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Being a meticulously slung–together selection of Mark Williams’ columns in various magazines that should’ve known better from 1971–2020… forty-nine inglorious years of controversial views, wild claims and mindless nonsense on matters motorcycling

Author image: Alex Ramsay       Illustration: Hunt Emerson

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It’s been over a year since I last I last regurgitated one of my old Bike, WhichBike? or M/cycle International columns for current consumption, a hiatus driven as much by the realisation that such ancient mutterings are largely irrelevant into today’s exciting, social media enhanced world as it was by my inherent sloth. So why start again now? Well I’m actually not going to resume the repetition game, at least not yet, but instead indulge myself a little commentary on the current world of motorbikery which, as you might possibly recall, was what those old columns were about long, long ago in what now seems like a land far away.

Partly this was prompted by the ending of my long-running rants in the industry magazine, Motorcycle Trader which, thanks not least to the pandemic, canned its print version in 2020 and is now just a daily email essentially plugging this or that product to a dwindling number of ‘bike dealers. I loved doing that column and Andy and Jenni, who published it, are good and longstanding friends who nobly put up with my sometimes bizarre, sometimes offensive scrawls and what’s more, paid me for them. But Trader’s declining fortunes are a reflection of what’s happening to motorcycling generally so if you’re looking for fun and frivolity, stop reading now.

Whilst it’s true that even after I stopped scribbling for Trader, I carried on with a monthly spread in Bike as its Custom Editor and contributed a few tests of largely retro-style bikes that no-one else could be bothered with but that, too, came to and end, ironically around the time of the magazine’s 50 Year Anniversary issue which flattered me not a little (not least with a cake and candles!). This wasn’t, as my friend and its current editor Hugo Wilson at least pretended, because I’m a crap wordsmith, but because the latest round of cutbacks meant that his freelance budget had been whittled down to almost nowt. And in fact the latest belt-tightening at its publishers means that all Bike’s sister mags, including Ride, MCN and Practical Sportsbikes, have to draw much of their content from an even smaller pool of writers and photographers which inevitably spawns editorial homogeneity. Oddly enough, there still seems to be an awful lot of middle-management who haven’t had their numbers, or budgets cut.

And yet Hugo and his tiny (and shared) team manage to produce an impressive offering each month, but unlike the old days, well alright my old days when we had irreverent, often campaigning pieces that challenged orthodoxy and celebrated the ‘two wheel trip’, it seems to exist mainly to test a large, dazzling array of bikes, the point evidently being to try and claw back some of the importers’ advertising that hasn’t migrated wholesale online and, presumably, inspire aspiration amongst us mere mortals can’t really afford and few can ride to their limit on today’s crowded, heavily restricted, poorly surfaced roads.

Now as an inveterate editor and publisher on ‘bike mags since the early ‘70s, I’ll resist the temptation to bore you with my thoughts on the ongoing and probably obvious commercial consequences of this, but I will say that it’s symptomatic if not a direct corollary of what happening to motorbiking generally. And worse still, I will predict that in about 20 years time there will be virtually no motorcycling as we understand it in this country, and certainly no printed ‘bike magazines.

And for why? Well for starters us bikers are getting older and older and eventually dying off, and fewer and fewer young ‘uns are coming along to replace us. The average biker is now aged 46 – back in the 1980s it was over ten years younger – and a lot of this is to do with money, not just the ever increasing cost of insurance, fuel and the considerable deterrents facing anyone who wants to get a licence to ride the buggers, but the cost of the buggers themselves.

Regular correspondents to Bike magazine ask who is buying these bikes that it lauds as brilliant in every issue, e.g. £14,600 for a Triumph Tiger, £16,498 for a BMW R1250RT and don’t get me started on mad-ware like Ariel’s 28-grand Ace or Norton’s V4SV at £44k. You can get a very nice 4-door hatchback for the price of any number of modern sportsbikes plus quite a few that aren’t even that and, for example, the £17,150 RRP of Suzuki’s GSX-R1000R is now equivalent to 54% of the average UK median income – in 2011 it was ‘merely’ 41% – so it’s obvious that such bikes are the domain of the well-heeled, which invariably if inevitably means older blokes like me without mortgages or young mouths to feed.

And on that sobering note I’m going to pack it in for now, but if you want more on this, plus what might possibly reverse this sorry trend, sign up to get email alerts using the box in the RH column, or check me out again at the weekend. Oh, and if you’re bored enough to want to read my thoughts on non-motorcycling matters, have a go at http://www.markswill.wordpress.com

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