phrase you expected hear accompanying the apocalypse was ‘It’s the last of the V8 Interceptors Max’ and not ‘It’s the last pack of triple-ply Andrex’. We live in weird times. Nineteen years ago in 2001, when rural Britain was hit by foot-and-mouth disease I did a road test in the Yorkshire Dales. We checked with the authorities that it would be alright (obviously, we didn’t want to make it worse), they said ‘fine’ and so me, my BMW R1150GS and a photographer spent a day in the most deserted and poignant landscape I’ve ever encountered, an hour from Leeds city centre. We could have gone nuts and indulged our reckless road racing fantasies, but somehow it didn’t seem appropriate. Knowing how much sadness and fear-for-the-future lay behind every disinfectant bath in front of every farm gate was a sobering reason to treat the place with respect.
Whenever we stopped it was like a Famous Five story. Lashings of hospitality and friendly faces everywhere. The café owner at lunch was so pleased to see someone – anyone – that they bent over backwards to be even more Yorkshire-friendly than normal while we tried to order as much as possible to give them cashflow (and a very large tip).
For a whole load of reasons – good and bad – it was one of my most memorable days on a bike. Fast forward to Spring 2020 and it feels like déjà vu. Britain is (at least we think it is) closed for anything other than essential travel. And, not wanting to take the mick’ we, as riders need to work out what that means.
Many people will argue that leisure biking is not essential travel, and ordinarily, I’d counter that by saying when the world seems as depressing as it does right now, an hour or two clearing our heads on a motorcycle so we can make our decisions rationally, might just be the most essential thing we can do. When our main topic of discussion is which one of our elderly or vulnerable relatives might not make it to summer and a nation of lemmings are playing social media Simon-Says in the supermarkets, getting-the-hell-out to clear your head for an afternoon might make the difference between doing the right thing and wearing a tin-foil hat waiting for bogey-man.
If I buy my fuel using pay-at-the-pump or contactless, keep my visor down in the kiosk, gloves on at the pump and don’t touch anything with bare hands, I can ride without endangering me or anyone else. Because the great big caveat here is that we stay apart from others. Other riders, other workers, other people. If we are smart about this, we can justify riding as our safest (essential) travel option. And the key to that is to not end-up at the usual bike caffs, bike meets, race tracks or any of the places you are likely to meet other people.
Liverpool football manager Jurgen Klopp described football as being the ‘most important of the least important things’ and many leisure motorcyclists will identify with that emotion. Given the likely chain of events from now on, we will almost certainly have to accept that leisure riding will be out-of-bounds for a while.
So, assuming the worst and all leisure travel is prohibited, how do we get the most out of this spring and summer if riding is restricted to essential journeys only?
Well, firstly, make sure every journey you do is on a motorcycle. Commuting is definitely essential and going by bike is safer in the current climate than packing onto a train, bus or plane. Use this time, while the roads are quieter to enjoy getting to work and back in half the time it usually takes.
Use the extra time to tell your workmates how easy it all was and how you’ll be home in time to beat them to the toilet roll in Tesco.
Some might say that because motorcycling is dangerous and your head will have come off before you leave your driveway, that riding a bike is irresponsible because you’ll require the services of an entire A&E dept just to get to work.
We, as riders might argue back that if we thought like that, we’d have to give up climbing stairs, having sex and drinking alcohol too, never mind using dozens of lethal implements lurking in our kitchens, anything electrical, doing exercise or having a dog. But that would be flippant and unnecessary in these times of 24-hour rolling smart-arse misery.
For those who can’t commute or are working at home, the other opportunity is to spend time in the garage. Get to know your bike, adjust the suspension and fine-tune the riding position. Buy a knackered, old project, some decent tools and turn it into a knackered café racer or street tracker. It’ll be slow, dangerous and unreliable because it’s your first attempt, but it’s yours and you enjoyed the learning - that’s all that matters.
Above all, keep things in perspective. This might be the summer we ride less or do fewer events, so let’s make every ride count. Practice being a better rider, lift your head and look around at the wonderful, empty countryside. Slow down and enjoy the lack of caravans, people-carriers and policemen – because they (the policemen at least) will be too busy quelling the riots in town over the last family bag of Maltesers.