20th May 2014 - Common sense. Or perhaps a lack of it might be a more appropriate title. Because it's something which seems to be in increasingly short supply as the weather improves and more butterfly bikers emerge from their winter hibernation to launch themselves onto the unsuspecting roads.
This early summer has been especially, um, interesting in London because we've been treated to a tube strike. And that meant that many gentle souls who wouldn't normally be out in rush hour found themselves wobbling around the mean streets of London, trying to share space with buses, taxis, frustrated commuters in cars...and other bikers. And that's where the problem starts, to be honest. You see, what seems to be terrifyingly fast filtering for someone who hasn't done it before (or very much) has the column of everyday riders behind foaming at the mouth with frustration. And, because our hero in front is giving their epic filtering 100% of their concentration, they don't have any spare to look in their mirrors. Then again, why would they? They're by far the fastest thing on the road, right?
There's another liability out there as well. Not so restricted either - we see this particular joker most days. They're the ones who can't be bothered to slow down a bit a slip through the gap between a car and a central bollard. Or, heaven forbid, wait a few seconds until there's space to go. No, instead they'll carry on at undiminished pace, simply passing these central islands on the wrong side. Now let's ignore the fact that it's massively illegal for the moment. The simple fact is, it's really, REALLY dangerous. First, because pedestrians won't be looking for you when they step out. They'll be looking the other way, because that's where traffic should be coming from. Second, because cyclists (who are generally hopelessly unaware at the best of times, being immersed in their in-ear music to the exclusion of everything else) will pop out in front of you without looking. And finally, because I might well appear, having gone through the gap you were too lazy to take and then seek to regain my rightful spot on the road. This morning I even saw someone go the wrong side of the bollards on a zebra crossing... And yet we all scratch our heads and wonder why we have a bad image...
Then, this evening, I saw something which prompted me to write my first post here for nine months. I was, I admit, speeding a bit when two fellas came past me very fast. Fair enough - the pass was clean and my ego isn't so fragile as to be battered by an overtake. But then someone pulled out in front of them, and their reaction was utter fury. Doors were kicked, mirrors were punched. But the car actually pulled out a reasonable distance ahead and accelerated briskly - in fact had they have been doing speeds even remotely around the limit, no problem would have arisen. Or perhaps they could have just looked ahead and anticipated better. Instead they left someone who, no doubt, now hates bikers and will make no effort not to kill me, or you, next time.
Elsewhere on the site you'll see references to the new TfL Motorcycling Strategy Paper. I took heart from reading that, apparently, the biggest group of us are measured, considerate and skilled riders. I guess that's probably true, because the muppets stand out like a shining beacon of stupidity.
3rd July 2013 - Statistics. Don't you just love them? Here's a statistic for you to mull over. According to those stalwart worthies at DVLA, we, as motorcyclists, are massively more likely to have a reportable accident (that's one where any form of injury is involved) than any other road user. That's a statistical fact, taking the number of us that are out there on the road and the number of us who end up hurting ourselves, one way or another. DVLA don't count horses - you're way, way more likely to get hurt on, or falling off, Dobbin than riding a motorbike. That's working on the only statistic which makes sense, which is injuries per passenger kilometre. Because that levels the playing field with regard to numbers of vehicles (or horses) of whatever type, and the amount they get used.
The bottom line, as they say, is that motorcyclists represent 1% of traffic yet account for up to 20% of the deaths and serious injuries on our roads. It's a popular statistic.
I'm sure this comes as no surprise. You've probably been told lots of times by people whenever you mention that you ride a bike. Not the horses part, of course.
Anyway, if you're one of our friends on Facebook (and if you're not, why not?) you may have noticed that I've recently been to Thailand. It's a fabulous place, truly wonderful, and I'd recommend it to anyone who isn't allergic to nuts or spicy food. But that's not my point. According to official numbers, Thailand has roughly nineteen million motorcycles on the road, compared to just eleven million private cars and pickup trucks. Helmets are not mandatory, and protective clothing of any sort is the exception rather than the rule. Not only that, but lights appear to be optional - nobody rides with lights on during the day, while frequently either the front or rear light doesn't work. Sometimes neither work, or perhaps the rider prefers not to use them. It gets better. Traffic lights are, at best, advisory for powered two wheelers. Often for cars and trucks, too. The picture on the right gives you an idea - it's a red light but that doesn't really matter. Click on it to get a bigger version and see lots of other health and safety horrors. On a dual carriageway the hard shoulder is also the cycle and motorbike lane. It's used in both directions on both carriageways, so when joining a dual carriageway you have to look both ways in case an unlit motorbike is coming toward you. Of course it stands to reason that entire families will travel on their trusty Honda Cub. All at once. Yes, having four people on a single bike, one being a baby or toddler, is perfectly normal. And filtering takes place at high speed, on both sides, sometimes in both directions. The only thing that might work for them is that the majority of bikes in Thailand are scooters of 125cc or less. It's a recipe for carnage, guaranteed. If people like Brake are to believed, the entire population of Thailand will be dead in weeks. Doing a risk assessment for anything involving bikes out there would immediately stop it from happening.
You're probably wondering what the point of all this is.
Well this is where it, perhaps, gets interesting. Working on the basis that roughly two thirds of traffic on the road in Thailand is powered two wheelers, you'd expect their accident statistics to be horrendous. And indeed they are. Across Thailand in year ending October 2012 there were just over fifty four thousand reportable accidents, resulting in twenty thousand injuries and nearly eight thousand deaths. That's four times the number of fatalities compared to the UK, for a broadly similar number of vehicles. Pretty bad, huh?
Let's look at a best possible situation - that, despite their lack of safety equipment, rules, basic vehicle maintenance and everything, they managed to keep the same rate of motorcycle to car accidents the same as the UK. Well, clearly that doesn't work because there are already more bikes than cars on the road so all the casualties would have to be bike-borne. No, somehow, despite the fact that two thirds of road traffic is on two wheels, bikes account for just one third of all reportable accidents. So in Thailand you are statistically twice as likely to be involved in a reportable accident if you're not on a bike.
How can this be?
Could it be that road users in Thailand have a respect for each other that is lacking in the West? That they make space and, and this is a radical thought, actually look before changing lanes, pulling out, whatever? Maybe it's that people there take responsibility for their actions. Whatever it is, perhaps one of the organisations that likes to legislate against just about everything to protect us from ourselves might like to fund a study to find out. I'd be happy to take part...
12th May 2013 - I've just watched some of the most exciting racing that I've ever seen, albeit at a circuit which makes my blood pressure skyrocket every time I think about getting there or, more importantly, getting out again. Yes, I mean Autodromo di Monza. Now you can go on about the history and the atmosphere as you like. God knows I do, because it's the one thing that can't be denied. But the circuit itself is an anachronism. Yes, the organisation this year was heaps better than before, with passes being checked and the photographer's bunkers mercifully free from the Carabinieri and their mates. And the racing there is truly fabulous, with every race being close to the extent that even a hardened old cynic like me was on the edge of my seat.
