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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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ISLAND MENTALITY

Bike – November 1975

Thanks to Covid there isn’t going to be an IoM TT again this year but harking back to the mid-70s when it was still just about in its glory days, I started thinking about what might’ve been, at least commercially, and this column warned that the sport’s governing bodies seemed to be missing a Big Trick, even then and indeed as now.

THE MOTORCYCLE BUSINESS IS SO full of anachronism and contradiction that it’s small wonder it hasn’t disappeared up its own posterior. We have ample evidence that biking is increasing in popularity each year, registrations of new machines soar every month and the breadth of two-wheel appeal is such that even unlikely cats like Lord Hesketh and ex-Deep Purple rockstars are investing time and money into the biz.

Next summer will probably see a really full-tilt motorcycling boom in which a much larger section of the public will become aware of the diverse pleasures and excitements of the two wheel trip. Unfortunately they probably won’t be able to go out and indulge this new found thrill on a brand new British motorcycle thanks to our foresighted government and the bright sparks of NVT (Norton Villiers Triumph – the last corporate gasp of the UK industry – MW). But no matter (he said, stifling a technicolour yawn).

But in one important area of motorcycling we British are still pretty damn good. And that’s road racing. Already such outfits as Motor Circuit Developments have elevated bike racing to the level of a spectacle for baptised bikers, if not for the public as a whole. All it requires is just one really charismatic event which has the potential to capture the imagination of the average man-in-the-street, and suddenly road racing could occupy the same sort of role in the public’s consciousness as football, horse racing or Raquel Welch. (Remember her? – MW)

I mean very few people are into rowing, for instance, but just about everyone follows the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, don’t they? And if anyone tried to legislate against rowing, you can bet your Y-fronts that there’d be a lot of public sympathy for the boys in the boats. It’s the nature of the event that captures people’s imagination and there are of course parallels that can be drawn in almost every sport that people bet money an,

Now in motorcycling we have a yearly event worthy of more public attention than the Cup Final, The Derby and the Horse of the Year Show all rolled into one, and yet almost everyone from journalists to sporting officials are trying to kill it. I’m talking about the Isle of Man TT, obviously.

Even if you hated motorcycles and the leather-jacketed clods who ride them, you could not fail to be drawn by the imagery and scope of the Isle of Man during TT week. I have taken people to the island who didn’t know the difference between a Benelli Six and a BSA Barracuda and they came away euphoric as much from the good-natured mania that grips the island as the racing itself. All of them were riding motorcycles within six months, too.

For whilst Agostini, Norrie Whyte (a gruff, veteran Motor Cycle News hack who loathed everything Bike stood for– MW), the ACU and the FIM concern themselves with the safety and status of the TT races, the majority of the people are attracted by the sheer outrageousness of motorcycle racing around 37 miles of varying terrain. Ask anyone who goes.

Now if the same incredibly efficient publicity machine that ground into action to publicise the recent Earls Court (Bike) Show (which attracted over 140,000 punters – MW) was given rein — and enough cash – to whip up public interest in the TT, then you can bet attendance and that all-important media coverage would increase by at least 50 per cent. And I ain’t kidding. See, the trouble with motorcycling in this country if it can be glibly put down to one single factor, is that the people who run its industry, its sport and its press are into motorcycling at the expense of most everything else. They find it hard to detach themselves from a closed reality that has something to do with an island mentality and a lot in common with 1950s cultural self-righteousness. The recent debate in the motorcycling press concerning the future of the TT races illustrates this only too well. Do we really want the TT races at a short, flat Silverstone circuit, even if it means world status and the return of superstars? Even if such a move attracted Linda Lovelace (notorious star of early porn movie, Deep Throat – MW) riding topless on a 16 cylinder Mercedes-engined Bantam, I doubt whether it would attract as much public interest as a properly promoted Isle of Man TT.

Yet it appears that the ACU and the FIM (and everyone else who obligingly follows the haughty edicts of these two bodies) object to the world status of the island races on the basis of safety, or rather lack of it. Well I ask you, is the Isle of Man circuit any more dangerous than Daytona? And does it really matter if it is?

No, I ain’t a vicarious sadist or a roller-ball (a barmy team sport involving violence on skates – MW) freak, but a good rider is a good rider and will deal with the problems better than a poor rider. The better able he is to deal with these problems – be they changes in road surfaces, a multitude of corners, or a split fuel tank – the more likely he is to win races. The point I’m trying to make is that even a real dynamite rider knows when his ability is being pushed to its limits. And if he can’t handle a situation he’s confronted with in any race, anywhere, then he has to slow down.

Only a fool rides beyond his limits, and who wants to see fools riding around the TT circuit? Does anyone care that much if lap times continue to diminish each year provided they’re seeing exciting competition between top class riders? The best riders would still win even if average speeds started dropping.

It’s certainly true that the TT circuit makes demands on a rider that no other track does, and for that reason alone it should reclaim its prestige as perhaps the ultimate challenge to a road race star’s ability (this title now seems to’ve been adopted by Daytona, aided, no doubt by the British motorcycle press in its role as a decreasingly patriotic blind sheep). Maybe more money should be spent on making the TT circuit safer. Maybe practice times should be doubled. Maybe the terry service is inadequate. But all the remedies necessary to make Isle of Man TT Week the giant spectacle it could become are now within the grasp of the motorcycle world as we stand poised on the threshold of a boom, It seems the whole status of the PP has deteriorated as a result of Giacomo Agostini moaning about its dangers five years ago. Before arrogant Ago copped-out there was hardly a word said about the event’s safety, or lack of it. Even if the sport’s governing bodies pander to the whims of a few petulant (and now fading) stars, should the rest of us miss out on what could be the motorcycling extravaganza of the year, every year?

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