Sometimes you just need to spend some time with an expert. Meeting those people who devote large portions of their lives to finding out things is the part of my job I enjoy most.
Last week I’d arranged a quick natter with Colin Brown, the Director of Campaigns and Political Engagement for Motorcycle Action Group (MAG). That quick natter lasted three hours and I came away buzzing with facts, figures and ideas for how BikeSocial can help make motorcycling better.
Time for a regular MAG apology on my part. I know, like you do, that MAG does amazing work. On very limited funding, they engage proper experts to provide proper information that helps them lobby against a huge amount of ill-researched, ill-informed and prejudiced anti-motorcycle legislation. Most of which, we ordinary, disinterested riders never even hear about before MAG has fixed it for us.
I know this and I’ve known it for years, but just at the point of me jumping in and taking part I see something else from MAG about ‘the-helmet-thing’ or the Fred Hill Memorial Run (Fred was a principled anti-helmet law protester who died serving a prison sentence for non-payment of fines for not wearing a helmet), or pictures of people getting drunk in fields and my enthusiasm wavers.
Not this time. I’m determined this time will be different. MAG knows the helmet thing is over, but it is a part of their heritage and some people feel a need to remember that, which is fine. But much more importantly, MAG is actually working hard to get motorcycles accepted as a proper part of both national and local transport policy and, as ever, they are having some success.
When London’s riders win additional exemptions from the Ultra Low Emissions Zone, it will largely be down to MAG’s efforts. When other cities planning the same ideas exempt motorcycles because of the congestion benefits, it will be down to MAG’s lobbying (they’ve already been successful in Birmingham) and when ill-considered urban schemes aimed at reducing road space for riders to benefit a handful of cyclists are overturned because of smart, scientific reasons, chances are MAG will have had a hand in that too.
This stuff doesn’t happen by accident. Your impression of MAG-ists might be the crusty end of biking slouching through Whitehall being grumpy, but the truth is very different. MAG puts together a proper case, based on proper facts that, in many cases challenge the self-serving, badly-researched cases made by an authority with a distinct agenda based on little more than cod-science and badly mis-interpreted statistics. One simple example is the air pollution debate going on in London and coming to a city near you soon. The headline numbers are ’40,000 Londoners killed by air pollution every year’ but the reality is that rather than 40,000 pearly kings and slippery-handed stockbrokers keeling over, the actual science is that air pollution knocks three days off the average lifespan, which, when translated into a number that everyone understands is ‘the equivalent of’ 40,000 people dying. That’s two very different things.
Now add in the fact that there are many things aside from air pollution that affect life expectancy. And the fact that actual air pollution in London has been dropping dramatically for the last 20 years. And that you are exposed to more Nitrogen Oxides and CO2 when you heat-up your beans on a gas stove than walking down Peckham High Street. Add those simple things to the fact that by Transport for London’s own admission pollution from motorcycles is such a tiny percentage of the total as to not even warrant a separate colour on the pie chart and you can understand why we need some kind of representation.
Given all the great work (all the above came out of the chat with MAG last week) MAG are doing for us, the ordinary rider, if a few crusty diehards want to get drunk in a field and lament the good old days of getting your unprotected noggin pulped by a Ford Anglia in the name of freedom, that’s fine by me. I’m in. And, to be honest (we’re alone right? There’s no one else listening) I might have spent a few weekends in my younger days getting drunk in a field, ogling the choppers.
So what can we do to help? Well the simple thing is to join up. MAG’s work needs funding and currently they don’t have enough to do the job. Annual membership costs £27 – that’s 50p a week to let someone else take the responsibility and do all the hard work to help preserve this thing that means so much to all of us. Considering that most of us used to spend ten times that amount every month on bike magazines and MCN before the internet happened, it’s basically free.
Beyond just helping to fund it, the other thing is to get involved. You aren’t just a motorcyclist – some of us are scientists, engineers, statisticians, lawyers, academics, council workers with inside information, bus drivers and/or members of the cycling lobby. Or we know other people who are. By being involved with MAG we can help provide the ammunition for them to do the lobbying. It might go further than that. As riders get older some of us are working less and looking for worthwhile things to do with that extra time. If you don’t like the image of MAG, then why not join it and start the change from within. There’s no immovable culture and who knows, maybe there’s an opportunity to get tiddly in a different field with glamping if enough people want it.
Sorry, I’m being flippant and that’s not what’s needed. They key thing is to open your mind. After talking to MAG last week I joined up on the spot and I intend to follow it up with action. If they need a disorganised, former scientist with no attention to detail and an invincibility complex I might be just the job. What can you do to help?
Join up with an open mind at www.mag-uk.org
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