But. And it's a big but. Almost every race was marred by red flags and nasty crashes. Just on Sunday, the Superstock 1000 had a huge opening lap crash at Prima Variante resulting in a red flag. The Supersport race had one there, too, again resulting in a red flag and injuries. Supersport also got red flagged when the entire leading group crashed on oil in Della Roggia. Oil that the marshals appeared to know was there. It got red flagged again when a bike crashed at Ascari and caught fire. That's three red flags in a single race, only one of which was nothing to do with the circuit layout or management. Then we get to race direction. The first chicane - Prima Variante - that causes all the trouble has an escape route in case a rider runs in too hot. Weave through some bales and take the clearly marked line back to the track and there's no penalty other than the time you've already lost. Johnny Rea and Jules Cluzel both took that route in race 1 and both got penalised. We didn't see how they rejoined, so we'll assume the penalties were justified, though they were penalised differently. Chaz Davies did it in race 2 but presumably stuck by the rules as he wasn't penalised. Fabrizio did it, wheelied out of the area, way outside the prescribed lines and didn't lose a place in the process. No penalty. In another incident, Tom Sykes passed Guintoli on the last lap and then ran too hot into Della Roggia and rejoined in front of the Frenchman. Now he'd not gained an advantage and held that position to finish third. Then someone protested and he got docked a place. Then he appealed and was reinstated. Silly, isn't it.
Monza has a long way to go before it's a proper circuit on the world calendar, in my opinion. They could easily make it safer by simply running the track the other way around, but I suspect that will upset the purists. Regardless, until they get their act together in terms of being consistent and unbiased, as well as having marshals who actually react rather than simply observe, it has no place in international racing.
27th January 2013 - I'm not exactly the most prolific blogger in the world, but hopefully when I do drag my sorry backside in front of the keyboard for something other than conventional features or (whisper it) paid work, it's because I've found something worth saying. Or, as in this case, because I feel guilty about having a blog that's so badly out of date.
Anyway. It's been a while. So what has happened since I last regaled you with my acerbic wit/jaded cynicism/self important claptrap (please feel free to delete as you see fit)? Well, I got my licence back after what seemed like the longest year in history. The, um, interesting part was retaking my test. Because I've never done a theory or hazard perception test before, you see. And because I had to sit an extended practical test - twice the length as usual but only the same number of permitted faults. I should stress that I only had to retake my car test, as my bike entitlement came back automatically when or if I passed, but it's still relevant on the basis that the majority of people with whom we interact are car drivers.
The theory test is definitely different. It's multiple choice, and many (though not all) of the questions are so straightforward that, frankly, if you can't get them right you should automatically be prohibited from attempting to hold a licence. Ever. But the hazard perception is a different matter entirely. For those of you who haven't done one before, you watch a series of videos taken from the driver's seat of a car. The car is being driven along a variety of different routes, and in each clip you will encounter one or two hazards. When you recognise a hazard you click the mouse and the computer registers your response. You do this each time you recognise a hazard. The problem is that there is a time window - if you spot the hazard early you get five marks, counting down to zero as time goes on. That's all well and good unless you're an experienced road user, because then you see the hazard developing early, click the mouse...and get no marks because you're outside the window for it being registered. So you click again. And again. And...nuts, it's given you a zero for this clip because you're clicking too often and it thinks you're doing it at random. Give it a try - there are free demos all over the internet, but you could try here for starters. Anyhow, the practical test was a little different to how I remember it as well. Plus, being extended, it was twice the length of a regular test but with the same number of faults allowed. I was as nervous as I've ever been in my life, but got through without any real dramas.
So that got me back on the road. Then it was time to see if I could still remember how to ride a motorbike.
Well, the good news is that an enforced layoff hasn't hit me too hard. I'd been cycling a lot, so my balance was at least as good as before, and to be honest the basics of riding never really leave you anyway. It was simply a case of piling on as many miles and varied experiences as possible. That ranged from glorious days in summer tearing around the countryside to rather less glorious days in October splashing around The Nurburgring. And some of the most fun I've ever had at Wheeldon Offroad Centre as well.
The weather has been generally rubbish, but I've taken every opportunity that I could get to ride, and now I can confidently say that I'm not far off where I was before. But, in all seriousness, it was a tough time and I'd strongly recommend that, if there's any way you can avoid a ban, you take it. Perhaps by making sure there's never cause to get nicked in the first place...
And then it was Motorcycle Live. The 2011 show was a pretty desperate affair, but this year seemed to be far more positive. It's still a pale shadow of what went a few years before, but there was more of an atmosphere of optimism and forward thinking rather than digging in and trying to survive. There are some genuinely interesting new models on the way, which hopefully our about-to-be-improved insurance situation will see us out and testing in the near future. I was particularly impressed by the potential offered by electronics, not in the engine management side of things but in chassis control. BMW and Ducati seem to be leading the field in this, and you should expect more reports soon.
Until then, I'll leave you all to it. Happy New Year.
20th June 2012 - Apparently it's summer out there, though to be honest so far this year has failed to live up to even out limited expectations as far as proper summer weather is concerned. It's hard to believe that four months have passed since last time I got worked up enough to flap my gums on here. Maybe all that cycling is making me mellow.
As a journalist I get an awful lot of, um, stuff arrive in my inbox. One of the most frequent originators of this stuff is Brake. Brake calls itself "The road safety charity" which automatically puts my back up. Not because I'm opposed to road safety - far from it - but because they imply that they are the only people who care about road safety and therefore their position must be correct. Now a lot of what Brake does is pretty good. They get behind drink driving, drug driving and education schemes. They genuinely do have a purpose. But. Their name alone should give you an idea of what their main thrust is. Yes, Brake are, I believe, the originator of the "Speed kills" lie. If not, they certainly jumped on the slow-moving bandwagon and are riding it to wherever it goes. Their current thing is to virulently oppose the possible motorway speed limit increase. They also want us doing twenty miles per hour everywhere in town and they are the main driving force behind the insidious creeping reduction of speed limits on rural roads. The trouble is, they spout pseudo-statistics which sound good and give them credibility. They claim that increased motorway speeds increase pollution, that accidents will inevitably increase and that overall journey times won't change because people will bunch. All this backed up with very selectively worded "research" and cherry-picked statistics. Same with rural roads - generally the last bastion of common sense speed enforcement.
Here's how it works. I set a survey which asks "Is Global Warming something about which we should be concerned?" Most people will say yes, probably including you and me. It's not something we can do anything about, and the degree to which mankind's activities impact on climate change is extremely debatable (2010's Icelandic volcano produced more greenhouse gases in a day than all the motor vehicles that have ever been on earth have produced in total) but I can then take the survey response and say that the majority of people believe we should cut emissions. It's tenuous at best, but questioning climate change dogma is currently viewed with much the same horror as denying the holocaust.
