Over the top; Time for biking to stand up and be counted

Steve Rose THUMBNAIL

 

‘Large groups of motorcyclists were roaming around. Noisy, antisocial, irresponsible and some were urinating in the street.’

Slack-brained reporting of motorcycling is nothing new. The stories on social media from rural beauty spots this weekend use almost exactly the same words and phrases that have been used to vilify motorcyclists since at least 1947. Come to think of it, they’ve used the same language to describe pretty-much any group of yoofs, punks or n’er-do-wells in the last 100 years too.

With biking it started back in 1947 following a ‘riot’ in the sleepy Californian town of Hollister, when 4000 riders turned up to the annual 4th July race meeting. The exaggerated reports of misbehaviour and very-likely faked photos of unruly hedonism laid the template for bad-boy-biker stories for the next 73 years. The tale of Hollister inspired that original biker movie The Wild One. We should be glad they didn’t base it in a town called Hawes?

I can only imagine the steaming lava-flow of excitable man-juice in the offices of the Jeremy Vine Radio Show this weekend when some bright spark suggested doing a phone-in on the ‘biker menace’ plaguing our rural beauty spots. Just the mention of ‘motorcycles, speed, gangs and leathuuurrr’ would be enough to have a small group of media professionals rubbing themselves into a sweaty frenzy, all before 10am on a Monday.

Thankfully, someone had the good sense to mention the words Steve and Berry, which brought the meeting to a more professional and flaccid level. When the time came to go on air, Vine’s producers, understanding the tease-value of words like ‘motorcycle menace’ made Britain’s bikers (many of who, ironically are old enough to be Radio 2’s core listeners) wait for pretty-much the whole of the show for their moment.

First-off the Village Idiot from Dibley talked about how they loved bikers when they were spending money, but, had no time for them and their publicly-urinating sort when the shops, pubs and cafes were closed.

Steve Berry countered with a well-considered defence and, for a moment, it felt like this might be interesting. But then it all went freestyle. Dibley turned Daily-Mail, Berry lost his cool and walked into the BBC’s carefully-planned left-hook. Lembit Opik came on the line and almost saved some credibility, but Dibley tag-teamed their crack squad of frothing gammon gobshites into the ring and, ‘Thud’…motorcycling hit the canvas.

So here’s the thing, we can’t have it all ways. As riders we have to decide whether we’re happy to come across as noisy, aggressive and intimidating selfish idiots. Or not. If it’s the former, then let’s not get too upset when the media exaggerates our behaviour to fellate their audience.

It’s no different to Hollister; the vast majority of riders are generally polite and considerate, if a little too noisy from the back-end. Sadly, it’s usually the front end of a motorcyclist that causes the biggest problems. Whether it’s bragging about doing ‘a ton-thirty’ down the bypass, wheelieing off the throttle in third gear, needing at least 120bhp, or any of the other seven top-ten motorcyclist bullshit phrases. The reality is that what was funny and acceptable hyperbolic exaggeration when we were 18 is just the verbal equivalent of colonic irrigation when we’re all 53.

Maybe that’s irrelevant and I’m just ranting. Sorry, have you ever tried listening to two hours of Jeremy Vine? Perhaps the bigger problem is that biking is looking for the right people to represent us before we have to be on the defensive. I’d feel a lot more comfortable having people like Dutch from Bike Shed and Colin Brown of MAG standing up for biking 2020 than Steve Berry and Lembit Opik. Both are both great examples of eloquent, passionate riders who are as convincing as role models as they are informed and opinionated about their subject. The interview BikeSocial did with them and MCIA boss Tony Campbell last week was fascinating to be part of.

I love Squires Caff and Loomies and Bike Shed, the Ace and Hawes (especially Hawes), but I’m sure that the last thing those places need right now is a bunch of middle-aged riders confusing the A684 for the Isle of Man Mountain Circuit.

Are we really so lacking in imagination that, given the all-clear to go riding again we can only think of the same eight places to head for? Maybe, while our favourite places are isolating, this is our time to find some new roads. Go west, not east, take the first exit, not the second, have a new adventure.

And while we are at it, let’s use this moment to short-shift through the gears, not make a racket and ride in a manner that makes car drivers - currently shitting themselves at the prospect of getting back on a train come Monday morning – curious about whether they should get themselves a motorcycle instead.

In truth I don’t know whether to be incensed by the media’s archaic and lazy portrayal of motorcycles or to laugh at it. Maybe we should play up to it and go do some actual hell-raising in Hawes. So long as no one minds if I leave at 4pm because the dog needs worming. Oh, and will there be toilets? My prostate isn’t what it was. Maybe we should call ourselves ‘The Tena-Percenters Motorcycle Club.

There is a massive opportunity right now for commuters to take up two-wheelers to avoid the petri dish of public transport, but no one in government or the mass media seem interested in promoting anything other than cycling. We have the chance as riders to be the ambassadors for this thing that we love and give thousands of potential two-wheel commuters the nudge they need to make the call. Which, of course is good for us because more riders means more clout when councils are looking to convert roads into cycle routes.

So let’s get out there and make the most of it now – smartly, sensibly and preferably, not in Dibley, or (sadly) Hawes till this is all over.

 

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