But I digress slightly. The interesting thing about Brake - The Road Safety Charity, remember - is that nowhere in their right-on, socially correct information could I find anything suggesting that motorcyclists could do with some help on the road safety side. There's no suggestion of improved access to advanced training, nothing about including bike related stuff in the car test, no proposals of improved road engineering to make things safer for us. And yet aren't we told that we punch well above our weight in the road casualty arena?
So here's what I suggest you do. Lobby your MP for an increased motorway speed limit. Fight rural road regulation. Let the urban twenty thing go because it's not actually that bad. But fight their pseudo science with the truth. Modern cars are more efficient at higher speeds and have better brakes. Tyre technology has improved massively since the seventy limit was introduced. All that is needed is better discipline with regard to keeping a safe distance, which is enforceable. France has an eighty limit and their autoroutes seem OK. Germany had a spike in serious accidents when they reunified, and that's the time that Brake always quote. So ignore it. Generally Autobahns are very safe places to be because the Germans exercise good lane discipline and generally keep their distance. We want the motorways faster because it'll get more cars off the real roads which is better for us.
And talk to people. Make your voice heard. Question the statistics. Be a pain in the arse. Challenge it when people trot out the same tired old lies that have gone unquestioned for so long. Speed kills. Really? How? Get to the truth. Because if you don't then people like Brake will, for our own good, of course, end up bullying us onto restricted mopeds. Probably with stabilisers to stop us from falling over...
16th February 2012 - Happy New Year, first of all. I hope that 2012 turns out to be a brilliant year for us all, full of clear roads, fine weather, exciting racing and an improving economy.
OK, that's not the crux of today's blog, though. No, today I want to talk about racers and some of the stuff we hear about how tough a racer's lot is. Cards on the table here, I used to race, from club level through to international, with some success. But not enough to make it a viable profession. Anyway, I've been there and I know how it works, so I don't have idealistic views. While some things have changed since then, some things haven't. The main one being that, no matter how talented a rider is, if he or she doesn't get the breaks then they're going to spend their days, and their salaries, club racing and probably get no further. Because above that level money talks. So these days there are basically two ways of getting a competitive professional (or even semi professional) ride. You can be really very talented and marketable, be well represented, get seen by the right people and find someone prepared to take a punt on you. Or you can bring money to the table and buy a ride. There's two ways of doing that, too. You can be loaded, or you can have developed relationships with companies who will sponsor you personally.
Now many people get their noses put out of joint by the idea of someone being able to buy a seat on a team, which is silly really because if you look at where bike racing came from you'll see that it was originally a group of "gentleman racers" who were independently wealthy and raced for fun. The idea of doing it for a living was only marginally better than "going into trade" because these young gentlemen didn't generally work at all. Times move on and racing has evolved from a hobby to a business. A while ago a talented rider could expect to make a reasonable living from it, given a bit of luck. But now more teams are holding out for riders who can bring their own funding because racing is expensive and times are hard.
But that's not really the point either. What I fail to understand is why up and coming young riders can't get their heads around the idea of being marketable. Let's look at a couple of extremes. James Toseland has just retired through injury. Now last year wasn't good for James and the results didn't come. But if he hadn't been man enough to recognise that his injuries were going to stop him being competitive then I'd put a very large bet on him still getting a decent ride. Why? Because he is the consummate professional, and one of the most marketable riders ever. Even when he was World Champion and everyone wanted a bit of him he was still reliable, still did the public events, signed autographs, smiled, answered stupid questions and generally made time for people. As a result, everyone knew him and liked him, which reflected well on his personal sponsors so they stuck with him. His whole attitude made it obvious that he would always give his all, so teams saw him as a safe bet as well. A simple example would be that he took the time to sit down with us, a relatively small player in the overall bike scene, and give us a well considered, thoughtful, unhurried interview. When he was World Champion. The Lowes brothers, Leon Camier, Leon Haslam, Jonathan Rea, they're all great examples of the same thing, while of course Valentino Rossi is the absolute master, who can do no wrong even when the results are really not coming. Like last year, for example.
Now contrast that with any number of up and coming riders who generally give the impression of not being able to be bothered. They may well be fast, they may well be talented. But if they don't make the effort to keep sponsors happy then they'll go nowhere. Even worse, if they don't bother to try to make themselves marketable, to seize opportunities that are presented to them and to generally recognise that being a professional racer means working on and off the track then they won't even get the sponsors to start with. We've offered riders the chance to use MotorbikesToday as a platform, to blog on here and to generally generate publicity for themselves. We've even offered to help them. Now as I said earlier, we're a relatively small player. But there are a hundred and seventy thousand of you reading this, and if each of you were moved to donate a young rider a pound that would buy them a seat in World Superbikes. I'm speaking figuratively, of course. So far the take-up has been laughable. It doesn't matter if a rider is illiterate - we have an editor and my job is to take material and make it suitable for publication. It doesn't matter if they're busy - we have a staff writer who will take stuff over the phone if necessary. But it seems that even when opportunities are spoon fed, British riders generally just can't be bothered to market themselves.
But they'll bitch and whine on social media when someone they consider slower or somehow less worthy gets a ride through hard work and self promotion. How many amateur bike racers does it take to ride a factory machine? Dozens. One to ride it and the rest to say "I deserved that..."
1st December 2011 - It's Motorcycle Live, or the Bike Show if you're old fashioned like me. Apparently it was a stunning success, and some of it was genuinely good. But quite a lot wasn't. Harley Davidson had a large stand with plenty of space, cheerful people and lots of bikes and accessories on display. Triumph was the same, with plenty of room to move around their multitude of display machinery, sit on it and generally get involved. BMW too had a sprawling stand, while Ducati's was smaller but still pretty lavish and again well staffed and generally optimistic feeling. On the other side of the fence we had Japan. The Big Four were all there, of course, but their stands were relatively cramped, with bikes squeezed in too close together in an obvious attempt to save money by limiting floor space. Their stand staff were friendly, of course, but generally not very helpful and looking harassed quite a lot of the time. And the overall atmosphere was one of desperation rather than optimism.
While I was at the show, Premier Suzuki, my local dealer and one of the best, most professional (and actually one of the most successful) Suzuki dealers in the UK went to the wall. Now I know them as friends as well as suppliers, and I'm privy to some numbers that I'm not about to put down here. But I will say that there is no way that any business could survive doing what they did. It's not Suzuki GB's fault, but I'm going to point at an example of something they have done to illustrate a common malaise. They've announced a new 250cc cruiser/commuter bike at the show. It looks pretty good, the price will probably be about right and it hits a market sector that isn't very well served at the moment. But it's not going to be available until November 2012... So why the hell advertise it now? All they'll do is get people interested in the 250cc sector. People who will then find they can't buy the bike yet and go to Kawasaki or Honda instead. Stupid. They've all done it, though, one way or another. And I reckon that by the time the market picks up again we'll have about a third fewer proper bike dealers that we do now...
3rd November 2011 - Bugger. We lost the appeal, though on points rather than a knockout. The judge was very nice and suggested that if it was his choice then he'd find in my favour. But unfortunately he went by the letter of the law which just fell on the other side of the fence. However, we got a fair hearing and he got rid of the community service which was frankly bloody insulting. Still banned, but it'll pass soon enough. An opportunity to save some money and take an alternative viewpoint for a while. But if you know anyone who might like to do some road tests for us then it might be a good time for them to e-mail in...
12th August 2011 - I have my licence back until my appeal is heard. I've been cycling quite a lot, and it's been a salutory experience. Bloody inconvenient at times, but interesting. Cycling is actually pretty good fun, and a surprisingly good way of getting into London from the suburbs. Provided you have shower facilities at work, that is. Because if you're going to get there in a decent time then you're going to sweat. Within four weeks I was making the journey - seventeen miles each way - ten to fifteen minutes faster than I could do it by public transport. And because it's all urban and I can make use of bus lanes and cycle routes that I can't necessarily take on a motorbike, the distance is shorter and the time difference is a lot less than I might have expected.
Another pleasant surprise was the interaction with other two wheeled road users. Cyclists are just like us - they tend to fall into distinct groups of course, but they do talk to each other, either to offer encouragement on hills, to offer support and help if something's gone wrong or even just to chat at the lights. And here's the real kicker. Motorbikes and pushbikes can co-exist without any trouble at all. Because there's plenty of room for us both and we share a common enemy. Several, actually - buses, cars, the weather and idiots on two wheels, powered or otherwise. The majority of cyclists actually do seem to stop for red lights, though they will go if it's obviously clear. But most of the myths went straight out of the window in days. I'm never going to become a cycling zealot or a lycra lout, but it's definitely a viable transport method...
24th June 2011 - Hmm. An interesting day. I've just been on the receiving end of what's laughingly referred to as the Justice system, and it was not a pleasant experience. First of all let me state for the record that the accident in which I was involved and which started the process running was entirely my fault - I've never disputed that. But nobody was hurt, there were no aggravating circumstances (I was sober, licensed, insured, the vehicle was taxed and MOT'd, I wasn't speeding or on the phone or anything else. I simply made a mistake. Two mistakes, actually. The first caused the collision (between mine and another car). The second mistake, it seems, was to be a good citizen and co-operate fully and admit responsibility. Because it was my fault. However, that clearly labelled my file as "Mug" and the Crown Prosecution Service decided that this made a successful prosecution more likely and so went for the most they could get - Dangerous Driving. So despite my not having hurt anyone at all, I was facing a potential jail sentence. Compare that to the driver who made an illegal U-turn on the A4 and put a colleague of mine into hospital for three months, away from his kids over Christmas and the New Year with a broken pelvis, two broken wrists and a well and truly mullered forearm that will need more surgery before it's right. That driver got sent on a course - no prosecution. The driver who killed my sister-in-law through appalling bad judgement got done for careless driving because it was "too hard" to be sure of obtaining a convistion - he just said he couldn't remember what had happened and didn't really co-operate. You may be able to tell that I'm feeling a little hard done by, and you can probably deduce that the trial didn't quite go my way.
They didn't lock me up, though they discussed it. They also really didn't listen to me or my barrister, fixated on stuff which was irrelevent, and despite the prosecution barrister reminding them that they could find me guilty of careless driving and that The Crown wouldn't mind if they did, convicted me of dangerous driving. That's a year's mandatory ban, an extended retest at the end and, in this case, 120 hours of community service. I'd get less than that for stabbing someone.
I will be appealing...
24th December 2010 - Merry Christmas and a peaceful, prosperous and Happy New Year to all our readers.
1st September 2010 - It's been a while since I wrote anything here, mainly because I've been too busy trying to keep the rest of the magazine running as well as doing a day job.
I can report that in the year since the last entry, absolutely nothing has changed with the regional IAM. But head office has whole heartedly embraced the Speed Kills lie and is now trumpeting it in the newsletter. Along with Brake they seem to have lost sight of all the other good things that can be done to make roads safer and are simply concentrating on that so often repeated soundbite.
What a waste.
1st September 2009 - My effigy is currently swinging in the wind outside our local IAM clubhouse. The article didn't go down very well. Understatement - basically it provoked rather a lot of harumphing and heated denials, plus a fair amount of actually rather unpleasant comment.
And I stand by everything I said. It's also made sod-all difference. The pictures actually did accompany the article and the captions were pretty much as you see here. The middle picture was one of the few people who took any of the points I made in a positive light, but then again he's also the magazine editor and it was he who asked me to submit the article in the first place...
1st July 2009 - my local IAM group - Kent Advanced Motorcyclists - have asked me to write something for their magazine. They invited me to be controversial, which was a bit reckless on their part. In fact it was probably a mistake, because this is what they got:
When it was first suggested that I should write something for this magazine, I immediately (as would most people, I suspect) started to think of ways I could say how great it is being a member of KAMG. But then I started to think a bit more. Always a dangerous thing, with me. Because I then started asking questions.
Now before I go any further, I need to make something really clear, just to avoid any misunderstandings. All the people with whom I have had direct dealings at KAMG have been brilliant – helpful, friendly, approachable and actually pretty bloody handy riders. As you might expect. Nothing I say in this article should be taken as a criticism of them. That’s important to remember, because what I’ve ended up with is more an article about what we do wrong. Well, someone has to say it, and who more appropriate than an opinionated journalist like me?
I started off this exercise asking some questions of myself, wearing my KAMG/IAM hat on one side and my journalistic one on the other. Imagine a Gollum/Smeagol sort of conversation and you’ll get the idea. Joking aside, it’s actually a pretty good way of drilling through the preconceptions we all carry around with us.
I started off with the personal stuff. Why did I want to join the IAM? What did I expect to get out of it? What was I actually getting out of it? Well, for reasons I’ll come onto later, that didn’t get me very far so I started being a bit more objective. What are we trying to achieve? Who do we want to attract? Why? And what are we doing about it?
I suppose what got me on that track was a letter in the Spring issue of the main IAM magazine. Some of you may have seen it. The correspondent suggested banning motorcycles. In fact, he was saying that bikes (and riders) have no place in the IAM, that we should “grow up and practice our antisocial pastime on a racetrack” or words to that effect. Though technically 1st April would be covered by that magazine, I get the rather distinct feeing that the gentleman concerned would be somewhat lacking the sense of humour required to pen such a convincing spoof. Like I said, it got me thinking.
Go to a KAMG meeting and one thing you’ll notice is a preponderance of beards and grey hair. I make no secret of the fact that I have the latter, because like most of the rest of our membership I fall into that sort of age group. And I wonder if that’s part of the trouble. We attract people who think like we do and who, by the fact that they have grey hair and ride bikes must, by an evolutionary process if nothing else, have developed a certain mindset. Why is that a problem? Because the people we attract aren’t the people we need to attract if we’re going to achieve anything.
A circular argument, perhaps. What are we out to achieve? Ask yourself this. Why did you join the IAM? Was it to become a better rider? Or was it because you wanted to join the IAM? There’s a subtle but important difference there. There’s nothing wrong with joining because you wanted to join – it’s a bike club after all, albeit one with an ostensibly more noble driving principle than some others, so why not? And if all we’re out to achieve is to swell our ranks and use the IAM cachet to improve our position in the pecking order of road users then that’s fine. But let’s be honest about it.
So are we out to improve road safety? A praiseworthy cause indeed. But how? By getting a bunch of relatively experienced riders to a state where we can pass a test? Is that really going to make a great deal of difference? I’d suggest not. But all the while that the top reason the IAM lists for passing the test is “The right to wear the coveted green badge” that’s about all we’ll manage.
Look at the people around you at a KAMG meeting. Look past the beards and grey hair. You’ll see people you’re happy to ride with, probably people you feel comfortable with. You’ll see “our sort of people.” Why aren’t we seeing people that we tut and shake our heads at when they wheelie past doing in tee shirts and no gloves? Why aren’t we seeing the weekend warriors on their R1s with all the gear and no idea?
Because we’re boring. Because we have lost sight of why people ride bikes. People ride for fun, for excitement, and, frankly, we’re the John Major of the motorcycle world. I use the comparison deliberately, because while everyone saw Major as the grey, dull, Spitting Image puppet, secretly he was indulging in all sorts of naughtiness with Edwina Currie. That’s us – we actually do have a lot of fun, but the world sees us as humourless and dry.
Here’s a little titbit for you. I was, um, invited on a half day speed awareness course in Northampton a few months ago. In that half day I picked up two things that have genuinely changed the way I ride. And speed limits were barely mentioned. In all my observed rides I have honestly picked up nothing that has changed the way I ride, and speed has been mentioned a lot. And that does our image no good at all.
So where do we go from here? Well, it rather depends on what we want to achieve. Do we want to be a pressure group or even a political force advocating riders’ rights? Do we want to be a real force in road safety? Do we want to be a true advanced riding organisation? or do we want to be a bike club? Because at the moment it seems to me that we’re a fairly successful club but we’re not really doing any of the others especially well. And that’s a shame, because we have the potential in our hands to make a huge difference.
Look at Bikesafe. I know we end up at the same gigs as they do. They’re the Old Bill for heaven’s sake, so how come they have a steady stream of the type of people we should be reaching coming through? Because their approach says “Come along and learn something that might save your life and have fun doing it.” Ours doesn’t.
Another titbit. A couple of years ago I was instructing on a BMW track day at Thruxton. There were 2 coppers I knew there, and I was filling in for a third instructor who was ill. There were also 3 IAM guys from The Midlands. We all had groups of around the same size and we all had the same tracktime. The brief was to give some instruction to this bunch of BMW dealers so that they could understand the principles of track riding when their customers bought trackdays from them. The three groups who didn’t have IAM instructors did nearly four times as many laps as the IAM groups. Because they spent a huge amount of time parked up being talked at. Sound familiar?
If we want to make a difference then we really do need to decide what we want to be. If we want to be a club, fine, that’s perfectly reasonable. Ignore everything else I’ve said. But if we want to achieve something, if we want to improve safety or make legislation more fair or even just set out to genuinely improve the way bikers use the road then we have some work to do. There are other organisations like the BMF, MAG even the ABD who tackle the political stuff way better than we ever will. So we should get into bed with one of them and use their skill and our reputation together. If we want to improve road safety then we need to reach the people who need us. And that, folks, is not generally the people you see around you at a KAMG meeting.
Here’s a thought. How about pitching up at one or more evening Trackdays at Brands and not being boring and self righteous? How about actually joining in and perhaps showing that advanced riders can be fast, have fun and still be safe? Let’s talk to MSV and see if they’ll let us pitch to their customers. Whatever it takes. You’ll have other ideas, I’m sure, that are equally valid. But we need to do something because a straw poll in my local dealership this weekend left me with the clear impression that most bikers we need to talk to would rather talk to their accountant than us.
Or we could just have a monthly meeting and congratulate ourselves on how we’re attracting such a high calibre of associates. People just like us...
17th June 2009 - I passed my IAM test. Which is nice. I also did it on a brand new GSX-R750 which I was still running in. Which was also nice because it's mine. However, like every silver lining there's a cloud. Allow me to explain.
I had a Suzuki Burgman Executive 650 on test and took the opportunity to pop my much loved GSX-R 750 (again) in for a slightly overdue service with my local dealership. Now these folks have bene friends for a while, and they always look after me pretty well. We also have a laugh, so when the dealer principal phoned me I thought nothing of it - he was probably just telling me that the service was complete. Even when he told me that there was a problem I wasn't worried. The bike was under warranty if it was serious. But warranty doesn't cover a couple of lowlife scumbags picking it up and putting it in the back of a van, along with a brand new Hyabusa that had just been PDI'd. But that's what had happened.
The dealers were brilliant. They extended the loan of the Burgman, gave me a spectacularly good "part exchange" offer on my bike and sorted me out with an extremely favourable deal on a new GSX-R, as well as replacing the odd bits of non standard kit fitted. It also didn't affect my no claims, which was a bit of a result, because it came off their insurance. You need to be careful though - I told my insurer out of courtesy, explaining the full circumstances, and they tried to hit me for it next renewal... So always check when your premium goes up in case you're being stitched up.
Anyhow, back to the IAM test. A gloriously sunny day, a spirited ride in the country with a policeman on an R1 and there I was, a fully fledged member. Now all I need to do is work out if the work was worth it, because so far I honestly can't find a single thing I've actually gained from the whole process...
18th March 2009 - It's been a quiet few months on the bike scene. Or so it would appear from the lack of blog posts, anyway. The truth, of course, is slightly different as always. I've filled in the time doing some more road tests and some training. The road tests, in general, you can read about on the site so I'll not repeat myself here. One, however, hasn't made it there yet. Because I'm slightly embarrassed to report that, for the first time since starting this magazine in 2003, I fell off a test bike. Not just any test bike, either. Our first Ducati for at least three years, and after retrieving it from Coventry in appalling weather conditions (thank God for trailers) I highsided it at walking speed exiting the office car park. My excuse is that it was very, very cold and the tyres were new. Both are true, but the reality is that I made a mistake. No real damage to me and nothing major to the bike but it did delay things rather...
Actually not connected to the above incident at all by anything other than co-incidence, I have also been having a couple of very different training experiences. As I mentioned a while ago, I've been doing the IAM course and am, as I write, waiting to get a test date so I can hopefully get a piece of paper to say that I'm a really good chap and deserve the right to wear that green badge on my bike.
The other training experience was classroom based, lasted half a day and was courtesy of Northampton Safety Camera Partnership. Which resulted from my getting a bit of paper saying that actually I'm not a really good chap at all. But not quite bad enough to deserve nicking.
This may come as a shock, but I would truly and genuinely recommend attending one of these courses. Apart from the introduction, the phrase "Speed Kills" was never used once. There was no patronising, no police handbook sarcasm, no nannying. There was, however, genuine discussion and debate, people were allowed and encouraged to ask questions and even to disagree with the presenters and the whole atmosphere was one of learning and respect. The real surprise was that I took away a couple of things that genuinely changed the way I drive, not through anything other than having something that should be really obvious (but isn't) pointed out.
The secret to getting on one of these courses is to get nicked going slow enough not to get automatically done. That's an art, and I wish you luck...
29th November 2008 - I've been to the NEC bike show this week. It would be easy to say how disappointing the show is, how every year it gets smaller and rather less impressive and how the continental shows are so much better supported in every way. It would be easy because it's what everyone else says, so it must be true, right? Well yes. And no. There's little doubt in my mind that the Milan and Munich shows are better presented and larger. And for sure if you compared the NEC show today to that of six years ago it would come up lacking. And yet the facts, as opposed to the perception, don't bear that out.
There are at least as many manufacturers there and at least as many visitors as there have ever been. And the European shows actually don't have more visits, more launches, more real impact. In short, the NEC show is as big and bold as it has ever been. Perhaps the stands are a little smaller and more compact, and perhaps the overall spend is a little less. Times are hard, after all. But the truth is that the NEC show is thriving - it's just our perception that suggests otherwise.
I've got a worrying idea why that may be. It's because we're in danger of growing up. It isn't that the show itself is any less dazzling. It's that we're so jaded by glitzy launches of the next super mega hyperbike that it all just starts to seem the same. This week I looked at the new GSX-R 1000, a bike which in every sense should have lit my candle and had me salivating in anticipation, and I instead of saying "Cool, when can I get one?" I found myself saying "Nice, but what's the point?"
And there's the rub. Because without a doubt, each of the latest incarnations of top end sports bikes are better than the last. And without a doubt, for the moment at least that's where the market is in the UK. But why are we getting tumescent about the latest kilo saved here and an extra horsepower gained there on bikes which are already massively faster than almost any of us are capable of handling? Do we really need monobloc radial brakes, laptimers and the other track biased paraphernalia we're getting offered now? It's getting harder and harder to exploit the performance on offer at the best of times - perhaps we need to take a look at what we actually want to get out of riding instead of what sounds best down the pub, and then go on accordingly...
22nd September 2008 - I've not said much about our race trips for the last few months, preferring to leave that to Laura while I just get on with having the occasional rant and writing reports up.
But there's something you need to know. The last two events we've been away for (Brno and Vallelunga) we've flown out as usual, rented a car as usual and stayed in an hotel as usual. We've also spent around the same as usual, perhaps even a little less.
Now before you decide that `i've finally lost my grip and am rambling about something that's completely normal, there is one very important difference. Normally we fly with one of the, um, "No frills" airlines because we don't have a huge travel budget. But the last two occasions we've struggled to get flights at the right times or the right prices and have been forced to look elsewhere. So we've ended up flying with British Airways. And that's where the usual travel experience has changed rather. Because we got treated like customers rather than like self loading cargo, it was expected that yes, we'd like to check in online, have our seats allocated and even (shock, horror) take some luggage without paying extra. Food and drink onboard? Naturally - all included in the ticket price. And here's the real clincher. Flights at decent times to and from decent airports and, wait for it, cheaper than the alternative as well.
I like Stelios and Easyjet, though I have to admit that, in my opinion, Ryanair are a bunch of shysters whose business practices actually give honest hardworking con artists a bad name. But as the ticket prices advertised by low cost airlines bear increasingly little resemblence to what you will actually have to get you and your luggage to your destination, proper scheduled flights are looking increasingly attractive.
I'm sat here typing this in Club Class on the way back from Vallelunga. I've got room to do so, I've had a hot breakfast on board as well as a snack in the lounge before we took off and Laura's and my tickets cost eighteen pounds less than flying with Easyjet. Oh, and we get back early enough to still get a day's paid work in rather than having to take time off. What would you have chosen?
28th August 2008 - I've been getting increasingly steamed up about the efforts that some worthy souls are making to stop us from getting ourselves killed and the real value that they have. I thought about this for a while, posted it elsewhere for comment but now I've decided to publish and be damned.
This might come across as a bit of a rant. Perhaps it is - who knows. But it's something that I believe needs to be said and I think this is probably the right place to do so, rather than as an editorial. It's an opinion, after all, and should be taken as that. Please feel free to argue or otherwise comment...
For rather a long time now we've been forced to come to terms with the unpleasant truth behind the established biking lore that says we'd be fine if it wasn't for idiots in cars who don't look. The truth, ladies and gentlemen, as we've said here several tmes in the past, is that outside of town the vast majority of us who contribute to the KSI statistics do it without anyone else's help at all. Whether it's through inappropriate speed, running out of talent at a critical moment or some unfortunate co-incidence, the fact is that we are very much our own worst enemies on the road.
But despite regular articles in the press highlighting this fact, we're still not getting it, it would seem. The Department of Transport have their Think! campaign, there's Bikesafe and Shiny Side Up and countless other worthy initiatives and yet we're still racking up those statistics and giving ammunition to the folks who would have us legislated of the road.
For sure, a few high profile idiots make it worse for us; whether someone who appears to have set out deliberately to beat the system with false registrations and multiple bikes to allow him to hammer past a particular camera at stupid speeds while giving it the finger or a spectacularly daft scooterist in Kent who decided to stunt in front of a camera; but even ignoring these clowns we're still managing to get ourselves hurt, all on our own. By the way, have you noticed anything in common between the two jokers I mentioned? Yep, they both got caught, convicted and, in one case anyway, jailed.
But I'm not here to climb onto my soapbox and preach. There'll be no holier than thou stuff on this page - I've done some frankly bloody silly things in the past and I suspect you have too so let's leave it at that. No, I've got a different agenda here. I want to explore why the message isn't getting through. Because, God knows, the message is clear enough. If you ride like a tool then you're going to get hurt, nicked or dead.
I've got an idea of where the problem might lie, at least partly. It's with those noble souls who try to protect us from ourselves. Because as motorcyclists we are all, by definition, old enough to make certain decisions for ourselves and take responsibility for them. Even at sixteen you are old enough to be legally responsible for anything you do at the controls of your moped. So we naturally take exception to being nannied - having our responsibility for our actions, and the freedom that entails, eroded in some way.
Adverts intended to shock or give a serious warning generally don't. You couldn't show a TV ad in the UK that would genuinely shock. It just wouldn't be allowed - remember the fuss that accompanied the AIDS awareness ads in the mid eighties? So what you get instead is some earnest sounding voiceover artiste giving a genuinely patronising message that we all shrug and ignore. Because we don't want to be patronised or told what to do. The most effective road safety ad is one which works on a more subtle level like the "perfect day" campaign that ran last year. It mixed humour with a serious message and was totally unpatronising. (You can see it here if you can't remember it) The ones running today, on Eurosport for example between bike races, are frankly rubbish. Because they don't actually say anything useful, they just try, unsuccessfully, to shock. Oh look. It says I could crash if I ride like a racer on the road. Best I don't, then.
Another part of the problem lies with the still currently peddled lie that "Speed kills." Because it patently doesn't - I've regularly ridden at 150mph and I'm still alive. I've flown at 1,500mph and survived that. And a few weeks ago I had lunch with a chap who spent a couple of days doing rather more than 15,000mph in a space shuttle. By the fact that he was eating and talking I have to assume that he too had survived the experience. So speed does not kill. But the primary focus of road safety organisations across the realm is to reduce speed, whether it needs to be reduced or not. And so education in other areas gets missed out. As does engineering out dangerous bits of road - the global panacea is to reduce the speed limit and put solid white lines down instead.
Here's a thought. Look at the KSI stats for anywhere you like. Find the ones which have a primary causation factor of excess speed. And see just how far over the speed limit they were. If someone has a big messy crash at, say, a hundred miles an hour on a national speed limit road, how is reducing the limit further going to help? Because he was already forty miles an hour over the limit. Is he going to worry about it being sixty instead? Is he hell.
An advertising campaign that said "Riding like an arse kills" would have some merit. And would get a lot more attention as well. Not least because using that word on prime time TV is more shocking than anything the DfT can come up with.
Let's have a look at something else. KSI statistics. That's killed and seriously injured. First of all, they are profoundly different things. Seriously injured people can get better. Killed ones can't. And when you consider that a broken little finger makes you a KSI statistic, as does any decent sized cut, it makes the whole thing even more of a travesty. And because we're not actually stupid we recognise that the figures are meaningless. You know - you go past a sign that says, for argument's sake, "Slow down - 12 casualties in the last 2 years" and you just know that in most cases at least eleven of those twelve could have walked home. So, like anything else crying wolf, you eventually ignore these warnings and carry on riding as normal.
While we're looking at exercises in futility, let's turn our eyes on what you might call active road safety schemes.
Picture the scene. You're riding to work. It's rush hour, it's busy. Your riding is OK - you're not being daft and everything is sweetness and light. Up ahead you see some dayglow jackets by the road and you find yourself getting pulled over by a policeman. Why? Because the council have decided that it's time all bikers on this stretch of road got pulled over and patronised about advanced rider training, hi-vis clothing, riding with lights on, whatever. So the copper gets to waste his time and yours, some council bloke in a yellow jacket gets to feel important and you get inconvenienced. This isn't apocryphal stuff, it's happened to me three times in the last few years and I have to say I was not impressed. I'm a big advocate of advanced rider training, I always have my lights on and I came away from the last encounter feeling completely anti all of it as well as rather cross at the pointless wasted opportunity.
And while we're on the subject, since when have small number plates or loud exhausts been safety issues? I don't use them myself - not my bag - but I've seen lots of people get a "safety" talk that's ended up with them getting a rectification notice. By all means do vehicle checks - licences, insurance, cover it all - but don't dress it up by pretending it's about safety. Because it isn't, and again the message gets distorted into something counter productive.
As I said before, this may seem like a rant, and I guess to an extent it is. The trouble is, I'm actually worried about the way we're carrying on hurting ourselves. Not because if we keep it up I'm going to run out of readers, but because if we don't start to put our house in order pretty soon, someone is going to come along and do it for us. And the solution won't be pretty because it won't be developed by someone who rides a bike. We've fought off leg protectors, compulsory power restrictions and various other things over the years. They were just the tip of the iceberg - new technology will make it easier to fit speed limiters, for example, regardless of the genuine danger they pose to a biker as they shut the throttle mid-corner. And we're seeing the licencing process get harder and harder, too.
But short of banning bikes completely (don't believe it couldn't happen) none of the measures being punted around will really make much difference. Because they won't change our attitude.
Bikes are fun. Exhilarating. Thrilling, exciting and occasionally a little bit scary. And bikers are generally people who live in that sort of space. As such, we're never going to go for the patronising approach, the lecture from a school master or similar. It'll just bounce off. Nor will be swallow statistical fudges, lies or distortions, because actually we're fairly smart too.
Here's a simple suggestion to the people who do these things. Tell the truth. Don't glamourise it or dress it up in any way, just tell the truth. If riding like an arse kills, and it plainly does, use that as a basis for your adverts. There are plenty of people who have survived doing silly things or who have seen other people be less fortunate and who would talk about it. Use pictures, use interviews, use stuff that is genuinely shocking if you must. Make it funny. Make it something that would get passed around on YouTube. Whatever, but pretend you're trying to sell a product that nobody wants but everyone needs.
Because that's exactly what you're doing.
3rd July 2008 - I've done my initial thing with the IAM and, while still deeply cynical, was pleasantly surprised. Again. Not by the fact that the chap who did my session was such a nice bloke - that's a given really - but more by the level of detail and the obvious skill and commitment that he showed. Yes, there's a huge amount of common sense involved and, at this stage at least, rather too much sucking eggs for my liking. But I still learned something, even sat on the sofa discussing riding and the law, and it might just be very useful in the future. Next step is to get an observer assigned to me and then we go out and start the real thing...
29th May 2008 - Well this evening I went and met my IAM group. The location was promising - in the bar at Brands Hatch - and despite it being a fairly grotty weekday evening the turnout was pretty good. A lot of people arrived in cars but then again a lot will have come straight from work. And, like I said, it was a grotty evening. My initial impressions were that they were a friendly enough bunch of mainly mature men. There was a smattering of ladies and a few younger chaps but there was, it's fair to say, a significant majority of grey hair and quite a few beards. But conversation was good and lively, and nobody got terribly earnest so I think it'll be OK.
Next step is my sort of pre instruction instruction. It won't be the same as everyone else gets because of my workload - I'm away when the regular sessions take place so the membership secretary is going to sort out a personal one for me. Which is nice. And it's also something they can do for anyone if necessary - it's not just because I'm a journo...
27th May 2008 - This is going to be an experience. The large company for whom I do quite a lot of work have had a bit of an epiphany and have decided that not only are bikes a Good Way of getting to work but they should help anyone riding to their London sites do so in safety. And they've included contractors like me, which is quite astonishing. So hats off to Sky for being forward thinking and inclusive.
But what, I hear you cry, are they doing then?
Well they've splashed out a chunk of money and put us all on the IAM Advanced Motorcycling course.
Now I may be a bit of a cynic when it comes to organisations like the IAM. But I'm going to give it a fair crack. Certainly the people I've spoken to so far have been friendly, approachable and only vaguely suggestive of old BMWs and Sam Browne belts.
20th May 2008 - Wow, doesn't time fly. Seems like just yesterday that we were enjoying the trip to Monza. Or not. Because it was without a doubt the worst journey we've had. To be fair, quite a lot was not Easyjet's fault. But oh boy - if ever a trip was doomed from the off, this was it.
We'll start off with the phone call from Richard around lunchtime. "Um, I'm stuck on the M40 and it looks like they're clearing the space for the air ambulance. I think I might miss the flight." He didn't. God knows how, but Richard got his van from North of Oxford to Gatwick quicker than I got there from Croydon. Which is only 20 miles. I was impressed. Maybe everything was going to be OK after all. Or perhaps not, as Laura mentions in her blog. And telling you twice would be boring.
However. One thing I will say. Imagine if someone took the Marie Celeste and transferred the situation to an airport. That's what Milan Malpensa is like at 0230. The distinct lack of car hire staff did not make life any better. Just as we'd resigned ourselves to sleeping on the benches in the terminal for the next 5 hours (until the car hire office opened) a taxi appeared. Which we duly hired to take us to the hotel. Though the driver had to phone for directions. Hmm.
Next morning (well, later that morning, actually) we dropped Richard at the circuit and then went back to Malpensa by taxi again. To collect our hire car. We were not best thrilled.
The hotel was great, the team were wonderful and Monza is an awesome circuit.
Just don't get me started on the carabinieri.
The carabinieri are the Italian version of the French Gendarmes. A sort of para-military police force. Only unlike the French, who are courteous to a fault and terrifyingly effective, the carabinieri aren't. Now I appreciate that the entire force can't be as useless a bunch of beaurocratic tosspots as the ones at Monza were, but unfortunately my experience of them suggests that even the most objectionable local government official in this country might have been a little surprised at their inflexibility.
Allow me to illustrate.
Monza has a chicane shortly after the start. It's a popular place for opening lap shenanigans and so it's always crowded with photographers. These are professionals who cover the sport all the time and who know what's safe and what isn't. Friday and Saturday for practice and qualifying the photographers and marshals work together and everything is fine - nobody get in the way, nobody gets hurt, photographers get the pics they need and all is sweetness and light.
For Sunday - race day - the carabinieri are here to control the crowd. I don't know why, because the crowd don't actually need controlling and are, in fact, behind big wire fences and are therefore uncontrollable. But the photographers aren't. We're trying to do our jobs, perfectly safely and unobtrusively but these clowns, these overdressed clothes horses, are herding us into restricted areas because "it's dangerous" and then standing around themselves watching the races where we should be. Understandably things get a little heated and there are raised voices and waving arms. But no, while it's OK for their mate to stand in the best spot with his camera phone, the rest of us are obstructed and generally inconvenienced. Even when someone crashes out so it's plain to see that where we would go is safe we still get stopped.
I gave up and went elsewhere after nearly getting arrested. The next photographer's area is full of people with camera phones again. No press passes in sight. But guess what - I still can't get in because it's dangerous. It takes me several hundred metres further to get back to where I can take some pictures. Then, at the end of race 2, the fans were allowed to invade the track. While bikes were still coming round. At speed.
How can a country so relaxed about most things, a country which gave us the Colisseum, Ducati and Rossi produce an organisation which manages to be utterly anal while being useless and ineffectual at the same time?
5th April 2008 - I've just finished writing three bike reviews and a race report. And I'm sat here marvelling at the difference between the last two bikes I wrote up.
At one end of the scale we've got the Harley Nightster. It looks, and rides, like something out of the seventies. Yes, I do mean the nineteen seventies, but you may have a point. It's deliberately unsophisticated and although it's got some really clever and modern touches, like the indicators which contain the tail lights and brake lights as well and look frankly drop dead cool, it's unashamedly old school technology. It's also one of the most fun bikes I've ever ridden. The brakes are mediocre at best, the suspension is harsh and the performance is adequate but no more. Handling is OK but again it feels like something out of the seventies. And yet every time I sat on it I smiled. Every time I cracked the throttle open I smiled a little wider. And I found myself thinking that it was probably one of the best motorbikes I'd ever ridden.
At the other end we've got the Suzuki B-King. A hundred and eighty one horsepower of fuel injected, variable ECU mapped powerhouse in an ultra sophisticated chassis with bleeding edge styling. Staggering performance, brilliant handling, sublime brakes. Sensory overload threatened every time I gave it more than a cautious handful and yet there I was, laughing like a loon as the back spun again and the front launched off the ground as soon as the rear gripped. Yes, it will wheelspin in all six gears. Yes, it will lift the front when you change into fifth. And yes if you treat it with anything less than total respect it will tear your head off and crap down the hole. And I found myself thinking that it was probably one of the best motorbikes I'd ever ridden.
Tomorrow I'll be out on my GSX-R 750. It's not the current model any more. It's done rather a lot of miles in all sorts of conditions, from snow to baking sunshine, on the road and on the track. And more than once on the journey I'll find myself thinking that it's probably one of the best motorbikes I've ever ridden.
So please. If we ever meet, don't ask me what the best bike I've ever ridden is. Because it'll probably be whatever is parked outside...
28th April 2008 - Time for a quick catch-up. Although we cover World Superbikes wherever they are, we only attend rounds in Europe. For the simple reason that flying to, say, Australia for the weekend and coming back to the day job on Monday is a little impractical. And expensive. So for us, the first real round was Valencia.
Valencia is a beautiful city. if you have a chance you should go there - and not just for the racing. There is some astonishing architecture there, both ancient and modern, and the road network is very good. I know this because I saw rather a lot of it when trying to find the hotel. Google Maps is a fantastic service. It's really very clever indeed, and gives you the facility, completely free, to plan your route from A to B. But Valencia has had some major infrastructure improvements since the last time the Google eggheads downloaded any satellite imagery. And as a result the instructions were almost totally useless. So I explored. Rather a lot. And ended up finding a taxi driver who spoke perfect English and directed me to my hotel. All of about five hundred yards away. In fact, if I'd looked up i would have been able to see it. Because it's the tallest building for miles.
We stayed at the Gran Hotel Valencia, booked through laterooms.com, and it was fabulous. Well, the room was OK but the food and drink was reasonably priced, the view was amazing and it was easy to get to the circuit.
Valencia circuit is a laugh. As the first European round, it's the place that most journos and photographers go to collect their passes for the year. Spanish logic says that you can't get to the Media Centre, where the passes are held, without a pass. This makes it challenging. Fortunately one of the guys had a freelance colleague with him, and event passes were given out at the accreditation centre outside. So, one by one, we all borrowed her pass and went in to the Media Centre to get the right ones. The officious security guards checked the pass each time, despite watching us swap between each other. And none of them commented that I didn't look like I should be called Sharon.
I think that worried me more than anything else.